The Hutch Report

Drowning in Nestle

By | Economics, Health

Did you know that the human right to safe drinking water was first recognised by the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council as part of binding international law in 2010?

However, whenever something is so important that our lives depend on it, there are those that will exploit it for their own gain. Studies in Africa and Asia show that the poorest 20% of the population spend between 3 to 11% of their household income on water. 

Today there are thousands of bottled water companies worldwide but Nestlé is the biggest globally in terms of sales, followed by Coca-Cola, Danone, and PepsiCo, according to Euromonitor International.

Nestle Waters is the water division of Nestle. It owns nearly 64 bottled water brands produced from roughly 100 bottled water factories in 34 countries around the world with 5 million litres sold worldwide. Some of its most popular water brands are PureLife (having the largest market share worldwide), Deer Park, Poland Spring, Acqua Panna, San Pellegrino, Perrier, springs, Water Park, Waterline.

Nestlé states that it supports the human right to water as a basic need, yet they makes billions bottling water that they pay nearly nothing for. 

Their marketing efforts for water have very little to do with it being necessary to sustain life and more to do with selling to the consumer. As they highlight on their site. 

“It is sometimes believed that water is just… water. In fact, every water is different. These differences depend on their origin, consistency, composition, type of protection, and treatment. As a result, every water tastes different. Nestlé Waters offers three categories of water, represented by our 51 unique brands.”

They often overlook the necessities of the water sources to communities when they step in to take them. 

Nestlé faced boycott threats in 2016 after the company purchased a well in Ontario that a small Canadian township had been trying to buy. The Swiss company was also criticised that year for increasing the amount of water it was pumping from a source in Michigan, 120 miles from Flint, a city known for its water crisis. The company was paying just $200 in extraction fees, according to a 2017 investigation by Bloomberg

State of California officials carried out a 20-month investigation and concluded in December 2017 that the company took an average of 62.6 million gallons of water from the San Bernardino spring each year from 1947 to 2015, but didn’t have valid rights for much of the water it has been drawing. However, Nestlé is disputing the findings of the investigation, arguing the company is entitled to keep piping water out of the San Bernardino National Forest — even more water than it has been bottling and selling in the past few years.

More recently, on April 2, 2018, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved a widely-protested plan that would allow Nestlé to pump 250 gallons of water a minute from White Pine Springs. Although there is plenty of water in the Great Lakes area of Michigan (except maybe for Flint), groundwater is rapidly depleting across the United States, and therefore, drought looms ever and ever larger.

Nestlé’s annual sales of bottled water alone total roughly CHF 10 billion ($10.05 billion).