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Why Yeh Dil ‘Nahi’ Maange More PepsiCo Plants

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In this article, I will show you how you can suck the joy out of any news and stew over inane thoughts, in a few simple steps.

As a joyless communist, I reiterate that this is how I feel almost 24×7. Representational image. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Step #1 – Pick a news which unanimously received positive coverage.

On September 15, PepsiCo commissioned its largest greenfield food plant, in the town of Kosi Mathura. Chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who inaugurated the plant, has been at the forefront of reiterating the benefits of the plant to the general populace.

Almost all major, national and regional media claim that the plant will produce 1,500 direct jobs and thousands of indirect ones. Print and visual media have been working overtime to spread “information” about the seemingly unending advantages of the new Lays chips plant.

Is one supposed to say, “Pepsi, please (exploit us na)?” Representational image. Photo credit: Revista Digital.

Step #2 Start nitpicking. Stuck? Need help?

Here, think of how we, by virtue of living with a certain economic model, have to play by its rules and appreciate the  “job creating progressive industry”. Think: can PepsiCo create land and water out thin air? They can?

Then, why are they encroaching on the land of poor farmers, while hiding behind the metaphorical skirts of the government?

And, why is it that there has been no mention of local farmers protesting the 27 acre land grab by the government anywhere? Why has there been radio silence on the state government neatly sweeping the issue under the rug

Are you still looking for the silver lining? Well, no problem! Here comes another point.

Step #3 – Become judgmental. Sounds cringe-worthy? Just bear with me, I’ll show you how.

Let us judge a conglomerate based on their past actions and not wait for them to create new problems.

The company has been accused of causing a water crisis almost everywhere it has set up its operations, from the state of West Bengal in India to the US.

Now, one is also rather astounded by the sheer callousness the state government has shown with regards to setting up a new plant in an area like Mathura. Mathura is already struggling with a scarcity of potable water.

And, take this from a resident of the city—the problem is much worse than it appears on paper. Governmental inaction in light of the dismissal of PepsiCo’s appeal for water by India’s judiciary seems rather risky and scandalous… Don’t you think so? 

Oh! By the way, the appeal was against a government bill to charge 10 times the nominal amount in water bills, to provide reprieve to drought-affected districts, due to incessant guzzling of ground water by such industries. 

When the last river has dried out, we will all realise that we can’t drink pennies. Representational image. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The company has previously been the butt of various protests and agitations for its anti-union actions, reckless usage of groundwater and depriving the local population of this much-needed resource. Many of them spanned several states: from Kerala and Tamil Nadu to West Bengal.

Back in June 2013, when 162 Indian contractors were sacked for forming a union, it earned rebuke from the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF).

Interestingly, it was Nestle, another food and beverage giant, who pushed to remove potable water from being considered a basic human right at the World Water Forum.

PepsiCo is not far behind in its precedent for human rights violations and worker exploitation, either. Many reports have found that it has intervened and prevented its workers from forming a trade union. The accusation was been laid by IUF who has now released a list of anti-union activities by it, specific to India.

In light of these accusations, PepsiCo formed and ran an investigative check. Rather unsurprisingly, they found themselves not guilty, and exonerated themselves of all charges. They noted absolutely zero instances of human rights violations.

PepsiCo seems to have emulated the old adage of being one’s own, best critic and the pop cultural mantra of ignoring the haters. After all, haters gonna hate, hate, hate…

Step #4 – Look back at the glorious past and lament at the present conditions.

Hmm… sounds like someone we all know.

Moving on, almost four years ago, the centenary celebrations of the Russian October Revolution were held. It was organised by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). A massive red volunteer march held out as a part of a year-long celebration.

Along with declarations and booklets being released, the people celebrated the victory and the consolidation of labour rights and reforms, which ushered in an era of government-regulated checks on corporates and industrial exploitation.

Communist march from 2001. Representational image.

In India, the labor laws can be traced back to the colonial-era labour strikes and massive protests. These led to the first labour regulation i.e., the Trade Dispute Act (1929). These very laws were paid for in kind… With the blood of thousands of labourers.

Since liberalisation in 1991, there have been continuous attempts to strike at the soul of these laws. The most recent and devastating attack came amidst the pandemic, via the “business-friendly” policies to do with deregulation, by the existing government. 

Many labour outlets have claimed that the new ordinances might lead to gross violations of basic rights of workers at the hand of industrialists.  It is likely to put us back by a 100 years in terms of reforms.

The laws under threat are the Payment of Wages Act (1936), the Minimum Wages Act (1948), the Payment of Bonus Act (1965), and the Equal Remuneration Act (1976). The UN labour agency has warned state governments against the heedless scrapping of such legislations.

Step #5 – Link things back to the borderline apocalyptic news you read weeks ago.

‘With each passing day we inch closer to the inevitable climate apocalypse, which can now not be prevented just contained.’ Such was the gist of IPCC’s latest report.

It seems to have had an almost cathartic effect on our policy makers, who have come to a rather elegant solution to the issue. They have reached the conclusion that since the crisis is inevitable… Why bother mitigating it even? 

No other state of mind could possibly produce such asinine bills which our lawmakers have tabled. If the government cannot be trusted to maintain and improve existing legislations, how can we even begin to expect new laws about an impending water crisis?

Step #6 –  We are almost there so now, just accept your reality. 

But, wait! There is something worse you can do. You can also… 

Think about the consequences such mindless and unscientific development can cause—the result of an unlimited growth model on a planet with limited resources.

Think about how, under the façade of being business-friendly and attracting investments, the governments across party lines, nations and states, have maintained a sustained attack on the hard-earned, labour laws.

Also, you could google and read about the increased attacks on indigenous, land rights. I don’t know about you, but after years of undelivered promises, and land grabs with almost no redressal, rehabilitation seems to me like another systematic move to help the profit-seeking conglomerates… To better exploit their workers and extract resources.

You can also read a study that was conducted and it conclusions on how major corporations under the guise of development have harmed the ecology, lifestyle and the economy of the area. Furthermore, they have also marginalised the weakest sections of the population.

You can read about how Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation lobbied for child labor; how the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo were implicated in death squads and evicting, suing and duping farmers, leading to their mass suicide.

Finally, just apply these steps to another news item you read. Or, you can just ignore this and enjoy the “good news” that yellow journalism wants you to. 

But, where is the fun in that?

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: PepsiCo India.

Note: The author is part of the Sept-Oct ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program

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