Coca-Cola Faces Mounting Pressure over Abusive Practices at Plants Worldwide
New York - Coca-Cola, the multinational soft drink giant, is facing
the wrath of rights advocacy groups here in the United States and
abroad for refusing to take responsibility for abusive practices at
its bottling plants.
While a number of universities and colleges in the United States have
already banned the sale of Coke products on their campuses, mounting
pressure from student bodies throughout Europe is pushing hundreds
of schools to terminate their contracts with the company as well.
The company is also under fire in a number of Asian and Latin American
countries, where labor unions, peasant groups, and consumer associations
are relentlessly campaigning to force Coca-Cola to just pack up and
Last week, in India, for example, hundreds of villagers protested
outside the company's bottling plant in Kala Dera in the northern
state of Rajasthan. Demanding immediate closure of its plant, they
charged that Coca-Cola was directly responsible for severe water shortages
in the area because its continued operations had caused massive groundwater
depletion and soil pollution.
Their demonstration came less than two weeks after another major protest
was held in front of a Coca-Cola plant in Mehdiganj in the state of
Uttar Pradesh. Thousands of people turned out to demand the plant's
closure, activists say.
"Coca Cola is looting our natural resources. These resources belong
to the public," says Sawai Singh, a prominent social activist in India
who organized the march.
To Singh, "water is a basic need for people and trading in water is
not acceptable because it deprives people of a basic need."
Activists say the anti-Coca-Cola campaign has spread all over India
and that it has so far met with some success.
In Piachimada in south India, for example, Coca-Cola had to shut down
its biggest plant for about 20 months after it failed to cope with
the mounting pressure from community groups.
Rights activists in the Latin American nation of Columbia are equally
angry at Coca-Cola, but for different reasons. They allege that the
company is complicit in the murder and torture of union organizers
at its plants in Columbia.
But the company has repeatedly denied that it bears responsibility
for troubles at the Colombian plants, arguing that its business "in
each country is a local business."
With about one million employees, the company says it operates in
more than 200 countries worldwide.
Activists in the United States say they want the company to agree
to an independent probe of labor violations and violence against union
leaders at its Colombian bottling plants.
To address this issue, the company hired a private firm to conduct
a probe into its Columbia plants, but says that it found no instances
of anti-union violence or intimidation.
But activists remain skeptical about the company's claim.
"We believe the evidence shows that Coca-Cola and its corporate network
are rife with immorality, corruption, and complicity in murder." says
Ray Rogers, director of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, an independent
group based in the United States.
Last week, the U.S.-based campaigners scored a major victory when
New York University, the largest private school in the country, declared
that it had decided to ban Coke products on campus.
Rogers claims that more than 100 colleges and universities already
have anti-Coke programs in place, adding that 20 of them have either
banned Coke products or axed exclusive contracts with the company.
Still, there is more bad news for the multi-billion dollar corporation.
Recently, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public
Interest indicated that it was preparing a lawsuit against Coca-Cola
that would link its additive caffeine levels with childhood obesity.
Meanwhile, encouraged by growing support from the West, activists
in India say they will continue their campaign to revoke Coca-Cola's
contracts until the communities' demands are met.
"Coca-Cola in India is a perfect example of what goes wrong when institutions
like the World Trade Organization (WTO) give more powers to corporations,"
says Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, a U.S.-based advocacy
group that has supported the anti-Coke campaigners.
"The campaign to hold Coca-Cola responsible is significant because
it asserts the rights of communities over natural resources--rights
that are increasingly under threat from the WTO."
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