Coke-free University of Michigan
By Amit Srivastava
Viewpoint, Michigan Daily
February 17, 2005

We are heartened to learn that the University — a premier institution of higher learning — is on its way to joining the growing ranks of universities internationally that are stopping business-as-usual with Coca-Cola Corporation because of the company’s violations of human rights and the environment. Coca-Cola’s track record in India is one such example of how Coca-Cola violates human rights and the environment. As a result, any contract with the Coca-Cola company is in violation of the University’s Vendor Code of Conduct, and the University must not renew its contract with the Coca-Cola company.

We would like to bring your attention to Coca-Cola’s practices in India that have resulted in severe hardships for people in communities across India who live around its bottling facilities.

Specifically, Coca-Cola’s operations have led to the following problems:

Water shortages: Coca-Cola’s indiscriminate extraction of large amounts of water from the common groundwater resource has resulted in a significant drop in the groundwater table, and many wells, including borewells, in the area, have gone dry. Communities now have to rely on other water sources for basic use, including drinking and bathing.

Coca-Cola’s single largest bottling plant in India remains shut down because the local village council is refusing to renew Coca-Cola’s license, claiming that it is depleting the groundwater excessively. In a significant ruling, the High Court of Kerala has ruled Coca-Cola’s extraction from the common groundwater resource in Kerala to be illegal, ordering it to seek alternative sources of water for use in its facility. And a number of studies, including one by the Central Ground Water Board, a government of India agency, has held Coca-Cola responsible for the significant decline in the water table in areas of its bottling plants.

Water and Soil Pollution: Coca-Cola has polluted the scarce groundwater and soil around its bottling operations, directly as a result of discharging its waste water back into the surrounding fields. Tests by the Central Pollution Control Board, a government of India agency, found that the sludge from Coca-Cola’s effluent treatment plant was hazardous and included heavy metals, including cadmium.

Toxic Waste as Fertilizer: Coca-Cola has also engaged in the outrageous practice of distributing the solid waste from its plants to farmers in the area — as fertilizer! Tests conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation on samples of the solid waste confirmed the presence of known carcinogen, cadmium, as well as lead, in the waste, effectively making the waste toxic. Coca-Cola only stopped this practice when ordered by the state government. The long-term implications of exposure to the toxic waste remains unclear.

Contaminated Drinks: In 2003, tests conducted on random Coca-Cola samples from the Indian market found extremely high concentrations of pesticides — including DDT, malathion and lindane — in the drinks, sometimes higher than 30 times those allowed by European Union standards! The Indian government initiated an inquiry, and a Joint Parliamentary Committee, one of the most authoritative bodies possible to be set up in India, confirmed the original findings — that Coca-Cola products in the Indian market contained high levels of pesticides.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee report also found Coca-Cola guilty of misleading the public by broadcasting false advertisements claiming its products were safe. The report also charges the company with not doing enough to recharge the groundwater.

Coca-Cola’s operations in India point to a pattern of abuse, disregard and double standards. The facts surrounding Coca-Cola’s abuses in India speak for themselves, and we invite you to visit www.IndiaResource.org for further details, including documentation of the facts.

Unfortunately, the Coca-Cola company has chosen to respond to the growing crisis in India by treating it as a public relations problem. We strongly believe that this is not a problem that Coca-Cola can “spin” away, as much as it would like to. Our assertion is supported by the fact that literally thousands of community members all across India continue to organize and fight for their lives, directly challenging the injustices being committed by the Coca-Cola company.

In a country like India, where over 70 percent of the population still makes a living related to agriculture, taking away water and poisoning the land and the water is a sure way to destroy lives, livelihoods and communities.

As an institution of higher learning, and a very prestigious one at that, the University continues to play a key role in advancing a global society based on the principles of fairness, justice and equality. We believe that a renewal of the contract with Coca-Cola would negate these principles, and we invite the University community to be a part of the solution by demanding basic respect for communities in India. Not renewing the contract with Coca-Cola would be a very positive first step. Anything less would not be sufficient.

Srivastava is a coordinator at a nongovernmental organization, the India Resource Center.

FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. India Resource Center is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of corporate accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.




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