Over a million traders in India have declared that they will be boycotting Coca-Cola, and other beverage giants like PepsiCo, for their exploitation of the country’s water resources. Activists say that in areas like drought-stricken Tamil Nadu, the water use of these big beverage companies is simply unsustainable. Two Indian trade associations are credited with bringing this grave matter to light and prompting the boycott.
Tamil Nadu is a state in southern India that boasts a population larger than that of the United Kingdom. The state declared all of it’s districts as drought-hit in January 2017. It is no surprise that the people are angry with big beverage businesses: farmers are committing suicide and are dealing with massive crop failure, meanwhile these corporations are reportedly sucking up 400 liters of water to produce a single liter of soda.
Traders from Tamil Nadu say that they plan on replacing big name brand sodas with soft drinks that are produced locally. “These foreign companies are using up scarce water resources of the state,” says K. Mohan, secretary for Vanigar Sangam, an association that supports the boycott.
The Guardian reports that the president of Vanigar Sangam, Vikram Raja, stated, “[Foreign companies] are exploiting the state’s water bodies to manufacture aerated drinks while farmers were facing severe drought.”
Because of the low amount of rainfall during the last monsoon, concerns about the extreme amounts of water used by companies like Coca-Cola began to grow. Amit Srivastava, director at the NGO India Resource Reserve Center, estimates that the amount of water needed to grow sugarcane for the soft drinks is included in their water usage. It adds up to an astronomical 400 liters of water just to produce a one-liter bottle of soda.
Srivastava believes that that the demand for both sugar and water to create these fizzy drinks is very problematic for India. “Sugarcane is a water-guzzling crop. It is the wrong crop for India,” he stated.
Last year, in November, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court granted an interim injunction against Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to restrain the corporations from taking water out of the Thamirabarani River. Tirunelveli District Consumer Protection Association secretary Dr. Prabakar had filed a petition against the beverage giants. The petition demanded a ban on the companies’ use of water from the Thamirabarani River
The petitioner’s counsel noted that the river is essential for agriculture and the livelihood of the people who live nearby — and that corporate use of the water was negatively effecting those residents and agricultural endeavors. The government countered with affidavits that claim only “surplus” water is given to the corporations. It’s hard to imagine that there is a surplus in an area of the country that was just declared to be in a state of drought, but, unsurprisingly, the court chose to dismiss the petitions.
In spite of the court’s dismissal, Indian trade associations have shown that they will not be so easily taken down. Shopkeepers in Tamil Nadu reportedly began removing Coca-Cola- and Pepsi-brand sodas from their shelves at the beginning of March.
The Indian Beverage Association is reportedly displeased with the boycott; given that the organization represents may large beverage associations, their disapproval is not unexpected. The beverage industry isn’t exactly known for their sympathetic business practices, and it stands to reason that their trade organization would be no different.
Water is one of the Earth’s most precious resources. Sadly, many corporations — and their patsies– only see water as a commodity to be used for profit.