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From Corporate Accountability International - April 1, 2009.

Nestle Asked to Stop Fooling With Community Water Supplies

Continued Disputes Foreshadow Shareholder Season

 

BOSTON – In the lead-up to Nestlé’s annual shareholders’ meeting this April 23rd 2009, a storm is gathering around the business practices of the world’s largest water bottler. Communities across the country have long been engaged in struggles with the bottling giant over control of local water resources. Now many of these struggles are coming to a head and a national campaign called Think Outside the Bottle is using April Fools Day to call on the corporation to, “stop fooling with community water supplies.”


“For years Nestlé employed a range of tactics to wrest water rights from rural communities and downstream users, keeping its abuses out of sight and out of mind to the public,” said Deborah Lapidus, campaigns director for Corporate Accountability International. “Well, affected communities have now made it clear there is a pattern that needs to stop.”   

 

To begin bottling in communities, Nestlé has been engaged in everything from costly public relations campaigns and legal challenges to backroom deals for water rights. For example:


Public relations to pump. This year, several Maine communities passed ordinances to protect community water rights.  Their victory was significant, given that just a few years earlier, Nestlé pumped more than $200,000 to front groups that successfully attacked and defeated similar, statewide measures in the media.


Draining community resources in more ways than one. When communities in Michigan challenged Nestlé’s right to drain hundreds of thousands of gallons of water every day, the corporation waged a drawn out court battle to maintain its access to water.  The protracted legal struggle has burdened community members with costly legal fees , exhausting the community’s resources to challenge water withdrawals.


Behind closed doors. Nestlé is now making yet another pass at Mt. Shasta water after backroom negotiations with county officials precipitated a six year struggle. In 2003, Nestlé negotiated a deal to pay a little less than 1/100th of a cent per gallon for at least 50 years, before any public meeting or knowledge of the project.


“When one tactic fails, Nestlé changes things up and tries another,” said Anne Wentworth, of Protect Our Water and Wildlife Resources in Shapleigh, Maine. “What doesn’t change is the resolve of our communities to keep water under local control. We know all too well what happens when that changes.”


In Florida, Nestlé has a record of being cited for exceeding water extraction limits, and has sought to increase the amount of water it extracts from local water sources, even when there is concern about local water resources.  For example, outside of Tampa, FL, Nestle once pushed to quadruple its daily water extraction from local sources from 300,000 to almost 2 million gallons a day – even when nearby cities were adopting water conservation measures during a time of drought.  


There are also the environmental consequences. Nestlé has skirted necessary environmental reviews in California and communities from Maine to Michigan have observed declining surface water levels.


“What’s most insidious is that this corporation uses public relations to create a divide between what really happens at the source and what people think of Nestlé downstream,” said Terry Swier of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation in Mecosta County, Michigan. “Well, that divide is closing today in markets hundreds of miles from bottling plants.”


In the market, Nestlé wants to be seen as an “environmental steward” and pumps millions in to advertising its lighter weight bottles – a deflection from its environmental abuses in communities and the amount of waste and energy water bottling generates…regardless of the thickness of the plastic. The corporation has, in fact, a long track record of opposing bottle recycling bills across the country for fear that fees on its product will curb consumption and cut into its profits – only recently shifting its position to support ‘modified’ bottle bills that are more friendly to the beverage industry.


Nestlé would also like to be seen as “community involved” and a good “corporate citizen,” sponsoring marathons and sports teams – a means of positioning bottled water at civic events, where waste conscious athletes would be content with paper cups and tap water coolers.


For more information on Think Outside the Bottle and Exposing Nestlé visibility events in a city near you, visit www.StopCorporateAbuse.org.

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