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'Flawed And Biased'

Text of the letter received from Vice President, Public Affairs & Communication, Coca-Cola India, in response to the column, Cola Wars, Water Wars, by Seema Sirohi

The article, Cola Wars, Water Wars by Seema Sirohi dated August 31, 2006 is loaded with factual inaccuracies and several references made in the article are 'irresponsible' to say the least. The author seems to have pronounced a judgment on the subject on her own, without considering all the viewpoints and the relevant facts. As a reader and concerned party, we feel that the premise of the story is flawed and biased. To highlight our concern, we have illustrated some of the inaccuracies from the article.

I. "While Coca-Cola paid lip service in Stockholm ... water tables have dropped 10 metres in five years since Coca-Cola started its bottling plant in Kaladera".

Fact: On the contrary, Kaladera is the only part of Rajasthan which has seen an improvement in its water tables - and that is because of the Rain Water Harvesting work done by Coca-Cola in partnership with the local community. It is common knowledge that Rajasthan is a desert state with a rich history and culture. Due to the efforts of the state government, a number of Industries have moved into the state and this has contributed to increased prosperity for the local communities. To ensure that the economic growth is properly channelised, there are several ministries, authorities and institutions under the state government, which have put in place several checks and balances. These include the State Ground Water Board under the
Ministry of Water Resources as well as elected and empowered Panchayats (locally elected self government for the villages). This entire set up collectively works to ensure that the interests of the region are well protected.

Fact 1: Refer below the given table from the study conducted by the State Ground Water Board (SGWB) of Rajasthan, which shows that the areas without the Coca-Cola plants have experienced declines in their water tables, while Kaladera which has a Coca-Cola plant has seen an improvement. The SGWB report is also enclosed for reference.


Location 2004
BGL in Mt
2005
BGL in Mt
Increase
(+)
Decrease
(-)

Kaladera 23.30 21.85 +1.45 +6.22
Chomu 67.00 68.60 -1.60 -2.38
Heera Ka Bal 17.55 19.55 -2.00 -11.39
Govindgarh 22.70 24.00 -1.30 -5.70
K Manpura 30.10 32.50 -2.40 -7.97


In Kaladera Rajasthan, the water level is at 21.85 meters below ground level (BGL) and during past one year the water table has actually improved, going up from 23.3 m to 21.85 m. This rise in water level may be attributed to the extensive Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) initiatives (more than 100 RWH structures have been installed by the company in the area) under taken by Coca-Cola in the region - a point which is also explained by a Hindustan Times article, dated 26th May '06. The company is also credited with the revival of a 400 -year-old step well, Sarai Bawari in Jaipur. The renovation of another Bawari, Kale Hanuman Ki Bawari is also complete. In fact, the Minister for Water Resources, Bihar state was in Rajasthan
recently to visit the Sarai Bawari and use this experience for the renovation of Bawaris' in Bihar.

Fact 2: Our bottling plant at Kaladera was recipient of prestigious Golden Peacock Award for Environment Management year last year. Very recently a prestigious alliance of Confederation of Indian Industries -Green Business Centre, (CII-GBC) conferred National Award for Excellence in Water Management to the bottling plant. Recognizing the difference that
Coca-Cola has made to the community, the Kaladera Panchayat in a recent resolution passed on May 19, 2006 thanked the Coca-Cola Company for partnering with the Gram Panchayat Kaladera in undertaking initiatives in the area of Rain
Water Harvesting and other community work. (Resolution Enclosed)

II. "It takes four litres of fresh water to create one litre of Coke and the rest is rendered waste"

Fact: Much less water is required to create one litre of Coca-Cola and the safe treated waste water is returned to the environment. The Coca-Cola Company shares an interest in water management with its consumers, shareowners and the communities in which it operates. It makes no sense for the world's largest beverage company to drain the community of
the most important resource that we need to produce our products. Contrary to what some may believe the beverage industry in India accounts for less than 0.01% of all water usage. In reality, the soft drinks industry and The Coca-Cola Company in particular is one of India's most efficient users of water. Over last couple of years, we have made significant improvements in
water use efficiency and globally, the company's Water Usage Ratio (WUR) now stands at 2.6L/L (WUR refers to litres of water consumed per litre of beverage produced). From 1999 to 2005, there has been a 34% reduction in water consumption in India. Also, much of the total water used in company operations in India, is today returned to groundwater systems through Rain Water Harvesting.

Even the waste water from our plants is used for the purposes of gardening, washing, cleaning etc as a part of the company's 4R policy (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recharge) for water management.

III. ".Communities around most of the bottling plants are angry" (references to Mehandiganj and Kaladera communities)

Fact: The local communities in Mehandiganj (Varanasi) and Kaladera support the local Coca-Cola plants because these create employment and benefit the local communities.The agitation in Varanasi has been led by a local NGO which is biased and does not enjoy much local support. We have detailed documentary evidence in this regard.

We actively partner with communities in Mehandiganj and have on going support from the villagers. Some of the projects undertaken with community, in partnership with other stake holders, are as follows:

(i) Noted environmentalist of Varanasi Prof Vir Bhadra Mishra who also manages Sankat Mochan Foundation has inaugurated our environment projects.

(ii) Another respected NGO Ganga Sewa Nidhi had partnered us in our projects at Ganaga Ghat.

(iii) The Environment Minister of UP, recently launched 5 of our RWH projects in Lucknow, the capital city of UP and publicly stated his appreciation for Company's efforts on water conservation. The Member of Parliament, Varanasi has launched our community projects in Mehandiganj.

(iv) Several government bodies and departments or local administration have partnered with us in promoting rain water harvesting, installing rain water harvesting systems and other community works. For instance, we have partnered with Jagatpura Degree College, Block Office, District Office, Central Jail, and Local Panchayat for water conservation
projects.

(v) State Red Cross in past has helped us organize health camps and in disaster relief work

Fact 2: More than 90% of the permanent workforce and 100% of the contract labour force is local. We employ over 500 workers both permanent and contract.

Fact 3: The company was conferred the 'Best Organization award' for its employment practices by the Uttar Pradesh State government in 2005. This award reiterates that we continue to have good labour and employment practices

Fact 4: In May 2006, there were newspaper reports of a large gathering of local women who were protesting against the agitation of Lok Samiti

Fact 5: In Kaladera, only 10-15 villagers out of a population of over 10,000 participate in the activists' movements or protest marches. To present a mass movement, around 60-65 people are routinely brought from other areas (non locals) to stage manage the protest. We have many videos of such so called protests to confirm this besides many villagers who would also
confirm this position.

Fact 6: In a resolution passed by the Gram Panchayat Kaladera and later published by them in the state's leading Hindi daily, Rajasthan Patrika, the Panchayat condemned the actions and the misinformation campaign against Coca-Cola by certain vested interests in the local community and put it on record that it had no problems whatsoever with the functioning and operations of the Coca-Cola plant. (Adv copy enclosed for reference)

V. "CSE tested more than 50 samples and found unacceptable levels of pesticides in the drinks"

Fact: The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has already stated that the CSE report does not provide conclusive evidence for presence of different pesticides in the concentration reported. Tests done by the world's foremost labs in India and the UK have demonstrated that our products are safe and meet European Union criteria for pesticide residues in bottled
water.

We have the same uncompromising commitment to product safety and quality in our beverages in India that we offer around the world. Coca-Cola India has stringent standards for all of the ingredients used in its beverages. These standards are backed by analytical testing protocols for these ingredients, and we regularly audit all plants for compliance.

Coca-Cola India measures its soft drinks against the European Union (EU) criteria for pesticide residues in bottled water (globally accepted as one of the most stringent in the world). Our soft drinks have been regularly tested and evaluated by the world-renowned UK Government Laboratory, the Central Science Laboratory (CSL). All tests show that our soft drinks are
below the EU criteria for pesticide residues in bottled water.

VI. "US FDA has rejected the shipments of Coca-Cola products from India at least on 10 occasions since January 2005 on grounds that they were unsafe for Americans."

These rejections have nothing to do with the overall safety of the products. All our products in India are absolutely safe.

Fact: There is a demand for food and beverage products from India among Indians living in the U.S. who miss their favorite brands - and for that reason from time to time there are unauthorized imports of beverages like Maaza, Limca, Fanta and Thums Up to the U.S. Sometimes, these unauthorized imports get rejected because these products are not labeled in accordance with US labeling requirements for products sold in the US and not because they were harmful to consumers. This is a labeling issue, not a safety issue. The term "unsafe color" is used whenever a color is listed on a product that isn't in compliance with US regulations. India allows the terms "permitted colors" or "synthetic colors" on its labels. The US doesn't
permit these terms on labels. The FDA's refusal to admit such products into the US is not about the product's safety, but ingredient terminology on the labels. All products intended for sale in the US must comply with all requisite US labeling requirements. The products from India are not intended for sale in the US and are not authorized for sale in the US by The
Coca-Cola Company. They are manufactured to meet the regulations, including labeling requirements, of the country in which they are manufactured. (Refer a recent letter by US FDA explaining the same)

These are only some of the inaccuracies that we have pointed out to demonstrate that it is a poorly researched article put together in haste and without having spoken to the relevant stakeholders.

In the best interest of the readers of outlookindia.com, may we request you to publish the correct facts on the above allegations.


(Deepak Jolly is Vice President, Public Affairs & Communication, Coca-Cola India)

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