One would think that water — necessary for the survival of most if not all living organisms — would be an inalienable right. This primary resource of our planet, one that makes Mother Earth so unique in our solar system, should be equally accessible to all, however idealistic that may sound. We should all be working toward that goal rather than undermining a basic human need, which is in shorter supply due to drought (likely caused by global warming).
However, Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck was quoted (out of context) as saying in 2005 that water is not a right and should be sold on the free market (see this story, which attempts to explain Nestlé’s confusing position on the subject). Adding to Nestlé’s potential PR problem is a story that broke on Monday claiming the company is stealing from drought-ridden California to sustain their primary right to profit. The public outrage at such news is limited by the fact that if one searches on the Internet for Nestlé and water rights, one might go through 40 pages of links to Nestlé products, as I did, before giving up.
This multinational corporation — the same one responsible for the environmentally and socially unethical profit model of selling baby formula to starving families in Africa — claims to be acting in a responsible manner (see their defense of their infant formula practices, for example), as it continues to violate the structures that were put in place because of its lack of concern for human rights (see evidence/summaries of Nestlé’s continued unethical practices in the baby formula arena here, here, and here).
While Nestlé has every right to seek profit, the question arises where the ethical line lies between greed and human survival. In the water sector, when one considers the environmental impact of plastic bottles, the issue becomes murkier. AlJazeera recently reported a shocking statistic about the presence of plastic residue in our oceans: 88% of surface water is contaminated by this sturdy pollutant. My concern is not just about the water Nestlé sells, but the indefensible position of a corporation that sends uncountable tons of plastic into the world to package what should be flowing through pipes to local communities.
Nestlé is not the only offender, but the loophole they are exploiting to bottle water from a California Native American reservation so that they do not have to report the quantities they take or any other data about their plant gives me good reason to boycott their products, a short list of which follows. (The only thing I’ll miss is Häagen Dazs, which makes the best vanilla ice cream I’ve tasted.)