The Case Against Coca-Cola in Mehdiganj
Mehdiganj is a village located 20 kms from the city of Varanasi, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited, the Indian subsidiary of the US based Coca-Cola company, has operated a bottling plant in Mehdiganj since 1999. Within a year, community members started to notice changes in water levels as well as farming. A movement to challenge the Coca-Cola company emerged and has grown to encompass thousands of people in Mehdiganj and surrounding villages who are being impacted by Coca-Cola's practices.
Creating Water Shortages
Coca-Cola's extraction of water from the common groundwater resource has created severe water shortages for at least twenty villages around the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj.
Communities are finding it extremely difficult to meet their basic water needs and it is also affecting their ability to make a living. There is much less water available for farming, and obtaining water for drinking, cooking and cleaning has been made difficult as a result of Coca-Cola's massive extraction of water.
Estimates of how much water Coca-Cola extracts in Mehdiganj vary. Community members estimate that Coca-Cola takes up to 2.5 million liters of water per day, and Coca-Cola themselves admit that they extract 500,000 liters of water per day.
Regardless of which estimate one goes by, the amount of water Coca-Cola extracts is massive. Its daily water use, even at the lower estimate, is enough water to meet the basic daily water drinking needs of 100,000 residents every day!
The Coca-Cola company's extraction of water has further exacerbated the water crisis for communities living around its bottling plant, and this is the primary concern of the communities.
It is true that lack of adequate rainfall is partly to blame for the water crisis in Mehdiganj and surrounding villages. The year 2006 may very well be one of the driest years for the district that encompasses Mehdiganj, and the state government of Uttar Pradesh has introduced urgent measures to address the drought conditions, including the delivery of drinking water by trucks to communities.
In the face of wells running dry, crops failing because of inadequate water, residents
rationing their drinking water and the government declaring serious
drought conditions, it is absolutely negligent to allow the Coca-Cola
company to extract such large amounts of water for profit. It is particularly
disturbing because the Coca-Cola company pays absolutely nothing for
its massive water usage in Mehdiganj.
The Coca-Cola company generates toxic waste in Mehdiganj and until 2004, the company chose not to declare the toxicity of its waste. Coca-Cola freely dumped its solid and water waste into the surrounding premises. The company also distributed its waste to farmers as fertilizer!
In 2003, the Central Pollution Control Board of India examined the waste from the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj, and found that it contained extremely high levels of lead (up to 538mg/kg), cadmium (up to 86mg/kg) and chromium (up to 134mg/kg), effectively making it hazardous waste.
The Pollution Control Board ordered the Coca-Cola company to treat the waste as hazardous and to store the waste in an appropriate manner. The state of Uttar Pradesh does not have a landfill to contain such toxic waste adequately, and the Coca-Cola company will not let independent observers into the plant to examine the containment of the toxic waste.
The indiscriminate dumping of the toxic waste has polluted the soil as well as the groundwater around the bottling plant. In some instances, the bottling plant discharged large amounts of wastewater into the surrounding fields, flooding the crops. Mangoes, which grow prolifically in Mehdiganj, have fared extremely poorly, as have other crops.
Groundwater polluted by heavy metals such as cadmium and lead are almost impossible to clean, and the communities around Coca-Cola's bottling plants may have to live with poisoned water and soil for generations to come.
Unfair Labor Practices
A union was formed by the Coca-Cola workers in Mehdiganj in 2000, when workers
realized that Coca-Cola was paying the labor contractor Rs 110 (about
US $ 2.40) a day for their work and they were getting only Rs 72 (about
US $ 1.6) a day. The vast majority of the workers at the Mehdiganj
bottling plant are contract workers who receive no benefits and are
"temporary". The union enjoyed some successes, including winning a
US$2 wage for an 8 hour day and double time for work on Sundays. In
2002, the union protested for eight days to demand that contract workers
be made permanent and that workers be paid during winter months (when
the bottling plant drastically reduces production). The Coca-Cola
company responded by dismissing the key leaders of the union, including
Bhagwan Das Yadav, and some workers who had participated in the protest.
False cases were also initiated against 13 of the union leaders.
The Coca-Cola company also rolled back many of the gains realized by the union.
Coca-Cola's treatment of its contract workers violates the Indian Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and other Acts that are part of Indian labor law. Under the Contract Labor (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited, the Indian subsidiary of the Coca-Cola company, is the principal employer of these workers, and as such is responsible for ensuring that all labor law requirements are met.
Land Grab and Evasion of Taxes
The Coca-Cola company in Mehdiganj has also illegally occupied one third acre of land which is owned by the village. The courts have found the Coca-Cola company guilty and issued notices to the company to return the land, which has yet to happen. In 2005, the pradhan (chief) of Mehdiganj, Ram Jivan Patel, was dismissed by the District Magistrate of Varanasi because of corruption. The community proved its case that the pradhan had been "paid off" to sign documents that Coca-Cola had returned the land, even though they had not.
The Coca-Cola company is also accused of evading stamp duty taxes worth US$380,000 which the company refuses to pay, in spite of a court ordering it to pay US$650,000 with penalties in March 2003.
Rainwater Harvesting or Public Relations
The Coca-Cola company continues to publicize its use of rainwater harvesting to "substantially" return the water they use to the local aquifer. In April 2006, Coca-Cola's top public relations official in India admitted (inadvertently) 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 of the deliberate attempts by the company to mislead the public through public relations.
The community of Mehdiganj and surrounding villages are demanding that the state government of Uttar Pradesh take immediate action to:
For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org or contact
- Cancel the license of the Coca-Cola company in Mehdiganj
- Prohibit the Coca-Cola company from extracting groundwater
- Order the Coca-Cola company to release the public land occupied illegally
- Order the Coca-Cola company to stop the pollution from its premises
- Compensate impacted community members for loss of livelihood and hardship created by the Coca-Cola company
- Recover the stamp duty evaded by the Coca-Cola company
- Dismiss all cases filed against the peaceful protesters, including workers
Village Nagepur, P.O. Benipur
Varanasi, UP, India
Tel: +91-542-2632433, +91 9415300520, +91 9839017693
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