“Water worldwide becomes ever shorter. That is why we want to control the sources“.
Helmut Maucher, CEO Nestlé 1990 – 1997.
The Water Resources Group was launched in 2008 as an initiative coming from Nestlé, Coca Cola, Pepsi Co and the International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank. Its aims are to “transform the water sector” by bringing the corporate sector into what has traditionally been a public service. Despite the fact that the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman reported that 40% of complaints received from all regions in the world were water related and that in Europe, especially in France, Italy and Germany, there are strong social movements reclaiming public control of water, the World Bank and the bottled water industry uses their combined power to push for water privatization through Public-Private Partnerships.
However, neither Nestlé, Coca Cola or Pepsi Co have ANY expertise or knowledge in water distribution and sanitation. Moreover, their record in the water sector is rather disturbing: they all face legal battles and criticisms coming from citizens in areas where they take control over water sources. The cases of Coca Cola in India and Nestlé in the US are well known and have been widely reported. In the 2012 “Briefing Report” for the WEF (1), the WRG makes an analyses of the water issues worldwide. The report is rather accurate, the main problems are mentioned, the WRG Report just does not include the bottled water industry contribution to them. A few facts are important to mention:
- Agriculture is the main water user and deep changes are needed in the way we produce food if we want to have a sustainable future – or just a future. It is clear that the current industrial model based in large monocultures, extensive irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides and – as the industry wants – more and more GMOs, destroys the soil and its capacity to retain water and CO2 . Groundwater pollution by pesticides is a growing problem in many countries. Organic farming would contribute both to soil restoration and its capacity to keep water and CO2. However, Nestlé has repeatedly attacked organic farming and defended GMOs and the industrial agricultural model. Organic farming is a very simple and efficient way of preventing groundwater pollution. Prevention, however, is simply not an issue for corporations which are primarily interested in selling expensive cleaning technologies. The more water is polluted, the better for bottled water business.
- Bottled water is in itself a major source of pollution, greenhouse gases – which contribute to climate change – and a huge waste of water. To manufacture a 20.3 gram PET plastic water bottle generates almost four times the bottle weight in greenhouse gases (2) and for every litre of water in a bottle, 3 litres have been used. Just as a revealing example, a study done in British Columbia, Canada, affirms: “Producing PET bottles of water sold in BC in 2007 and transporting them to market generated between 12,922,578 and 16,766,604 kg of greenhouse gases (C02). That’s the amount that would be generated in heating the average Canadian home for the next 2,177 years.“
None of this is mentioned in the WRG report. If the bottled water sector would be really interested in contributing with solutions for the water problems we all face, the first thing to do would be banishing bottled water from all places where it is NOT necessary and juts a luxury item, like in Switzerland, for instance. Naturally, this is not the case. Corporations such as Nestlé, Coca Cola and Pepsi Co are just interested in using the water crises as PR operation – and push their own privatization agenda. In a world with diminishing water supplies, water becomes more and more a very valuable commodity.
The WRG Report several times mentions that the WRG is a “neutral” institution. However, under the heading “Value Proposition of WRG” we found a revealing statement (3): "Experience has shown that progress in reforming the water sector has been limited by five factors (…)” And according to the WRG Report, one of these factors is: “Political sensitivity, especially around water pricing and the role of the private sector”
This is, of course, a clear attack on the public sector and tells a lot about the “neutrality” of the WRG.
The most disturbing however is the fact that the WRG is fully supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) In fact, in the WRG Report on both the foreword by Peter Brabeck – WRG Chairman and Nestlé Chairman – and the Introductory Message by Robert Greenhill, Chief Business Officer, WEF – SDC is mentioned – and thanked accordingly – by its support for the WRG.
In SDC’s website, WRG is found under the heading Water Resources Platform (4) which includes the WRG, the WEF Water Initiative and the Green Growth Institute. SDC’s contribution from October 2012 to June 2014 for this Platform has been CHF 2,983,760,00. Most of this funding goes to the WRG itself, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many thanks to SDC contribution in the WRG Report. The WRG Annual Report (5) goes even further in the links between SDC and WRG. There we have the information that SDC Director Mr. Martin Dahinden himself is a member of WRG’s “Governing Council”, alongside with Mr.Peter Brabeck from Nestlé , Muhtar Kent, Chairman of Coca-Cola and Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman of Pepsi Co. Mr. François Muenger, Head of SDC’s Water Initiative, is a member of WRG “Steering Committee”.
Such a support from SDC is surprising since Switzerland has one of the best PUBLIC WATER services in the world. Moreover, any Swiss public water company – Geneva, Bern, Lausanne, Zurich – has more REAL expertise and concrete knowledge in water distribution and sanitation that any of the bottled water companies in the WRG. Through Public-Public Partnerships, Swiss Public water companies could bring their competences in support of many other public water companies in the world. Through the initiative Solidarit’ eau Suisse, SDC affirms its support for such partnerships as well. However, SDC contributes with CHF 150,000,00 per year to Solidarit’ eau Suisse. Such numbers – amost 3 millions swiss francs for the period of less than 2 years to WRG and CHF 150,000,00 per year to Solidarit’ eau Suisse clearly shows where are the priorities.
From Latin America come some of the most innovative, creative and democratic initiatives in the world. Also in the water sector. In April 2009 it was launched the “Platform for Public and Community Partnerships of the Americas” ( Plataforma de Acuerdos Publico-Comunitarios de las Americas) (6) bringing together the experience of institutions and NGOs from countries like Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Paraguay among others in public management and democratic control of water. This platform aims at supporting partnerships to improve solidarity, reciprocity, transparency and sensitivity as applied to the water management. This initiative would agree perfectly with the Swiss Water Model and much could be achieved through a partnership between Switzerland and the Public-Community Platform of the Americas. We can just hope that SDC can look at Latin America, beyond Nestlé and the WRG, engage itself and support such initiatives. SDC would be welcome.
The German TV WDR showed last March 18th a very important documentary "Wem gehöort das Wasser". It is about Nestlé and it also focus on te Water Resources Group activities in South Africa,It is a devasting portrait of both Nestlé and the WRG water policies. SDC's support for WRG is also clearly mentioned. The WDR documentary can be seen online at:
(3) WRG page 20