Nestlé: to whom does water belong? – Miriam Abel, Germany

Standing in a queue for a trickle of water – this is everyday life for many children in Africa. “Sometimes there is no water”, says an African girl. Millions go thirsty while others own precious water in abundance. A huge part of this worldwide business involves the bottled water industry which exploits depleting still water resources.
It is a scandal if that to which everybody should have a right is marketed. Safe, clean drinking water.

I try and trace the source of this bottled water from Germany, my home country. Humanity’s most valuable resource stands packed in plastic. The market leader in this booming business is the international group Nestlé, whose head office is in Geneva, Switzerland. The global group markets ‘Pure Life’ and 63 other brands in 36 countries. How, then, do companies like Nestlé, Coca Cola or Pepsi come to the possession of some of the most precious potable water springs of the world?

The former Nestlé boss Helmut Maucher said, “In times in which water becomes more and more scarce worldwide, Nestlé must have a hold over the springs.” His successor continues to propagate this exploitative and cruel aim. The brand ARROWHEAD is bottled by Nestlé in Colorado, USA, where stores of water are becoming more and more scarce. Their activities in California are also under scrutiny as the state sinks into drought. Nestlé’s slogan thus begins to look ridiculous: “Good food, good life.”

John Grayham, a critic of Nestlé, states that one should never have given Nestlé the rights to the best drinking water spring of the area. The terrain around Colorado is dry and stony. Little rainfall and hot winds characterise this desertified region. Every single drop is important in a place like this. However, Nestlé are wealthy enough to ignore this reality and acquire the resources for themselves. I shudder to think that not only do Nestle spend huge amounts on extracting water from arid areas, but they also make huge profits in the end.

Experts expressed their concerns about Nestlé’s presence thus: “Viewed as a system, the site is highly sensitive to changes in the natural flow. Even small drawdowns could dehydrate the aquifer in times of extended drought. The suggested measures will affect the natural water supply of the area.” Nevertheless, this critical certification was never publicised. Instead, Nestlé rewords such publications to their own benefit and removes all criticism, calling themselves “the Healthy Hydration company”.

Not even Africa is safe from Nestlé’s hands. Where does the water which is bottled here come from? Exactly from the places in which the water shortage is most acute – on the poorest continent in the world. Many people in Africa still have no clean drinking water or sanitary arrangements, although the United Nations have declared water a human right. The spring at the 26-hectare Doornkloof Factory, which operates for Nestlé Water is in South Africa. Since 2011, 282,000 litres are bottled and are taken away from the spring every day. Yet in the rest of the country, 19 percent of the rural population lack access to a reliable water supply and 33 percent do not have basic sanitation services. Blue trucks leave the factory covered with tarpaulin that is branded ‘Pure Life’ – however, not everyone has economic access to a pure life here.

In Brazil lives the water activist Franklin Frederic, who expresses criticism of Nestlé. The vast country has abundant water resources, but the public water supply often falls short. In the favelas, clean drinking water is a rare luxury. “I think every person should have water free of charge because water is expensive in stores, almost unaffordable for more than a few litres.” laments a Brazilian.

Again, a factory was built here in 2000, protected from the curious gazes of locals by high walls, to bottle water for the production of ‘Pure Life’. Huge amounts of minerals are filtered out to preserve the ‘neutral’ taste. The factory was established in an economically vulnerable region.

Nestlé follows a conspicuous pattern in that they always choose less economically developed countries to establish their factories. Millions of litres are pumped off and sold at unbelievable prices. In Africa a bottle of water should cost 2 euros. I do not and cannot understand in the least how one could want to pull a personal profit from such a situation. Meanwhile Nestlé owns 80% of the worldwide water: 100,000,000 litres.

Nestlé must understand that trade with water is no positive business, but for thousands of people in Africa or Brazil is part of a bitter fight for survival.

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