It is quite interesting to see that labour rights’violation issue in Coloumbia and the issue of waterrights of local communities in India have become acause of concern for Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, asstudents across campuses in United States and Canadaare beginning to question the unethical practices ofthese companies. These companies impact the lives ofstudents in North American campuses as they usuallyhave exclusivity contracts with the Universities whichprevent products of other companies besides their ownto be sold on campuses. The students are up in arms asthey think that they should have the freedom to choosetheir products and their choices should not bedictated by corporations like Coke and Pepsi. Adeliberate attempt is being made by these companies toreplace the free water fountains with their vendingmachines and they are restricting the choice ofstudents for healthier drink selection.In a major victory on McMaster University campus inCanada, the students in a referendum haveunambiguously disapproved of the Coca Cola’s $6million exclusive contract with their University. Amovement initiated by a students’ organization ‘CampusChoice’ has informed the larger student body ofirresponsible behaviour of Coca Cola in India andColoumbia. The referendum will force the McMasterStudents Union and Univeristy authorities to reviewthe contract with Coca Cola. York Univeristy inToronto is also likely to review its decade longexclusivity contract with Pepsi which is to end in2008, as student groups have become suspicious of itstrue value to the community. In mid 90’s the studentsat this University had led a five year boycott ofPepsi products following the opening of theiroperation facilities in Burma – a country with a poorhuman rights track record. In United States at theUniveristy of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Students Organizedfor Labour and Economic Equity (SOLE) complained tothe administration on November 30, 2004, about fourareas of concern, including the issues of cadmium insludge coming out of Coca Cola plants, ground waterdepletion by the bottling plants and presence ofpesticides in products being sold, from India. TheUniversity authorities have asked Coca Cola to respondto these concerns and the Vendor Code of ConductDispute Review Board of the University has recommendedstrict action against the company in case ofnon-compliance with Vendor Code of Conduct.Students in campuses are also opposing thatuniversity campuses become arenas for advertisingwhere the administration set up the campus as anexclusive billboard for exclusive ad campaigns.Students in campuses across North America are askingwhy workers in Coke plants in Coloumbia must bear theexternalities of Coke so that the company can makeprofits. Why should the people in India ofMehandiganj, Varanasi or Plachimada, Kerala pay forthe costs of making products so that the company ismaking huge profits? Who accounts for theseexternalities that result in Coke's profits? Coke andPepsi are producing externalities they are not payingfor - health problems, water depletion, pollution, ...within this argument of free market economy, these arecosts they are not accounting for. Who will pay forthem? And why should these villages pay for them? Isthat just?The companies meanwhile are trying to cover up theirmisdeeds by efforts which may be described only as eyewash. On 4th October, 2005, after a documentary‘Mehandiganj – Where Life is at Stake’ was screened onthe campus of Georgia Institute of Technology inAtlanta to discuss the movement for rights over waterof local communities going on in rural areas ofVaranasi, Harry J. Ott, Director of Global WaterResources Center at Coca Cola coming from theinternational headquarters of the global corporategiant next door from the campus, claimed that he hadGroundwater Board data available from India to showthat water table had, in fact, risen at Mehandiganj,since the bottling plant of the company was set upthere. He was more willing to believe the data, whoseauthenticity was dubious, compared to the vividpictures of about 2000 people protesting against theplant in November 2004 against the company fordepleting their water tables, in the film justscreened. He also claimed that the company hasundertaken watershed management exercises all over thecountry to compensate for the depleting water tables.When it was pointed out to him that there was no proofof any such attempt in Mehandiganj, Varanasi, heresponded that the effort here was being done insidethe plant premises! The Director of Ground WaterResources at Coca Cola has no idea of how big acatchment area is required to compensate for the watertable being depleted by its four tube wellscontinuously operating inside its plant. Besides, ifindeed the bottling plants are able to collect enoughwater to recharge the local ground water, even causeit to rise, why then do they not simply use that waterfor their operations. After all, the rain water iscleaner than the ground water that has variouschemicals leaching into it and this would save thecompany major costs attributed to water filtrationprocesses.Companies like Coke and Pepsi, which are not evenwilling to clean up the pesticides in their productsbeing sold in India or Coca Cola, which refuses toacknowledge the presence of Cadmium in its sludgeinspite of the result of two independent reports now,can not be expected to do the more tedious task ofwatershed management to conserve water for the farmersof India.At Carleton Univeristy in Ottawa, on 19th October,2005, the students attending a meeting similar to theone at Georgia Tech, asserted that they have a rightto free drinking water from public fountains and Cokeand Pepsi should not force them to buy bottled water.It is reported that a new building on the campus ofUniveristy of British Coloumbia will not have anywater fountains. Students expressed their resentmentover this. Coincidentally farmers in India, on theother side of the globe, are saying the same thing.They are asking Coke and Pepsi to leave their wateralone so that it is available to them for drinking andirrigation purposes. Taking away the water by thesecompanies is in reality a serious human rightsviolation of the farming communities, in addition tothe abuse they face at the hands of the local policeand private security guards of Coca Cola whenever theytry to organize a protest outside the plant gates. Thefarmers of India and students on North Americanuniversity campuses are essentially saying the samething – ‘Stop privatization of water!’By Sandeep Pandey

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