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Coca-Cola's Latest Environmental Scam

Under fire for its mismanagement of water resources in India, Coke has gone all out to create an image of itself as a leader in water conservation.

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The study -- a damning indictment of Coca-Cola's water management practices in India -- concluded that the Coca-Cola Co. had sited its bottling plants in India from strictly a "business continuity" perspective that has not taken the wider context into perspective. It also warned Coca-Cola of worsening water conditions around its bottling plants, found an alarming increase in pollution as one got closer to Coca-Cola bottling plants and faulted the company on pollution-prevention measures, among others.

In typical fashion, Coca-Cola has chosen to ignore the findings of the study -- which it paid for and even participated in -- and is now insisting that shutting down the Kala Dera plant and leaving is not an option because the responsible thing to do is to stay and solve the problem because they are "problem solvers!"

Lies and Half-Truths: Coca-Cola's CSR

Last month, the Coca-Cola Co. released its 2007/2008 sustainability review, and surprisingly, critical issues facing the company's operations in India do not find mention in the review. Needless to say, the company gives itself high marks in its sustainability report. We can understand that mentioning the company's atrocious record in India would not look good for a company that is on a fast track toward manufacturing a green image of itself. But surely a company cannot just choose to ignore the fiercest battleground it faces when it comes to measuring Coca-Cola's sustainability?

Evidently, if you are Coca-Cola, you can conveniently choose to omit the most critical issues facing the company's use -- or abuse -- of water. The sustainability report must look good, and facts do not matter. One of Coca-Cola's champion projects in India to deflect attention away from the water crises it causes is rainwater harvesting, a traditional Indian practice.

Although the company started operations in India in 1993, it only had four rainwater-harvesting structures in 2001 -- definitely not a priority for the company. As the community-led campaigns against Coca-Cola's water abuses spread around India, so did Coca-Cola's championing of rainwater harvesting.

Today, the company claims to have over 200 rainwater-harvesting structures. Along with the massive publicity of their rainwater-harvesting structures (which, incidentally, the Coca-Cola funded study found to be in "dilapidated" condition), Coca-Cola also started making fantastical claims.

In Kala Dera, for example, the company claims to recharge (through rainwater harvesting) five times the water they use from the groundwater resource. In other words, they claim that they put back fives times as much water they use back into the groundwater resource. Forget water neutral, this would be water positive!

Yet, while they make this claim in a letter to the University of Michigan, they also note that they do not have any metering mechanisms in place to measure how much water is being recharged. If you don't have measuring devices in place to measure the recharge, how can one claim that they recharge five times the amount of water they use? If you are Coca-Cola, you just make it up. And the University of Michigan officials never even bothered to clarify this point. It sure resonates well with the media, officials and NGOs. And evidently, it seems to work.

Last month, the Coca-Cola Co. extended its partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to conserve freshwater river basins around the world, except India. Announced originally with much fanfare in Beijing in July 2007 as part of their Olympics presence, the partnership with the WWF is yet another attempt to deflect attention away from the real crises that the company creates in India.

Coca-Cola regularly highlights the partnership when responding to the issues in India. While we welcome any initiatives on water conservation, it makes no difference to the communities in India that are reeling from water shortages -- courtesy Coca-Cola. Conserving freshwater river basins in China and Guatemala do absolutely nothing to impact the depleted groundwater in Kala Dera and other Coca-Cola bottling plants in India. Water issues are local issues.

 
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