US University Forces Coke to Yield on Plants in India
by S Rajagopalan
Hindustan Times
April 13, 2006

Washington: Coca-Cola has agreed to a third-party probe into the controversial water-management practices at its Indian plants. The immediate gain for the soft-drinks giant: it has won back its $1.4 million annual contract with the University of Michigan.

But student activists who campaigned for the termination of the arrangement are unhappy at the university’s "premature" action.

They argue that the probe will not be independent, alleging that the Indian entity which Coke has proposed to design the investigation is a beneficiary of its corporate sponsorship. Notwithstanding the reputation of the entity — The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) — student groups, notably the India Resource Centre, have voiced serious reservations over the move.

They have been battling Coke for "creating severe water shortages around bottling plants in India and selling drinks with extremely high levels of pesticides".

The University of Michigan, however, is satisfied with Coke agreeing to a third-party probe into allegations over its operations in India and Colombia, where it faces severe criticism over its labour practices.

"The university is satisfied that the independent review processes you’ve outlined meet our prerequisite to resume purchasing Coca-Cola products," CFO Timothy P Slottow wrote to the company on Tuesday. University spokeswoman Julie A Peterson said: "We want to move the investigation forward rather than simply cut (Coke) off."

In recent months, getting back the Michigan contract had been a key pursuit for Coke — Michigan is one of the bigger American universities with over 50,000 students in three campuses.

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