Coke Gets CSR Award Amidst Protests
Business Standard
February 19, 2008

Coca Cola India earned itself a drop of hard-earned joy this week for its corporate social responsibility initiatives in the form of the Golden Peacock award for CSR for 2008.

But the award which cites its work in water management comes just a few weeks after it had received advice from The Energy Research Institute or TERI run by R K Pachauri to shut down its bottling plant in Kaladera, Nabipur and Mehdiganj in Rajasthan saying that these were bringing down ground water levels at an alarming scale.

The company has been receiving negative publicity ever since the report was released on January 14 for the 600-page study which was commissioned by the company itself.

The report was supposed to help the company regain credibility but it has backfired, say activists of the Plachimada Solidarity Council.

The report says that in Mehdiganj, the water tables have been depleting and the aquifer may move from a safe to semi critical condition,'' the report says.

About another bottling plant in Nabipur in Rajasthan, the report says that the state of the aquifer has already moved from critical to over-exploited conditions.

It questions the location of a bottling plant in Kaladera where the ground water is already over-exploited and says that the best option would be to close the plant. The report surveyed six of Coke's 60 facilities in India.

The company's CEO for India division, Atul Singh has been quoted defending the Kaladera plant, saying that closing a plant is the easiest thing to do and that was not the solution, the International herald Tribune quotes him.

Deepak Jolly, vice-president, Public Affairs and communications, who went to Portugal to receive the Golden Peacock says that the TERI report does not blame Coke for the lowering of the water levels.

"It doesn't blame us even once, he says. It blames the farmers and agriculture, he says.

And he adds: "It also does not even once suggest that we should pack up and leave those areas. It says that there are four or five options for bring up the water levels and if nothing is possible then alone we should go. These options are helping farmers with reducing water consumption, or creation of ponds, and so on. Anything but closure."

Asked if Coke is now going to get all the farmers at the sites to reduce water consumption, he says demonstration is being done for drip irrigation.

Jolly feels that leaving a place because water levels were low is not at all an obvious thing to do.

"Droughts and floods are normal. We have to find solutions. That is what we are doing all the time," he says.

He says that Coke should be given credit for being transparent. "Which company would commission a 600-page study on its own plants and then put it on its website?" he asks.

Describing his company's position on its notorious consumption of water, Jolly said: "For us the glass is half full, while for an activist it would be half empty. He then corrects himself to say: "For us it is 9/10th of a glass."

Speaking about the award instituted by World Council for Corporate Governance, UK, Jolly says that it was in recognition of the company's work in water management.

Our whole objective is to put back what we take away, and this we are doing with 320 rain water harvesting structures, restoration of many traditional ponds and wells and building of check-dams.

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