In this terse call to action, Amit Srivastava documents
the abuses of both Coke and Pepsi: abuses that stretch
from callous over-pollution of the environment, unconcern
about the health of its consumers, and disregard for
growing public opinion. Providing quick facts useful
for any activists’ gathering or consciousness-raising
movement, Ghadar present Srivastava’s piece in
the hope that its energy and factual information can
assist the numerous, anti-Coke movements mushrooming
around the world. Inquilab!
How long will it take before the powers that be in India
refuse to allow multinationals to treat Indians as guinea
In what can only be characterized as arrogance and impunity,
we are learning that Coca-Cola and Pepsi have continued
to sell soft drinks in India with dangerously high levels
of pesticides - three years after even the government
of India confirmed that these products were dangerous.
Perhaps the cola companies know something that we do
not? Are Indians immune to high levels of pesticides?
It is time for the cola companies to provide details of
the studies they must have conducted to convince themselves
that the average Indian can consume pesticides safely
at levels 24 times the average American and European.
It is difficult to fathom the business logic of a company
that boasts of having one global standard and yet, three
years after being rapped on the knuckles by the Indian
government, continues to sell products in India without
making any improvements.
The existence of pesticides in soft drinks in India is
a classic case of double standards, one for Americans
and Europeans, and another for Indians. Coca-Cola products
made in India could never be sold in the European Union
markets or the United States. On at least 10 occasions
since January 2005, the US Food and Drug Administration
has rejected the shipment of Coca-Cola products made in
India coming into the US, on the grounds that they do
not conform to US laws and that they are unsafe for the
The excuse given by both Coke and Pepsi - that they have
met the (non-existent) norms for soft drinks in India
- falls flat in its face, or at least speaks of continuing
double-standards. In an age of globalization, surely standards
– especially those pertaining to the health and
safety of workers, consumers, and local communities -
are also globalized? If a product is unsafe for Americans,
it is also unsafe for Indians. It is indeed ironic that
on the one hand, these very companies argue for global
rules for trade and corporate investment, but when challenged
for their misdeeds, try to invoke local and national laws.
The onus is upon the global companies to provide a product
that is safe for consumers, period. It is the responsibility
of Coca-Cola and Pepsi to clean out the contaminants from
the raw materials before bringing it to market. Unfortunately,
the cola companies' transgressions run much deeper in
India, both figuratively and literally.
In various parties of India, from Plachimada in south
India to Mehdiganj in north India, communities living
around Coca-Cola bottling plants are experiencing severe
water shortages. The communities accuse the Coca-Cola
company of creating water shortages because of over extraction
of water and pollution of the scarce remaining water.
And the communities have the numbers to back them up.
Tests conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board,
for example, found excessive levels of lead and cadmium
in all of the Coca-Cola waste it surveyed in bottling
plants across the country, leading the CPCB to order the
Coca-Cola company to treat its waste as hazardous waste.
Prior to the CPCB study, the Coca-Cola company was distributing
its toxic waste to farmers around its bottling plants,
as fertilizer! Test results released just two weeks ago
have confirmed that the water is also polluted, making
it unfit for human consumption.
In Plachimada, Kerala, one of Coca-Cola's largest bottling
plants has been shut down since March 2004 because of
the intense community opposition to the plant. The Kerala
State Pollution Control Board has also issued a stop order
notice to the company's bottling plant because of the
pollution by the plant.
In a highly irresponsible practice, the Coca-Cola company
has located many of its bottling plants in India in "drought
prone" areas, areas that were already experiencing
severe water crisis. In Rajasthan, for example, a study
by the Central Ground Water Board found that water tables
had dropped 10 meters in just five years since Coca-Cola
began its bottling operations in Kala Dera.
A formidable movement has emerged in India from these
communities to challenge the Coca-Cola company for its
indiscriminate exploitation of water resources and pollution.
As with the pesticide issue, the Coca-Cola company has
challenged every study that has implicated it. The company
also hired a high-priced lobbyist in New Delhi whose job,
according to the International Herald Tribune, was to
"ensure, among other things, that every government
or private study accusing the company of environmental
harm was challenged by another study."
Arrogance? You bet. Impunity? No doubt.
And yet, this hubris is not being allowed to continue
unchallenged. Communities in India impacted by Coca-Cola's
practices enjoy tremendous support internationally, and
the global movement to hold the company accountable for
its abuses in India is having a major impact. The prestigious
University of Michigan, for example, has placed the Coca-Cola
company on probation until it is able to convince the
administration that it is taking steps to rectify its
wrongdoings in India.
The Coca-Cola company has been forced to acknowledge
the growing discontent around its operations in India,
but it is doing too little, too late. It has, instead,
revved up its public relations machinery, a far cry from
what the communities are demanding.
The Indian state also owes its citizens some basic protection
against the transgressions of multinationals such as Coke
and Pepsi. As India grapples with setting standards for
soft drinks to ensure consumer safety, it should also
urgently act to protect communities across the country
reeling from water shortages, courtesy Coca-Cola.
It may surprise many to know that Coca-Cola and Pepsi
pay nothing for the water that they use in India, which
runs in the hundreds of millions of liters every day.
It is also a very wasteful industry, particularly when
it comes to the valuable resource of water. It takes Coca-Cola
nearly four liters of freshwater to produce one liter
of product. In other words, the company converts seventy
five percent of the freshwater it extracts into wastewater,
which in turn has contaminated the scarce remaining groundwater
The entire life-cycle of Coca-Cola - from the extraction
of water to the delivery of the pesticide laden product-
is wrought with problems.
In India, Coca-Cola uses the slogan in Hindi - Life ho
toh aisi - Life should be like this.
We don't think so.
For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org