Pesticides in Coca-Cola and Pepsi: Consumerism, Brand Image, and Public Image in a Globalizing India

Peer Reviewed


In India, and elsewhere, the effects of globalization, especially increased consumerism, in expanding the circulation of branded goods, has produced a complex mix of responses and readings that are often contradictory. In striving to make sense of the apparently autonomous and often-dizzying pace of economic and cultural change, media and other discourses utilize narratives and strategies that, although located in symbolic–political fields, remain contingent in their specific configurations. Coca-Cola and Pepsi as brands are hybrid embodiments of the larger dissonances constitutive of the present moment in Indian modernity. On the basis of an analysis primarily of media commentary about a recent environmental campaign to highlight the presence of pesticides in Coca-Cola and Pepsi products, this article charts out the recurring discursive motifs that illustrate the political potential and limitations of the evolving sociopolitical fields, encompassing such contested categories as the state, multinational corporations, and the consumer, and their interrelationships in a globalizing India.

Editorial Footnotes

Other Cultural Anthropology articles have also examined the practices and effects of multinational corporations. See, for example, Suzana Sawyer’s “Bobbittizing Texaco: Dis-Membering Corporate Capital and Re-Membering the Nation in Ecuador” (2002). Articles that examine middle-class formations and practices include Vassos Argyrou’s “‘Keep Cyprus Clean’: Littering, Pollution, and Otherness” (1997) and Susan A. Reed’s “Performing Respectability: The Beravā, Middle-Class Nationalism, and the Classicization of Kandyan Dance in Sri Lanka” (2002).

About the Author

Neeraj Vedwan is an assistant professor of anthropology at Montclair State University.

Author's webpage

Links from the Essay

Center for Science and Environment

Bureau of Indian Standards

The Coca-Cola Company - India


Indian Express

Times of India

Durga Puja

Other Links and Multimedia

"Parliamentary Committee Confirms Pesticides in Coca-Cola"

"Coke, Nestlé and Suez push greenwashing envelope to the highest level"

"Pepsi: Repairing a Poisoned Reputation in India"

Killer Coke


Editorial Overview

In the November 2007 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Neeraj Vedwan describes new forms of environmental activism that have emerged around pesticide contamination of Coca-Cola and Pepsi soft drinks in India.. Vedwan’s essay “Pesticides in Coca-Cola and Pepsi: Consumerism, Brand Image, and Public Image in a Globalizing India” analyzes the recent campaign led by the Center for Science and Environment in India against The Coca-Cola Company and Pepsi Company.

In examining the relationships among state authorities, corporations, consumers, and environmental organizations in the controversy, Vedwan illustrates ways in which middle-class consumer's agency was influenced by those very relationships. The campaign against Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Vedwan explains, sought the support of middle-class consumers, a group often aligned with the interests of multinational corporations and the liberalizing Indian economy. The essay shows that although Coca-Cola and Pepsi attempted to thwart the campaign against them—using movie stars and national athletes to promote their soft drinks, and by calling on international laboratories to discredit the scientific findings of Indian environmental organizations—they were unable to salvage their corporate image in the eyes of the Indian media, state politicians, and even middle-class consumers. The success of the campaign against Coca-Cola and Pepsi was based in great part, Vedwan explains, on “new forms of solidarities” among local actors. Vedwan argues that the “dethroning of socialism as the state ideology in India, economic liberalization, and the concomitant rise in Hindu chauvinism reflect a reordering of power relations between different segments of society.” Vedwan’s essay will be of interest to readers concerned with media, neoliberalism, the global beverage industry, India, consumerism, and environmental justice.

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