India: People Power versus King Coca-Cola
A massive protest movement against Coca-Cola emerging in India has its roots in actions taken by a small tribal group in Plachimada, a village in the southern state of Kerala.
Villagers accused Coca-Cola of creating severe water shortages for the communities, polluting the groundwater and soil and duping farmers into buying toxic waste, which they marketed as fertilizers. The villagers suffered from skin problems and the water in their wells had become useless. Village women were particularly hard hit, as they then had to travel greater distances to fetch potable water.
At first Plachimada ‘panchayat’ (the local village council) didn’t take the people’s complaints seriously. But that all changed when women began turning up with empty pots demanding water from the elected officials. Fed up with Coke and their complaints falling on officials’ deaf ears, in March 2003 the villagers decided to force the issue by staging a sit-in in front of the bottling plant. Eventually the local village council responded in support of the villagers and revoked Coke’s bottling license.
A year later in April 2004 the highest court in Kerala state rejected the villagers’ claim and found in favour of Coke. The judgment noted that wells in the region continued to dry up months after the local Coke plant stopped operating. Villagers responded that that was even more reason that Coke shouldn't locate bottling plants in drought-stricken areas.
Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva lent her support to the villagers’ protest with a statement to the press denouncing the fact that it takes 9 litres of clean water to manufacture a litre of Coke. The Coca-Cola Corporation rebuked Ms.Shiva’s statement saying her figure was completely inaccurate, that it only takes on average 3.12 litres of water to produce 1 litre of beverage.
The villagers pushed the case on to the Supreme Court and continued to protest. On 15 January 2005 over a thousand people commemorated a thousand days of ‘dharna’ (vigil) with a blockade to the entrance to Plachimada plant and demanded that it be shut permanently.
The villagers point out that their protest is not a local issue, but a global one. If left unchallenged large multinationals have no shame about profiting at the expense of people’s health and livelihoods. The Plachimada protest also shows the tremendous power in united communities who stand up and refuse to be trod on. At least 6 more Indian communities affected by Coke’s bottling practices have started campaigns similar to Plachimada and Coke’s Asia Pacific head of marketing has moved from India to Hong Kong.
The latest twist in this struggle was on 9 August 2007 the Kerala state government, won over by the protesters, banned the production and sale of Coke and Pepsi in the state. While this doesn’t represent a resolution of the issue, it certainly marks a new interesting chapter of protest.
Visit http://www.indiaresource.org to learn more about people's movements against corporate globalisation in India.