A visit to Coca-Cola’s website reveals the corporation’s self-infatuation in a striking manner. There is an image of the whole world, in all of its multi-colored glory, spewing out from the iconic Coke glass bottle’s narrow neck. Outside of exuding an acute sense of lack of humility, the website is also brimful with false promises and misleading public relation campaigns.
Like any good multi-national corporation, Coke has a commitment to “improving the quality of life” for the communities in which it operates. How does Coke propose to do this? With a half-hearted attempt at saving the polar bear—that is, a supply of “environmentally friendly” e-cards, and a link to the WWF adopt a polar bear website.
But these are just symptoms of a much more malignant malady.
Peer through the looking glass, and you’ll find that all is not well in Coke’s saccharine-fueled, fantasy world-in-a-bottle.
Coca-Cola and water don’t mix. Several recent PR disasters have underscored the soft-drink giant’s irresponsible—if not nefarious—behavior when it comes to satisfying its monstrous thirst for water.
Already well known is an incident in the southern Indian state of Kerala, where a Coca-Cola plant was forced to close down in March 2004 after a village council refused to renew the company’s license on the grounds that it had over-used and contaminated local water resources.
A Dasani water campaign in the UK was derailed after the drink was unmasked as nothing more than glorified tap water containing illegally high levels of carcinogenic bromates.
Add to this backlash from War on Want’s Alternative Report that Coca-Cola is positioning itself to take control of (as in privatize) water resources in the Mexican state of Chiapas, and its dubious history with paramilitary murders of union leaders in South America, and all of a sudden, joining “the Coke side of life” seems neither healthy nor fun.
A more current debacle involves water once again, this time in Kaladera, a small town in the arid northeastern Indian state of Rajasthan. A July, 2005 report from the Indian Expert Committee on Integrated Development of Water Resources noted that accepted international standards deem countries and regions with a per capita annual water supply under 1,000 cubic meters as “water-scarce.” In Rajasthan, availability of water had fallen to 809 cubic meters per person per year at the time the report was conducted.
Although the report also has data showing that well-levels around Kaladera had dropped precipitously since the opening of a Coke bottling plant there in 1999, the question at hand isn’t if Coke has exacerbated water shortages, though all evidence seems to point to exactly that.
Rather, what, exactly, is Coca-Cola, with its wasteful 3:1 liter water-to-coke ratio, and history of irresponsible behavior, doing in Rajasthan other than running the desert state’s sands dry?
In 2005, the student’s at the University of Michigan called on their administration to cancel its beverage contract with Coke because of concerns of the company’s contribution to pesticide pollution in India.
The University requested a third party evaluation, which was funded by Coke and recently completed by the New Delhi-based Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). The results: few problems with pesticides were found, but the $16 million bottling plant in Kaladera, among others, has had “significant impacts” on local water supplies, particularly during “acute water-stress periods.”
Although, the University of Michigan has since re-instated its contract with Coca-Cola, the two-year long debate has exposed exactly what is wrong with Coke’s business practices.
Coke thrives on image, on a carefully projected identity constructed somewhere in the corporation’s Atlanta-based brain trust.
Hence we have the vacuous “save the Polar Bear” campaign, which is nothing more than a public relations stunt meant to mask Coke’s questionable ethics when it comes to the environment. And, in an even more absurd spin, Coke’s representatives are reacting “positively” to the TERI report.
So the ubiquitous red and white corporate logo is protected by nothing less than empty words and billions of dollars.
The Kaladera plant is still churning out sickly-sweet soda, because all is well and Coke is good for you. Honestly, no one should be fooled.