Coca-Cola, a company that champions water preservation in numerous videos on its website, does not practice what it preaches.
Since 1999, Coca-Cola has depleted Indian groundwater reserves and replaced the water it takes–two thirds of which is used to clean factory floors and bottles–with groundwater pollution. Since the year 2000, Kerala, India has been plagued with drought and water pollution exclusively caused by the Coca-Cola Company. Before Coca-Cola has begun drilling in India, the water had been at 180 feet from surface level. Since then, the water level has descended to 260 feet and continues to drop at 10 times the rate than it did before. As the groundwater level decreases, more and more strain is placed on rural farmers whose pumps are not long enough to reach the water, “Before, the water level was descending by about one foot per year. Now it’s 10 feet every year. We have a 3.5-horsepower motor. We cannot cope. They have a 50-horsepower pump,” says small farmer Rameshwar Prasad.
In 2001, there were 760 million farmers in India. 45% of them reported farming was their chief occupation. Since Coca-Cola has begun putting its undeniable strain on 760 million people’s livelihoods, an upshot of farmer suicides has occured. According to anthropologist Ananthakrishnan Aiyer in Cultural Anthropology, “By several reliable estimates, there have been anywhere from 22,000 to 25,000 suicides by farmers in the past decade and the majority of these have taken place in the western and southern states. This amounts to about seven suicides a day–a situation that would have called for a national emergency in most Western neoliberal states, but it is certainly not the case in India.”
Coca-Cola’s hypocritical environmentally-unfriendly actions, however, have not gone without some degree of consequence. In 2005, the University of Michigan and NYU took a stand against Coke’s actions and banned their products in their schools. According to a PBS Newshour report, “Coca-Cola agreed to an independent third-party assessment of some of its operations in India. That report determined that this plant in Rajasthan is contributing to a worsening water situation. It recommended that the company bring water in from outside the area or shut the factory down. Coca-Cola rejected that recommendation.”
The solution for Coca-Cola may be to continue a new effort brought about by pressure placed by these schools: recharging groundwater. Coke plans to recharge what it has depleted by rainwater collection. In 2008, Coca-Cola spokesperson Kalyan Ranjan reported that in their Kala Dera location, Coke is indeed replacing more water than it takes. However, scientists were then skeptical and remain so of its long-term success. One report by Surabhi Agarwal of the Hummingbird Project reported that so far in 2013, “Nothing that the report states proves that the existing structures have been effective in recharging any groundwater at all.”
Coca-Cola’s “efforts” to right the damage it has done had been kickstarted by organizations like University of Michigan and NYU which have striven to hold Coke accountable for its crime against human rights. So, if more wide-reaching organizations continue to publicly denounce the company, a new tide of change can again be inspired to save Indian farmers drowning in drought.