agriculture, drought, economy, groundwater, india, industrial, international

Coca-Cola Encouraged to Close Plant in India

Research has just been released that suggests Coca-Cola (Coke) should close a bottling plant in water scarce Rajasthan, India. The Energy and Resources Institute of New Delhi issued the report on January 14, 2008. This report was completed in response to research last year showing high pesticide levels in Coca-cola drinks in India.

The assessment looked at 6 of the company’s 49 bottling plants in India, but highlighted conditions at the Kaladera plant in Rajasthan. The plant’s presence in this area would “continue to be one of the contributors to a worsening water situation and a source of stress to the communities around,” it said. The company should find alternative water supplies, relocate or shut down the plant, the report concluded.

The New York Times

Atul Singh, director of Coke’s India division, avows Coke will not be shutting down the plant anytime in the near future. Instead Coke declares they will review water conservation measures to be employed. Truth or good PR? I am more inclined to believe the latter given the history of this corporation in the international sector. Coke has a track record of egregious human rights and environmental violations in many countries.

The organization KillerCoke (known as such because of numerous assassinations of unionized employees in Columbia) hosts a campaign to encourage Coke to clean-up its act. The group proposes actions as simple as sending a letter to The Coca-Cola Company requesting an end to human rights and environmental abuses to cutting business contracts with the company. Several universities have already drafted resolutions calling for an end to Coke’s poor practices abroad including Rutgers School of Law, the University of Illinois, Hofstra University, and York University to name a few.

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4 thoughts on “Coca-Cola Encouraged to Close Plant in India”

  1. Why not give Coke a chance to prove it’s the real thing? Looking over the report, a couple of interesting findings stand out. Groundwater in the Kaladera area is overallocated, but Coke is hardly the biggest
    straw. Agriculture is.

    “…the watershed is categorized as a groundwater-over-exploited
    watershed where the groundwater development is more than 100
    percent (that is, 135 percent) of the dynamic recharge and the water
    tables are declining. The industrial and domestic requirements are
    estimated to constitute between 8 percent and 10 percent of the total
    renewable groundwater availability. The agricultural requirements
    constitute 114–120 percent of the total renewable groundwater
    availability.”

    “….overall analysis for the period between 2004 and 2006
    reveals that the water extraction by the [COKE] plant is less than 3 percent of
    the irrigation withdrawals 70 percent of the time, and less than 1
    percent of withdrawal for 40 percent of the time.”

    But Coke is the newcomer — the junior right — and it gets the finger pointed at it because it’s a big nasty American corporation So, what to do? Shut them down, and solving what? The aquifer drops to being 134 percent over-exploited? As for the laid off workers, well, who knows.

    Perhaps an alternative is to hold Coke to its word:
    http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/presscenter/pdfs/teri_response.pdf One of the interesting things about Coke’s response is that it is offering to fund efficiency improvements in agricultural water
    use. I have to imagine the potential for savings in that sector is significant and perhaps enough to more than offset Coke’s water withdrawals. As a multinational corporation with the world’s eyes upon it, holding Coke to its word seems a doable thing.

  2. Hi Seldom, thanks for your comment. You may also enjoy reading this Atlanta Journal Constitution article because it has a similar viewpoint as your own:

    http://www.ajc.com/business/content/business/coke/stories/2008/01/14/cokeindia_0115.html

    Recommendations in the report by TERI for the Kaladera Plant clearly suggest, either the plant find a way to withdraw water from other aquifers, utilize only rainwater, or relocate – close the plant.

    You are correct in the acknowledgment that Coke is not the largest entity using water in the region. Agriculture utilizes greater withdrawals. Coke uses less than 3 percent of all withdrawals annually, and the aquifer is already overexploited.

    But, the bottom-line is:

    Are the “net-benefits” for the social, natural, and long-term economic environment greater with or without the Kaladera Coca-cola Plant?

    Community members opinions in the area of the Kaladera Plant were reviewed in TERI report. Many individuals in the community were concerned “that Coca-Cola has deep bore wells that continuously withdraw water from groundwater aquifers unlike bore wells used for irrigation that are relatively shallow and do not get regular supply of electricity.” Because Coca-cola has better technology, more money, electricity, and deeper wells, does this mean the company should have first access to water in the region? Is the small farmer who is unable to access his water any less important?

    You mention those potentially unemployed by relocation or closure of the bottling plant, a valid concern. However, one must take into account long-term environmental effects in the region, as well as farmers unemployed from a lack of water currently. Again, I think it would be important to evaluate community opinion regarding closure of this plant. And, curiously, I wonder how much of the revenue from the plant stays in the community.

    I did read the letter issued by Coke regarding this issue. They state a vague intention in implementation of further water conservation measures inside the plant, as well as funding of agricultural water conservation projects in the region (and, a few pilot programs they have set-up).

    However, as of yet, it is difficult to determine whether these few steps mentioned by Coke will be enough to provide “maximum net benefits” to the environment, the people, and the economy. In order to understand the likely outcome of continued operation of the Coke Plant in Kaladera, a detailed plan, timeline, and funding available for water conservation projects should be drafted.

    But, given Coke’s record in the international realm, I am already hesitant to believe they will move forward on such issues in a timely manner. If Coke was committed to decrease water use in Kaladera, would it not already be engaged in numerous and progressive projects with locals? Or even more, given it’s huge financial backing, would it not be inclined to move the bottling plant to another location? Think about the message that would send across the globe… water scarcity is real, happening, and we must start to re-examine where we locate our industries, businesses, and agricultural practices.

  3. Well, for me, I have to say, CocaCola IS a big nasty American corporation! It should close down in India (or anywhere) where water is a scarce commodity.

    Recently, in the UK, the Business Channel televised a report on this contaminated sugary drink company in India ….Human rights issues were highlighted focusing on one wee guy who got his leg broken whilst at work; Daily he is removed from the entry gate by security as he limps there asking for justice & recompense. Also a once successful farmer (back in 1998) who now has to depend on rainwater for drinking as his well is virtually empty. He can no longer farm his own land…it’s an arid desert. He now travels miles to work for someone else as a farm labourer because of insufficient water.

    It was noted all the farms around the region of the bottling plant were now suffering greatly as a consequence, main grievances – a lack of water & what was left behind was contaminated & toxic due to some dumped byproduct from the plant. The temperature can reach 46 deg in summer, so as a compromise, the farmers pleaded with CC to hold off bottling during the dry season…PAH! NOT A CHANCE. Lose profits! Not likely!

    One single 33ml bottle of this (my opinion) sickly sweet sh** uses 1 litre of fresh drinkable water. Yes, one litre of fresh water for 1 small bottle of ****!!! And if they are churning out 10’s of thousands of bottles of the muck in just 1 minute…Well do the math, first for one year, then for 10 years, oh & factor in a little global warming too.

    The report may say agriculture is to blame, on the back of global warming. But CC is water greedy & isn’t helping. At least the aim of agriculture is to feed animals & people. What’s the benefit of a bottle of Coke? The employees get paid the same price as the cost of one bottle. It’s marketed as a luxury for the middle classes!! Employees can’t even spend their hard earned cash on locally grown food from the farms to keep finances in the community, as they are dust bowls!

    I cannot respect a company that is by all accounts a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Poor, niave people or nations are delighted as they think they are being rescued by a saviour, bringing employment & potential wealth, but they & their land are simply being sucked dry to a husk. Vampire comes to mind! Feeding on the lifeblood of the land…. water.

    I also think it is time the big sports industries were called to address their advertising bedfellows. Do they really want their healthy sport to be associated with a company whose product serves no nutritional purpose, who has little regard of not only the environment, but the human race right down to their own employees. They appear to condone the murder of any employee involved in a worker’s union.

    Mark Thomas a UK comedian/activist did a great televised 1hr expose on the corporation pointing out their current non-action after several murders of union affiliated employees in Columbia, child labour on sugar cane farms, (of course they did take steps to remedy this once it was realised the facts had been televised!!)

    I am very sceptical of their intentions with regard to environmental programs. I feel they are purely self serving in the long run. They haven’t suddenly developed a heart, make NO mistake!

    I would be more than happy to see this company close down completely EVERYWHERE!!

    Sorry for big rant!! :o)

  4. Well, you have certainly spread some insight on specific examples of Coca-Cola and poor business practices, and sadly it does not surprise me.

    I had no idea of the exact amount of water it took to produce the final product, but, as you have declared it does take an excessive amount to produce a lessor amount of the product.

    As this Economist article states in 2003, 2.72 liters of water were used to produce 1 liter of coke.

    http://www.economist.com/business/displayStory.cfm?story_id=4492835

    In general, I think we, the human race, must begin to examine where we place our priorities. Do we wish to have finite sources of Coca-Cola in all reaches of the world? Or, do we wish to limit water usage, especially in arid areas for agriculture and domestic use?

    Check out the Inside the Bottle: Coca-Cola Water Taking Petition. This petition, sponsored by the Polaris Institute, is to ask Coca-Cola Enterprises to produce annual water taking reports to the public.

    http://www.insidethebottle.org/coca-cola-water-taking-petition

    A minimal request, indeed.

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