The Bush Administration is acting as the muscle for Coke and Pepsi.
The two soft drink manufacturers are under fire in India after a recent
report released by a respected environmental group revealed that the colas marketed
in that country contain dangerous pesticides, sometimes at alarmingly high levels.
(Coke and Pepsi have hotly disputed the conclusions.)
“The study finds pesticide residues in all samples; it finds a cocktail
of 3-5 different pesticides in all samples—on an average 24 times higher
than BIS [Bureau of Indian Standards] norms, which have been finalized but not
yet notified,” the report by the New Delhi-based Center
for Science and Environment notes. “The levels in some samples—for
instance, Coca-Cola bought in Kolkata—exceeded the BIS standards by 140
times for the deadly pesticide Lindane. Similarly, a Coca-Cola sample manufactured
in Thane contained the neurotoxin Chlorpyrifos, 200 times the standard.”
This report was a follow-up to a similar one the same organization did three
years ago. At the time, the drink giants questioned the study.
But an investigation
by the Indian Joint Parliamentary Committee confirmed the findings and recommended
that standards be set up for the soft drink industry. The implementation of
the standards has been delayed due to the usual bureaucratic dithering in India.
So, the second
report was issued to galvanize public opinion on the matter, and it handsomely
succeeded. Several public protests were held after the study’s release.
Some Indian Members of Parliament staged a walkout over the subject. The Indian
Supreme Court has given the drink manufacturers four weeks to respond to the
charges and to reveal the "exact amount of harmful contents in each bottle.”
In response to
the public outcry generated by the report, several Indian states have prohibited
the drinks from being sold at government schools, colleges and hospitals, while
one state (Kerala) has gone further, banning the drink outright. Even though
India is an imperfect democracy, Indian authorities sometimes have the habit
of being receptive to public concern.
Annoyingly so, in the Bush Administration’s opinion. It is warning India
of the dire consequences of caring for the well-being of its people.
“This kind of action is a setback for the Indian economy,” Undersecretary
for International Trade Franklin
Lavin told AFP. “In a time when India is working hard to attract and
retain foreign investment, it would be unfortunate if the discussion were dominated
by those who did not want to treat foreign companies fairly.”
The Bush Administration should be careful about the companies it twists arms
for in India. Another paragon of virtue that it intensely pressured Indian authorities
on behalf of was (hold your breath!) Enron.
Enron was the prime investor in a huge power project in Western India that
ran into trouble for a variety of reasons, including the overcharging that the
company was engaging in (similar to its shenanigans in California). Documents
reveal that Dick Cheney met in June 2001 with then-opposition leader Sonia Gandhi
(whose party controlled the government of the state where the project was based)
in an attempt to get Enron the $64 million that it claimed it was owed by the
state administration. President Bush himself was meant to bring up the matter
in a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But fate intervened.
“Suddenly, the plan was scrapped,” The
Guardian reports. “ ‘President Bush cannot talk about Enron,'
reads an email, the sender and recipient of which have been blacked out. On
the same day, 8 November , Enron filed documents with the Securities and
Exchange Commission revising its financial statements to account for $586m in
losses. It was also the day the company decided it could no longer hide the
dirty secret that it had been slushing millions of dollars to tax havens offshore,
and [Kenneth] Lay called Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill to plead for help.”
Coke and Pepsi aren’t exactly personifications of good behavior. Coke
has in recent years been accused of the murder of union leaders at a Coca-Cola
bottling plant in Colombia. In India itself, Coke has faced allegations of depleting
groundwater in areas where its bottling plants are based. (Coke strongly denies
charges of murder at the Colombian plant, which is owned by local businessmen,
and says its practices in India are environmentally sound.)
“In the past two years the Coke campaign has grown into the largest anti-corporate
movement since the campaign against Nike for sweatshop abuses,” Michael
Blanding writes in The Nation. “Around the world, dozens of unions and
more than twenty universities have banned Coke from their facilities, while
activists have dogged the company from World Cup events in London to the Winter
Olympics in Torino.”
Several groups have been organizing around Coke’s depredations, two of
the most prominent being killercoke.org
and the India Resource Center.
Pepsi’s history is not above reproach, either. It was for years happy
to do business with the hideously repressive regime in Burma before a boycott
forced it to withdraw from the country in the late 1990s. And, as former New
York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer’s new book, “Overthrow,”
reveals, Pepsi’s CEO Donald Kendall was the one who initially broached
the idea to President Nixon to overthrow Salvador Allende in Chile. “Nixon
focused intensely on his warnings,” writes Kinzer. “From that moment,
he never wavered in his determination to bring Allende down.”
But when you’re the Bush Administration, you don’t care
about the record of corporations on issues such as democracy, public health
or the environment. All you do care about is their bottom line.
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