Coca Cola vs. People of India

by Katie Marien



Grade : 10 – 12 th grades

Subjects : Global Issues, Cultural Geography

Author : Katie Marien, Ashwaubenon High School , Ashwaubenon , WI

Est. Time : 3 – 4, 90 minute blocks

Essential Understanding:

Kids will be interested to learn what is happening to kids just like them around the world. This is focused on a major corporation that kids contribute to every day. They’ll be interested to find out what really goes on behind the scenes.


Students will study the presence of Coca Cola in India and what it has done to the water supply there. They will then conduct research for evidence to role play a trial between Coke and the people of India .


I spent six weeks on a Fulbright Scholarship and experienced an amazing variety of things. We listened to a multitude of speakers from different NGO’s that we were working with but none stuck out in my mind more than Ekta Parishad. It is a Gandhian NGO that has a number of different issues it is working for in India . One of them is the presence of Coca Cola in their country and the negative effects it has had on the great people of India . I was moved to research it further after speaking with the people of Ekta and hearing their side of the story. I want to inspire students to do the same and find out first hand what globalization can do, both negatively and positively.

Coca Cola first came to India after many years of a closed economy. It appeared to be a great thing! India had fought for political independence for years and gained it in 1947. They continued to fight for economic independence and they gained that as well and Coca Cola was one of the first companies there. Here are a few facts about Coca Cola India:

  • During the past decade, the Coca-Cola system has invested more than US$ 1 billion in India
  • Coca-Cola business system directly employs approximately 6,000 local people in India
  • In India , we indirectly create employment for more than 125,000 people in related industries through our vast procurement, supply and distribution system
  • The Coca-Cola system in India comprises 27 wholly-owned company-owned bottling operations and another 17 franchisee-owned bottling operations

This all sounds pretty good, right? Are its products and job production really worth people’s lives? Here’s the story. Local people in Kerala and Tamil Nadu are losing 100,000 liters of water a day because these corporations are taking their drinking water to produce soda and run their factories. You would think that in a democracy people would have the say to make a difference and change things. Farmers can no longer cultivate their land because there is no water for irrigation. Solid waste is being used as fertilizer. Locals can not even hydrate themselves and people are getting sick because of the lack of drinking water. Not only are these Coke plants taking people’s water they are taking away their freedom.

Shouldn’t the government step in? The Kerala state government allowed for Coke to come into their state but local governments did not. Those local governments are the ones who are affected most because this is taking place in rural areas.

Here are some helpful links to articles to further understand the issues:


Students will approach global issues, problems, and challenges with neither undue optimism nor unwarranted pessimism.

  • Students will demonstrate an appreciation of universal human rights.
  • Students will compare and contrast diverse cultural points of view and try to understand them.

Instructional Activities:

  • Students will be assigned an article from the websites above to read as background information for homework.
  • (Optional) Begin class by handing out cups and pouring Coke for each student.
  • As they are drinking ask questions about the articles they read. Make a class chart of the pros and cons (so far) of Coca Cola’s presence in India.
  • After the discussion, ask them if they want some bottled water from India . This will hopefully jumpstart a conversation about fear of drinking water and put them in the shoes of people living in India every day.
  • Hand out the trial explanation sheet. Use that as a guide to explain to students they will be participating in a mock trial between Coke and India to assess whether or not Coke is guilty of the following charges:
    • It has violated individual rights and freedoms of the Indian people.
    • The toxins this company has put into its soda have caused bodily harm to Indian people.
    • Coca Cola has caused severe water shortage and damaged communities across India.

  • Students will next be divided into two groups: the prosecution and the defense and given time to research their points of view. They should use the defense and prosecution handouts as a guide for the trial.
  • When the research is complete the trial will begin. The instructor may act as the judge.
  • Upon completion of the trial students will write a reflective essay about the trial.


Assessment Activities:

  • Student opening statements, witness statements, and closing statements will all be used to assess their knowledge of the global problem.
  • Collect trial info sheets as an assessment of their research.
  • A “Dear India” letter will be assigned to students to assess their understanding of different points of view of the Coke controversy and how different cultures might view it in different ways. Use the “Dear India” Rubric for grading purposes.


Extension Activities:

  1. Research water pollution here in the US and make a comparison.
  2. Write to Coca Cola and speak your mind!
  3. Have students email/write to NGO’s that are working on the issues with Coke in India .
  4. Conduct penny drives within school to send to NGO’s working on the issues.
  5. Start an awareness campaign within your school so other students are aware of the issues.


Wisconsin Social Studies Performance Standards:

  • A.12.12 Assess the advantages and disadvantages of selected land use policies in the local community, Wisconsin , the United States , and the world
  • E.12.14 Use the research procedures and skills of the behavioral sciences (such as gathering, organizing, and interpreting data from several sources) to develop an informed position on an issue.
  • B.12.9 Select significant changes caused by technology, industrialization, urbanization, and population growth, and analyze the effects of these changes in the US and the world.


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