Protest at U starts campaign against Coca-Cola’s water use

by Matthew Gruchow

A group of demonstrators gathered Friday at Coffman Union to protest what it believes is The Coca-Cola Company’s harmful foreign water practices.

The event launched a nationwide call-in campaign by Corporate Accountability International to change the way Coca-Cola does business in poor overseas communities.

Organizers asked students as they passed by Coffman Union to call Coca-Cola’s corporate office and voice their complaints about the company’s practices in India.

Coca-Cola’s plants are stealing the water supplies of poor communities in India, one organizer said.

“Coke is able to get away with it because of its economic and political clout,” said Jacek Pruski, the Minneapolis organizer for the activists’ organization. “These practices and problems are occurring throughout the world, but we’re focusing on India right now.”

Coca-Cola is not compensating poor communities for use of their water resources, Pruski said.

“Their normal wells are not available to (residents) because the water shelf has dropped so much due to that extracting process,” Pruski said.

Residents are left with few options for drinking water, he said.

They must either buy expensive bottled water or use water from unclean rivers nearby, which can lead to public health hazards, Pruski said.

Coca-Cola should reassess its economic and health impact on foreign communities, he said.

“We want Coke to stop stealing water in India today,” he said. “That’s why we’re starting with our call-in day.”

Senior Melissa Toft said international news coverage of Coca-Cola’s overseas practices made her call in protest.

“I talked to someone from public affairs; she had the usual complacent response,” Toft said. “She said she’d pass on the concerns.”

University senior Matthew Matsumoto said he hopes the call-in effort will impact Coca-Cola’s practices.

“I think it depends on how much media attention it gets,” he said. “It could be a really large movement.”

Scott Williamson, a spokesman for Coca-Cola, said the company strives to have a positive community presence.

He said tests and analysis from the company and the Indian government show Coca-Cola’s products are safe and do not have a negative environmental impact.

Coke harvests rainwater for its plants and has reduced its water consumption by 22 percent since 2001 in an effort to limit environmental impact, Williamson said.

Specifically, Coca-Cola is evaluating ways to ensure sustainable and adequate use of the limited resource, Williamson said.