Sinful Soda: The Exploitation of Sugar Workers in India

Image courtesy of Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times 

By Zarina Medeiros ’26

Coca-Cola is almost synonymous with American culture, with the logo being a classic  American emblem. On average, Americans drink 399 cans of Coca-Cola or “Coke” per year, displaying our country’s continued dedication to the brand. 

Coca-Cola is a common drink seen at Grace, and a recent survey by The Gazette revealed that 53.5% of Grace’s students’ favorite soda was Coca-Cola. While it’s evident that Grace students love the sugary beverage, it’s unfortunate that, based on this reporter’s research, the delicious drink is produced through an unethical process. 

As reported earlier this year in The New York Times, the well-known soda company — as well as its competitor, Pepsico —  produces sugar in Maharashtra, India through immoral practices. On sugar plantations, employees face grueling hours, debt employment, and poor health conditions. Young women employed in Maharashtra plantations are subjected to arranged marriages and forced hysterectomies to continue working well past humanitarian hours. 

A plantation in Marakesh, India (Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times)

Coke is fueled by this labor, failing to take responsibility and continuing to prioritize economics over human life. The soda industry, as a whole, profits from behind-the-scenes harsh labor practices, which has gone unnoticed for too long.

Although marriage under 18 is illegal in India, child marriages remain in places like the  Maharashtra sugar plantations.  Often, girls are coerced into these marriages to work with their husbands on plantations. Couples can make more money on plantations than single men, incentivizing women to get married earlier. Girls are often pushed into these marriages because their families can no longer support them with the wages they make on plantations. The increased profits motivate PepsiCo and Coca-Cola to turn a blind eye to these unions. 

Sugar fields present an unsafe working environment for women while menstruating, as they often have no bathrooms or medical care available, making menstruation cycles extremely uncomfortable and taxing for these women. Because of this, women often get hysterectomies to continue working on plantations. Hysterectomies, the surgical removal of the uterus, often come with a cost.  Botched surgeries can cause health crises, such as the accidental removal of ovaries, extreme pain, bleeding, and early menopause. After this operation, women begin working right away to pay off the cost of surgery. 

Workers on sugar plantations often take out loans against future income, forcing them to continue working past their bodies’ limits.  These costs are nothing to the PepsiCo corporation, which does not seem to care about the cruel working conditions as long as they continue to profit from it.

Zarina Medeiros ‘26 is a staff writer for The Grace Gazette.