Deborah Lapidus

Communities Demand Bottling Giant Nestle Stop Undermining Local Control of Water

While Nestlé executives put on a good show of the corporation's green and good neighbor initiatives in Switzerland, communities sent out an SOS from the corporation's headquarters for its bottling operations in North America. Yesterday, Think Outside the Bottle organizers and community leaders from near Nestle bottling sites delivered 10,000 messages in a bottle calling on Nestlé to stop undermining local control of water.

We delivered these messages directly to executives at the Nestle Waters North America headquarters, speaking to CEO Kim Jeffrey about our concerns and demands. Nestlé is currently involved in water bottling disputes with communities in at least six states and Canada. From outside the shareholders' meeting the picture is an unpleasant one for the bottling giant: Bottled water sales down.

In the last year Nestlé's global bottled water sales declined by 1.6 percent thanks to the economy and mounting grassroots pressure for bottlers to change their practices.

New Colorado expansion meets resistance. Just this month, new plans to tap aquifers that feed the Arkansas River surfaced in Colorado, provoking determined community opposition.

Another run at McCloud. Nestlé recently announced plans to make another run at bottling water near Mt. Shasta in California, despite years of local resistance.

New England, new challenges. This year, New England municipalities have countered Nestlé's aggressive expansion by passing moratoriums on water bottling. Still, Nestlé continues to seek new bottling sites in the region.

Terry Swier of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation participated in the delivery Swier's organization is involved in a protracted legal battle with Nestlé over the bottling of water from a protected area in Northern Michigan. An early ruling determined that Nestlé's pumps were likely to narrow streams, expose mud flats and reduce flow levels.

"Nestlé is determined to run us dry in more ways than one and no amount of talk about being a 'good neighbor' will change that fact," said Swier. Nestlé's tactics for undermining local control of water goes well beyond the courts. It has done everything from engineering backroom deals to running manipulative PR campaigns to put a green veneer on its brands.

"When one tactic fails, Nestlé changes things up and tries another," said Shelly Gobeille, of Protect Our Water and Wildlife Resources in Shapleigh, Maine, who also traveled to Connecticut yesterday. "What doesn't change is the resolve of our communities to keep water under local control. We know all too well what happens when that changes."

Downstream from its bottling sites, Nestlé's green public relations machine is also a force. This leaves Think Outside the Bottle and allies wondering whether the corporation will follow through on other environmental commitments it has made on paper.

Grassroots pressure has forced Nestlé to commit, in word, to full source labeling and improved water testing disclosure. But 'green is as green does' may be a hard lesson for Nestlé to learn given the corporation's history has been, 'green is as green says.'  If Nestlé gets the message in the bottle, it'll change course and start honoring communities' right to protect their local water resources and follow through on its promises to consumers.

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