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Coke skips India in conservation pledge

The soft drinks giant pledges to conserve rivers but skips India, where it faces protests for depleting ground water.

world Updated: Jun 06, 2007 12:02 IST

Soft drinks giant Coca-Cola on Tuesday pledged to conserve seven of the world's most critical river basins under a $20 million plan but skipped India, where it faces protests for allegedly depleting ground water.

The pledge was announced at the annual meeting of the World Wildlife Fund in Beijing, where The Coca-Cola Company launched a multi-year partnership with WWF to conserve and protect freshwater resources.

The Coke-WWF partnership will focus on "measurably conserving" China's Yangtze, Southeast Asia's Mekong, the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo of Southwest US and Mexico, the rivers and streams of the Southeastern US, the water basins of the Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef, the East Africa basin of Lake Malawi, and Europe's Danube River.

"We are focusing on water because this is where Coca-Cola can have a real and positive impact," Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO E Neville Isdell said.

The announcement, however, did not mention any measures to conserve water basins in India, where the company's plant at Plachimada in Kerala was forced to shut down due to protests from locals over depleting ground water level.

In 2004, the plant was shut down and temporarily started functioning in 2005, only to be closed again on the orders of the Kerala State Pollution Control Board. Recently, Coke shifted one of its production lines from the unit to Orissa.

The $20 million commitment is also expected to support more efficient water management in its operations and global supply chain, and reduce the company's carbon footprint, a statement from Coca-Cola said.

Isdell said the company's goal was to replace every drop of water it used in beverages and their production.

Coke's pledge to replace the water it uses has three core components -- reducing the water used to produce its beverages, recycling water used for beverage manufacturing processes and replenishing water in communities and nature.

"For us that means reducing the amount of water used to produce our beverages, recycling water used for manufacturing processes so it can be returned safely to the environment, and replenishing water in communities and nature through locally relevant projects," Isdell was quoted as saying in the press release.

The river basins chosen for conservation span more than 20 countries in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia and have "biological distinctiveness, opportunity for meaningful conservation gains, and potential to advance issues of resource protection," the release said.

WWF International Director General James Leape said the Coca-Cola Company is answering the call to help solve the global freshwater crisis through this bold partnership.

In 2006, Coke and its franchised bottlers used nearly 290 billion litres of water for beverage production. Of that, approximately 114 billion litres were contained in the company's broad portfolio of beverages sold in markets around the world, and another 176 billion litres were used in beverage manufacturing processes such as rinsing, cleaning, heating and cooling, the release said.