Coca-Cola Urged to Close an Indian Plant to Save Water
NEW DELHI — A leading environmental research group based here has
asked Coca-Cola to consider shutting down a bottling plant in the
drought-stricken state of Rajasthan, saying that the plant is depleting
scarce water supplies.
The recommendation came in a report released Monday by the organization,
Energy and Resources Institute. The report was commissioned by Coca-Cola
in 2006 in response to reports that pesticide residues had been found
in its products.
The study found no pesticides in the water used at the six bottling
plants it sampled, and said that water quality “generally meets the
government regulatory standards.”
But the report expressed concern about the company’s use of scarce
water supplies — an issue that has been raised repeatedly by villagers
who live near several of the company’s bottling sites.
The assessment looked at 6 of the company’s 49 bottling plants in
India, but highlighted conditions at the Kaladera plant in Rajasthan.
The plant’s presence in this area would “continue to be one of the
contributors to a worsening water situation and a source of stress
to the communities around,” it said. The company should find alternative
water supplies, relocate or shut down the plant, the report concluded.
Atul Singh, chief executive of Coke’s India division, said the company
was not considering shutting the plant. “The easiest thing would be
to shut down, but the solution is not to run away,” he said. “If we
shut down, Rajasthan is still going to have a water problem. We want
to work with farming communities and industries to reduce the amount
of water used.”
Coca-Cola commissioned the study after a wave of student protests
on campuses around the world, spurred by reports of high pesticide
levels in Coca-Cola drinks in India.
Those accusations originated with another Delhi-based environmental
research group, the Center for Science and Environment, which disclosed
in August 2006 that tests it had conducted on 11 Coke and Pepsi products
showed pesticide levels as much as 24 times the recommended limit.
Shortly after those findings were released, students at the University
of Michigan called for a ban on the sale of all Coke products on campus.
After talks with the university, Coca-Cola agreed to cooperate with
an independent assessment of its work in India. The university selected
the institute to conduct the research, which was financed by Coke.
In a letter to Coca-Cola after publication of the report, the University
of Michigan said it would continue to do business with the company.
Sunita Narain, head of the Center for Science and Environment, said
that the Energy and Resources Institute tested the water used in the
manufacture of the drinks, rather than the final product.
“We don’t see this as a clean chit for Coca-Cola because the study
doesn’t test the final product, and that is what the consumer drinks,”
she said in a telephone interview, adding that pesticides could be
present in other ingredients, like sweeteners.
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