Coca-Cola’s lies don’t float

The University plays a key role in advancing a global society based on the principle of fairness.

The Coca-Cola Company is misleading the University by making unsubstantiated claims about its relationship to water. Coca-Cola Co. has a dismal record of protecting water resources. It neither protects nor preserves water. By placing an advertisement in the Daily 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. The company conveniently has omitted pertinent data, and the advertisement is designed to deliberately mislead the public.

Coca-Cola Co. is guilty of denying thousands of people access to water in India by affecting the quantity of quality water through pollution caused by massive water use. Its operations are affecting the very lifeline of India, where more than 70 percent of the population derives a living from agriculture. Taking water away from these communities has resulted in drastic consequences.

Coca-Cola’s flaunting of its 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 percent of the freshwater it extracts in India is turned into wastewater. And Coca-Cola extracts huge amounts of water, in some cases using as much as 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 of Coca-Cola.

Omitting such relevant numbers regarding water stewardship deliberately misleads 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 in which a lack of access to clean drinking water is a reality for more than 1.2 billion people – about 20 percent of the world’s population. Does Coca-Cola’s 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 it uses 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 its Mehdiganj facility “harvested” only 8 percent of its annual water use. Eight percent 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 its 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. Rainwater harvesting alone is not enough to meet Coca-Cola’s super-sized thirst for water.

Coca-Cola Co. 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 more than 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 waters 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 March 23, demanding that the plant shut down before summer begins, when water shortages are particularly acute.

The misleading advertisement in the Daily does nothing to assuage the serious concerns of the thousands of people living near Mehdiganj.

As a prestigious institution of higher learning, the University plays a key role in advancing a global society based on the principles of fairness, justice and equality. We believe continued business with Coca-Cola negates these principles.

We invite the University to become part of the solution by refusing to do business with Coca-Cola Co. until it cleans up its act in India. We welcome a thorough investigation into Coca-Cola’s crimes in India. Indeed, we expect no less from the University. We challenge Coca-Cola Co. to a public debate on the issues in India for the benefit of the University. The facts tell the true story. The full-page advertisement by Coca-Cola Co. does not.

Amit Srivastava is the coordinator of the India Resource Center. Please send comments to [email protected]