Coca-Cola profits from brutal sugarcane field working conditions

Report: Coca-Cola profits from brutal sugarcane field working conditions.

New York Times report uncovers abuses of women, children who work for India sugar producers

One of the world’s most iconic consumer brands – which just happens to be based in Atlanta – is facing accusations it profits from a system exploiting children and the sterilization of women.

The Coca-Cola Company is the subject of a New York Times investigation published this week centering on sugar producers in India and the workers who harvest the sugarcane purchased by the company.

“In the morning, they go off to these sugar fields and they spend pretty much all day cutting sugar and it’s really backbreaking work,” said Megha Rajagopalan, one of The New York Times investigative reporters who broke the story.

Rajagopalan said the workers toil “12 to 15 hours a day. It’s a very, very long day. They sleep on the ground, pretty much on mats.”

Rajagopalan said she and her team interviewed dozens of people in the sugar supply chain, including laborers, contractors, mill owners and aid workers.

They uncovered young girls pushed into illegal child marriages so they can work alongside their husbands gathering sugar cane. Instead of receiving wages, they often worked to pay off advances from their employers, an arrangement that requires them to pay a fee for the privilege of missing work, even to see a doctor.

“These women are often told they need hysterectomies for problems that could actually be solved in a much less invasive way,” Rajagopalan said. “When they’re told this by doctors, especially those that are working in private clinics and hospitals that are looking for extra money from this kind of surgery, these women need a place to borrow it. A lot of the time, they are going to these contractors that work for sugar mills.”

Rajagopalan said Coca-Cola sources sugar in Maharashtra, which is where these practices are completely widespread and pervasive. “It also buys from Dalmia and NSL Sugars, two companies that own factories where we found that agricultural workers were going through these kinds of abuses,” Rajagopalan said.

Coca-Cola has known about the abusive system for years. According to a 2019 report produced by a Coca-Cola consultant, it shows that children were cutting sugar cane and laborers were working to repay their employers. They documented this in a report for the company, complete with an interview of a 10-year-old girl.

In an unrelated 2019 corporate report, Coca-Cola said it was supporting a program to “gradually reduce child labor” in India. Coca-Cola’s code of conduct for suppliers prohibits this.

“We condemn abuse in any form within our supply chain and take these reports very seriously,” Coca-Cola said in a statement responding to the New York Times report. “We are committed to respecting human rights wherever we do business and have prioritized addressing these issues in our global operations and supply chains. As such, we invest in a range of efforts from the local to global level to address human rights risks and impacts, with a particular focus on due diligence and stakeholder engagement.

“We are deeply troubled by The New York Times’ heart-rending reporting of forced hysterectomies in Maharashtra,” the company said. “We are committed to looking into and understanding the issues reported by The New York Times.”


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