Hopenhagen, hypocrisy and Coca-Cola

29 December 2009 by Farooq Sulehria

India’s leading environmentalist, Vandana Shiva had her ’’heart just
sank’’ as she got off the flight at Copenhagen airport, when the first
thing she ’’saw was a Coca-Cola bottle’’ as sponsor for ’’Hopenhagen’’.
Sponsored by notorious corporate giants, Hopenhagen was a big campaign
during the COP15. Talking to Democarcy Now’s Amy Goodman, on December
14, Vandana Shiva said: ’’ Coca-Cola should not be the symbol of finding
solutions for the climate crisis’’
. She pointed out: if you’ve been to
Plachimada, India, where 1.4 million liters, were extracted by Coca-Cola
every day, to make these soft drinks and to do the bottling of water,
’’the women had to rise up against Coca-Cola. The women had to say,
’Shut this plant down, because we are having to walk ten miles to get
clean and safe water.’ That would not be Hopenhagen. The women of
Plachimada would not see hope in a Coca-Cola bottle’’

Plachimada is a little village in Kerala where the women organised and
shut down a Coca-Cola plant in 2004 and this triggered a movement across
India. It is because communities across India living around Coca-Cola’s
bottling plants are experiencing severe water shortages, directly as a
result of Coca-Cola’s massive extraction of water from the common
groundwater resource. The wells have run dry and the hand water pumps do
not work any more. When the water is extracted from the common
groundwater resource by digging deeper, the water smells and tastes
strange. Coca-Cola has been indiscriminately discharging its waste water
into the fields around its plant and sometimes into rivers, including
the Ganges, in the area. The result has been that the groundwater has
been polluted as well as the soil.

’’Water shortages, pollution of groundwater and soil, exposure to toxic
waste and pesticides is having impacts of massive proportions in India.
In a country where over 70% of the population makes a living related to
agriculture, stealing the water and poisoning the water and soil is a
sure recipe for disaster’’
, claim the activists campaigning against

The arrogance of Coca-Cola in India is not going unanswered. In fact,
the growing opposition to Coca-Cola- primarily from Coca-Cola affected
communities- has spread so rapidly and gained so much strength that
Coca-Cola had to hire a public relations firm, Perfect Relations in a
bid to spin the problems away instead of addressing them. The oldest and
by far most successful struggle has come forth in Plachimada, Kerala,
where the single largest Coca-Cola bottling plant in the country was
shut down in March 2004. Initially ordered to shut down briefly by the
state government to ease drought conditions, the Plachimada bottling
plant could not resume its production because the local village council
(panchayat) refused to reissue Coca-Cola a license to operate. Similar
struggles have invoked either court rulings or state interventions to
limit Coca-Cola’s savaging of Indian water. For instance, in Kala Dera,
Rajasthan, ’’struggles committees’’ were formed in 32 villages to stop
Coca-Cola stealing their water. Similarly, the communities in Mehdiganj,
a village about 20 kms from India’s holy city of Varanasi, have given
Coca-Cola a tough time. ’’Three plants have been shut down’’, Vandana
Shiva says. ’’Coca-Cola does not bring hope, and Coca-Cola should not be
the symbol of finding solutions for the climate crisis’’, she told
Democracy Now. As expected, corporate media in India, fearing to lose
advertisements, have been either avoiding to cover or downplay these
struggles. (ends)



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