Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Kaala Colas

Maharashtra government is considering banning soft drinks from schools. A report on this is here.

Recently, Coke's contract was not renewed by University of Michigan and there are several other schools that have terminated Coke's contract based on its track record in the Latin American countries and India. While it is great that there is lot of student activism and rural activism (in India, whose water inputs have been affected), am not sure if similar student initiatives exist in India. These student led initiatives can question Coke's practices and policies and force the management to consider them while making contract decisions etc. I maybe wrong, but I get the feeling that soft drinks are unquestionably welcome on most campuses in India. How many people think while drinking Coke/Pepsi that these companies might be encroaching on water which belongs to villages in Kerala/Rajasthan. Initially it was almost a status symbol to drink Coke/Pepsi and now it is a common place phenomenon with Aamir Khan urging on "Piyo Sar Uthake".

Here are a few links on Coke's water issues in India:
Rain or no rain, water for Coke
No water? Drink Coke!
Dissent at home, as abroad, for Colas
From saree weaver to leader

Here are links about the pesticide levels in soft-drinks:
Indian Coke, Pepsi Laced with Pesticides, Says NGO
Soft drinks, hard realities
The CSE analyzed samples from 12 major soft drink manufacturers that are sold in and around the capital at its laboratories and found that all of them contained residues of four extremely toxic pesticides and insecticides--lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos.
The level of chlorpyrifos was 42 times higher than EEC norms, their study showed. Malathion residues were 87 times higher and lindane--recently banned in the United States--21 times higher, CSE scientists said.

India Resource Center and Killer Coke have active anti-Coca Cola campaigns.

So, next time you reach out for the bottle full of chemicals, remember you are not only potentially harming yourself but also supporting immoral and illegal actions of these companies including land encroachment, disproportionate water use, sale of waste sludge as fertilizers to farmers, environmental pollution due to improper waste disposal, violation of human rights and several others.


Vishnu said...

Agreed that the coke issue is a big one, especially since the Plachimada plant has reopened. I've been following the coke story eagerly since October, when Sandeep Pandey visited the US. But I feel that some of his statements on the anti-coke movement might not be accepted by many, and the movement will not get popular support.

Purushottam said...

thanks for writing Vishnu. I am sure there are several view points within the anti-Coke movement. Could you send a pointer to the statements that you mentioned?---can take a look and try to comment on it.

as an aside, I had a question on some point while reading one of Sandeep Pandey's articles and I wrote to him about it, to which he replied very promplty. You might also want to write to him and get his viewpoint.

Vishnu said...

In an AID newsletter, there was an interview of Pandey. He said that the movement's aim is to make Coke and Pepsi shut down its plants in India, as they are too powerful MNCs who will not let the governments pass any legislations against them. If they are that powerful, how are you going to throw coke out of the country?

Now, Coke does what it does because of the lack of legislations (or their implementation). I don't think they would act similarly in the U.S., because of laws etc.

These soft drinks are welcome in campuses in India probably because of the lack of awareness; I am not too sure of this. But a protest to 'throw coke out of the country' is less likely to gain popularity on campuses as compared to awareness about groundwater and pollutants.

Now, Sandeep Pandey travelled around universities in the U.S., talking about these issues. Does he visit campuses in India? (not a rhetorical question, I do not know the answer.)

Vishnu said...

Incidentally, redirects you to a Coca Cola webpage which says that they are not that evil, they do rainwater harvesting etc. (Sandeep Pandey dismisses this as a publicity stunt in the same interview.) I wrote him an email several days ago regarding the claims on this webpage, but did not get a reply yet.

Purushottam said...

vishnu---I had asked SP a similar query regarding rainwater harvesting claims of Coke,
here was his response:
at least the two places where i'm involved with the grassroots' struggle, i have not seen the company doing anything in the name of water recharging.

and here is a reply from Amit Srivastava@IndiaResource Center on the same question ...
Coke does seem to mention its support of rainwater harvesting in India as a way to deflect from the real issues. It is true that they are implementing rain water harvesting systems in most of their plants BUT this does not mean that groundwater is replenished immediately, as they suggest.
Groundwater is replenished naturally, and it can take decades for rainwater harvesting systems to recharge the groundwater.
We have not done any studies but we are interested in getting some scientists/researchers/academics to look into this subject more- to see if Coke's suggestion that rainwater harvesting is enough to replenish their consumption holds water or not.

While I tend to believe that their rain-water harvesting (which is done in their plant premises) is not a primary way to meet their water requirements and is only a tool to divert from the real issue, as Amit said above an a mthodical assessment will help the case.

About SP's/others visiting Indian campuses for the cause, I am sure he and others are doing something on those lines, but am not sure to what extent (as they are also involved gathering support at the sites themselves). Regarding, the issue of shutting down plants, while that might be the bigger objective, I agree an awareness campaign about its unfair means/pollutants/pesticides etc. can be more effective and and can further spread the word on campuses etc.