In 2006, Coca-Cola made headlines in the United Kingdom for being “banned from students’ union over unethical practices. ” The students at Sussex University have decided that they can make a difference in exposing Coca-Cola for their unethical practices, unhealthy product, and the depletion of much needed ground water in rural Indian towns. They are not alone in believing that Coca-Cola contributes to the obesity of children; universities in the United States have also banned Coca-Cola, and a “quarter of states in India have outlawed products following concerns that they contain 27 times the permitted levels of pesticides. However, the harmful side effects of Coca-Cola were not the main objection of the product on the university campuses; the allegations of the anti-union practices in Columbia and the environmental damage they have caused in India were central oppositions. Dan Glass, the president of Sussex University’s students’ union explained, “Our ultimate goal is to make Coca-Cola accountable for the crimes it has committed, but by banning all its products from the campus, we can hit them where it hurts most – in the wallet. As Glass is leading the charge, other universities, including Middlesex, Leeds, Portsmouth and the University of East Anglia, are planning to remove Coca-Cola products from their campuses. Although this is a small fraction of the profit that Coca-Cola makes, it is still effective in raising awareness of Coca-Cola’s true nature. Coca-Cola operates fifty-two water-intensive bottling plants in India, which contribute to the already persistent drought problem in the region.
This is a concern as in the majority of the towns that Coca-Cola operates, the primary industry is farming. Obviously, in farming, water is necessary to the vitality of the crops and in having a successful harvest. After several large protests, the local government revoked Coca-Cola’s license to operate last year and ordered the company to shut down its $25 million plant. In other regions, several thousand people took part in a ten day march in 2004 between two Coca-Cola bottling plants thought to be depleting groundwater.
The leader of the India Resource Center and organizer of the protests, Nandlal Master, believes that “drinking Coke is like drinking a farmer’s blood in India,” and that “Coca-Cola is creating thirst in India, and is directly responsible for the loss of livelihood and even hunger for thousands of people across India. ” Residents of the region are subjected to live in unhealthy and deadly conditions manufactured by Coca-Cola and the negative effects that they have on the environment.
However, groundwater isn’t the only issue that people of India are forced to deal with; Coca-Cola was also creating sludge which was found to be contaminated with several cancerous chemical elements. The sludge that was created by the manufacturing and bottling of Coca-Cola was found to be extremely toxic and hazardous. Instead of Coca-Cola disposing of the sludge as toxic material, they distributed it as fertilizer to the surrounding farmers, telling them that it would help to increase their crops.
However, in 2003, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) of India assessed the sludge at eight Coca-Cola bottling plants and found them all to contain excessive levels of lead, cadmium, and/or chromium. As a result, the CPCB ordered the Coca-Cola Company in India to treat its waste as industrial hazardous waste and deal with it accordingly. In addition to the investigation by the CPCB, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) also sent in an investigatory team directly to a bottling plant in Plachimada in Kerala where it was known that they were distributing the toxic sludge to farmers as fertilizer.
As a result of their findings, government authorities ordered Coca-Cola to immediately stop this practice. In the reports issued by the BBC, they found that the toxic sludge had not only ruined the crops of the farmers, but had also contaminated the groundwater. After the findings and reports that were issued in 2003, Coca-Cola has continued to show blatant disregard for the environmental rules and regulations and continue to operate with impunity. The plant did not disclose the amount of hazardous waste being used and generated, as required by the Supreme Court of India for all industrial units in India that deal with hazardous waste.
As a result of all of these findings, Coca-Cola’s operations are being challenged by various communities across India that are being directly affected, as well as the international community. Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center best describes the actions the company as he explained, “The Coca-Cola Company is announcing to the world that it is an environmentally responsible company, and it has partnered with UN agencies and NGO’s to paint a pretty green picture of tself… [but] it is littered with toxic waste and a complete disregard and destruction of the way of life as many people in rural India know it. ” Because of the long history of violation of environmental laws and regulations, the Coca-Cola plants should be shut down in India until they improve their plants to meet the federal codes and regulations that have been issued by the Indian government.
Until then, the Central Pollution Control Board and other agencies dealing with water and land have been asked to investigate the pollution at the Sinhachawar bottling plant immediately. The villagers have also taken matters into their own hands by showing strong opposition through protests across India. Over a thousand villagers protested at Coca-Cola’s north India headquarters demanding that the company take immediate actions to clean up its act in India.
Nandlal Master, leader of the campaign against Coca-Cola believes that “access to water is a fundamental human right and the Coca-Cola company is denying this right to thousands of people across India,” and vows that he and his supporters “will continue to campaign until people across India can live free of the abuses being perpetrated by these companies. ” The operations of Coca-Cola in India are truly a violation of environmental laws, human rights, and show deliberate disregard for any sort of ethical practice.
This type of behavior must be stopped; through actions by the local villagers, along with the support that they have generated in the international community, it is now only a matter of time before Coca-Cola is brought to justice. In addition to the findings of this research team and the violations found in India, an independent magazine called Ethical Consumer Magazine ranked Coca-Cola at the bottom of their “ethos-core” table that rates soft drinks on ethical principles, with a score of three out of twenty.
They were found to be in direct violation of all twelve categories, which include: Environmental Reporting, Pollution and Toxics, Habitats & Resources, Other Animal Rights, Human Rights, Workers’ Rights, Supply Chain Policy, Irresponsible Marketing, Genetic Engineering, Boycott Call, Political Activities, and Anti-Social Finance. These ‘ethos-core’ categories are designed to help users quickly and easily identify the best ethical products to support and the worst companies to avoid. Coca-Cola is in fact one of the companies that people should avoid for their unethical practices.
Despite their efforts to appear as a company who cares and actively seeks to improve the environment, they continually seem to lack in evidence that they actually execute their own environmental policies. At a shareholders meeting in 2006, Coca-Cola claimed that their rainwater harvesting programs have caused lush green agricultural conditions in areas and that they have provided employment in areas of high unemployment. Because of this reason, they call themselves the ‘savior of water’, but when questioned about the true benefits of their programs, they sat in silence.
The reason for their silence is because the rainwater harvesting program falls short compared to their negative effects. When looking at the facts of a single bottling plant in Mehdiganj, a major protested site in India, Coca-Cola withdraws over 180 million liters of water annually and their rainwater harvesting program recharges only 10 million liters a year; these are numbers that are presented by Coke. Their responses to these allegations were “that water cannot be created nor destroyed and that there was no water shortage in the area. However, at the time, the local government in Mehdiganj and other blocks in the neighborhood had already announced water levels to be critical and banned withdrawal of water from larger bore wells. The attempt of Coke to spin their deliberate environmental rights violations is evidence enough that they were participating in unethical practices. Their extreme disregard for the environment is only one facet of Coke’s unethical practices the other is major human rights violations across the globe.
Coca-Cola attempted to disprove these findings by hiring two different ‘independent’ inquiries who without surprise found that “there was no evidence to support the allegations. ” Nevertheless, the findings of these two ‘independent’ groups were not enough to convince corporate accountability International (CAI) who held a press conference later that same year highlighting the unethical behavior of Coca-Cola. They found Coca-Cola to be in violation of draining the water tables in communities that were already dealing with problems in accessing clean water and violence towards protesters of the corporation.
A representative from the Minnesota chapter of Association for India Development said that he had been at the site of the first protests in Mehdiganj where “security personnel from Coca-Cola had attacked women who were part of a non-violent rally, resulting in serious injuries and broken heads. ” But the violence towards the protesters was not the only serious violation that Coca-Cola was committing, the Coca-Cola plant in Mehdiganj was built illegally on land owned by the village. The causes for the protests were because the villagers wanted equal rights as well as their land back from Coca-Cola.
The citizens of the small communities and villages in the surrounding areas of the bottling plants of Coca-Cola have continually been oppressed and refused their basic human rights. The conduct of Coca-Cola must be stopped. Coca-Cola has continued to violate environmental and human rights t throughout India as well as in Columbia and shows no signs of attempting to reform their operations in either country in order to abide by federal regulations. The only way to bring this global power to an end is to expose their unethical practices to the international community.
Their environmental and human rights violations have been making headlines since 2003 and continue to make them today. Coca-Cola Company continues to run its business believing that it can use a variety of unethical practices and undermine the democratic process in order to continue to profit at the expense of people. The only way to stop this global power is to continue to boycott their company as well as implement sanctions and fines, and expose Coca-Cola for who they truly are, a deceitful corporation who has no moral or ethical values.