On the morning of Saturday 9 July some hundreds of activists from the ecological network Rise up 4 climate justice, who arrived at the Nogara station from all over the Veneto region, set off towards the industrial area of the town. They were headed to the Coca-Cola plant to protest against its “extractivist” policies, that is, based on the hoarding of resources against the local community. In the Verona area, the drought caused a serious water crisis that forced half of the municipalities to limit the use of water. Coca-Cola, on the other hand, for which water is the main raw material, has not slowed down production. A regional decree of July 31, 2020 allows it to increase the “average flow” of water withdrawn from the underground water table by 37 percent and, since the demand for the soft drink is constantly increasing, the production lines are running at full capacity. All at a negligible price: one cent for every thousand liters of water taken from the wells located inside the plant.
In the bars en route to the factory, 400-milliliter bottles of Coca-Cola “made in Nogara”, which locals distinguish from “sub-brands” from other regions, are on sale for € 3.40. The company has reduced the size of the half-liter bottles, but not the price, a trick that serves to mask the effects of inflation and offload it to customers. Arriving in front of the factory gates, climate activists blocked the road, showing signs denouncing “speculation” and shouting slogans against the US multinational. “There is talk of water rationing in homes and then there are companies that have direct access to water and use it for products that we do not need,” a young ecologist, Fabrizia Toninello, told Rainews24. A group of militants from the social centers of the north-east, recognizable by their white overalls, tried to get through the entrance gate, but was rejected by the police in riot gear. There were shoves, screams and even some truncheons flew. “We want to draw attention to the fact that water rationing is valid for private citizens and not for Coca-Cola”, explains Sergio Zulian, who arrived from Treviso to participate in the event.
The municipality of Nogara is the only one in the entire province of Verona that does not have an aqueduct. It has a network of pipes built in the early 1980s, but it never went into operation. When the public company that manages the water resources, Acque Veronesi, tried to recover it, it realized that many pipes were coated with asbestos and only managed to connect some houses in the city center to the water supply. Two thirds of the 3,500 private homes and even the hospital get their water from wells they own. Since hardly anyone has meters, the water company estimates consumption at 64 cubic meters per year, on a flat-rate basis.
Coca-Cola draws its water by itself. It obtained from the Veneto region a “concession for the derivation of groundwater through a well” for “industrial, drinking, hygienic and sanitary use, and similar”. In this way the multinational, while exploiting water for commercial purposes such as companies that bottle mineral waters, pays it much less. In addition, it is exempt from the costs of purification and disposal, which the rest of the population pays in their bills. “It is an example of how local institutions are subservient to the multinational,” says former mayor Paolo Andreoli, of the Italian Left. “The Nogara plant is one of the clearest examples of extractivism in our country,” the protest organizers wrote in a press release. Coca-Cola, in these parts, is untouchable. When logistics workers organized by the basic union Adl Cobas, in 2017, went on strike for forty days in a row protesting the working conditions, private guards sent by employers used taser guns against protesters and for the first time. once the factory has suspended production. The US embassy in Rome asked the then Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni to intervene to stop the protests.
It is not even clear how many wells it manages. “There are at least five of them,” says Roberto Malesani of Adl Cobas. “There are seven of them, all inside the factory”, adds Andreoli confidently. Three are mentioned in the authorizations, each of which is connected to a 1,400 cubic meter storage tank, from which “the three different distribution lines dedicated to their respective uses branch off”. All pump water at the rate of 173.80 cubic meters per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for a total of one and a half billion liters per year on average, three times the consumption of the entire population. of Nogara. The final bill is around 14 thousand euros per year. “An unprecedented disproportion to consumption, much less than what private citizens pay”, says Andreoli. To prove it, he takes out a bill of 39.74 euros for a consumption of 23 cubic meters of water. That’s 1.72 euros for every thousand liters, almost double what Coca-Cola pays. “A private house consumes between 60 and 70 cubic meters per year, while the factory also reaches one million and 700 thousand cubic meters, the equivalent of a municipality of 25 thousand inhabitants”, he calculates.
In the aftermath of the demonstration, the Italian Left raised an alarm. “There is a risk that there is no more water and this would damage the entire population of Nogara, including the Coca-Cola workers themselves,” he wrote in a press release calling for the suspension of production. “I’m not saying they should stop completely, maybe it would be enough to slow down a bit”, says Andreoli, for whom “managers should understand that, if the water runs out, the plant really closes”.
A house consumes 70 cubic meters of water a year, the plant reaches 1.7 million cubic meters
Twenty kilometers further south, the Po is dry, the underground aquifers have dried up due to drought, their level has dropped and the president of Acque Veronesi, Roberto Mantovanelli, was already forced to write to all the mayors in mid-June of the province, asking to take measures to limit consumption. The first to intervene was the mayor of Nogara, who on 21 June banned “the use of drinking water for purposes other than domestic and sanitary”. On July 1st, as soon as he was elected, the center-left mayor of Verona, the former footballer Damiano Tommasi, extended a similar order of his predecessor Federico Sboarina, of the Brothers of Italy, and recommended to citizens “a conscious use of water even in daily activities at home, reducing waste “. His colleague from the nearby municipality of Villafranca, Roberto Luca Dall’Oca, also from the center-right, has forbidden to fill swimming pools, water the vegetable garden and wash the car all summer. According to data provided by Acque Veronesi, 40 of the 77 municipalities served by the water company have adopted similar ordinances, allowing the use of water only for “sanitation purposes” and providing for fines of up to 500 euros for those who do not comply with the regulations.
However, Coca-Cola has not suffered any limitations. In the Nogara plant, the ten production lines and the high-speed one, costing 15 million euros and inaugurated in 2020, have never stopped working at full capacity. In the warehouses, “the pallets are full to the ceiling,” says a logistics worker. “We are in a phase of overproduction”. After a contraction in sales during the pandemic, the multinational has resumed making more money than before. Worldwide, 13.7 billion liters of Coca-Cola in its different versions – original, Zero and light – were sold in 2021, 13 percent more than in 2020, and net profit reached 547 million , 32 percent more than the previous year. In Italy it is the most drunk drink. With an invoice of 870 million euros, it employs 22 thousand people between direct and related jobs, and contributes 0.05 percent to the gross domestic product. Mind-boggling figures that make the cent paid to the state stand out even more for every thousand liters of water consumed.
Among the 8,300 inhabitants of Nogara, few dare to question the favorable treatment of the multinational. “We must take into account that this is a company that offers work and induced activities”, says the mayor Flavio Pasini, of the Lega. The giant from Atlanta arrived here in 1975 and in the last ten years has invested one hundred million euros in the 146 thousand square meters of the Veneto plant, the largest in southern Europe. 427 people employed by Coca-Cola work there, mostly office workers, while most of the workers depend on contracted companies and cooperatives. There are a total of 2,244 workers, plus another 5,200 in the related industries. If it were to close, it is estimated that unemployment in Veneto would rise by 1.7 percent.
According to a study by the School of Management of the Bocconi University of Milan, the multinational every year distributes salaries in Veneto for 22.5 million euros, contracts to suppliers or associated companies for 77.8 million and pays 400 million in taxes, in good the contributions paid for employees are substantial, given that when you buy a bottle “produced in Nogara” the proceeds take the path of the tax havens in which the group has its offices: from the main one in Delaware, to the Cayman Islands, to the Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Singapore.
Coca-Cola Italia Hbc finances the ecological days and the care of the parks in the Verona area. It sponsored the Campiello literary prize in Venice, financed a project of the Arena di Verona Foundation to reconstruct 67 columns of the external walls that collapsed in 1117 and supported initiatives such as “Learn your job” by the Confindustria Young Entrepreneurs, with courses in the last three years in high school to give advice to students in the transition from school to the world of work. “Thanks to the Nogara plant and the daily work of the more than 400 colleagues responsible for guaranteeing quality to Coca-Cola made in Veneto, we have built a solid bond with the region”, Coca-Cola’s communications director told news agencies. Italy Hbc Giangiacomo Pierini.
The multinational is also very attentive to environmental aspects. It has invested six million euros to replace plastic packaging with the same amount of paper and produces bottles with plastic caps that do not come off, to prevent them from being dispersed and not recycled. Climate activists argue that it is just greenwashing to mask the zero-cost exploitation of the commons and the preferential treatment by local institutions. On the morning of 9 July, while they were trying to force the police barrier in front of the gates of the Nogara plant, an electronic panel over their heads marked the amount of CO2 saved by the factory since the beginning of the year: 1,196 tons “thanks to photovoltaic panels. ”Installed in the factory and another 9,222 tons“ thanks to the cogeneration plant ”.
The factory produces 100 percent of the carbon dioxide it uses in the 735 million liters of carbonated beverages bottled annually at the plant, from Coca-Cola to Fanta to Sprite. This is why it was not affected by the reduction in supplies caused by the increases in the price of methane after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which made carbon dioxide “nowhere to be found”, as some soft drink producers have denounced. Acqua Sant’Anna di Vinadio, in the province of Cuneo, was forced to stop its production lines. On the other hand, Coca-Cola, as well as on water, also saves on bubbles.
This article appeared in number 36 of the Essential, on page 8.