Coca-Cola Skirts Restrictions as Cape Town Runs out of Water

A bus stop hoarding advertises Coca Cola outside the entrance to the Peninsula Beverages manufacturing plant in Cape Town. Peninsula Beverages are the licenced Coca Cola manufacturers and bottlers in the Western Cape province of South Africa and were using over 44 million litres of municipal drinking water a month at the height of a 100-year drought that saw the city facing the very real possibility of running out of water. Photo: Steve Kretzmann

Capetonians living under unprecedented water restrictions limiting them to 50l per person per day in early 2018, descended on the city’s natural springs to collect water to supplement their municipal water use.  Photo: Steve Kretzmann

At the beginning of 2018, Cape Town faced the very real prospect of becoming the first major city in the world to run out of water. City officials responded by dramatically increasing the cost of water to residents, fining anyone caught wasting water, and penalizing households that exceeded their daily 50-liter-per-person quota by installing water management devices that restricted the flow to their properties. Yet despite these restrictions, the Cape Town-based bottlers of Coca-Cola continued using at least 44 million liters of water a month without ever being penalized.

FIJ grantee Raymond Joseph and co-author Steve Kretzmann investigated Coca-Cola’s efforts to ignore water restrictions and skirt penalties for GroundUp.