The latest fizz

Tuesday 15 February 2005

Who's afraid of the right to information?

-- on january19, 2005 the soft drink industry delayed, yet again, the implementation of a recent judgement of the Rajasthan high court ordering them to disclose all ingredients, including pesticides content, on the labels of their products (see: Too crooked). The move raised a lot of eyebrows. And the following question: why are soft drink companies shying away?

The Rajasthan high court order was, in spirit, based on the principle of right to information: consumers had every right to know what there was in the product. They had the right to be told whether it contained any pesticides or other chemicals, so that they could make an informed choice. In delaying implementation, soft drink manufacturers are going precisely against this principle. Is it possible they have something to hide?The soft drink market is today dominated by two companies, Coca-cola and PespiCo. Both, in their statements and ads, maintain their products are 'safe' and 'world-class'. If so, then why not prove it so on the label, exactly as the court has directed? But no. The companies fought this order, first in the Rajasthan high court itself and then in the Supreme Court. Both courts rejected their plea, so they have now resorted to delaying tactics. But what are the companies scared of? The empowerment the order gives to the consumer? In the absence of standards for soft drinks, even when consumers find they have been sold a sub-standard product, they cannot hold the companies responsible. But if this order is implemented, and the consumer finds him/herself saddled with a product that contains impurities, they can haul the companies off to court. Is it this fact that makes the companies nervous? Probably yes.

By resisting the right to information, the soft drink manufacturers are surely sending wrong signals to consumers. The very ones they woo through advertising worth hundreds of crores. People are bound to feel more assured of the products when they can read on the label that it is safe, rather then hearing a film star tell them the same.

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