Challenging Corporate Control of Water
Asserting Access to Water as a Fundamental Human Right
On December 2nd and 3rd, 2008, the City of San Francisco will be the
site of the conference, "Corporate Water Footprinting: Towards a Sustainable
Water Strategy," where international business representatives will
discuss their use of water, and ostensibly, outline water conservation
A conference geared towards sustainable use of water is indeed welcome,
but having the largest water abusers in charge is a clear conflict
Access to water is a fundamental human right, and without water, life
With more than a billion people - about one in six - lacking access
to safe drinking water, and climate change further depleting freshwater
resources, it is imperative that the international community act urgently
to meet the growing challenge of providing access to water to everyone.
However, the upcoming corporate conference is not a genuine attempt
to address the global water crisis or meet the water needs of the
It is an attempt by the very corporations responsible for the water
crisis to increase their markets and profits by creating a false image
of themselves as water sustainers.
According to The Economist magazine, "Five big food and beverage giants-Nestlé,
Unilever, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Danone-consume almost 575
billion litres of water a year, enough to satisfy the daily water
needs of every person on the planet."
Given the central role of water-intensive companies in the conference
- Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Nestlé Waters, MillerCoors, Intel, Dean Foods,
General Electric, ConAgra Foods - and the glaring absence of perspectives
from those without access to water - it is clear that the conference
is designed to cloak the practices of these very companies that have,
in many cases, led to water scarcity and water contamination resulting
in the denial of people's fundamental right to water.
Many of the participating companies are not only water intensive,
but water abusive.
Coca-Cola, for example, uses over 300 billion liters of water annually
- a gigantic amount by any measure. But the real abuse lies in the
fact that they convert two-thirds of the freshwater they use into
wastewater, globally. In India, where Coca-Cola is the target of formidable
community-led campaigns for creating water shortages and polluting
groundwater and soil, the corporation has located many of its bottling
plants in drought prone areas - and destroyed the lives and livelihoods
of tens of thousands.
For its part, Nestlé Waters' has placed a full ten percent of its
factories in extremely water-stressed areas. Along with Coca-Cola,
Pepsico, and others, Nestle has pursued an aggressive and misleading
campaign to market bottled water, which, more often than not, comes
straight from the public faucet. While most of Nestlé's bottled water
brands come from groundwater sources, not all do. The company has
aggressively promoted its PureLife brand, which comes mostly from
purified municipal water sources. Of Nestlé Waters' $3.57 billion
in U.S. sales in 2006, the PureLife brand accounted for $1.17 billion.
Marked up a thousand times its cost at the tap, bottled water is a
true consumer rip-off. Add to this the environmental cost of plastics
used in the bottled water industry (more than 1.5 million tons), and
the climate costs of trucking the bottles everywhere, and you have
the picture of an industry whose environmental footprint is disturbingly
excessive and altogether unnecessary.
Dean Foods' record on water quality is equally troubling. In the late
1990s, Dean Foods was found guilty of nearly 2,000 violations of the
Clean Water Act and fined $4 million for repeatedly discharging milk
solids and other pollutants into public water sources. Dean Foods
failed to address the violations for six years in order to reap higher
In addition to obscuring the records of the world's biggest water
profiteers, the conference appears to be part of a larger strategy
to promote water privatization. "Corporate Water Footprinting" is
endorsed by the International Private Water Association which works
to privatize water resources by advocating "the private sector as
a viable partner to governments."
Providing access to water - a fundamental human right - cannot be
ensured by privatizing water and submitting our vital resource to
the whims of the market.
Lest we need a reminder, over 3 billion people - nearly half the world
- live on less than US$ 2.50 a day; commodification of water literally
means that a substantial part of the world - particularly the poor
and the marginalized - will be unable to afford water.
Privatizing water will boost corporate profits, while hampering efforts
to provide access to water for all. Selling water for profit will
not ensure water for all any more than a conference led by corporate
water profiteers will yield sustainable solutions to the global water
The focus must be on strengthening public institutions so that they
do what they are supposed to do - deliver a public good to the public
We reject the "Corporate Water Footprinting" conference as yet another
public relations exercise to expand the market share and profits of
the very corporations responsible for the global water crisis.
We call on the United Nations and all concerned governments to come
together in a global water summit to advance positive solutions towards
a just and sustainable water future. Water is part of the commons,
a human right and a public trust. The fora where these critical discussions
take place should also be spaces free from private control and interests;
this negatively distorts the outcomes.
We call for A UN Water Summit in 2010 at the midpoint of the 'International
Decade for Action Water for Life 2005-2015 and we will be bringing
this call to the unaccountable, private-sector controlled World Water
Forum to highlight the urgent need for action by the UN and national
Please join us in challenging the corporate agenda of water privatization
and asserting access to water as a fundamental human right. Please
send organizational endorsements of this statement to jconant(AT)fwwatch.org
We are also organizing a counter-conference in San Francisco on December
2, 2008. Join us. Please contact us for more information - jconant(AT)fwwatch.org
Statement developed by Blue
Planet Project/Council of Canadians,
Food and Water Watch,
India Resource Center and Indigenous
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