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Nestle: The New Age Water Lord!

November 13, 2013

We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations. – David Brower

Three months ago, I had read about Chairman of Nestle claiming that water is not a human right and necessity of privatizing it. Water? I mean I had heard it in my college that in case you want to make money in India, Water is ‘the’ business you should get in. But, claiming that it was not a human right! Over next few hours as I dug more I got to read a never ending list of Nestle’s exploits to garner more and more water resources around the world. I decided not to write anything about it. I thought that by writing about all this and more I was just adding more hatred to the world – creating more divisiveness, when the world needed more love. I did decide to boycott its products though.

However, this urge to write about exploits, to spread awareness was still there, unresolved. I had just suppressed it. There lay both the need to share and the need to not increase hatred in my heart towards any sentient being. Suppressing one over the other was not helping. For last two weeks I have been unwell, lying on bed, with nothing much to do but to read and think. And I was thinking how Gandhi did it – fought against the exploiters without harboring any hatred with himself. In one of the books for children – “A pinch of salt” he writes when asked about British, “As the elephant is powerless to think in the terms of the ant, in spite of the best intentions in the world, even so are the English powerless to think in the terms of, or legislate for, the Indian.” And it made sense – would I hate the elephant when it tramples multitudes of insects while walking freely in the forest? These corporations, governments, have become too big in their size and ego, just like the elephant. They cannot see the people they trample in rush for their goals. We need to resist and yet at the same time not hate them for what they have become. We need to fight them because we have compassion for both them and the people they trample.

And it brought peace. So today, I thought of penning down all that I read about 3 months ago.

Water is not a human right

Here is in short what I read – In an interview for the documentary We Feed the World, Nestle Chairman Peter Braback made the astonishing claim that water is not a human right. He attacked the idea that nature is good, and said it is a great achievement that humans are now able to resist nature’s dominance. Nestle is the world’s biggest bottler of water. Braback believes that privatization is the best way to ensure fair distribution. He claims that the idea that water is a human right comes from “extremist” NGOs. Water is a foodstuff like any other, and should have a market value. He believes that the ultimate social responsibility of any Chairman is to make as much profit as possible, so that people will have jobs.

Food and Beverage multinational Nestle dominates the world water industry with their Pure Life and Poland Springs brands. And at what cost?

  • In the small Pakistani community of Bhati Dilwan, a former village councilor says children are being sickened by filthy water. He says it’s bottled water-maker Nestle, which dug a deep well that is depriving locals of potable water. “The water is not only very dirty, but the water level sank from 100 to 300 to 400 feet,” Dilwan says. The notoriously bad drinking water in Pakistan and elsewhere is the reason for the success of the Pure Life brand. A good 10 years ago, the Swiss food company began adding minerals to ground water and bottling it. Today, Pure Life Purified Water Enhanced With Minerals is the largest water brand in the world – “a jewel in our portfolio,” according to John Harris, head of Nestle Waters.
  • In Nigeria, Pure Life is sold to upper class consumers spending large portions of their incomes on bottled water. The cost of Pure Life is more expensive than the average daily income of a Nigerian citizen, and even pricier than 1 L of petrol. In this scenario, citizens are faced with the unfair choice between health and poverty, becoming ill from drinking bad water left at lower levels but unable to afford Nestle’s inflated prices.
  • In Ethiopia where 20,000 Somali refugees seek asylum at the Kebrideyah Refugee Camp, opportunistic Nestle engaged in pseudo-philanthropic efforts by supporting the camp’s water supply program, but decidedly dropped the project in 2004. They had failed to replace old water pumps that maintained the water station. Still, 3 years later, Nestle claimed support to the project on their website, stating that they hoped the water system could keep functioning over the long term, and continue to provide water access to the people of the region and their children for many years to come. Undeterred, journalist Gehriger visited the refugee camp. Since the facility has not been functioning properly, and water shortages have returned.
  • In Lagos, Nigeria, Gehriger discovered that families have to spend up to half their household budget on water in canisters, and that only those who can afford it drink Pure Life.

Nestle pumps several million cubic meters annually and transports the water in tanker trucks to bottling plants. “They’re using our water to make profits, a liter does not even cost them a cent,” one woman complains. “They’re selling the water we use to flush toilets and wash our hands as expensive spring water,” says another. But since Nestle brings the communities tax dollars, officials welcome the company, which is supported by an armada of lawyers and PR people.

Maude Barlow, a former UN chief adviser for water issues, states: “When a company like Nestle comes along and says, Pure Life is the answer, we’re selling you your own ground water while nothing comes out of your faucets anymore or if it does it’s undrinkable – that’s more than irresponsible, that’s practically a criminal act.”

I saw that Peter Braback, Nestle chairman has an answer to the above exploits. So I went to read his blog. He writes –

I mentioned this as an extreme case, and it is still much too often a reality. In the Indian Punjab, for instance, everybody pumps up water from the underground aquifer – mostly to irrigate the fields. There are no limits; electricity for the pumps is provided for free by the government. As a result, water tables are falling by up to one meter per year (National Geophysical Research Institute): Everybody, particularly the farmers withdrawing most of this water, knows that they are destroying their livelihood. But with water as a free good, even if an individual decides to reduce the amount withdrawn by pumping, this individual knows that the neighbors and neighboring villages will pump up anyway. Water as a free good leads directly to what is known as the ‘tragedy of the commons’; exploited by all, protected by none. For good reasons, it is not part of resolution 64/292.

So we know he has his own good intentions. Braback thinks he and his company has the moral responsibility to take control over world’s water resources just so that he can save it from the reckless exploitation by people. To save water from the people. But Mr. Braback will it end somewhere. Tomorrow we would want to save air from people too. Are there companies that are entering into business of selling fresh clean Oxygen too? Is Nestle trying to take the responsibility of saving people from their own reckless usage of air around them?

So well I thought of boycotting Nestle. But it’s tough to boycott Nestle. Have you seen this chart –

The 10 companies

Most of the products we see in the malls come from these 10 major corporations, Nestle being one of them. I tried to cut the Nestle piece out and enlarge it to see for myself what all will I have to forego. Did not seem a very difficult thing to do


But when we can see water turning into liquid gold in near future, who would want to carry an empty bucket. Danone, Coca Cola and even the honest TATAs have bought brand new buckets and are filling it up with whatever they can –

  • Coca Cola India will roll out 7.2 lakh `golden cans’ featuring batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar to commemorate his historic 100th international century. The golden cans will be available for INR 20.
  • The joint venture (JV) between Tata Global Beverages and PepsiCo India, has launched a new packaged water brand, Tata Water Plus, in India. Tata Water Plus joins the company’s existing portfolio of Tata Gluco Plus (a glucose based, lemon flavored drink) and Himalayan Natural Mineral water.
  • Juvenex Inc. announces the introduction of KarmaLife Coconut Water, the first line of Indian Coconut Water available to US consumers. Unique to the category, KarmaLife uses only Coconut Water from India. Indian Coconut Water have the best taste among coconut waters given the indigenous soil and growing conditions.
  • Water purification appliances-maker Eureka Forbes is making a foray into the packaged water segment and will roll out the bottled water product on a pan-India basis by next year, a top company official said. The company will sell the product under the brand name ‘AquaSure’, in 20-litre and one-litre bottles, but has not divulged the prices.
  • Bottled water major Bisleri International said it is looking at entering Middle East countries as part of its strategy to expand its overseas presence. As part of the plan, the company said it will consider setting up more manufacturing facilities outside India.
  • Coca-Cola uses 309 billion liters of water annually to produce its beverages. That’s about what Atlanta uses in five months, according to the city’s Department of Watershed Management. In 2008, the company said, Coca-Cola used 2.43 liters of water to produce an average one-liter beverage. One liter goes into the beverage itself, and 1.43 liters are used for manufacturing processes such as rinsing, cleaning and cooling. The company says its global system of about 1,000 bottling plants is on track to improve water efficiency by 20 percent between 2004 and 2012.

But the story is not all grim. I had moved to Hyderabad, a city in South India in Dec 2011. There is a small Kirana shop (Grocery shop) I used to go for most of the things I needed. Here I made friends with Anil, a young Rajasthani guy who worked there. He would buy one 20 L can every alternate day from the shop and keep it outside for people to come and drink for free. Laborers from around would come and quench their thirst for free. Each can would cost him around INR 30, which amounts to INR 450 a month, i.e. a little less than 8% of his monthly pay. I asked why does he do that. You know what he said –

This is the custom my forefathers have been following. How can we charge for something like water! It’s a gift given to us and so we gift it to others.

The air, the water and the ground are free gifts to man and no one has the power to portion them out in parcels. Man must drink and breathe and walk and therefore each man has a right to his share of each. – James Fennimore Cooper

I would think of Anil, Cooper and then Braback. What a diverse way of thinking! Till people like Anil are there water will continue to flow freely through the cracks…

3 Comments leave one →
  1. abhgupta permalink
    November 13, 2013 22:16

    I had gone to visit Shikshantar and was in a day long exercise to meet shopkeepers, owners of hotels and restaurants and asking them to sell their RO water instead of Bisleris.

    We found that the average 1 lr bottle costs around Rs. 6 but is sold for 15-20 as per the MRP. We came across a shopkeeper who sold the bottles for Rs. 7 only. You can guess the reason.. 🙂

    Also, since that evening at Venky’s place I have been thinking about compassion for the opressor a lot. My first reaction is still to get really negative about it. But there’s definitely something in what you say..

    It’s been too long Amit. We haven’t had a chat like old times for almost a year now! And thrs so much to talk abt…


    • November 14, 2013 10:01

      Yes, I think I had heard of this shopkeeper, possibly from you only. Here is a beautiful story of Father Kolbe that I read on Naveen’s blog – As I read this I again wondered who is more free – the oppressor or the oppressed.! Who is more powerful – the angry or the compassionate? Having said this I do not deny the feeling of negativity at all, nor would i like to shove the feeling under the carpet.. I am just thinking.

      Yes would love to sit again and talk.. soon as soon as you come back.. I am quite eager when you say, ‘thrs so much to talk about’.. 🙂


  2. Anu permalink
    November 24, 2013 16:34

    For the corporates, it’s the money that matters not the human lives.


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