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by Eli Clifton

Huge Bottled Water Industry Plays On Fear Of Faucets

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- As Nestle shareholders gathered April 19 in Switzerland for their annual meeting, growing numbers of voices question the company's claims on spring water around the world and its effects on local communities.

The Sierra Club, a shareholder in Nestle and Corporate Accountability International, led a gathering of concerned citizens at Nestle's North American headquarters in the north-eastern city of Greenwich, Connecticut to call on the company to "respect the right of local communities to exercise democratic control over the use of their water."

"Water is essential to life on this earth and to the viability of local communities," said Ruth Caplan, chair of the Sierra Club's Water Privatisation Task Force. "Nestle is bottling communities' spring water without their informed consent. Nestle profits while consumers pay more than a thousand times the cost of their local water."

"(Water bottling) companies don't bring many jobs and often get tax breaks so there is no tax return to the local community and the profits go out of the community," said Peter Gleick, president of the independent Pacific Institute, based in Oakland, California.

The Sierra Club intends to use its clout as a shareholder to demand a reform of Nestle's practices and make Nestle acquire "full and informed consent" from local communities where water is being bottled.

Criticism of Nestle stems from a series of cases in which Nestle Waters North America was found to have damaged the environment through their pumping operations.

Citizens groups in the states of Maine, Michigan and California have all gone to court to contest Nestle's bottling operations.

Terri Swifter, head of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, says courts have ruled that Nestle's pumping operations in the state are harmful to the environment. "Water belongs to the people, not to Nestle. Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation will continue to do all in our power to protect Michigan waters from being pumped for profit so our water will be available for future generations," she said.

The Sierra Club says Nestle's bottling operations in the United States have already degraded lakes, harmed wetlands, lowered water tables and continue to pose a threat to residential and agricultural water supplies.

"At the local level, the effect of water withdrawal on local ecosystems and water systems is a concern. Can the plant extract water without damaging the natural environment or the community water supply? In most cases, yes, but not always. The industry hasn't been very good at ensuring it won't have bad impacts," Gleick told IPS.

Of great concern to the Sierra Club is the idea that water is being sold at the market rate and "should not be relegated to the status of a commodity."

Water is an essential human right which should not depend on the market to determine who can afford it and who has access, says the group.

"Nestle should not be undermining public confidence in tap water by misleading the public to believe that their bottled water is somehow better than tap water when tap water is more closely monitored for quality than bottled water," Victoria Kaplan, organizer at Food & Water Watch, told IPS.

Nestle has consistently failed to obtain explicit consent from communities affected by bottling operations at nearby water sources that serve the communities' water needs, says The Sierra Club, which urges the company to allow communities to vote with regards to Nestle's activities and ensure that the company does not use its disproportionate power to influence the communities' decisions.

In recent years, local residents have taken a stronger stand against companies' using their land, such as in the Nigerian Delta, where communities expelled oil companies, and in the Peruvian town of Tambogrande, where members of the community blocked a gold mine.

In 2005, the Framework for Responsible Mining, developed by non-governmental organisations, retailers, investors and technical experts, codified the right of communities to consent to operations on their land.

The recent contract between Nestle and the McCloud Community Service District in Siskiyou County, California, infringes on the right of residents of the McCloud River watershed to determine the use of community resources and to decide on whether to grant access to Nestle's bottling operation, says the Sierra Club.

The McCloud Watershed Council says meaningful and timely community input with regards to a contract with Nestle was never solicited prior to the district's vote to approve the contract.

Nestle currently has 75 spring sites and produces seven brands of water in the United States: Poland Spring, Ice Mountain, Deer Park, Zephyrhills, Arrowhead and Calistoga.

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Albion Monitor   April 19, 2007   (

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