Coca Cola: Are their operations in Developing countries the cause and exacerbation of water stress to local people of these countries

Water is often perceived to be an infinite resource that is freely available and in abundance as much of the surface of the earth is covered by seas and oceans. Seventy one percent of the earth’s surface is covered by seas and of this freshwater bodies make up only three percent of the world’s water resources. (Curran 2001). Only a tiny proportion of the freshwater, an estimated 0.01% is available for use and this portion of available water is recycled.  The majority of freshwater on earth is locked up in ice caps and glaciers. (Miller 2005). This means that the majority of water that encompasses the earth cannot be used as drinking water and other purposes such as irrigation as it is too salty.


Water resources are not evenly distributed throughout the world, with many countries unable to meet the demands of their population. Some parts of the world have become so water stressed that it is becoming a source of conflict, this can be seen to be developing in some of the water stressed countries of the Middle East. (Miller 2005) 

Unfair water Distribution?

Many people, particularly those in LEDCs (Less Developed Countries) do not have access to fresh water. It is estimated that over a billion people in the world do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. (Hanlon 2006) This means that every year millions of people, in particular children are dying from diseases such as cholera. Around 70% of the water extracted from groundwater aquifers each year is used in irrigation and accounts for 40% of the world’s food production. Industry consumes about 20% of water extracted and the remaining water is used by the public. (Miller 2005).



Water in recent years has become big business and is now like fuel starting to be viewed as a commodity. The rise in the purchase and consumption of bottled water has meant that pressure on water supplies and other natural resources has increased significantly. (Hanlon 2006) Bottled water isn’t the only beverage that has increased the use of water resources, the boom in soft drinks such as Coca Cola and fruit juices are creating conflicts in countries from which they yield their water resources.

History of Coca Cola Coca Cola was first established in Atlanta Georgia in 1886 by John Pemberton, who developed the Coca Cola syrup and mixed it with carbonated water. The drink, which was originally laced with cocaine was designed to help suffers of depression and anxiety2. Coca Cola’s headquarters are still situated in Atlanta but is striving to gain a hold on emerging markets in developing countries1.


Coca has become one of the most recognisable brands on Earth and one of the world’s largest multinationals, selling an estimated 400 brands to 200 countries[1]. It operates in nearly every country across the globe and has an estimated value of around $100 billion. The Coca Cola Empire is one that has been built on marketing as the ‘history of Coca Cola is a history of marketing’ (Hogan 2006). The ability to aggressively market itself has made the Coca Cola corporations the massive entity that it is today some commentators would refer to Coca Cola’s spread throughout the globe as ‘Coca-Colonialism’ (Kahn 1960). The only thing that Coca Cola produces is syrup so has to rely on the bottling plants and partners that it has across the world to utilise their water resources in order to produce the end product. Coca Cola spends an estimated $2billion per year just on advertising to promote a clean-cut, healthy living image. It has also sponsored high profiled events such as the Olympic Games and the World Cup so further increasing it already massive profile.

2 Dispatches: Mark Thomas on Coca Cola



With the market for carbonated drinks decreasing in the developed world, Coca Cola has moved some of its attentions to the rising market in developing countries. This has led some commentators to question Coca Cola’s ethics. The Coca Cola is beginning to deflate as its operations in developing countries, in particular their impact on the water resources in these areas and the treatment of its workers is beginning to be questioned.  The activities that Coca Cola are carrying out in India are becoming a concern as it gains control of more aquifers to feed the high water consumption that is required in the production of Coca Cola beverages. This control of aquifers is having major effects on local communities and their activities.

Coca Cola has already had to face various legal battles with trade unions in countries such as Turkey, Russia and Pakistan over human rights abuses of workers at its bottling plants. With the Coca Cola’s novelty wearing off more consumers are beginning to boycott their products in protest to the unethical activities of this corporation. Some universities in the USA and Europe have cancelled their contracts with Coca Cola in protest of it operations and to show support and solidarity to the people in developing countries who are putting up resistance to the dominance that this corporation has. Oxford and Sussex are among some of the Universities in the UK that have decided to discontinue their contracts with Coca Cola2

2 Dispatches: Mark Thomas on Coca Cola

Increasing numbers of local people in some of the countries that they operate in are accusing Coca Cola of exhausting water supplies and polluting water is left with toxic waste from its plants. As Coca Cola’s domination is growing ever greater, the marketing machine that served to propel into the multinational today is making people more aware of the environmental and social impacts of its activities in developing countries.

Coca Cola in India 

 One country that Coca Cola has already gained a monopoly over is India. Having invested $1 billion into the India economy dominates 50% of the soft drinks market. Coca Cola have 60 bottling plants in operation in India. The operations that Coca Cola carry out in India are some of the most documented and there has been increasing number of conflicts arising between Coca Cola and local people in the areas that it operates. Several states now have campaigns to get Coca Cola removed. The dispute between local communities and Coca Cola has been taking place for sometime. Coca Cola first had operations in India in the 1970s but left when the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act came about in 1973. It then re-established operations in India in the 1990s. Since then water supplies have seen a rapid decline. One place where this occurred was in Rajasthan where a bottling plant was established by Coke in 1999. Rajasthan is an area that that has semi-arid conditions where the local people have to rely on groundwater aquifers in order to irrigate their crops. Since the arrival of Coke to this area local people have since the level of water in ground aquifers and in wells rapidly decline1. Official assessments by the Indian government have also shown that water levels declined by 10 metres since the Coca Cola plant became operational in this area. This has lead to concern that certain parts of Rajasthan will dry out completely and become dark zones and have to be abandoned because the water supply has been depleted1. Coca Cola has tried to deny that it has caused such large-scale water depletion and has developed rainwater harvest projects to counter its impact on the water supply of these areas and replenish groundwater aquifers. Locals suggest these schemes are pointless as Coca Cola does not put in the required maintenance to enable them to function effectively.  



Kerala is another area of India where Coke’s operations have become infamous. It was here that a bottling plant was closed down in 2004 after protests from local people and international activists concerning the exploitation of the groundwater aquifers and pollution of water bodies from toxic waste dumped by the Coke plant (Simons 2007).  The picture above shows the closed Coca Cola plant in Kerala (Simons 2007) Officials also accused of Coca Cola of providing local people a fertiliser containing high levels of Cadmium. Some commentators have argued that the low water levels experienced could be due to droughts experienced in 2002-2003 (Simon 2007). Other commentators would argue that although Coke’s plant created jobs for local people its presence had a detrimental effect on water supply, too great an effect to be the result of drought. The removal of water from these groundwater aquifers is made worse by the fact that in many cases the water is not put back into the system but in some cases completely removed from the country. Many of the local people have called people to boycott Coke’s products. 

Coca Cola is one of the largest multinationals in the world with operations located across the globe. Through aggressive marketing it has gained a corporate monopoly over many markets, especially those in developing countries. As the Coke’s global empire has expanded more people are starting to become aware of the environmental and social impacts of their operations.

Water stresses are caused by many different factors such as population growth and overuse for irrigation, but the over consumptive activities of Coca Cola in water stressed areas has seen a decline in water resources that was more rapid than if the company was not operating in these areas. The conflicts and destruction that these bottling plants should serve as an example of the destruction that a multinational corporation with such a high requirement for a finite resource such as water can have on a person’s way of life and their ability to meet their own requirements. Most people would argue that access to water is a basic human right but is being increasingly transformed into a commodity that is being used and exploited by the highest bidders, without due consideration of the knock on affect their activities are having on people in water stressed areas.


Is this what the future holds for water stressed areas were Coca Cola operations are taking place



One response to “Coca Cola: Are their operations in Developing countries the cause and exacerbation of water stress to local people of these countries

  1. this is definitely an issue, we need to be aware of the effects multinationals have. people dont look at the big picture and the mess they are leaving behind for less developed countries that cannot recover .

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