Kelly Fraser’s article (“Coke cleared in India investigation” 01/15/2008) bore a misleading headline. When one reads the actual article, one notices that it says, “The Energy and Resources Institute, an independent environmental research organization based in New Delhi, found that two of (Coca Cola’s) six plants examined in the report were contributing to water shortages in the areas surrounding the facilities.” Such a damning indictment can hardly be said to “clear” Coke.

In fact, the University’s Vendor Code of Conduct clearly states at the beginning that vendors selling products at the University should promote a “sustainable environment for workers and the general public” in their activities. In its report, TERI recommended that Coke’s plant in Kala Dera either be relocated, shut down, store water to use or transfer in water from a distant aquifer, noting that the last two options were probably not actually feasible. The plant is not environmentally sustainable because it is leading to depletion of water in the region and depriving the local people of much-needed water.

This is a strong negative judgment on Coke’s environmental “stewardship,” a word that Coke likes to use in its corporate literature. If the situation is so bad at Coke’s Kala Dera plant that relocation or shut down are the feasible, sustainable solutions to prevent the depletion of groundwater, how come Coke’s own environmental impact studies have not found this? Doesn’t this mean that Coke has shown a callous disregard for the deadly impact its activities on the lives of Indians who live in the area and depend on the groundwater for their needs? I would think that Coke is in clear violation of the University’s Vendor Code of Conduct, since it mandates that vendors at the University ensure sustainability for the general public.

Now, why should a University student be concerned about all this? India is very far away, right? What does it matter if Coke is destroying or depleting water resources there? Why does it matter to people in Michigan?

It matters a great deal. At a time when America’s image and reputation is taking a severe battering abroad, the University could have sent a message to the world, showing that there are still American institutions that do the right thing and do not practice double standards. Instead, by winking at Coke’s violation of its policies, the University is sending a pitiful message to the rest of the world. It is illustrating that American institutions, even highly regarded institutions like America’s flagship universities, are willing to practice double standards to protect and enable a United States-based corporation. This effectively gives them a pass to do whatever they like abroad with a wink and a nod.

What kind of message does this send to the rest of the world?

Sayan Bhattacharyya is a Rackham graduate student.

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