This case is about Coca-Cola’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in India. It details the activities taken up by Coca-Cola India’s management and employees to contribute to the society and community in which the company operates. Coca-Cola India being one of the largest beverage companies in India, realised that CSR had to be an integral part of its corporate agenda. According to the company, it was aware of the environmental, social, and economic impact caused by a business of its scale and therefore it had decided to implement a wide range of initiatives to improve the quality of life of its customers, the workforce, and society at large.
However, the company came in for severe criticism from activists and environmental experts who charged it with depleting groundwater resources in the areas in which its bottling plants were located, thereby affecting the livelihood of poor farmers, dumping toxic and hazardous waste materials near its bottling facilities, and discharging waste water into the agricultural lands of farmers. Moreover, its allegedly unethical business practices in developing countries led to its becoming one of the most boycotted companies in the world.
Notwithstanding the criticisms, the company continued to champion various initiatives such as rainwater harvesting, restoring groundwater resources, going in for sustainable packaging and recycling, and serving the communities where it operated. Coca-Cola planned to become water neutral in India by 2009 as part of its global strategy of achieving water neutrality. However, criticism against the company refused to die down. Critics felt that Coca-Cola was spending millions of dollars to project a ‘green’ and ‘environment-friendly’ image of itself, while failing to make any change in its operations. They said this was an attempt at greenwashing as Coca-Cola’s business practices in India had tarnished its brand image not only in India but also globally. The case discusses the likely challenges for Coca-Cola India as it prepares to implement its new CSR strategy in the country.