Water | Food & Water Watch - Part 6
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Blog Posts: Water

November 1st, 2012

New Lawsuit, But Dubious Marketing Claims Nothing New for Nestlé

By Wenonah Hauter

Food & Water Watch is working to Keep Nestlé out of the GorgeAh, Nestlé, you’ve done it again. First, in the 1970s, campaigners boycotted you, charging that you violated World Health Organization guidelines on advertising and duped mothers (especially, and most tragically, in developing countries) into thinking infant formula was better than breast milk. Then Elisabeth Badinter, the heiress to Publicis (your PR firm that has long been pushing formula) wrote a book about how breastfeeding is bad for feminism. Now, you’re getting sued—again—for misleading labels.

A Chicago-based firm is suing Nestlé Waters for supplying them with purified municipal tap water instead of the “100 % Natural Spring Water” it uses in the marketing materials for it’s Ice Mountain Water brand (which apparently does not apply to the five-gallon jugs of Ice Mountain Water, a fact which is hidden in a document on Nestlé’s Web site, Forbes reports.) Forbes also reports that several years ago, Nestlé Waters settled a lawsuit over its Poland Springs brand, which was marketed as coming from a deep underground source when in fact it came from a well encircled by a parking lot.

It seems like a pattern, Nestlé.

You so badly want to corner the market on nourishment for all ages—whether it’s bottling our communities’ water and selling it back to us for an exorbitant profit, or using healthcare facilities to market your infant formulas to exhausted or uninformed new mothers. And your latest effort? Gerber Pure bottled water, which you are marketing as “made for mixing (infant formula and/or cereal).” Not only should you buy formula—you should also buy our bottled water to mix it with!

Nestlé’s strategy for growing profits is clear with its newest legion of Popularly Positioned Products (PPPs). Earlier this year, we blogged about Nestlé boasting in its investor materials that it is including its Pure Life brand (which is really filtered tap water) and its infant formula as products they are positioning in developing markets: PPPs target less affluent consumers in emerging markets (UN/World Bank definition – those with an annual purchasing power parity between US$ 3,000 and 22,000 per-capita) as well as low food spenders in developed economies. Together, they represent some 50 % of the world’s population. Hence, PPPs target the biggest and fastest growing consumer base in emerging markets as well as important sub-groups in developed markets.” (Soon after the blog was published, they made the report accessible only via login.)

You can see how that strategy to expand its consumer base would sound good to Nestlé’s investors. But wait a minute—the company is blatantly marketing its products like bottled tap water and infant formula to the people who can least afford them?

Perhaps they have done their market research. Only 35 percent of women living below the poverty level in the United States reported breastfeeding at six months compared with 53 percent of women at the highest income level. And 31 percent of women living in poverty supplemented with infant formula within two days of giving birth compared to only 21 percent of women at the highest income levels.

Nestlé is still using dishonest claims to position their products as better than tap (or breast). That’s the way you’re going to get repeat customers, Nestlé—hoodwink exhausted new mothers, who are seeking the best possible ways to start off their little ones, into thinking that your product is better than much less expensive and more sustainable alternatives.

Mothers deserve better than the dishonest marketing claims they are barraged by everyday from Nestlé. Never has there been a more appropriate saying than Buyer Beware when it comes to the products Nestlé pushes and the nourishment of our families.

October 31st, 2012

Aqua America’s Spooky Alliance

By Kate Fried Ban Fracking!

It seems that Aqua America Chairman and CEO Nicholas DeBenedictis recently got a head start on Halloween, masquerading as…an oil and gas industry spokesperson. Sure, it’s not the most exciting costume around–all the sexy water baron costumes were apparently sold out. According to publicity materials recently released by the company, DeBenedictis said that he supports regulations that would help pave the proverbial road to fuel more cars and trucks with natural gas. Earlier this year, Aqua America even committed to transition many of its vehicles to burn the oil and gas industry’s current favorite fossil fuel.

From where does this fascination with natural gas arise? Has DeBenedictis been watching too many API ads? Does this have anything to do with what he hopes to find in his metaphorical trick or treat sack? It very well could. The fracking required to extract the gas to fuel these vehicles requires water—lots and lots of water and Aqua America wants to tap that market. Earlier this year, Aqua America was instrumental in evicting residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village from their homes so it could build a water withdrawal facility to supply the industry. We can only assume that Aqua America’s upcoming plans to exploit shale gas development are more trick than treat.

DeBenedictis has said that selling water to shale gas operations could comprise 10 percent of Aqua America’s total income in 2015. That means that he expects those water sales to bring in more than $15 million in profit. This year, the company expects to make about $1.5 to 2 million in profit from selling water to the fracking industry via the same pipeline that caused the eviction of residents in the Riverdale Mobile Home Village.

Private water has faced considerable public resistance in recent years as more people realize that water is best controlled and managed by the public. So what’s a corporation to do when its plans to sustain profits are foiled? In this case, the answer appears simple: join forces with another greedy industry.

While there are many, many reasons to oppose fracking, Aqua America’s apparent attempts to cozy up to the oil and gas industry serve as a reminder of some of the darker, possibly more insidious aspects of the fight—while we try to protect our communities and our collective future from fracking, it seems some CEOs just can’t wait to enjoy all their new loot.

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October 26th, 2012

Defending Water, Defending Life: The Fourth Red Vida Assembly in Mexico City

By Marcela Olivera and Susan Spronk

Click here to learn more about water privatization in Latin America.

We are sitting in a large Catholic hall nestled in the heart of Mexico City, the type of space where many Latin American social movements have historically sought refuge from dictatorships. Today, we are not fending off the military but big multinationals and our governments who want to sell our water, use it to grow soy or poison it with their mines. 

We have gathered for the general assembly of Red Vida, an inter-American network of social movements working in defense of water from Canada to Argentina. Forty of us are debating political strategy to build on our successes in reversing the tide of privatization of the 1990s (see Struggles for Water Justice in Latin America).

Mexico in hot water

We can’t rest on our laurels. Mexico is just one ‘hot spot’ where our brothers and sisters are fighting private water companies and governments that support them. They have seen how private providers in Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina have failed to deliver on their promises for cheaper and higher quality water services, and they can’t let their country make the same mistakes.

In Mexico, a national coalition of environmentalist organizations, COMDA, is currently embroiled in a campaign to reform the water law. COMDA wants the law to respect the right of communities to manage their own water resources and to defend the commons against ‘enclosure’, particularly from contamination by big mining companies.

Debating strategies

One of the productive tensions that has emerged in this meeting is whether we should be pushing our governments to include the ‘right to water’ in legislation or whether we should be focusing our energies on struggles to defend ‘the commons’.

Oscar Olivera from Fundación Abril (Bolivia) spoke eloquently about the need to defend spaces of self-government such as community-run water systems in the peri-urban areas of the Andes. If people have constructed their own water systems with sweat and blood, do we really ‘need’ the state to provide these services? Many members of such autonomous communities, most self-identifying as indigenous, see the state as an alien institution imposed by colonial rule.

By contrast, Adriana Marquisio from Uruguay’s publicly owned and operated water utility OSEhighlighted that state provision in her country has allowed to achieve near universal coverage, and much higher quality services than many of the small community systems could ever provide.

From our conversations it is clear that it is not enough to frame our campaigns around the right to water and we must document concrete alternatives to privatization. Red Vida is better able to do that thanks to collaboration with researchers from the Municipal Services Project, who attended our assemblies as invited observers in Buga, Colombia in May 2009 and are here with us again in Mexico. 

If we can articulate what the alternatives are perhaps we can convince others that privatization is not the solution. We can also demonstrate the negative impact of the more insidious practices of sub-contracting and corporatization, which threaten the ‘public’ nature of our utilities. These trends are affecting every one of us, whether our governments claim to be left-of-center or not.

As our Declaration signed in Mexico by all member organizations of the Red Vida states, in the face of all these struggles, we will continue to fight “like water, in a manner that is transparent, joyful and always in motion…until the final victory.” 

Marcela Olivera is the Latin American coordinator for the Water for All Campaign of Food and Water Watch, and coordinates the Red Vida.

Susan Spronk teaches international development at the University of Ottawa. She is an active participant in several projects of the Red Vida and a research associate with the Municipal Services Project. 

This was originally posted on the blog of the Municipal Services Project.

October 17th, 2012

Nestlé’s Pursuit of Public Water Has Landed Them In a Lawsuit, Again

By: Alison K. Grass Bottled Water at Grand Canyon

The multinational bottled water company Nestlé Waters is no stranger to legal battles. For years, communities around the U.S. have found themselves in court fighting the company for control over their community water resources. Nestlé has also been sued for using deceptive marketing practices. In 2003, several class action lawsuits were filed against Nestlé because consumers found claims that its Poland Spring brand water was “found deep in the woods of Maine” and “exceptionally well protected by nature” to be misleading. Once again, Nestlé’s pursuit of public water has landed the company in hot water.

For almost five years, Chicago Faucet Shoppes, a faucet and toilet repair parts store, bought 5-gallon jugs of Nestlé’s Ice Mountain brand water for their office. Like many consumers, the company was under the impression that it was purchasing spring water, but recently learned that the water actually came from municipal supplies. After discovering the truth, Chicago Faucet filed a lawsuit against Nestlé for misleading practices.

As explained in a Law360 article (subscription required), “Chicago Faucet is suing on behalf of all persons in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri who purchased the 5-gallon Ice Mountain bottles, claiming unjust enrichment and deceptive trade practices under the Illinois Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and seeking actual and punitive damages, an injunction mandating disclosure and restitution.”

Within the past few years, many bottled water companies have shifted their advertising messages in ways that obscure the source of their water. For instance, Nestlé promotes its Pure Life brand, which is primarily sourced from municipal supplies, as a necessity for a healthy lifestyle. This also helps the company avoid controversy and potential lawsuits over the legitimacy of its water source.

For these reasons and more, it’s clear that consumers should ditch the bottle, take advantage of the free, healthy water flowing from the faucet and pledge to take back the tap. After all, water belongs to the public and should be preserved for all.


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October 12th, 2012

Taking Back the Tap—Between Soccer Practice and Homework

By Kate Fried

It’s a known fact that apathy is the enemy of social change. It’s the objective of any activist to not only take stock of the challenges confronting communities, but to galvanize their members to overcome the frustrations inherent to enacting true reform. Devin Schroeder has learned this lesson a little earlier than some. The 15 year-old Durham, New Hampshire resident recently won the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, awarded once a year to twenty-five young leaders between the ages of eight and 18 who have made a positive difference to people and the planet, for his work helping to reduce bottled water consumption in his community.

At age 13, Schroeder launched a Take Back the Tap campaign at Oyster River Middle School after watching the film Blue Gold and drawing inspiration from Ryan Hreljac, who raised $2,000,000 to build 319 wells in 11 countries through the Ryan’s Well Foundation.  Dismayed by the dismal figures regarding plastic bottled water recycling in the U.S.—about 75 percent of empty plastic bottles wind up in landfills, lakes, streams and oceans—Devin set out to educate his community about the problem, and its impact on oceans and the environment.

“They’re starting to drill [for bottled water] in Barrington, which is nearby,” said Shroeder in a recent interview. “And if we allow this to happen, the groundwater in my community will be affected at some point. Plastic bottles are contributing a lot to pollution in the oceans, which is affecting the climate. It’s not just affecting my community, but the world I live in.”

To kick off his campaign, Schroeder invited the community, including the town councilors and the school board, to a screening of the movie Tapped, followed by a question and answer session. He prepared for the event by touring the town’s water facility and learning the facts about tap water and bottled water. After the screenings, he donated to the town library a copy of the documentary, and to his school, he gifted a large water cooler to help faculty provide free tap water at events.

Devin continued to host screenings of Tapped, and although he is now a student at Phillips Exeter Academy, he still returns periodically to host more screenings and educate students about the negative environmental repercussions of bottled water.

His efforts are paying off. Oyster River Middle School has eliminated bottled water at all athletic events, and even amongst budget issues, it has since replaced all of its water fountains with hydration stations to encourage students to drink tap water, developments that Devin was instrumental in bringing about. Linda Rief, Devin’s former language arts teacher, noted recently that one of the stations alone has saved 10,000 plastic bottles from landfills.

“Devin is exceptional in his activism,” said Rief over email. “He believes that people can make a difference one person at a time, and in small ways that will make a big difference.”

These days, Devin continues to act on behalf of the planet. He is a member of the Environmental Action Committee at Exeter, where he is helping the school reduce waste by expanding its composting program. As for his future, he says that he will continue to engage in sustainability issues throughout college and beyond.

For one so young, Devin maintains a pragmatic, yet hopeful attitude towards the sometimes sluggish engine of social change. “People are apathetic about environmental issues because they see a huge problem and they don’t know how to tackle it…you can’t be overwhelmed by all the world’s problems,” he said. “You have to start small, and it will evolve into bigger things and more will happen. One person might succumb to apathy, but if you don’t, you can help someone else out,” he said.  

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October 11th, 2012

Why Leasing Allentown’s Water and Sewer System Would Be a Financial “Worst Practice”

By Emily Wurth

I’m sure most residents of Allentown, Pennsylvania have never heard of Public Financial Management Inc. (PFM), but the company’s financial recommendations are a major factor behind the irresponsible water privatization scheme that could soon affect every city resident.

PFM, the top ranked financial advisory firm in the country, was hired by Mayor Ed Pawlowski to advise the city on how to address its serious fiscal shortfalls threatening to make Allentown unable to fund the pensions of police officers and firefighters.

After exploring options for how the city could shore up its finances and incorporating PFM recommendations, the mayor decided that the city should lease its water and sewer system for 50 years in exchange for a lump payment of between $150 million and $200 million. The plan has been met with widespread public criticism – at the September 27th city council meeting, all 24 speakers voiced their opposition to this deal. Read the full article…

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October 10th, 2012

Keep Consumer Confidence in Our Water Quality Reports

By Kate Fried and Elizabeth Schuster

 The United States has some of the cleanest, safest drinking water in the world, thanks in part to our government’s rigorous testing standards. In fact, consumer standards are actually more stringent for the quality and safety of tap water than that of bottled water. Everyone has a right to be informed about what is in their tap water, but as crazy as it sounds, the federal government may actually be about to make that a little more difficult. 

But before you throw up your hands and reached for the bottle, take heart. As always, Food & Water Watch has your back. 

Read the full article…

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October 5th, 2012

Fighting Pollution Trading to Preserve the Clean Water Act

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch

This week, Food & Water Watch and Friends of the Earth filed a joint lawsuit to force the Environmental Protection Agency to preserve the integrity of the Clean Water Act as it turns 40 years old this month. Represented by the Columbia Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic, we are suing for the removal of the water pollution trading provisions that are part of the 2010 plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

This cap-and-trade plan for water, known as the Bay total maximum daily load or TMDL, is being promoted by both the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, both of which view the program in the Bay region as a national model that would be replicated in watersheds across the nation. But if this scheme is allowed to move forward it will allow new and increased pollution discharges into the Chesapeake Bay watershed under a complex system of market-based offsets and pollution trading that we believe is illegal under the Clean Water Act.

Pollution trading violates the fundamental concept that the Clean Water Act is built upon, which is that pollution is illegal and industries don’t have a right to poison our shared waterways. Ironically, this evisceration of the Clean Water Act is taking place as the landmark piece of legislation that was passed during the Nixon Administration is about to have its 40th anniversary. It is built on the premise that we should strive to eliminate water pollution from our lakes, rivers and bays. Water pollution trading schemes are a disastrous substitute for proven means of regulating harmful chemical discharges into our waterways.

And we should be clear that the Clean Water Act (CWA) has been an enormously successful piece of legislation. In 1972, two-thirds of our nation’s waterways were unsafe for fishing. Chemicals and wastewater were indiscriminately dumped into our waterways. Today, according to EPA about one-third of our nation’s waterways are unhealthy. Obviously there is more work to do, but why would we allow such an effective piece of legislation to be replaced by a scheme that essentially legitimizes pollution?

The water pollution trading that is being promoted in the Chesapeake Bay is based on buying and selling unverifiable pollution credits. It turns what is now illegal under the CWA into the right to pollute. It’s essentially an “entitlement” program for the financial services industry and polluters.

The federal plan for the bay that includes trading is based on the total maximum daily load of pollutants that can be discharged and still allow a water body to meet water quality standards set by the states under CWA. These pollutants come from energy facilities, factories and wastewater treatment plants and those harder to control nonpoint sources like many of the Bay’s agricultural operations.

The TMDL is, in the simplest sense, a rationing plan. It seeks to allocate pollution loads to our waterways among the many sources of pollution in the Bay. The TMDL can be an effective tool to reduce pollution, but it must be developed and implemented consistently with the goal to eliminate the biggest threats to the Bay watershed – nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

As a practical matter, the trading of pollution credits is inherently fraught with problems.  In this case, EPA is allowing trading without setting clear and enforceable minimum limits on trading activity, including providing safeguards to prevent fictitious or overstated pollution reductions from being used as offsets.

The “pay-to-pollute” trading program allows financial middlemen to identify and purchase nitrogen and phosphorus “credits” from industrial agriculture operations in the watershed that attest to reducing their pollution levels in the future. These unverifiable credits are then aggregated and bundled together, and sold to power plants, wastewater treatment plants and other “point source” polluters who are either unable or simply unwilling to meet their CWA permit limits.

Many states have tried to implement nutrient trading schemes around the country, but there is no documented, successful nonpoint-to-point source trading program implemented in any watershed in the United States.

And, we must look at this trading scheme in context. Rather than regulating pollution, it is part of an on-going effort spurred by the financial services industry of using the market to allocate costs to the environment, rather than using the performance-based indicator of meeting a regulated standard.

But, in the wake of the largest financial crisis in 75 years, one both created and spread by the irresponsible behavior of the financial service sector, the argument that free market-based principles should replace traditional environmental regulation is wrong minded. It represents a financialization of nature and the transferring of the stewardship of our common resources to private business interests. It makes the responsibility of caring for our natural resources secondary to the economic interests of the few.

Leaving the health of the bay to this trading scheme is reckless and it is a recipe for disaster.

September 26th, 2012

Challenging Nestlé in Switzerland

By Maude Barlow

Maude Barlow and others

From left to right: Barbara Gysi, Cedric Wermuth, Yvonne Feri, Jacques Neyrinck, Maude Barlow, Rosmarie, Balthasar Glättli and Franklin Frederick. Photo Courtesy of Council of Canadians.

Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson of Council of Canadians and Board Chair of Food & Water Watch. This post originally appeared on the Council of Canadians’ blog.

I have just returned from a week in Switzerland to promote the right to water and to challenge the giant Swiss bottled water giant Nestlé. My visit was arranged by Franklin Frederick, an activist and leader in the global fight against Nestlé Waters, who is originally from Brazil, but now lives and works in Switzerland. Franklin is an extraordinary man. He is fiercely committed to global water justice and has been a thorn in the side of the water privateers for years. I also reconnected with Rosmarie Bar, a former Green Member of the Swiss Parliament and former senior member of the Swiss development network, Alliance Sud. Rosmarie and I worked together to form an international group called Friends of the Right to Water and worked for many years to lay the groundwork for the recognition of this right at the UN.

I spoke at the universities of Bern and Lucerne and in a beautiful 500 year-old church located in the heart of Bern. In the magnificent wood paneled Swiss Parliament, I also met with a delegation of MPs from every party who are committed to protecting public water and the human right to water. In all these venues, I met wonderful, committed people working for economic and social justice.

However, it is very clear that Nestlé is a powerful presence in Switzerland and its influence in the halls of power goes deep. Everyone I talked to said so in one way or another. Switzerland has no law limiting political donations from corporations, or requiring transparency in campaign financing. Given that the marketing department of Nestlé has a larger annual budget than the World Health Organization, it is widely understood that the company has great political influence.

Read the full article…

September 17th, 2012

From Dubai to Los Angeles, Water Barons Are All the Same

By Wenonah Hauter

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Sometimes the forces working to commoditize our vital natural resources exist in plain sight, flaunting their selfish motives. Other times, they hide behind euphemistic smokescreens, which is far and away more menacing.  Regardless of where you may find them, their actions share a common consequence—undermining our collective right to access safe, clean, affordable water.

Last May, I traveled to Dubai for the Global Water: Oil & Gas Summit where I was surrounded by corporate executives discussing their “drill baby drill” philosophy with abandon and no mention of the environmental or societal costs. Then in August, I traveled to Los Angeles to speak at the premiere of a film about powerful corporate interests who conceal their intentions to privatize California’s water supply behind the guise of conservation and disaster preparedness. 

While half a world apart, these scenarios both represent the global force determined to privatize and commodify water for the sheer benefit of corporate profits. My colleague Scott Edwards says it best: “Water-related death, drought and degradation aren’t calamities; they’re profit opportunities.” This couldn’t be truer for California where political wars have been waged over water since the Gold Rush. Read the full article…

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