And Impunity -
Coca-Cola In India
By Amit Srivastava
How long will it take before
the powers that be in India refuse to allow multinationals to treat
Indians as guinea pigs?
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,
yet three years after being rapped by the Indian government, continues
to sell products in India without making any improvements.
The 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 US public.
Both the cola companies'
excuse that they have met the (non-existent) norms for soft drinks in
India falls flat in its face. In this day and age of globalization,
standards are also globalized. The onus is upon the global companies
to provide a product that is safe for consumers. Period. If a product
is unsafe for Americans, it is also unsafe for Indians. It is the responsibility
of Coca-Cola and Pepsi to clean out the contaminants from the raw materials
before bringing it to market.
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.
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 it 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
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 been produced
implicating it for its wrongdoings. The company has 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?
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
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 and
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
Amit Srivastava is
the coordinator of India Resource Center, an international campaigning
organization working to challenge abuses by multinational corporations.