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By Amit Srivastava
Even though it is too early to begin to analyze the manipulated alliance between Coca Cola and the WWF, it is clear to Indian communities that the company is not genuinely interested in ending the problems that are affecting the lives and livelihoods of thousands. low-income farmers and rural communities.
The Coca-Cola company with great fanfare recently announced a three-year $ 20 million partnership with the World Wildlife Fund for water conservation.
At first glance, obviously such an announcement would be welcome. After all, who would object to a water conservation project in a world where more than 1 billion people still lack clean water?
However, the Coca Cola ad deserves to be scrutinized - something that the media, not even NGOs, do - mainly because it is none other than the Coca Cola company that advertises these water conservation projects.
As India Resource Center has established, the Coca Cola company maintains an unsustainable relationship with water, a natural resource that is increasingly scarce.
The company's insatiable thirst, which used 290 billion liters of water in 2006 alone, enough to meet the world's need for clean water for 10 days, has not even begun to tell the whole story.
The Coca Cola company has converted two-thirds of fresh water into wastewater. The vast majority of fresh water is used for cleaning the production process, which results in Coca Cola being the champion of converting perfectly drinkable (and increasingly scarce) water into dirty water.
Such an abusive relationship is criminal from every point of view, particularly when it comes from a company that describes itself as a "hydration" company and whose annual environmental report speaks of a great proposal by a group that only works for the water conservation.
The credit goes to India, although it is not granted
It is in India where the company's abuse of water resources has been denounced loudly and communities across the country living in the vicinity of the Coca Cola plants have organized into large groups, demanding that it be stopped. to mismanagement of water.
In fact, it has been the Indian-led campaigns against Coca Cola that have forced the company to announce this ambitious $ 20 million initiative.
The campaigns in India have served to deep-mark Coca Cola's "refreshing" image and, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, "have cost millions of dollars in lost sales and legal fees in India, as well as increasing damage to image and reputation everywhere. "
In an intense effort to repair its image damaged as a result of the campaigns in India, the Coca Cola company is increasing its support for social responsibility and the $ 20 million project with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is part of what same.
For the communities in the country that have to fight against the misuse that Coca makes of water resources, the announcement falls short of what is expected to be done.
First of all, the Coca Cola company will need to adopt fundamental operational changes to its way of operating in India. Until now the company has preferred to respond to the charges against it through a formidable public relations machine, without seeing that any manipulation will make the problem disappear.
Second, the $ 20 million partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, ostensibly for the conservation of river basins, does not include India. While a high number of people are grateful that India has been excluded from its list, it is also confusing that the company has chosen to ignore the country where it has caused the most damage to water resources.
Even though it is too early to begin analyzing the manipulated alliance between Coca Cola and the WWF, it is clear to Indian communities that the company is not genuinely interested in ending the problems that are affecting the lives and livelihoods of thousands. low-income farmers and rural communities.
If the company took the problem in India seriously, it would also invest time, resources and energy (not through its public relations department) in order to tackle the real problems in India. The Coca Cola company still thinks that they will just disappear, perhaps dazed by the fact that they can buy any of the Bollywood personalities to make their offers.
If it is the Indian communities that have forced the Coca Cola company to advertise the $ 20 million project, then what is the purpose of investing those resources in water conservation projects elsewhere outside of India?
You don't need to sharpen your eyes to understand some of the real reasons companies like Coca Cola have for announcing these great plans as part of their corporate social responsibility.
A golden peacock or a red herring?
In India, the Coca Cola Company wastes no time in letting visitors to its website know that it is an award-winning company and a world leader in environmental practices. One of the most "prestigious" awards repeatedly given to Coca Cola is the Golden Peacock Environmental Award. Coca Cola pocketed these awards for its "excellent" performance in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006.
The awards are presented to the Coca Cola company by the World Environment Foundation, a non-profit organization registered in the UK and India.
What Coca Cola does not mention, however, is that it is a sponsor of the aforementioned foundation and in fact, if the World Environment Foundation website is to be believed, the ONLY sponsor is the Coca Cola company.
There is no doubt that it is very convenient to have a group that sponsors Coca Cola and gives it all kinds of environmental awards. However, it is unimaginative and a poor attempt by Coca Cola to fabricate a public image of itself that certainly does not correspond to it.
The behavior of the Coca Cola company in India has come under intense scrutiny as a result of the campaign; Some of the biggest proponents are college and university students in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. More than 20 colleges and universities have taken action against Coca Cola for its heinous behavior in India and just over the past six months, the University of Manchester in the UK, the University of Guelph in Canada and Smith College in the United States have rejected Coca Cola products on their premises.
One of the most significant campaigns against Coca Cola takes place at the University of Michigan, a prestigious public university with more than 40,000 students. On January 1, 2006, this university suspended its commercial relations with the Coca Cola company as a result of the student campaign on its premises and established certain conditions so that they could return. One of the conditions placed on Coca Cola was that it must agree to an evaluation of its operations in India by an "independent third party."
Coca Cola offered, and the University of Michigan agreed that the "independent third party" that would evaluate its operations in India would be a group called the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).
However, TERI receives funds and is sponsored by the Coca Cola company, and there is a long relationship between them.
By all logic, the University of Michigan has accepted a funded group sponsored by Coca Cola to evaluate its operations in India as an "independent third party."
TERI has referred to Coca Cola as one of the most responsible companies in India in 2001, it has organized Earth Day 2003 with the support of Coca Cola and its president, in a video produced by Coca Cola to refer to the campaign , has said that the Coca Cola company "is on the right track" when it comes to the problems in India.
Once again, the Coca Cola company has found an insincere way to get the results it wants, a positive evaluation of its operations in India. Communities in India, while calling for an independent assessment, have rejected the choice of TERI, sponsored by Coca Cola, to carry out the assessment.
Rainwater harvesting or large claims?
In response to the growing Indian campaign against Coca Cola, the company has decided to promote the collection of rainwater - a traditional practice in India - in and around bottling plants. Touting the rainwater harvesting initiative is now a central theme in Coca Cola's public relations strategy in India.
While rainwater harvesting projects have only recently been introduced, Coca Cola is not shy about making fantastic claims.
On one of its Internet sites, the company claims that "a large part of the groundwater that we use in our operations is returned to the groundwater system, which helps replenish groundwater resources."
However, when asked to document what they preach about the "large" amount of groundwater they recharge, the company is left with no answers.
During a protest at one of the bottling plants in Mehdiganj, North India, the villagers managed to corner Coca Cola India's Senior Manager of Public Relations and Communications, Mr. Kalyan Ranjan. When asked how much rainwater had been collected at the Mehdiganj bottling plant, Mr. Ranjan said that 7 million liters had been collected in 2005.
Even if the amount of 250,000 liters of water per day that Coca Cola extracts for the Mehdiganj plant is taken as a conservative figure, the figure for the recharge that Coca Cola gives turns out to be 8%. In other words, the company recharged only 8% of the water that they extracted from groundwater resources.
Is 8% "substantial"? Hardly.
Once again, Coca Cola has decided to confuse public opinion as to what it does, raising fantastic figures regarding its efficiency in rainwater management programs.
Put your money in your mouth or talk more than necessary?
For a company that manages an annual advertising budget of $ 2.4 billion, a $ 20 million investment in a global water conservation project - less than 1% of its advertising budget - is truly a drop in the bucket.
In fact, it would not be unrealistic to say that the Coca Cola company will spend more on advertising its water conservation campaigns than the conservation projects themselves!
And for a company with a $ 100 trillion market, the sincerity of Coca Cola's investments in water conservation becomes even clearer. Is the company investing 0.002% of its value and should we take it seriously?
Given that the past manufacturing history of the Coca Cola Company reflects a picture that is certainly not clear, we remain extremely skeptical of the current water conservation announcement, which will be just another attempt to give us a "green bath. . "
The 10th. Editing the Oxford Concise Dictionary of the English Language defines "green bath" as: "disinformation disseminated by an organization to present an environmentally responsible public image."www.ecoportal.net
* Amit Srivastava is the coordinator of the India Resource Center, an international campaign organization, working to challenge abuses committed by multinational corporations. India Resource Center
For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org