Coca-Cola Rapped at Shareholders Meeting
Coca-Cola Rapped at Shareholders Meeting for Not Disclosing Liabilities in India
Wilmington, Delaware, US (April 18, 2007): The Coca-Cola company has been accused of misleading its shareholders by not disclosing the full extent of its liabilities in India at its shareholder meeting today.
The Coca-Cola company has been the target of campaigns in various communities in India who hold the company directly responsible for creating water shortages as well as polluting the water and land around its bottling plants in India. Tests have also found dangerously high levels of pesticides in Coca-Cola products in India.
"The Coca-Cola company has finally admitted that it has made mistakes in India but Coca-Cola has not fixed those mistakes. We will continue to increase the pressure on the Coca-Cola company until it is held accountable for the past and present mistakes in India," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center who spoke at the shareholders meeting on behalf of the communities in India campaigning against Coca-Cola.
A formidable international campaign has emerged to apply pressure on the Coca-Cola company for its actions in India, and over twenty colleges and universities in the US, UK and Canada have taken actions against the Coca-Cola company as a result. Students from University of Guelph in Canada and Manchester University in England have voted just in the last month to remove Coca-Cola products from their campuses.
One of Coca-Cola's largest bottling plants in India, in Plachimada in the southern state of Kerala, has been shut down by the community since March 2004 because of the water shortages and pollution in the area.
"We are putting the Coca-Cola company on notice that they are now financially liable for the damages incurred by community residents as a result of Coca-Cola's practices in Plachimada. The now closed bottling plant has destroyed the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people, and Coca-Cola must be held accountable," said R. Ajayan of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee, a statewide coalition working against Coca-Cola.
As the campaign grows internationally, the Coca-Cola company has resorted to its public relations department to address the campaign, resulting in some outrageous claims. In Mehdiganj, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Coca-Cola company officials have announced that the groundwater levels in the area have risen as a result of their bottling operations. The state government, on the other hand, has declared a state of water crisis.
"Even as the state government has acknowledged a crisis situation with falling groundwater levels across the state, and introduced measures to curb the excessive use of groundwater, the Coca-Cola company is somehow announcing that water levels are rising as a result of their operations. Coca-Cola's assertions are preposterous, and one only needs to come to Mehdiganj and speak to the residents to understand the grave water crisis in the area," said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti, a key organization working to challenge Coca-Cola's practices in the area.
Faced with the reality of being removed from colleges and universities, the Coca-Cola company is now touting an "independent, third party" assessment underway of its operations in India that will supposedly lay all issues to rest. The assessment is being carried out by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), an Indian organization that is funded by the Coca-Cola company and lists the company as one of its sponsors.
Pointing to the mutually beneficial relationship between Coca-Cola and TERI, communities in India campaigning against Coca-Cola have rejected the choice of TERI as an "independent, third party" investigator of Coca-Cola.
Advocating for a truly independent assessment, William C. Wardlaw III, grandson of one of the first investors in Coca-Cola stocks and a major individual shareholder, has introduced a resolution at the Coca-Cola shareholders meeting asking for a report on the potential environmental and public health damage from its plants in India. The resolution asks that "the report should be commissioned to an independent, third party organization which has no past or present relationship with the Coca-Cola Company or the campaign against the Coca-Cola Company."
"My family and I are still hoping Coca-Cola will become much more responsive to environmental and human rights issues. All of us would be the beneficiaries, including of course Coca-Cola shareholders. At this moment of utmost crisis, it is time for all of us to make a supreme effort to figure out how to truly do 'the right thing' and then to commit to following through," said William C. Wardlaw III.