Indian community speaks on Coke
The Daily Targum
By Kristen Hamill/Staff Writer
If one mentions "beverage contract" and "Coca-Cola" in the same sentence around most parts of this University, a flurry of ideas and images rush to mind.
From "exclusivity" to "alleged human right's violations in Colombia" to the old standby "taste," there's no shortage of reasons for and against the renewal of the current contract with The Coca-Cola Company.
Enter Amit Srivastava.
Srivastava — of the India Resource Center in San Francisco - spoke to students Monday to raise awareness of yet another accusation against the soda giant.
Joined by Ray Rogers, the head of the "Campaign to Stop Killer Coke," Srivasta explained to an audience at the Rutgers Student Center that the hardships faced by Indian communities living near Coca-Cola's bottling facilities are both disregarded and unknown - despite their severity.
Their international "Campaign to Hold Coca-Cola Accountable" speaking tour strives to raise awareness of the alleged human and environmental abuses in both Columbia and India.
While issues in Colombia have received much attention lately, a majority of the students present raised their hands when asked if they were unaware of the issues faced in India.
Srivastava said bottling plants in India have led to water scarcity and polluted soil and water.
"This is not a single incident we're talking about," Srivastava said. "A pattern of abuse has emerged as a result of Coca-Cola bottling operations in India."
Srivastava said the bottling plants are guilty of causing severe water shortages in communities across India because they extract thousands of liters of groundwater every day, which is used to clean bottles.
That, in turn, generates waste that pollutes surrounding groundwater and soil.
"Communities living around these bottling plants are dependent on groundwater for all their needs," Srivastava said. "The water table has declined significantly to the point where wells have all dried up."
Besides a lack of water availability, the resultant pollution has also led to crop failure and, consequently, a loss of livelihood for thousands of people in India.
"This is a sure recipe for disaster," he said. "Taking away their livelihoods-this is what Coca-Cola is doing."
Coca-Cola also sells drinks in India that contain high levels of pesticides, Srivastava said.
Expressing concern for what he said was a "public health nightmare," Srivastava said the country required the active support of strong institutions and student-based campaigns around the world.
"Markets and profits are what it's about at the end of the day," he said. "[But] we need to work with Rutgers to ensure that pressure is put on Coca-Cola in India to do the right thing."
Rogers — who is also president and director of Corporate Campaign Inc. — spoke about conditions in Columbia and expressed similar sentiment.
"No campus that prides itself as being a center of ethics and morality should be licensing or lending its name logo and credibility to Coca-Cola, nor serve as a marketplace for its sales and advertising," Rogers said.
Coca-Cola has said it does not have a "controlling interest" in many of their bottling plants and therefore cannot be responsible for what goes on at the plants — but that isn't enough for at least one University student.
"Coke is not legally responsible for what happens in bottling plants, but is morally responsible," said graduate student Michael Crockford, coordinator of RU Sustainable.
Crockford said he's very opposed to re-signing with Coca-Cola.
"It's not just about what [Coca-Cola has] done, but about what they don't take responsibility for," he said.
According to the handout, Coca-Cola money is distributed among dining services, athletics and an administrative discretionary fund.
Coca-Cola contract money amounts to less than 1 percent of the cost of a meal plan dinner-about 8 cents per meal.
"Are we willing — for a clear conscience — to say 'No' to 10 cents a meal?" Crockford said.
Regarding the problem of exclusivity, students have said they would like to see more beverage options available at Rutgers, a sort of "soda democracy," as Crockford put it.
"The problem with a monopoly is it's very difficult to hold [the company] accountable for human rights and environmental abuses abroad," said Laura Weitzman, a Rutgers College senior.
Recently, the anti-Coke campaign at the University has seen success among the legislative community, Weitzman said.
The American Association of University Professors passed a resolution against the contract, as well as the Graduate Student Association and the Rutgers University Environmental Council, she said.
"I hope Rutgers will do the right thing-stand up for humans and environments and kick Coke off campus," Rogers said.
FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of corporate accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.