Commodifying the Sacred
Published June 16, 2018
Michigan made headlines the world over on April 6, when Gov. Rick Snyder announced that the state would no longer distribute no-cost water bottles to the communities of Flint – citing that water quality in the city has been below federal action level for lead for two years. International conglomerate Nestle stepped in and announced that they will donate water in the midst of the continued water crisis.
Meanwhile, Nestle makes billions of dollars in profit from the water it pumps from nearby Evart, MI, for just a shocking $200 a year. This controversial juxtaposition launched a renewed call to #BoycottNestle, with members of the public condemning both Gov. Snyder and Nestlefor their irresponsible handling of Flint’s poisoned water.
In solidarity with communities like Flint, affected by Nestle’s predatory business practices, Lakota People’s Law Project is asking for all protectors of Mother Earth to sign our Nestle Pledge and commit to boycott Nestle and all of its products.
In the wake of the Flint backlash, the company promised three full trucks per week — 100,000 bottles — of water to be donated through Labor Day and distributed by the city’s three community help centers. It is unlikely, however, that this donation will help all that much; the residents of Flint, without access to clean tap water, use an average of 22,000 bottles of water a year just on basic needs. Nestle continues to publicly boast about the generosity of its work in Flint, including its donation of a million and a half water bottles to Flint’s public schools, but the unfortunate reality is that the company’s new permit will allow it to take an equivalent amount of water from Michigan every nine hours.
Nestle’s new permit, awarded by the Michigan Department for Environmental Quality, allows it to pump 400 gallons of water per minute out of the state’s freshwater sources, for only $200 per year. And yet, some of Flint’s residents pay more than that per month for the contaminated water that courses through their taps. Flint residents, who have not had access to clean water in 1,510 days, are understandably not too keen on accepting bottles of water from the same company that is stealing theirs. Earlier this month, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation filed a petition to challenge the permit approval.
The egregious corporate behavior of Nestle in regards to water rights only compounds the company’s historical environmental and human rights violations. Given the fact that Nestle continues to act beyond the boundaries of ecological protection and basic human dignity, the Lakota People’s Law Project asks the public to consider taking our Nestle Pledge and commit to boycotting Nestle’s products.
Nestle has a deep, irrefutable history of depleting fresh water sources for profit, without showing respect for such a critical, sacred resource. Founded in 1866 in Vevey, Switzerland by Henri Nestle, the company now owns over 2,000 brands in 189 countries, with $89.8 billion in sales generated last year alone. It has held the title of largest food company in the world since 2014.Nestle’s leadership, however, has garnered extreme opposition in recent years for its role in the commodification of water. In 2000, Nestle, along with the assistance of other large food corporations, persuaded The World Water Forum in the Netherlands to change the designation of water to be a human need, instead of a human right. Several years later, in 2005, Nestle’s chairman came under fire after he stated that the idea of water being a human right was “extreme.” He later clarified that he intended to mean water beyond what is required for basic needs (25 to 50 liters according to the World Health Organization) is not a human right. This clarification fell terribly short to many activists and indigenous communities across the globe — especially coming from a man who has likely never experienced living without enough potable water.
“There are two different opinions on the matter [of water]. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.”
– Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe
Currently, Nestle markets bottled water under 72 brands in 160 different countries. By Nestle’s definition, impure and contaminated water is standard; clean, filtered water is a luxury. Thus, water, as lobbied by Nestle, is not merely a commodity — but a luxury good sold in a market dominated by Nestle.In order to profit off of water, first, one must own the rights to it. It’s unclear when Nestle itself began bottling water, but the Poland Spring brand it owns has been bottled since 1845. As stated by the Nestle website itself, the majority of Nestle Waters North America water comes from spring sources and underground aquifers — as opposed to lakes, streams and reservoirs that supply most tap water. Nestle buys freshwater sources, such as aquifers, and resells it for an immense profit.Nestle’s annual bottled water sales alone reach approximately 10 billion dollars; almost a ninth of its total sales revenue. According to the Council of Canadians, Nestlé pays $3.71 for every million litres of water it pumps from a local watershed in Ontario, Canada. Afterward, the company packages and markets to the public for as much as $2 million.