Coke Must Boost Efforts to Improve Water Supplies in India, Report Says
ATLANTA -- A new report assessing Coca-Cola Co.'s water-management
practices in India says the beverage giant is generally in compliance
with government standards, but concludes that it needs to do more
to help improve local water supplies, particularly in areas suffering
from chronic shortages.
The report also said that testing failed to detect pesticides in the
water at six Coke bottling plants, despite charges from some groups
that Coke drinks have been found to contain levels of pesticides exceeding
The report, released Monday in New Delhi by the Energy and Resources
Institute, an organization that researches and promotes sustainable
development, comes as activists and student groups are accusing Coke
of draining water from poor communities and urging colleges to ban
the company's products from their campuses.
The TERI report is the result of an inquiry launched by the University
of Michigan in 2004 after students there filed a complaint arguing
that the company's water management practices violated the university's
code of conduct for vendors.
After the university halted sales of Coke products, it agreed together
with Coke to commission TERI to conduct a third-party assessment of
Coke's practices. Coke paid for the $2 million, 16-month study, and
communicated with TERI through an outside facilitator.
TERI conducted its assessment of Coke's water management practices
through testing at six of the company's approximately 54 bottling
plants in India. While the study found the plants to be complying
overall with government regulations, it said Coke needs to take overall
community water needs more fully into account when deciding where
to locate and operate bottling plants.
For example, a watershed in Kaladera, where one of the six plants
is located, has been so "overexploited" that Coke should consider
either transporting water from another aquifer to that plant, using
stored water, relocating the plant, or shutting it down, the report
Coke "should try to be net water positive with respect to its own
operations from a watershed perspective, especially in stressed areas,"
the report concluded.
TERI also recommended that Coke improve its standards for treating
effluent from its plants, after testing at some plants detected excess
levels of some bacteria and other pollutants.
Coke said it is making changes to its practices to address the report's
concerns. "We take this report very seriously," said Atul Singh, president
of Coca-Cola's India operations. "We need to go beyond compliance
and continuously improve our management practices and standards."
In a Jan. 11 letter to the University of Michigan's executive vice
president and chief financial officer, Timothy P. Slottow, Coke said
it is improving its wastewater treatment standards, setting global
guidelines for plants operating in areas with chronic water shortages,
investing $10 million to support sustainable development in India,
and plans to reach a "zero water balance" in India by 2009.
The India Resource Center, a critic of Coke's water use in India,
has questioned whether the TERI assessment can be considered independent,
because the organization once accepted funds from Coke. Mr. Singh
said Coke donations have been small and ceased once the assessment
Coke has invested more than $1 billion in India over the past decade,
and recently said it plans to invest another $250 million over the
next three years.
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