October Exposé: Coca Cola

Hey guys! Happy October and welcome to another monthly exposé!

This month I am exposing a worldwide fave, a multinational corporation that brings joy and cavities to people of all ages, races etc.

COCA-COLA (CC)

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Can’t lie, I’m not surprised by the content I found regarding their corrupt past and present. However, I am really quite shocked by the extent to which CC has destroyed lives all around the world. Article after article, there’s a lot to take in.

In order to make this a bit more digestible, I’ve summarised everything to the best of my abilty, and provided links if you’re eager to find out more.

Anyways, let’s get straight into it.


Water

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Bottling plants require a large amount of water, 1.9L of water required to make one small bottle of Coca-Cola. This doesn’t even cover all of it, as growing the sugar cane used in their drinks results in an extra 400 litres of water to make a bottle of Cola. 

CC has faced crisis in India, due to their mismanagement of water in the country. It has systemically rinsed villages of their water resources, leaving them with little or toxic water resources. It continues to operate bottling plants in places where the demand for water already exceeds the amount of water available, and proposes new plants in areas where communities already have limited access to safe drinking water. 

However, activists have been taking a stand against Coca Cola. And they’ve succeeded:

Tamil Nadu

In March this year, it was reported that 1m traders in Tamil Nadu, India, were boycotting Coca-Cola and Pepsi drinks after two Indian trade associations called them out for exploiting India’s water resources.

“These foreign companies are using up scarce water resources of the state,” K Mohan, secretary of the Vanigar Sangam, one of the associations supporting the boycott.

Indeed, in January, Tamil Nadu had been declared by officials as ‘drought-hit’, with many villagers suffering as a result.

“[Foreign companies] are exploiting the state’s water bodies to manufacture aerated drinks while farmers were facing severe drought.” Vikram Raja, president of the Vanigar Sangam trade association.

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Kerala

This bold boycott spread to Kerala, where traders also decided to ban the sale of Coca Cola and Pepsi. It was decided that when the boycott was officially approved, sales of beverages and tender coconut produced by locals would be promoted instead. The government was in support of this, and stated it would further restrict the use of groundwater at Palakkad, Kerala.

The region of Plachimada in Palakkad was particularly affected by CC’s activities. A bottling plant was built there in 1999, and CC were permitted to extract up to 1.5mL of water, as well as extract ground water to meet its demands of 3.8L of water for 1L of cola. This led to a decline in the quality of groundwater, with high concentrations of calcium and magnesium ions in the water. The by-product of this was initially sold to villagers as fertiliser However, in 2003, it was found that it contained high levels of toxic metals and the carcinogen cadmium. These problems were extremely problematic to the people living in this region.

“The area’s farming industry has been devastated and jobs, as well as the health of the local people, have been put at risk.”

The reality of the situation can be understood most harrowingly when referring to the account of K Kanniamma, a 70 year old who lived in Plachimada village.

“Before the factory opened here we were dependent on our water requirements on our well. Once the factory opened the water level in the wells started going down. 

Initially, we did not know the reason for it. When we used that water, our eyes and skin had a burning sensation. Only then we realised that our water had been poisoned.”

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70-year-old Kanniamma recounts a time from before the Coca-Cola factory when they had sweet water in their wells

Public anger led to villagers forming the ‘Coca-Cola Virudha Janakeeya Samara Samithy,’ a body fighting for the closure of the factory in Plachimada, in 2002. Awareness camps and torchlight vigils were organised, resulting in several villagers picketing the factory. As a result, Coca-Cola slapped charges against the leaders. 

Listening to the locals, the local self-government organisation (the Perumatty Panchayat) refused to renew CC’s license on account of the exploitation of natural resources thet had affected the public.  However, CC then approached the government’s Local Self-Government Department, who overruled the banning of their licence, and allowed them to continue its operations, as long as it found alternative sources of water supply. Members of the Coca-Cola Virudha Janakeeya Samara Samithy continued to be active and in 2004, the plant in Plachimada was shut. Finally, the 12-year old case reached closure when Coca-Cola gave up its license, stating that it did not intend to resume production from Plachimadia. The activists had succeeded.

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But wait, it gets even better.

In March 2010, a High Power Committee established by the state government of Kerala recommended that CC be fined the equivalent of $48m for damages caused as a result of the company’s bottling operations in Plachimadia. The report stated:

“It is obligatory that they pay the compensation to the affected people for the agricultural losses, health problems, loss of wages, loss of educational opportunities, and the pollution caused to the water resources.”

The report clarified that the compensation suggested did not include damages caused by the reduction in water, and that such damages must be assessed.

The report also agreed that Coca-Cola should be held criminally liable for its  actions in Plachimada.

India’s activists have proved the power of the people. The very fact that they got their governments to stand up against a multinational corporation such as CC is honestly one of the most inspiring things I have ever read.


Sugar Cane

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According to findings from this year,  CC made limited efforts to tackle forced labour risks in their sugarcane supply chain. This includes a high risk of debt bondage imposed on workers in India and human trafficking risks in Guatemala.

For example, CC was unable to provide an example of grievance procedures carried out (procedures where workers could complain about working conditions) when labour abuses were identified. This indicated that workers/suppliers were not properly instructed on complaint procedures. There was also little law enforcement or contracts to protect workers.

Agricultural workers, particularly migrants were most at risk. Indeed, Brazil and India, the two largest sugarcane producers in the world, rely on mostly migrants and rural workers with little education. Workers manually harvest sugarcane under hazardous working conditions, long working hours, and low wages. Lack of language skills and education leave these workers further vulnerable to exploitation and deception over work and wages.

CC was unable to commit to its agreement in 2013 to disclose the names of all its direct sugarcane suppliers within three years. This would enable researchers to conduct extensive research regarding the working conditions under CC’s suppliers.

Israel

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CC has been a staunch supporter of Israel and it’s illegal occupation of Palestine. 

In 2009, CC hosted a special reception at their headquarters to honour General Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who served as Israeli Defence Minister under Ariel Sharon and was in charge of the storming of a refugee camp in 2002, leaving hundreds of Palestinians dead.

Every year, CC financially supports the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Awards which honors companies that have contributed most to the Israeli economy. In 2009, a CC sponsored award went to the lobbying group AIPAC for its lobbying of the American Senate to reject the UN call for immediate ceasefire and support the continuation of the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Most recently, it has been operating in Atarot and Shadmot Mehola illegal settlements. Israel has been building illegal settlements on Palestinian land since 1967, after it illegally occupied Gaza and the West Bank. This inhuman practice violates international law, and continues to destroy Palestinian lives.

In addition, CC has built a bottling plant in Gaza, which is under siege. This is a problem, as Palestinians in Gaza face a chronic shortage of freshwater, and access to water is limited to 6-8 hours for 1-4 days a week for Gazans. Inevitably, this raises questions regarding the amount of water that is left for Gazans after CC has extracted large quantities from the area. There is also concern regarding the factory’s electricity supply, as the only power plant in Gaza is only able to supply 30% of the population in irregular intervals. It has been indicated that Coke will be given preferential access to water and electricity, and will also be allowed the passage of necessary materials, while essential building materials for hospitals are barred. It is clearly not about creating jobs for Palestinians- if CC truly cared, they would call for the lifting of the siege on Gaza.

Moreover, it has been revealed that Coca Cola sent thousands of dollars ($13,850) to Im Tirtzu, an extremist, pro-settlement Israeli group. This group has described the Nakba (literally translates as ‘the catastrophe’- where an estimated 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes and hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages depopulated and destroyed) as ‘rubbish – a collection of tall tales and myths’. They have also launched smear campaigns against Jewish critics of Israeli policy, accusing them of being ‘planted’ by anti-Israel groups for propaganda and spying. 

For more info on Coca-Cola’s history with Israel and Zionism hit up http://www.inminds.co.uk/boycott-coca-cola.html#f48

Orange groves

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In 2012, an investigation found that thousands of African migrant workers were being exploited in Italian orange groves. Coca-Cola is one of the major buyers of concentrated orange juice in Calabria which it uses for its Fanta brand in Italy. Many of these workers were refugees who had made the journey across the Mediterranean. They were found earning as little as £21 for a days picking in the orange groves, and that many lived in slum conditions in makeshift camps without power or sanitation, and fell prey to gangmasters who in some cases charged a fee for organising their picking shifts. Pietro Molinaro, head of Coldiretti Calabria, the regional branch of Italy’s national farming union, claimed that previous attempts to raise the issue of low prices and its link to poor working conditions with Coca-Cola had not received a response.

"This area is facing a big problem: the price big companies pay for this juice is not fair. All in all they force the small processing plants in the area – those that squeeze oranges and produce concentrate – to underpay for raw materials.”



Human Rights Violations

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Coca-Cola has a very dark past regarding its human rights violations, and the murder of activists.

Coca-Cola is accused by Colombian courts of financing terrorism for their ties with the now disbanded paramilitary group United Self-Defence Forces of Columbia, hiring hitmen from them between 1990 and 2002 to kill at least 10 trade union leaders who were trying to organise at CC plants. The paramilitary group was responsible for a number of massacres, human rights abuses, kidnappings and extortions that resulted in the displacement of thousands of Colombians.

The human rights violations continue. For example, On June 25, 2015 thugs killed retired Coca Cola worker Wilmer Enrique Giraldo. Wilmer had been injured at work, was forced from his job, received death threats, and fled in fear to Medellin.  Luis Enrique Girado Arango, his father, also worked for Coca Cola and also belonged to a trade union. Paramilitaries assassinated Luis Enrique Girado in 1994.

For more info regarding CC and their attempts to silence trade unions and workers’ actively fighting for justice against CC’s exploitative practices around the world, check out http://www.iuf.org/ccww/?q=taxonomy/term/99.

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So there you have it. A whole range of crimes committed by just one corporation, destroying lives across the world. It is pretty dire stuff, but we must not and cannot respond with despondence. We must utilise our anger and sadness with ACTION, and I don’t mean going around breaking shit, I mean making sure you CALL COCA COLA OUT. Multinational corporations are dependent on consumer approval, so to let them know that you, as a regular consumer, are disgusted by their actions- this can have a HUGE impact. 

Below are the contact deets you can use to message them and ask them what they’re doing to ensure the safety and security of their workers and those affected by their actions.

Twitter: @CocaCola

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cocacolaGB/?brand_redir=40796308305

Insta: @cocacola

Contact form: https://contactform.coca-cola.co.uk

Phone Number: 020 8237 3000

Catch you for the next exposé and remember BUN COCA COLA 2K17 XXXXX

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