Coca-Cola shares an ‘also known as’ with the narcotic cocaine: Coke. It’s not an accident. Coca-Cola once contained cocaine and is still flavored with a non-narcotic extract from the coca, the plant from which cocaine is obtained. Perhaps the popularity of the drink is also explained by the presence of some addictive element of the ingredient. But we are talking here about a different kind of addiction, a different inducement that has the intoxicating power of a drug.
Coca-Cola has a worldwide reputation for being an irresponsible corporate, especially when it comes to contamination issues. Ironically, this is happening even as the company aims to boost its bottled water sales, since this segment of its product portfolio is trending to best carbonated soft drink market by the end of the decade in the USA.
The contamination of the Kelani Ganga by effluence from the bottling plant has caused a storm and rightly so. The issue has spawned a veritable Anti-Coke movement in social media. The company has responded by questioning the Water Board’s testing methodology. That’s par for the course from big-name corporates. Litigation looms.
Corporate wrongdoing leaks typically raise the ire of consumer watchdogs and public interest groups. Corporates, even as they upscale their public relations campaigns, resort to litigation and even lobby decision-makers, if necessary through home governments if they happen to be powerful players in the international community.
It’s all about purchasing time, hoping that public concern will get diluted due to officials and politicians promising to take action. Once the battle is shifted to that kind of territory, different weapons of war can be deployed. Time also increases the chance of the next ‘Big Thing’ to displace the public angst.
We have seen a lot of agitation over the irresponsible and even criminal activities of corporate entities and of course errant politicians. Issues come. Issues go. ‘The Nation’ has alerted the public and authorities on many such issues. Questions remain.
What happened to DCD and Fonterra? Do we know if Fonterra is now above board? Who is keeping watch? What about MSG and instant noodles? Arsenic in rice, anyone? How about the tobacco industry and health warnings? Was justice done? Was it enough or was justice negotiated? How about unregulated sweets and other food-safety issues? Has the matter of LED and CFL waste disposal been resolved? How about unhealthy ‘energy drinks’? Lead content in paint?
Has encroachment on Wilpattu been stopped and reversed? Why are the people of Panama being denied the right to recover lands forcibly taken by the security forces? Has tree-felling in the Nilgala forest reserve been halted? Environmental concerns about the Port City Project got a lot of space some time ago. Now there is silence. Why?
There were a range of issues in paddy purchasing. Now there’s silence. What happened to the Right to Information Act? Have we seen the last of ill-treatment of suspects in police stations? What happened to Sarath De Abrew? Are there no more financial irregularities in the Foreign Employment Bureau? Are we happy the way the full face helmet issue was ‘resolved’? What’s new about the Anawilundawa sheeting factory issue and that small matter of the Puttalam land fill project?
A survey of street children was promised by the NCPA some years ago. Was it done? The water contamination issue in Chenkalady — was it resolved? USAID was making moves for a virtual takeover of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. Done? There was a cancer drug scarcity compounded by a racket by insiders to make lots of money . Is it because it is now sorted out or because we got other issues to worry about that we don’t talk about it?
Has Coca-Cola lulled us to the point that we believe that all these issues have been resolved or that they are somehow ‘past tense’ in more than a temporal sense?
If we consider all these issues that ‘come and go’, it is clear that there’s something seriously wrong in overall systems of both operation and oversight. The periodic ‘spill’ grabs our attention and makes us shout but we move from one such spill to the next happily leaving the one that came before. Corporates resist. Other corporates piddle in some other corner of our world and we leave the one to take on the other. Systems remain in place. Flawed.
Yes, Coke is a drug. Correction: it’s the now-drug that obliterates memory of previous intoxication.