Coca-Cola: ‘Undrinkable, Unthinkable’


4-11-06, 9:06 am

Cola-Cola claims to be committed to ‘protecting and preserving the environment’. However, in India Coca-Cola has been accused of creating severe water shortages, polluting the soil and groundwater, distributing toxic waste as fertilizer to farmers and selling sub-standard drinks in the Indian market which contain high levels of pesticides, sometimes higher than 30 times those allowed by European Union standards. Thousands have been protesting against Coca-Cola throughout India under the slogan ‘Undrinkable, Unthinkable’.

Communities across India living around Coca-Cola's bottling plants are experiencing severe water shortages, directly as a result of Coca-Cola's massive extraction of water from the common groundwater resource. The wells have run dry and the hand water pumps do not work any more. The significant depletion of the water table has documented by, for example, the Central Ground Water Board in India. Coca-Cola has been indiscriminately discharging its waste water into the fields around its plant and sometimes into rivers, including the Ganges, in the area. The result has been that the groundwater has been polluted as well as the soil. Public health authorities have posted signs around wells and hand pumps advising the community that the water is unfit for human consumption. In two communities, Plachimada and Mehdiganj Coca-Cola was distributing its solid waste to farmers in the area as 'fertilizer'. Tests conducted by the BBC found cadmium and lead in the waste, effectively making the waste toxic waste. Coca-Cola stopped the practice of distributing its toxic waste only when ordered to do so by the state government. Coca-Cola say they will continue to supply the sludge to farmers. Tests conducted by a variety of agencies, including the government of India, confirmed that Coca-Cola products contained high levels of pesticides, and as a result, the Parliament of India has banned the sale of Coca-Cola in its cafeteria. One of Coca-Cola's latest bottling facilities to open in India, in Ballia, is located in an area with a a severe contamination of arsenic in its groundwater. In September 2003, random testing of Coca-cola products DDT, lindane and malathion and selling sub-standard drinks in the Indian market which contain high levels of pesticides, sometimes higher than 30 times those allowed by European Union standards. Local residents near the holy city of Varanasi were severely beaten up after they protested out Coca-cola’s factory gates. In Rajastan, the sinking water table has created water shortages for over 50 villages and in Maharashtra villagers travel long distances in search of water whilst Coca-cola has built a pipeline to transport water. Protesters are regularly harassed by police. Resistance Since April 2002, residents in Kerala have been on vigil- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, outside the gates of Coca-cola. The factory was eventually shut down in March 2004. The local village council has refused the company a license and the bottling facility has been ‘temporarily’ shut down. However, the High Court of Kerala has permitted Coca-Cola to extract up to 500,000 litres of water from the common groundwater resource per day. Locals campaigners have promised to intensify their campaign to stop the company from re-opening.

Coca-Cola faces increasing resistance in Mehdiganj, Uttar Pradesh and Kala Dera, Rajasthan, where communities are also demanding the shut down of Coca-Cola plants. Tens of thousands of community members are involved in protesting Coca-Cola in India and the International Campaign to Hold Coca-Cola Accountable is also succeeding in applying pressure on the company. 12 colleges and universities have already banned Coca-Cola from their campuses in the US, UK and Italy, and many more are expected to follow.

The National Union for Students (NUS) overwhelmingly voted to take what could be the first steps to boycott Coca-Cola products from Student Union bars and shops. This echoes the steps taken by UNISON and SOAS, Middlesex, Leeds and Bristol Student Unions who have established the policy to boycott the company from their campuses. Amit Srivastava, Director of India Resource Center told me: “The community led campaigns in India to hold Coca-Cola accountable are growing and winning. Coupled with the international efforts to challenge the Coca-Cola company, the campaign is rapidly becoming one of the most well known campaigns internationally that advocates for human rights and environmental justice, and asserts the right of communities over natural resources.”

COLOMBIA: In Colombia, Coca-Cola is charged with complicity in the murder, torture and intimidation of labor union organizers at Coca-Cola bottling plants.

An international boycott was called by the Colombian trade union SINALTRAINAL which represents workers in Coca-cola bottling plants. Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist and over 3,000 have been murdered in the last decade. Since 1989, eight leaders from Coca-cola plants have been murdered by paramilitary forces, some of them attacked within the factory gates. Other Coca-cola workers have been unlawfully detained, kidnapped and tortured often in collaboration with company management. The workers and social leaders have been protesting the lack of safety in the bottling plants.

Isidro Gil, was murdered inside one of these plants allegedly after the plant manager publicly boasted about using paramilitaries against the union. In response to SINALTRAINAL call for help the United Steelworkers and the International Labor Rights Fund in the US have filed a lawsuit against Coca-cola.

Links To organise a boycott, protest or speaker tour at your University email: Scotland: David Smith North England: Bertie Russell South England: Dan Glass: Colombia Solidarity Campaign

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