Why Everyone Loves to Hate Coca-Cola
Coke and controversy seem to go hand in hand. After all the bad press
report that it got in India over the pesticides content in its soft
drinks, now it's the turn of another Indian, based in the US to cause
trouble for the global MNC giant.
Amit Srivastava, a California-based activist has been touring college
campuses in the US in his campaign against Coca-Cola India, accusing
it of using up precious ground water in India, lacing its drinks with
pesticides, and supplying farmers with toxic sludge for fertilising
This has led to several colleges in the US and even in Europe to ban
or stop renewing their contract with coke. And other campuses are
considering similar actions. Schools that have banned Coca-Cola products
include Bard College in New York, Carleton College in Minnesota, Oberlin
College in Ohio and two colleges in Ireland.
Although Coke is a powerful global company which has a presence in
almost all parts of the globe, allegations and protests against its
practices by groups or individuals like Srivastava has caused it to
lose millions of dollars in defending itself and has led to a drop
Controversy saga in India
Coke's operation has a bumpy history in India. It left the country
earlier in 1977 when the Indian government pushed for local ownership
and re-entered only in 1993.
In recent years, its bottling plants have evoked much protest from
activists and locals living in and around the plants.
In Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, people
have been protesting against Coke's bottling plants because they've
depleted groundwater level and damaged the environment.
Places like Palakkad's Plachimada village in Kerala drew global attention
when BBC Radio 4's Face the Facts presenter John Waite visited Coke's
Plachimada plant. Waite carried samples of water and wastes sold by
Coke as soil conditioner (but used by local farmers as fertiliser)
back to the UK, where laboratory tests showed that they contained
dangerous levels of cadmium. Tests at the University of Exeter too
showed the material was useless as a fertiliser and contained a number
of toxic metals, including lead.
The most well known controversy is the findings by the Delhi-based
Centre for Science and Environment that soft drinks in India contain
pesticides. In Coca-Cola brands, the amount averaged at 0.0150 mg/l,
30 times higher than European limits.
The repercussions ranged from a drop in sales, protests and public
condemnation leading a serous dent on the brand image. And this month,
the Rajasthan High Court directed both Coca-Cola and Pepsi to declare
the pesticide content on labels of their bottles.
Coke's global controversies
The most serious charges against Coke's officials are that they are
in connivance with paramilitary forces in Colombia in killing several
Union activists in a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Colombia. There is
presently a large scale campaign against the company including lawsuits
in the US and the 'Stop killer Coke' campaign on the Web, which aims
to put pressure on the company to acknowledge its role in the killings
and to persuade it to stop cooperating with violent organisations
in suppressing union voices.
In 1999, quality-control problems in Europe sparked a widespread consumer
scare and prompted governments to pull Coke products from shelves.
In 2004, Coke's bottled water Dasani, introduced in the UK was withdrawn
after it was found that the level of bromate was higher than the permissible
level in the UK. Also, it was discovered that tap water was being
used although it was labelled as 'pure'(ostensibly to imply mineral
And on May this year in the US, more than 2,000 workers at plants
in California and Connecticut that bottle Coca-Cola soft drinks went
on strike, over the company's proposal that they pay more for health
Although Coke is the number one soft drink company in the world with
an annual sale of $21,962 mn (in 2004), it has to work harder to project
itself as a responsible organisation as new and continuous allegations
against its malpractices can severely lower its reputation and brand
As Srivastava puts it, "It is destroying lives, it is destroying livelihoods
and it is destroying communities all across India. That is the story
of Coca-Cola in India."
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