Statement on May 6 Coca-Cola Meeting with
University Officials and Students
May 4, 2005
San Franciscco, US: The Coca-Cola company, along with DePaul University, University of California and University of Illinois, has convened a meeting with college and university administrators and students on May 6, 2005 in Washington DC. The purpose of the meeting is to "to review issues that have been raised involving bottling plants for Coca-Cola Company products located in Colombia and India." Furthermore, "non-university outside parties" are not allowed to attend the meeting.
The India Resource Center is concerned that the meeting will serve as a forum, once again, for the Coca-Cola company to misrepresent the facts surrounding Coca-Cola in India.
Coca-Cola is in serious crisis in India. Communities across India living next to its bottling plants are experiencing severe water shortages and a polluted groundwater resource and soil. In at least two communities, Coca-Cola was distributing its toxic waste under the guise of fertilizer, and repeated tests have confirmed that Coca-Cola was selling sub-standard products in the Indian marketplace with levels of pesticides exceeding 30 times those allowed by the European Union standards.
A massive grassroots movement has emerged in India to hold Coca-Cola accountable for its crimes, and literally tens of thousands of community members, primarily from rural India, are taking action to put an end to Coca-Cola's abuses. Creating water shortages in India and poisoning the remaining groundwater and land is a sure recipe for disaster in India - where over 70% of the population still makes a living related to agriculture.
Unfortunately, Coca-Cola has responded to the growing crisis through a campaign of misinformation and omission of key facts.
At the most recent shareholders meeting, the CEO of Coca-Cola, Neville Isdell, announced that they could open their plant in Kerala whenever they wanted. Not only is this blatantly incorrect, it is indicative of the manner in which the Coca-Cola company has repeatedly treated Indian institutions - with impunity. In fact, the local village council in Kerala has once again refused to issue Coca-Cola a license to operate because the company was unable to produce the necessary permit from the Pollution Control Board. As a result, one of Coca-Cola's largest bottling facilities remains shut down in India for over a year now.
The Joint Parliamentary Committee, one of the most authoritative bodies possible to be set up in India, studied claims of pesticides in Coca-Cola products and concluded that indeed, Coca-Cola products contained high levels of pesticides, including DDT, malathion and lindane. In addition, the committee held that the Coca-Cola company was guilty of misleading the public by issuing false advertisements. It also charged the company with not doing enough to recharge the groundwater.
Coca-Cola's response has been that "we (Coca-Cola) do not agree with the Joint Parliamentary Committee report."
The Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, a body set up by the Supreme Court of India, has also repeatedly cited Coca-Cola for causing pollution around its plant. Nowhere in Coca-Cola's response is there made a mention of this committee's orders.
Coca-Cola also has embarked upon a campaign to suggest that they closed their factory voluntarily, and that they stopped distributing toxic waste in India voluntarily. These again are part of a campaign of misinformation. In both cases, Coca-Cola was ordered by Indian government agencies to cease the practice.
The community opposition to Coca-Cola in India continues to grow and no amount of misinformation by Coca-Cola is going to stop it.
Institutions of higher learning play a key role in advancing a global society based on the principles of fairness, justice and equality. Doing business with a company such as Coca-Cola, which is guilty of human rights and environmental abuses in India, is contrary to these principles.
We would advise colleges and universities to exercise caution in serving as an 'agent' for the Coca-Cola company. The demands from communities in India are clear, and Coca-Cola must meet them. It is not up to institutions in the US and elsewhere to negotiate the demands. If the Coca-Cola company has something to say about the demands, they can convey them directly to the community groups in India, who speak for themselves.
The meeting convened by the Coca-Cola company in Washington DC on May 6 is yet another forum for the Coca-Cola company to misrepresent the issues in India. We invite the academic community to join us to put an end to the problem and become part of the solution. Ceasing to do business with the Coca-Cola company is a positive first step.
For more information, contact the India Resource Center E: info(AT)IndiaResource.org W: www.IndiaResource.org
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