Sucking Communities Dry
Coca-Cola is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. The
company claims to adhere to the “highest ethical standards” and
to be “an outstanding corporate citizen in every community we serve”.
Yet Coca-Cola’s activities around the world tell a different story. Coca-Cola
has been accused of dehydrating communities in its pursuit of water resources
to feed its own plants, drying up farmers’ wells and destroying local
agriculture. The company has also violated workers’ rights in countries
such as Colombia, Turkey, Guatemala and Russia. Only through its multi-million
dollar marketing campaigns can Coca-Cola sustain the clean image it craves.
The company admits that without water it would have no business at all. Coca-Cola’s
operations rely on access to vast supplies of water, as it takes almost three
litres of water to make one litre of Coca-Cola. In order to satisfy this need,
Coca-Cola is increasingly taking over control of aquifers in communities around
the world. These vast subterranean chambers hold water resources collected over
many hundreds of years. As such they the represent the heritage of entire communities.
Coca-Cola’s operations have particularly been blamed for exacerbating
water shortages in regions that suffer from a lack of water resources and rainfall.
Nowhere has this been better documented than in India, where there are now community
campaigns against the company in several states. New research carried out by
War on Want in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh affirms the
findings from Kerala and Maharastra that Coca-Cola’s activities are having
a serious negative impact on farmers and local communities.
Coca-Cola established a bottling plant in the village of Kaladera in Rajasthan
at the end of 1999. Rajasthan is well known as a desert state, and Kaladera
is a small, impoverished village characterised by semi-arid conditions. Farmers
rely on access to groundwater for the cultivation of their crops, but since
Coca-Cola’s arrival they have been confronted with a serious decline in
water levels. Locals are increasingly unable to irrigate their lands and sustain
their crops, putting whole families at risk of losing their livelihoods.
Local villagers testify that Coca-Cola’s arrival exacerbated an already
precarious situation. Official documents from the Government’s water ministry
show that water levels remained stable from 1995 until 2000, when the Coca-Cola
plant became operational. Water levels then dropped by almost 10 metres over
the following five years. Locals now fear that Kaladera could become a ‘dark
zone’, the term used to describe areas that are abandoned due to depleted
Other communities in India that live and work around Coca-Cola’s bottling
plants are experiencing severe water shortages as well as environmental damage.
Local villagers near the holy city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh complain that
the company’s over-exploitation of water resources has taken a heavy toll
on their harvests and led to the drying up of wells. As in Rajasthan and Kerala,
villagers have been holding protests against the local Coca-Cola plant for its
appropriation of valuable water resources.
In the now infamous case of Plachimada in the southern state of Kerala, Coca-Cola’s
plant was forced to close down in March 2004 after the village council refused
to renew the company’s licence, on the grounds that it had over-used and
contaminated local water resources. Four months earlier, the Kerala High Court
had ruled that Coca-Cola's heavy extraction from the common groundwater resource
was illegal, and ordered it to seek alternative sources for its production.
In 2003 the independent Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) tested Coca-Cola
beverages and found levels of pesticides around 30 times higher than European
Union standards. Levels of DDT, which is banned in agriculture in India, were
nine times higher than the EU limit. In February 2004 Indian MPs who investigated
CSE’s studies upheld these findings and the Parliament went on to ban
Coca-Cola from its cafeterias.
War on Want’s ‘alternative report’ also details how Coca-Cola
is having a devastating impact of water resources elsewhere. In El Salvador,
the company has been accused of exhausting water resources over a 25-year period.
In Chiapas, Coca-Cola is positioning itself to take control of the water resources.
The Mexican government under Vicente Fox – himself a former President
of Coca-Cola Mexico – has given the company concessions to exploit community
Coca-Cola’s own workers have also suffered and the company is being increasingly
associated with anti-union activities. The most notable case is in Colombia
where paramilitaries have killed eight Coca-Cola workers since 1990. The main
Coca-Cola trade union Sinaltrainal is seeking to hold Coca-Cola liable for using
paramilitaries to engage in anti-union violence.
Coca-Cola is being sued on behalf of transport workers and their families for
its part in the alleged intimidation and torture of trade unionists and their
families by special branch police in Turkey. In Nicaragua, workers of the main
Coca-Cola union SUTEC have been denied the right to organise and the General
Secretary of SUTEC, Daniel Reyes believes that the objective of this ongoing
and escalating campaign is to crush the union.
Guatemalan workers have been struggling against Coca-Cola since the 1970s.
In the years between 1976 and 1985, three general secretaries of the main union
were assassinated and members of their families, friends and legal advisers
were threatened, arrested, kidnapped, shot, tortured and forced into exile.
The violations of workers’ rights continue and Coca-Cola workers and their
family members with ties to unions have reportedly been subjected to death threats.
Elsewhere in countries such as Peru, Russia and Chile, Coca-Cola workers have
been protesting against the company’s anti-union policies.
Coca-Cola claims to exist “to benefit and refresh everyone it touches”
and to try to sustain this positive image, the company spends $2 billion a year
on advertising alone. Yet there are signs that the image is beginning to crumble.
The relay carrying the Olympic flame was repeatedly disrupted by protests at
Coca-Cola’s role as the principal sponsor, with the Turin council actually
declaring the city a no-go zone for the company (a decision subsequently overruled
by the mayor).
University campuses throughout the USA and Europe have now voted to cancel
contracts with Coca-Cola in protest at its operations, and in solidarity with
the community resistance which has escalated in many countries across the world.
It is up to us to keep up the pressure on Coca-Cola and also send a strong message
to our elected leaders to rein in irresponsible business practises.
For more information and to join War on Want's campaign to rein in global
corporations go to: www.waronwant.org/challengecorporates
or to order a printed copy of the report, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org