Mark thomas reports on how a coca-cola factory caused drought in India.
There is no justice in this world, if there was, all advertisers would be forced to walk in public wearing sandwich boards with the text of their adverts written in large letters and the words 'I am responsible for this' scrawled on their foreheads in marker pen.
In India Coke's adverts are not so much inept as cruelly ironic. In one of them a group of women walk in the heat to a village well, they look disappointed when a stranger starts to pull up a bucket of water. Suddenly the stranger reveals himself to be a well known Bollywood star and the bucket turns out to be full of bottles of Coca Cola. Hurrah let the party begin. The irony here is that you can buy a bottle of coke in an Indian village that has no clean water.
Nowhere is this more true than in Plachimada in Kerala, which I visited on a trip with Action Aid. Here Coca Cola's subsidiary company the Hindustan Coca Cola Company opened a bottling plant in 2000 and promptly dug 6 bore wells. You might have thought that some bright spark would have questioned the opening of a highly water intensive industry in a drought area but both the national and state government eagerly bought into the notion that a Coca Cola factory equates to 'development'.
Thousands have been affected. People I spoke to said they used to earn about a £1 a day as harvesters and they used to get about 20 days work a month. Now they are lucky if they get 5 days work a month, as the local crops have failed. They felt they had no option but to fight the company and set up a 24 hour a day vigil in a shelter opposite the plant. At the end of the month they will have been there for 647 days. In 1950's style logic Coke's response has been to claim that the protests have been the work of Marxist agitators. Maybe their advertisers will find some Ealing Comedy type Indian Peasants to appear in the next ad, standing in front of the bottling plant saying: "It's an 'onour to be oppressed by a company such as Coca Cola and I don' mind a goin' thirsty either. Not like them there whingin' Marxists and their politically motivated thirst!"
After the front page news that the level of pesticides in Pepsi and Coke in India is about 3 times the level of that permitted in the USA and Europe it is fairly safe to say that Coke have an image problem that the advertisers might not be able to solve.