How Coca-Cola is Privatizing Water in Mexico and Why Mexico is Allowing It

The Chiapas Highlands, one of Mexico’s wettest regions, has a water shortage.

Although the region has some of the highest levels of renewable water resources in Mexico, one in three residents lacks safe drinking water. Meanwhile, at a nearby Coca-Cola bottling plant, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are being consumed every day for the production of sugary beverages.

Due to the lack of safe, available, and affordable drinking water, residents of the Chiapas region drink more than two liters of coca-cola per day. To be exact, cola drinkers in Chiapas drink, on average, 2.25 liters every 24 hours. Indeed, the soda, neatly packed in reusable glass bottles, is priced cheaper than water in the rural regions.

With 2.25 liters of sugary soda per day, an average of 5,113 calories is obtained, which is well above the average 2,000 calories that are needed for daily sustenance. As a result, during the last decade, the leading cause of death in Chiapas has been Type 2 diabetes.

Coca-Cola produces at a local bottling plant, Femsa, which has permits to extract mass quantities of water per day as part of a deal with the Mexican federal government. As a result, Femsa is one of Mexico’s most powerful companies, with the former chief executive of Coca-Cola in Mexico serving as the country’s president from 2000 to 2006.

The company plays an important economic role in the region’s capital, San Cristobal, employing about 400 people and contributing around $200 million to the state economy. However, Coca-Cola plays a disproportionately small amount for its water privileges – about 10 cents per 260 gallons. Furthermore, Coca-Cola pays this money to the federal government, not the local government, while the infrastructure that serves the residents of San Cristobal is crumbling under the weight of their demands.

Residents of the region have been asking both state and federal governments to install a deep well in the community for 12 years in order to increase the community’s access to water, but authorities have failed to do anything. As such, there is a vacuum in the market, which Coca-Cola has more than taken advantage of. However, instead of water, they are peddling sugary soft drinks.

Aggressive marketing campaigns led by Coke and Pepsi that started in the ‘60s helped embed sugary soft drinks into local religious practices. For decades, the companies produced billboards in local languages, often alluding to culture and tradition.

However, the company denies any responsibility for the community’s health issues, claiming that Mexicans may have a genetic proclivity towards diabetes.

According to a statement from Coca-Cola: We recognize the challenges the San Cristóbal community faces, and that is why we have been working with them for nearly a decade to provide community water tanks, roof-top water collectors, and water conservation projects to help address this issue.

If the government has failed to protect the community of Chiapas, and free-market capitalism has only exploited their vulnerability, who will stand up for the people who most need our help? This is another instance of the law having failed the people.

Is this a legal or civil issue?