Residues of toxic pesticides in 12 soft drink brands: CSE
Judgment on Coke plant to have far-reaching impact
By K.P.M. Basheer
Kochi, Dec. 20.
The Hindu, December 21, 2003, Sunday
The Kerala High Court’s directive on Tuesday in the Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada to stop extraction of groundwater, which had led to the drying up of village wells, will have a fare-reaching impact on the water agitations across the country.
And, for the people’s movements in Third World countries which have been looking to the 606-day-old Plachimada agitation as a sequel to the Kochamba (Bolivia) water resistance, it is significant victory in the fight against globalization and multinational corporations.
For, Justice K. Balakrishnan Nair’s directive to Coca-Cola is the victory of a small village panchayat [local self-governments at the village or small town level in India] headed by a Dalit against one of the largest companies in the world. The judge’s assertion that groundwater is a public property and that no one has the right to overexploit it and that the panchayats have a duty to protect groundwater against excessive exploitation could be used as a judicial weapon in the water struggles in the country.
The landmark judgment, which has deep implications for the people’s right to drinking water, was on a writ petition filed by the panchayat of Perumatty (that includes Plachimada), a village close to the Tamil Nadu border in Chittoor taluk of Palakkad district. The panchayat had challenged the State Government’s intervention in its decision to cancel the licence it had given to the Coca-Cola plant. Its move to get the plant closed, which was opposed by the State Government, was on the realization that the plant had been overexploiting groundwater to the detriment of several hundred households in the Plachimada and nearby areas. The panchayat’s move echoed the demand of the ongoing agitation by the Plachimada people that the Coca-Cola plant should be wound up.
The judge upheld the panchayat’s responsibility to protect groundwater. He asserted that nobody has the right to overexploit groundwater which is a public property. If every person in the village were to be allowed to draw groundwater as the Coca Cola plant did, the village would turn barren, the judge observed. The company had told the court that it was drawing 510 kilo liters of water daily. (However, the Plachimada agitationists claim the withdrawal was two or three times this figure). The judge said this was illegal. He said groundwater belonged to the people and the Government could not allow a private party to extract such a large quantity of water.
The Coca-Cola plant was commissioned in March 2000 in a region which gets only a third of Kerala’s average rainfall. The Perumatty panchayat as well as all political parties had welcomed the advent of the plant. However, in less than two years, the local people realized that because of the overexploitation of groundwater by the plant the water table in the area had dipped and a large number of wells in the plant’s neighbourhood had gone dry. The plant had permission to have one bore well but it now has six, apart from two very large open wells. Its daily withdrawal of water is said to equal 20,000 persons’ per capita water use.
The Plachimada inhabitants who protested the overexploitation launched an agitation in front of the plant in April last year. The panchayat and the political parties which earlier had not been favourable to the cause, started backing it as the agitation gained momentum and received all India support. Leading environmental, human rights and social activists visited Plachimada offering their support. The panchayat had on April 7 this year decided to cancel the company’s licence against which the latter had gone to the High Court.
Two developments had given a boost to the Plachimada agitation. One, the finding by the Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi’s finding of pesticides residues in Coke. Two, a BBC report that the sludge supplied by the Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada to the local farmers as manure contained heavy doses of toxic metals – cadmium and lead.
Following these, Plachimada grabbed international attention and water resistance movements across the world keenly watched the agitation. After the Silent Valley agitation against setting up a huge hydel project and the Chaliyar struggle against the Mavur Gwalior Ryons factory, the Plachimada resistance has been the longest environmental agitation in the State.
United Steel Workers Union and the International Labor Rights Fund 20jul01
Issued : Monday 29 August, 2005
Trying to fight falling wage rates, workers distributing Coca-Cola in Turkey have been actively fighting for a union, in the face of aggressive management reprisals.
"Go on working by resigning from the union," said Coca-Cola representatives to a group of union members employed at Trakya Nakliyat ve Ticaret Ltd. Sti, Coca-Cola's distribution plant in Dudullu, Turkey, "otherwise, we, as the Coca-Cola Company, shall let no members of the union work with us."
The next day, they followed through with their threat, firing 50 union members without compensation. All the workers fired were members of the union, DISK/Nakliyat-Is. This mass firing followed at the heels of an earlier firing where 5 union leaders were dismissed, supposedly for their poor work performances.
Five days after the mass firings in Dudullu, 50 more union workers were terminated, but this time at the Yenibosna plant owned by the same owners. As in the case of the Dudullu plant, workers at Yenibosna were pressured by Coca-Cola officials and Trakya Nakliyat managers to resign from the union.
It is apparent that Coca-Cola and their business partners in Turkey are undertaking an anti-union campaign within Coca-Cola's distribution network by seeking to thwart unionizing efforts through the firing of union members, an unlawful violation of international labor standards and of Turkish law that protect the rights of workers to join a union.
On July 20th, in response to the anti-union campaign, workers from the Dudullu plant mobilized a protest against the firings and demanded reinstatement. Over 150 people, consisting of fired workers and their families entered the facility where DISK union officials and Coca-Cola representatives began to negotiate. At the moment that the union felt it was just about to reach an agreement with Coca-Cola, the police raided the plant, violently assaulting workers, their spouses and their children, using tear gas and other methods to disperse the protestors. In the end, many were injured and 92 people were arrested. Though most have been released, Istanbul's Security Administration continues to hold union leaders.
Given that the brutal attack against workers and their families occurred within plant grounds, the union is of the strong opinion that Coca-Cola officials sanctioned the violent police action. This is not the first time that Coca-Cola has been associated with anti-union violence or violations of human and labor rights. Coca-Cola must stop abusing the rights of workers. In the case of Turkey, Coca-Cola and its partners must:
1. Reinstate all terminated workers from Dudullu and Yenibosna with back-pay;
2. Drop all charges against the people that participated in the protest;
3. Stop the anti-union campaign in the plants, and issue to all workers a written statement that no workers will face retaliation for choosing to exercise their legal right to join a trade union; and
4. Recognize the union and commence negotiations toward collective bargaining agreement.