Indian Community Speaks on Coke
If one mentions "beverage contract" and "Coca-Cola" in the same sentence
around most parts of this University, a flurry of ideas and images
rush to mind.
From "exclusivity" to "alleged human right's violations in Colombia"
to the old standby "taste," there's no shortage of reasons for and
against the renewal of the current contract with The Coca-Cola Company.
Enter Amit Srivastava.
Srivastava - of the India Resource Center in San Francisco - spoke
to students Monday to raise awareness of yet another accusation against
the soda giant.
Joined by Ray Rogers, the head of the "Campaign to Stop Killer Coke,"
Srivasta explained to an audience at the Rutgers Student Center that
the hardships faced by Indian communities living near Coca-Cola's
bottling facilities are both disregarded and unknown - despite their
Their international "Campaign to Hold Coca-Cola Accountable" speaking
tour strives to raise awareness of the alleged human and environmental
abuses in both Columbia and India.
While issues in Colombia have received much attention lately, a majority
of the students present raised their hands when asked if they were
unaware of the issues faced in India.
Srivastava said bottling plants in India have led to water scarcity
and polluted soil and water.
"This is not a single incident we're talking about," Srivastava said.
"A pattern of abuse has emerged as a result of Coca-Cola bottling
operations in India."
Srivastava said the bottling plants are guilty of causing severe water
shortages in communities across India because they extract thousands
of liters of groundwater every day, which is used to clean bottles.
That, in turn, generates waste that pollutes surrounding groundwater
"Communities living around these bottling plants are dependent on
groundwater for all their needs," Srivastava said. "The water table
has declined significantly to the point where wells have all dried
Besides a lack of water availability, the resultant pollution has
also led to crop failure and, consequently, a loss of livelihood for
thousands of people in India.
"This is a sure recipe for disaster," he said. "Taking away their
livelihoods-this is what Coca-Cola is doing."
Coca-Cola also sells drinks in India that contain high levels of pesticides,
Expressing concern for what he said was a "public health nightmare,"
Srivastava said the country required the active support of strong
institutions and student-based campaigns around the world.
"Markets and profits are what it's about at the end of the day," he
said. "[But] we need to work with Rutgers to ensure that pressure
is put on Coca-Cola in India to do the right thing."
Rogers - who is also president and director of Corporate Campaign
Inc. - spoke about conditions in Columbia and expressed similar sentiment.
"No campus that prides itself as being a center of ethics and morality
should be licensing or lending its name logo and credibility to Coca-Cola,
nor serve as a marketplace for its sales and advertising," Rogers
Coca-Cola has said it does not have a "controlling interest" in many
of their bottling plants and therefore cannot be responsible for what
goes on at the plants - but that isn't enough for at least one University
"Coke is not legally responsible for what happens in bottling plants,
but is morally responsible," said graduate student Michael Crockford,
coordinator of RU Sustainable.
Crockford said he's very opposed to re-signing with Coca-Cola.
"It's not just about what [Coca-Cola has] done, but about what they
don't take responsibility for," he said.
According to the handout, Coca-Cola money is distributed among dining
services, athletics and an administrative discretionary fund.
Coca-Cola contract money amounts to less than 1 percent of the cost
of a meal plan dinner-about 8 cents per meal.
"Are we willing - for a clear conscience - to say 'No' to 10 cents
a meal?" Crockford said.
Regarding the problem of exclusivity, students have said they would
like to see more beverage options available at Rutgers, a sort of
"soda democracy," as Crockford put it.
"The problem with a monopoly is it's very difficult to hold [the company]
accountable for human rights and environmental abuses abroad," said
Laura Weitzman, a Rutgers College senior.
Recently, the anti-Coke campaign at the University has seen success
among the legislative community, Weitzman said.
The American Association of University Professors passed a resolution
against the contract, as well as the Graduate Student Association
and the Rutgers University Environmental Council, she said.
"I hope Rutgers will do the right thing-stand up for humans and environments
and kick Coke off campus," Rogers said.
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