Coke Slammed at Shareholders Meeting for Practices in India
NEW YORK, Apr 20 (OneWorld) - As the level of anger and resentment
against Coca Cola touches new heights throughout India, rights activists
in the U.S. have increased pressure on the company to mend its ways
of doing operations in rural areas. At a shareholders meeting in Delaware
Wednesday, activists demanded the company disclose the full extent
of its liabilities in India, but failed to receive any positive response
from the company.
Despite enormous efforts to improve its public image through advertising,
Coca Cola continues to be the prime target of attacks from rights
groups in India who consider the multinational soft drink company
a consistent violator of the right of local communities to have unhindered
access to water.
With the summer heat wave just a few weeks away, people in more than
20 villages have come together in northern India to organize an indefinite
vigil against Coca Cola in the town of Mehdiganj, where they are calling
for the government to shut down the company's bottling plant.
The situation is similar in the desert state of Rajasthan, where people
in more than 50 villages are facing acute water shortage, allegedly
due to Coca Cola operations. Official accounts suggest that water
levels in that area have dropped up to 10 meters since 2001 when the
company started its operations there.
And in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, thousands of community members
are organizing a series of protests against Coca Cola's plans to build
a new plant in the town of Gangaikondan. Campaigners fear that the
proposed bottling operations will cause soil pollution and water shortage.
"Coca Cola is culpable, and therefore liable for the serious problems
that are affecting the lives and livelihoods of our people," said
Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, a rights advocacy group
that works with peasants and local communities.
"The longer the Coca Cola company waits to genuinely address the issues
in India, the larger their financial liability becomes," Srivastava
added. "It just doesn't make good business sense."
Thousands of villagers whose livelihoods have been affected by Coca
Cola operations are demanding the company bear the financial cost
of their losses.
Srivastava, who spoke inside the Coca-Cola shareholders meeting and
presented statements from Indian communities, said Coca Cola's sales
in India did not account for its reported profits, which amounted
to more than $1 billion in the first quarter of this year.
The company's volume sales in India have shrunk in the past several
months. Aside from India, the company is also running into trouble
with consumer groups, student bodies and labor organizations in many
other parts of the world, including the United States and Europe.
Activists in the United States claim that more than 100 colleges and
universities already have anti-Coke programs in place, and about 20
schools have either banned Coke products or axed their exclusive contracts
with the company.
Also, increased pressure from student bodies throughout Europe is
pushing hundreds of schools to cancel their contracts with the company,
For its part, the multibillion dollar corporation has repeatedly denied
that it bears direct responsibility for questionable practices in
places like India, arguing that its business "in each country is a
With about one million employees, the company says it operates in
nearly 200 countries worldwide.
In India, the company has tried to deflect criticism by turning to
image-making firms for help. But it seems that even on that front
it is being defeated by activists.
Last week, for example, the company suffered a major setback when
its primary spokesperson and Bollywood star Aamir Khan announced that
he will be looking into the issues surrounding Coca Cola operations
Coca Cola has reportedly tried to calm its critics in India by suggesting
that rainwater harvesting programs could replenish the water use,
but activists remain unmoved by such reasoning.
"The facts surrounding Coca Cola's operations speak for themselves,"
said Srivastava. "We suggest that the company rethink its approach
to the campaign. It must come up with genuine ways to address the
"Acknowledging that it is part of the of the problem is the first
step," he added. "Until then the campaign to hold Coca Cola accountable
will continue to grow and cost the company millions in profit as well
as tarnish their image immensely."
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