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PepsiCo faces backlash in India after lawsuit against farmers evokes public ire

PepsiCo has found itself at the receiving end of backlash from voluble groups of Indian consumers and both sides of the political spectrum in the country after its decision to file lawsuits against farmers, earlier this month.

PepsiCo took legal action after the farmers were found to be growing a copyrighted variety of potato used for the company’s Lay’s brand of chips.

Four farmers were each expected to pay the company Rs1.05 crore (approximately US$150,000), according to news reports. A total of nine farmers in the state of Gujarat are said to have been targeted by the company.

The action evoked protests among consumers and even turned into a rare unifying factor among politicians of the ruling BJP and the Congress party, currently in the midst of a keenly contested election.

Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, BJP spokesperson for Delhi, part of the urban agglomeration where PepsiCo’s India headquarters are located, struck an aggressive note with a tweet dated April 27:

Several posts with #BoycottPepsiCo have flooded the company’s social media pages. The regional and global headquarters are apparently getting concerned about the situation according to media reports, especially considering the hot summer months in India, are a peak consumption occasion for PepsiCo’s beverage and snack brands.

PepsiCo India is now trying a more conciliatory approach. In response to a query from Mumbrella, the company said it was exploring options of amicably settling with the farmers.

A company spokesperson said in a statement: “PepsiCo India has proposed to amicably settle with people who were unlawfully using seeds of its registered variety. PepsiCo has also proposed that they may become part of its collaborative potato farming program.

“This program gives them access to higher yields, enhanced quality, training in best-in-class practices and better prices. In case, they do not wish to join this program, they can simply sign an agreement and grow other available varieties of potatoes.

“It is significant to note that the company’s collaborative potato farming program is best in class and is built on strong backward and forward linkages that improve livelihoods by using protected seeds.

“The company was compelled to take the judicial recourse as a last resort to safeguard the larger interest of thousands of farmers that are engaged with its collaborative potato farming program. PepsiCo India remains deeply committed to resolving the matter and ensuring adoption of best farming practices.”

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