Slammed At Shareholders Meeting For Practices In India
By Haider Rizvi
22 April, 2006
NEW YORK - As the level of anger and resentment against
Coca Cola touches new heights throughout India, rights activists in
the U.S. have increased pressure on the company to mend its ways of
doing operations in rural areas. At a shareholders meeting in Delaware
Wednesday, activists demanded the company disclose the full extent of
its liabilities in India, but failed to receive any positive response
from the company.
Despite enormous efforts to improve its public image through advertising,
Coca Cola continues to be the prime target of attacks from rights groups
in India who consider the multinational soft drink company a consistent
violator of the right of local communities to have unhindered access
With the summer heat wave
just a few weeks away, people in more than 20 villages have come together
in northern India to organize an indefinite vigil against Coca Cola
in the town of Mehdiganj, where they are calling for the government
to shut down the company's bottling plant.
The situation is similar
in the desert state of Rajasthan, where people in more than 50 villages
are facing acute water shortage, allegedly due to Coca Cola operations.
Official accounts suggest that water levels in that area have dropped
up to 10 meters since 2001 when the company started its operations there.
And in the southern state
of Tamil Nadu, thousands of community members are organizing a series
of protests against Coca Cola's plans to build a new plant in the town
of Gangaikondan. Campaigners fear that the proposed bottling operations
will cause soil pollution and water shortage.
"Coca Cola is culpable,
and therefore liable for the serious problems that are affecting the
lives and livelihoods of our people," said Amit Srivastava of the
India Resource Center, a rights advocacy group that works with peasants
and local communities.
"The longer the Coca
Cola company waits to genuinely address the issues in India, the larger
their financial liability becomes," Srivastava added. "It
just doesn't make good business sense."
Thousands of villagers whose
livelihoods have been affected by Coca Cola operations are demanding
the company bear the financial cost of their losses.
Srivastava, who spoke inside
the Coca-Cola shareholders meeting and presented statements from Indian
communities, said Coca Cola's sales in India did not account for its
reported profits, which amounted to more than $1 billion in the first
quarter of this year.
The company's volume sales
in India have shrunk in the past several months. Aside from India, the
company is also running into trouble with consumer groups, student bodies
and labor organizations in many other parts of the world, including
the United States and Europe.
Activists in the United States
claim that more than 100 colleges and universities already have anti-Coke
programs in place, and about 20 schools have either banned Coke products
or axed their exclusive contracts with the company.
Also, increased pressure
from student bodies throughout Europe is pushing hundreds of schools
to cancel their contracts with the company, they say.
For its part, the multibillion
dollar corporation has repeatedly denied that it bears direct responsibility
for questionable practices in places like India, arguing that its business
"in each country is a local business."
With about one million employees,
the company says it operates in nearly 200 countries worldwide.
In India, the company has
tried to deflect criticism by turning to image-making firms for help.
But it seems that even on that front it is being defeated by activists.
Last week, for example, the
company suffered a major setback when its primary spokesperson and Bollywood
star Aamir Khan announced that he will be looking into the issues surrounding
Coca Cola operations in India.
Coca Cola has reportedly
tried to calm its critics in India by suggesting that rainwater harvesting
programs could replenish the water use, but activists remain unmoved
by such reasoning.
"The facts surrounding
Coca Cola's operations speak for themselves," said Srivastava.
"We suggest that the company rethink its approach to the campaign.
It must come up with genuine ways to address the issues."
it is part of the of the problem is the first step," he added.
"Until then the campaign to hold Coca Cola accountable will continue
to grow and cost the company millions in profit as well as tarnish their
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