STOP COCA-COLA FROM EXPLOITING OUR WATER: PROTECT WATER, LAND AND CITIZENS
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Coca-Cola is in the news again, mostly to do with financially penetrated "investment card" advertorials and a "green wash" campaign. The reason for all of this is the company’s plans to set up its regional plant in Sri Lanka to cater to the Indian demand. The question is, “Why?”
It’s very simple why: Coca-Cola wants to set up a plant here in order to cater to the Indian market.
Reason #1 is that it is very difficult now for Coca-Cola to open new manufacturing plants in India due to public protests against it.
Reason #2: India is now closing some of the Coca-Cola plants there due to protests by the public and farmer communities against the company’s excessive exploitation of their water.
Reason #3 is that the Indian public is now demanding that Coca-Cola leave the country on account of the depletion of their water and its poisoning, owing to the addition of dangerous chemicals through waste disposal (sludge). The campaign ‘Drinking Coke is drinking farmer's blood’ has taken a toll on the Coca-Cola brand in India.
Reason #4: India has a strong Water Rights act that empowers the public to protect their water resources, while Sri Lanka does not have any regulation to protect water rights and to regulate or prohibit large-scale water exploitation by manufacturers/industries.
We all know what Coca-Cola did to Kelani River when they dumped chemicals directly into the river on 17th August 2015. Kelani river is the water source for millions of Sri Lankans, and Coca-Cola’s contamination of it halted water supply to several parts of Sri Lanka for an entire day. The company never paid reasonable compensation to the Sri Lankan government, although there was media reports where authorities claimed that they would be fined 1Bn rupees in damages. In fact, Coca-Cola’s Environment Protection License was reinstated forthwith for unknown reasons, despite it being the largest river pollution case ever recorded in Sri Lanka.
What we as the public should know is that Coca-Cola has 58 plants in India and that the company is now compelled to close down some of those plants due to growing public pressure against exploitation of water resources and the lack of clean water supply for their plants to operate, among several other reasons, such as retailers boycotting Coca-Cola in various parts of India.
Protests have also forced Indian officials to close down another Coca-Cola bottling factory in the northern province of Uttar Pradesh for extracting groundwater above legal limits and polluting the environment with toxic effluents. India's environment court, the National Green Tribunal, gave this order after hearing the public’s concern over Coca-Cola's exploitation of water in their region.
In addition, the Tamil Nadu government prohibited Coca-Cola to build a new plant there due to farmers’ fears that doing so will deplete their groundwater resources (the company calls this “unforeseen pressures.”).
These Coca-Cola plants in India are extracting about 4,000,000 liters of water on a daily basis. Their smallest plants in India use more than 500,000 liters a day. In 2004, Coca-Cola was ordered to shut down its bottling plant in Plachimada in Kerala for excessive consumption of water. The damage was later estimated as amounting to 2,160 million Indian rupees.
Problems with Coca-Cola are not limited to water shortages and pollution, but also include the distribution of toxic waste as ‘fertilizers’ and the product itself containing high levels of pesticides, according to CSR Asia. Coca-Cola is also accused of intensifying the plastic waste problem, as its plastic (PET) bottles have added tons of plastics to non-degradable waste to the environment - one of the main pollutants of the marine environment.
It is no secret that Sri Lanka has been forced to deal with the problem of severe drought in recent times, so our water resources are not exactly something we can afford to gamble with. As glamorous as the words ‘regional production hub’ may seem to some, especially from a traditional economic viewpoint, this is a move that warrants a considerable public protest.
There is also the fact that the state institutions in place to ensure that such enterprises operate within feasible boundaries as well as to ensure that due checks and balances are in place for proper waste disposal are themselves redundant and corrupt. Owing to this, Sri Lanka is unfortunately been increasingly viewed by external companies and governments as a ‘pollution exporting hub’ or a ‘pollution haven’. Coca-Cola’s potential move to Sri Lanka is a type of pollution exporting: one where its initial pollution export location, India, has become unviable, and where it is now looking to Sri Lanka as an easier target, with the regulatory weaknesses necessary for such targeting.
Under these circumstances, when the government rushes to invite multinationals such as Coca-Cola, due processes are hurried through, and the actual cost to the nation's resources (especially long-term ones) far outweigh the actual benefits (most of these benefits are of a short-term nature). Therefore, until the last drop of water is sucked into a Coca-Cola bottle, the public will not be safeguarded. With governments looking at the short-term benefits, it is sadly the citizens who must look into the long-term sustainability of these false investments.
Furthermore, this is an era in which nations and governments are increasingly emphasizing the importance of conserving natural resources such as rivers and groundwater for the sustainability of economies. New Zealand and recently India have both bestowed ‘Human Status’ on their rivers, with the understanding of the importance of countering river pollution, of exploitation of water and of the importance of conserving riverine ecosystems. Water plays a critical role in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which Sri Lanka as a member nation vowed to align with and achieve (goals #6 and #14 are about water; goals #3, #12, #13 and #15 are directly connected to water). Despite rhetoric to the effect of honoring these international agreements, Sri Lanka is failing at this moment to value its water and to uphold the water rights of the Sri Lankan people; the shortsighted enablement of businesses that pollute, exploit and consume Sri Lanka’s natural water resources cannot be sustained, either for the businesses or for the Sri Lankan people.
Therefore, we cannot and should not let corporations such as Coca-Cola exploit our water on such a nationally significant scale. The authorities must do their job to serve the general public, rather than serve corporations that have no regard for the environment they operate in. As a country we can no longer allow water-consuming industries to set up in Sri Lanka and to steal our water. We urge the authorities to act immediately and to stop the proposed Coca-Cola plant from establishing in Sri Lanka, following Tamil Nadu’s ban on the same, in order to avoid unsurmountable environmental and social issues in the island.
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