April 25, 2006
Nestlé gets green light to drain Michigan community’s water
Although Nestlé’s immoral marketing of infant formula has been widely publicized, the company is also leading the way in another practice which has many people worried. Nestlé is one of the world’s largest producers of bottled water, and owns such companies as Perrier and and San Pellegrino. For the past five years, the company has been battling citizens’ groups in Michigan over a bottling plant Nestlé established in Mescota county in 2001. The Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC), a non-profit group of 1 800 people organized to fight Nestlé, opposed the plant because they said it would deplete the aquifer of the wildlife preserve on which it was situated. The region’s native tribes also opposed the plant, and unsuccessfully attempted to sue Nestlé over it in 2002. MCWC took Nestlé to court, and appeared to have won a decisive victory when the judge ruled the company had no right to pump water from the ecologically sensitive area. However, Nestlé quickly launched an appeal that tied the issue up in court and allowed the company to continue pumping water until a ruling was reached.
Now Nestlé has dropped its appeal, but only because of new laws which effectively grant the company unrestrained access to the waters of Mescota county. In February, state governor Jennifer Granholm signed a bill that regulated and restricted the diversion of water from the Great Lakes. While her administration is championing the law as a victory for the state’s environment, it leaves a huge loophole which will allow Nestlé to export 300 million gallons of water a year from the region.
The law restricts traditional methods of diversion, such as pipelines, canals, or sea-going tankers, but exempts water bottled in containers of 5.7 gallons or less. Because Nestlé uses bottles of that volume, it can export as much water from the region as it wants, without regard for any subsequent damage to the aquifer or compensating Michigan’s citizens in any way. MCWC says that the law puts the public resources of the state into private hands and is a “breach of the public trust in government to manage our water resources for the benefit of all citizens.” Such a breach apparently does not bother Nestlé, which continues to pump and sell water from the region at a price 240 times the cost of production.
A similar struggle has been unfolding for years in Brazil, where local citizens have been angered by Nestlé’s extraction of water from the famous springs of Sao Lourenco. After substantial pumping, the springs, which were once rich in minerals and were purported to have healing properties, have become depleted and lost some of their exceptional qualities . As a result both the local people, who have used the springs for years, and tourists, who contribute immensely to the region’s economy, no longer have the benefits of the once unique aquifer. Despite protracted legal battles with the local residents, who have made it abundantly clear that Nestlé is unwelcome and is ruining the tourist industry, the company continues to pump.
Nestlé is at the vanguard of the corporate movement to privatize water, the world’s most valuable natural resource, and something that has always been considered a commonly held and unownable. In the decades to come, as drinkable water becomes scarcer, if Nestlé has its way, much of it will end up in Nestlé’s bottles, allowing the company to make ever-increasing profits.
The company’s actions in Michigan and Brazil are clear proof that, despite its efforts to portray itself as a people-friendly company, Nestlé is essentially a profit-driven entity that operates without regard for the wishes or wellbeing of local people. It is this relentless search for profits and contempt for ordinary people which has led Nestlé to continue to aggressively market infant formula in regions where it inevitably causes mortality and morbidity in thousands of infants. Along with its unscrupulous marketing of infant formula, Nestlé’s policies towards water privatization are now the leading reasons why the company has become the most boycotted corporation on earth.
For an article on the new Michigan law see: http://www.mlui.org/landwater/fullarticle.asp?fileid=17020
For an article about Michigan Indian groups struggle against Nestlé see: http://www.freepress.org/departments/display/3/2006/1935
For a transcript of a BBC radio program on Nestlé in Brazil see: