Rule #1: Don’t poison your customers

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Pesti-Cola
– This is the current Indian nickname for the purveyors of sugared water, those bastions of refreshment and coolness in the heat of the Indian summer, beloved by all, Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola. Collateral damage in the cola wars?

NEW DELHI: Three years after the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) reported high levels of pesticides in popular cold drink brands, killer chemicals continue to contaminate the drinks at unacceptably high levels.
[…]
The 2006 CSE study tested 57 samples of 11 soft drink brands from 25 different manufacturing plants of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in 12 states. It found a cocktail of three to five pesticides in all samples.

From Reuters today, just in case you needed the credibility of the site established,

A 2003 study by CSE briefly dented the companies’ sales when it said it found levels of pesticide in the companies’ soft drinks in excess of international standards.That study was endorsed by India’s parliament though the soft drink majors said at the time the drinks were safe to consume and they repeated their stand on Wednesday.

Since 2003, there has been a plethora of information available on this subject, chiefly from concerned citizens of India. Had you heard? Did you know? Were you aware that the world’s #1 most valuable brand according to the just released Businessweek/Interbrand 2006 survey of Global Brands did not give a flying fuck about their customers in the third world?

From the India Resource Center’s website, because this must be rationally disseminated and I can only find a wordless scream inside of me, perhaps I will write again a little later.

Double standards? You bet. An isolated incident? Not quite.
Large multinationals are notorious for serving up products that have
been banned in the West to new and emerging markets in developing
countries.

Coca-Cola India has hired a public relations firm, Perfect Relations,
to rebuild its tarnished image in India. But the story of Coca-Cola in
India goes much deeper than the toxic colas being served to the public,
and no measure of public relations alone can solve this problem.
Communities in and around Coca-Cola’s bottling operations are
facing severe shortages of water as a result of the cola major sucking
huge amounts of water from the common groundwater source.

To add insult
to injury, the scarce water that remains has been polluted by Coca-Cola
as a result of its operations. In a gesture of goodwill, Coca-Cola now
proudly trucks in water tankers for the community. And the main raw
material for Coca-Cola’s product — water — is practically free for
the cola major.

Click through, read the rest of the story of what MNC’s do in emerging markets, how they beat up the voiceless ones, the protesters, those at the bottom of the pyramid. Brave New World, indeed.

And a snippet from the Guardian,

Yesterday a spokesman for Coca-Cola in Atlanta said: "We are aware of one isolated case where a farmer may have used a soft drink as part of his crop management routine.

"Soft drinks do not act in a similar way to pesticides when applied to the ground or crops. There is no scientific basis for this and the use of soft drinks for this purpose would be totally ineffective".

Union Carbide anyone?

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4 Responses to Rule #1: Don’t poison your customers

  1. This reminds me of a slightly headed but ultimately very insightful dialog I got into on flickr of all places through some of my pictures from India. I was struck by the very basic values that I saw promoted by companies like “purity” “ok quality!” and so on, nothing aspirational, just “our product isn’t shit” and it made me wonder what sort of culture is it where you have to declaim (?) that sort of feature.
    If you put that back into our culture, it sounds like sounding from Worth1000: McDonald’s – we are NOT made of red worm meat! Bank of America – we don’t cheat you!
    I think the example from India had to do with LP cannisters that didn’t blow up, and also where they had built some interesting systems to prevent cheating by the middleman. There’s some interesting design opportunities to build in protections and workarounds, but it seems like if you have to advertise that absence of shit (in whatever form) then you’re still going to have a ways to go in terms of global brands, global economy and so on.
    Kingfisher Air: Fewer crashes, now with seatbelts!

  2. niti bhan says:

    Steve,
    Your comment has demonstrated to me the need for an outside pair of eyes into a culture, yet with the sensitivity to realize that an action may not be irrational but wholly in tune with the local practice that we don’t even notice we do it until you point it out to us. thank you! but seriously, that is such an insight that I’d never noticed, and it’s wholly due to the ‘scams’ and ‘cons’ that are such a part and parcel of doing business in India. You do get screwed, like Neelankantan has been saying about the pressure cookers. He’s right. We are so prepared to get conned taht we appreciate the firm that works on the ‘we won’t screw you’ card.
    I also believe that this habit or assumption in Indian society may come from the fact that for the longest time under our tightly controlled, close market socialist economy, we were at the mercy of the sellers. Rememeber it has only been 10 years since there has been no need for decade long waiting lists for basics such as telephones, two wheelers and cooking gas connections.
    OTOH not connected to your comment, I was thinking that the articles quoted state that india has no rules re: health food standards hence the cola problem. But I say that if a global brand such as Pepsi or Coke is truly worthy of their value then it behooves them to adhere to a singular global standard of behaviour than compromise their integrity in such a way.
    We may be the third world, but we ain’t stupid

  3. PCashell says:

    Very impactful headline. I recommend you check out this article about the PR implications Coke and Pepsi are dealing with:
    http://www.levick.com/resources/topics/articles/passage_india.php

  4. niti bhan says:

    Interesting press release, and it supports quite well the IHT article I’ll link to in a second. But first, from the link above,
    “Third, corporations not only often underestimate the power of their own global brand in foreign markets, they often underestimate their audiences. Just because India is not yet a wired country, does not mean it operates without a highly effective network.”
    Just met my Uncle who’s visiting from Delhi – he told me that the entire road to his factory is wired so he can work on his laptop even while stuck in horrendous Delhi traffic. He also told me that the new buildings that are coming up, office blocks all, are being wired from the get go. So while yes I agree with all that is written in the press release, I’d just like to clarify the ‘wired’ bit 🙂
    And here’s the IHT link,
    http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/display.article?id=8054

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