Coca-Cola Credits Indian Campaigns for Company’s Water Vision

However, Company Needs to Stop Treating Problems as PR Problems

For Immediate Release
December 30, 2019

San Francisco: The Coca-Cola Company has officially credited its new-found zeal on water conservation to the local, community-led campaigns in India that have successfully challenged the company’s atrocious mismanagement of water.

In a report released without much fanfare earlier this year, the company states that, “The Coca-Cola Company’s water leadership was born in India more than a decade ago, following a conflict between our business and the local community over the use of local water resources.”

Coca-Cola’s bottling operations in India have been the target of communities across the country who accused Coca-Cola of exacerbating water shortages around the bottling plants, particularly in water stressed areas where the community and farmers used the same source of water as Coca-Cola – groundwater.

The campaigns in India have resulted in the closure of a number of Coca-Cola bottling plants, and prevented proposed plants from opening. As a result, Coca-Cola has sought surface and municipal water for its newer bottling plants.

Campaigners have long maintained that the damage done to Coca-Cola in India – reputational as well as financial – has forced the company to adopt water conservation measures, although much of the water conservation measures continue to be cosmetic and designed to project a better image of its relationship to water resources and communities than it really is.

In 1993, when Coca-Cola re-entered India, it took the company nearly 11 liters of freshwater to make 1 liter of their product, according to the company’s own admission. Today, Coca-Cola claims to have reduced this number to below 2. This is only the water used inside the plant, and an incomplete measure because it does not include the water used in the life-cycle of the product.

The water footprint of Coca-Cola products in India, which takes into account the water used in the life-cycle including cane sugar cultivation, is much higher, and estimated at 442 liters (to make 1 liter of product) by the Water Footprint Network in 2010. This is a number that Coca-Cola does not volunteer, even though the company was a founding partner of the Water Footprint Network.

Coca-Cola is the single largest purchaser of cane sugar in India.

“The campaigns from India have not only forced Coca-Cola to respect the value of water and the rights of communities over natural resources, but also the peer industry which uses water as a raw material in India and internationally,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center which has played a central role in the campaign for over a decade.

“However, Coca-Cola still has a long way to go if it truly wants to learn lessons on water management from India.”

First, Coca-Cola needs to stop all bottling operations in areas with stressed groundwater resources. This would include ceasing the company (and its franchisees’) bottling operations in groundwater blocks that the government has categorized as semi-critical, critical and over-exploited.

The India Resource Center, and other civil society groups, have made gains in getting the government to restrict operations of water-intensive industries in water stressed areas. However, these restrictions apply to new industries, and not those already in operation.

Second, Coca-Cola should stop treating conflicts with communities over water scarcity and pollution as a public relations problem, and deal with them operationally, by making concrete changes in the manner it operates.

In its attempts to deal with the growing crisis in India, the company has made tall claims, including the preposterous claim that they replenish more water than they use in India. In reality, however, they have offered no data to authenticate such grandiose claims, and made a mockery of basic principles of hydrogeology. Repeated investigations of such claims by the India Resource Center and allies have found otherwise, including water conservation measures hyped by Coca-Cola’s public relations machinery to be in dilapidated conditions.

And finally, Coca-Cola must stop increasing the production of its products in PET bottles. Ironically, one of the main reasons that Coca-Cola has been able to reduce the water it uses inside its plants in India is by switching from returnable glass bottles (which required washing) to PET bottles (which are single use).

Coca-Cola is the single largest producer of PET plastic in the world. As it becomes the target of campaigns worldwide, Coca-Cola is resorting to using some of the same tactics that it has used to deny culpability in exacerbating water crises across India.

The India Resource Center will work actively to challenge Coca-Cola’s attempts to deflect attention away from its role in plastic pollution globally, while continuing the work to hold Coca-Cola accountable for water mismanagement in India.

For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org


Amit Srivastava, San Francisco +1 415 336 7584 E: info@IndiaResource.org

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