You know how in Quantum of Solace, Bond uncovers a plot by a repugnant white guy to take control of Bolivia’s water supply and then extort huge sums of money, using the biological necessity as leverage?
Nestle’s CEO Peter Brabeck has come out publicly as a total asshole in asserting that there is no human right to water. Instead, he classifies water as a “need,” as in “people need this to live, so we stand to make a lot of money.” The classification of water as a need, rather than a right, was decided upon at the World Water Forum in 2000, meaning not only is Peter Brabeck a prick, but he was actually backed up by many dozens of government officials. In 2010, the matter was revisited by the UN, who declared that, yes, water is a universal human right, but we all know how effective the UN is, yeah?
Nestle, as one of the largest (read: most evil) corporations in the world, engages in all kinds of exploitative practices to do its business. Most relevant is how it secures its water. Nestle buys up land where it knows it will find an aquifer, often in rural areas that can’t afford to fight a multinational corporation, and drinks up the town’s milkshake. The water is sold back to the people it was taken from, often with marketing suggesting that it’s cleaner or safer. In some cases, this drainage means the tap water is degraded, and in extreme situations, it runs dry.
The same strategy is used the world over, often in countries where fresh water is an actual health concern. In America, tap water is almost universally potable, even if it tastes nasty, and although it’s ludicrously expensive, most of us can afford to buy bottled if we have to. In Ethiopia, that is absolutely not the case. In Pakistan and Nigeria, as well, clean tap water can be hard to find. But these places have clean water, they just can’t get it, because Nestle’s taken it upon themselves to extract and provide it at an exorbitant price. In these places, Nestle isn’t just selling something that can be had for free, it’s taken control of something that should be free and pushing it on a captive market.
Bottled water is no stranger to criticism. Beyond the fact that most bottled water either comes from a tap, or is less clean than what comes from a tap, in addition to the crazy amounts of waste it produces, the strategy of buying the water out from underneath disadvantaged people isn’t just Nestle’s game. It’s also Fiji Water’s.
Fiji lives under a military junta, with a dictatorial president who in 2009 responded to a court decision that his governance was illegal by suspending the Fijian constitution until 2014. The politics there have been turbulent, and Fiji Water, which comprises 3% of the country’s GDP, has played a part. In 2010, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, an interim minister, resigned from his post because of a dispute over a Fiji Water executive’s deportation. No information on why he was being deported, but even if it was for political reasons regarding the company, it indicates a whole lot about Fiji Water’s importance and influence in the government.
In 2009, Mother Jones published an (excellent) article about Fiji Water in which the author claimed to have been questioned by Fijian soldiers who had spied on the emails she’d sent from an internet café there.
“Eventually, it dawned on me that his concern wasn’t just with my potentially seditious emails; he was worried that my reporting would taint the Fiji Water brand. ‘Who do you work for, another water company? It would be good to come here and try to take away Fiji Water’s business, wouldn’t it?'”
Fiji Water, too, has almost complete control of a major aquifer. Like Nestle, it’s taking clean water that should belong to the Fijian people, and bottling it to sell as “premium water” at a ridiculous markup. For its part, Fiji Water claims to be contributing to the people, with clean water projects and conservation efforts that prevent logging of the Fijian rainforest. But, um, couldn’t they be helping Fijians access their own pure water?
Fiji Water falls into a neo-colonialist space along with sweatshops where they do provide jobs to people who might otherwise be unemployed, and can do some good where they’re situated, but as a side-effect or concession of their exploitation. Fiji Water’s spokesman Rob Six referenced this fact in his response to the Mother Jones article (Mother Jones’ counter-response included). If Fiji Water were to leave Fiji, the country would lose 20% of its exports, and, as mentioned, 3% of its GDP. It would be really bad. But what good has Fiji Water really done by making a poor country reliant on its sapping of their resources? Rob Six vehemently denies supporting Fiji’s military junta, but would Fiji Water even exist without the unstable and unscrupulous government?
Keeping in mind that at least Fiji Water claims to support access to clean water for the people of Fiji (though clearly not the best, most lucrative water), let’s return to Peter Brabeck.
Go to hell, Peter Brabeck.