Coca-Cola Misleading Public on Water Issues
The Coca-Cola company is misleading the University of Minnesota by
making unsubstantiated claims about its relationship to water. The
Coca-Cola company has a dismal record of protecting water resources.
It neither protects nor preserves water. By placing an advertisement
in the Daily Minnesota on March 22, the Coca-Cola company is attempting
to manufacture an image of itself that it clearly is not - a responsible
steward of water.
The reality of Coca-Cola on the ground globally, and particularly
in India, is a far cry from what was printed in the Daily Minnesota.
The company has conveniently omitted pertinent data, and the advertisement
is designed to deliberately mislead the public.
The Coca-Cola company is guilty of denying thousands of people access
to water in India by affecting the quantity of water - through its
massive water use, and the quality of water - through pollution. Its
operations are affecting the very lifeline of India - where over 70%
of the population derives a living from agriculture- and taking water
away from these communities has resulted in drastic consequences.
Coca-Cola's flaunting of their increased water efficiency in the advertisement
fails to provide an accurate picture of the company's relationship
with water. According to the company itself, 75% of the freshwater
they extract in India is turned into wastewater. And Coca-Cola extracts
huge amounts of water, in some cases using up to a million liters
of water per day in some facilities in India. Globally, the company
extracted 283 billion liters of water in 2004, and turned two-thirds
of it into wastewater. No matter how you look at it, that's a lot
of freshwater, and unfortunately, a lot of wastewater, courtesy Coca-Cola.
Omitting such relevant numbers when discussing water stewardship is
designed to deliberately mislead the public.
We agree with Coca-Cola's assessment that freshwater is a precious
and shared resource that is under increasing stress. But for a company
that converts the vast majority of the large amounts of freshwater
it extracts into wastewater, responsible is hardly the word to describe
its relationship to water.
Coca-Cola's abuse of water is particularly striking in a world where
lack of access to clean, drinking water is a reality for over 1.2
billion people - about 20% of the world's population. Does Coca-Cola's
current relationship with water - turning billions of liters of water
into wastewater - qualify it as a responsible steward of water resources
in the world, as the advertisement suggests? We think not.
Coca-Cola's claims in the advertisement of "substantially" returning
the water they use to local aquifers in India is also absurd. Just
last week, Coca-Cola's top public relations official in India admitted
that rainwater harvesting in their Mehdiganj facility "harvested"
only 8% of their annual water use. 8% is not "substantial" by any
measure, and is indicative, once again, of the deliberate attempt
by the company to mislead.
Rainwater harvesting is not, as Coca-Cola may suggest, an altruistic
measure on their part. It is the result of the formidable community
campaigns all across India challenging the company's water abuses
that have forced the company to adopt rainwater harvesting. But rainwater
harvesting alone is not enough to meet Coca-Cola's supersized thirst
The Coca-Cola company does not mention in the advertisement that it
has been indicted for polluting water and land in India, which has
resulted in further hardships for thousands. One of Coca-Cola's largest
bottling plants in India has remained shut down for over two years
now because the State Pollution Control Board will not allow it to
operate-citing the company for gross pollution. Numerous tests conducted
by government and independent agencies have confirmed that the water
around Coca-Cola's bottling plants have been severely polluted and
are unfit for human consumption.
Twenty villages in the vicinity of Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Mehdiganj,
in northern India, have embarked upon an indefinite vigil on March
23, demanding that the plant shut down before summer begins, when
water shortages are particularly acute.
The misleading advertisement in the Daily Minnesota does nothing to
assuage the serious concerns of the thousands of people living near
As a prestigious institution of higher learning, the University of
Minnesota plays a key role in advancing a global society based on
the principles of fairness, justice and equality. We believe that
continued business with Coca-Cola negates these principles. We invite
the University of Minnesota to become part of the solution by refusing
to do business with the Coca-Cola company until it cleans up its act
We welcome a thorough investigation into Coca-Cola's crimes in India.
Indeed, we expect no less from the University of Minnesota.
We challenge the Coca-Cola company to a public debate on the issues
in India for the benefit of the University of Minnesota. The facts
tell the true story. The full-page advertisement by the Coca-Cola
company does not.
Amit Srivastava is the coordinator of the India
Resource Center, an international campaigning organization that
works directly with communities in India affected by Coca-Cola's practices.
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