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Illustrated by Carlos Latuff

Thousands of farmers in India have been affected by Coca Cola’s practices, and Coca Cola is guilty of destroying the livelihoods of thousands of people in India.

Destroying Lives, Livelihoods and Communities

Water shortages, pollution of groundwater and soil, exposure to toxic waste and pesticides is having impacts of massive proportions in India. In a country where over 70% of the population makes a living related to agriculture, stealing the water and poisoning the water and soil is a sure recipe for disaster. Thousands of farmers in India have been affected by Coca-Cola’s practices, and Coca-Cola is guilty of destroying the livelihoods of thousands of people in India. Unfortunately, we do not even know the extent of the damage as a result from exposure to the toxic waste and pesticides as these are long term problems. Most affected are the marginalized communities such as the Adivasis (Indigenous People’s) and Dalits (formerly untouchables), as well as the low-income communities, landless agricultural workers and women. Taken in its entirety, that’s a lot of people in India.

Coca-Cola is destroying the food security of the people of the land, and by stealing the water and poisoning the water and soil, it is also responsible for ensuring a life of misery for future generations to come.

The irony is that most of the impacted community members, who are feeling the brunt of the water shortages and pollution, are unable to afford Coca-Cola. Which may be a good thing given that the product itself is poisonous. But it also raises the larger question of development in India. As is the case with the majority of other commodities in the Indian marketplace, only a fraction of the population are the “beneficiaries” of the current development policies. And unfortunately, the majority are not only left out of the so called “development” process, but they have to pay a high price for it as well.

Coca-Cola’s Spin

Coca-Cola has decided that the problems in India are a public relations problem, and that they will “spin” them away. Coca-Cola has hired a public relations firm, Perfect Relations, to develop a new image for them in India. The head of communications for Coca-Cola Asia has been moved to India from Hong Kong to try to deal, in a PR way, with the growing resistance.

Neville Isdell, the new CEO of Coca-Cola who assumed office in April 2004, chose India as the first country to visit after assuming office. However, it was a “stealth” visit, and was discovered by Indian journalists only when they pried about it. Isdell was rightly concerned that a public announcement of Coca-Cola’s top man to India would be met with a sizeable protest.

Coca-Cola has also just announced plans to significantly increase the marketing budget in India from next year.

No matter of spin and increased marketing for Coca-Cola will solve the problems that have been created by Coca-Cola in India. The first step that Coca-Cola must take is to admit to the severity of problems it has caused in India, and then find ways to address them operationally:

  • They must permanently shut down the bottling facilities in Mehdiganj, Kala Dera and Plachimada.
  • They must compensate the affected community members.
  • They must recharge the depleted groundwater
  • They must clean up the contaminated water and soil.
  • They must ensure that workers laid off as a result of Coca-Cola’s negligence are retrained and relocated in a more sustainable industry.
  • They must admit liability for the long term consequences of exposure to toxic waste and pesticide laden drinks in India.

Anything short of the above measures will make it increasingly difficult for Coca-Cola to do business in India. And elsewhere.

For more information: India Resource Center


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