Nestlé, May We Drink Our Water?

Last time we discussed the privatization of our energy and its current duopoly in the hands of two foreign corporations.[1] Now we have to talk about the slow and incremental privatization of water in our state and the rising power and influence of the Swiss giant, Nestlé. Globalization critics often center their attention on transnational corporations such as Walmart, Mcdonald’s and Monsanto for their impact on labor, the environment, the sustainability of resources, and their influence on the socio-political and socio-economic realities of nations across the world. In many instances the lens is focused on U.S. transnational corporations, but their impact on neocolonialism and control over domestic markets and resources across the planet does not even come close to the impact caused by the global business strategy of Nestlé.

Cañete Hoy. March 2011,. http://canetehoy.blogspot.com/

Cañete Hoy. March 2011,. http://canetehoy.blogspot.com/

 

On their website Poland Spring, the company owned by Nestlé Waters, reminds the consumer of the mythical story of Joseph Ricker who “was revived from his deathbed, reputedly by drinking the spring’s water,” how the Rickers began to bottle the miraculous resource in the 1840s, and how Poland Spring was absorbed by the French owned Perrier Group of America in 1980.[2] Perrier would be forced to sell in 1992, expanding Nestlé’s global control over the extraction and sales of bottled water in all its forms. Today Nestlé Waters North America, the water division of the Swiss transnational corporation in the United States, controls fourteen brands including Acqua Panna, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Nestea, Nestlé Pure Life, Ozarka, Perrier, Poland Spring, Resource, S. Pellegrino, Sweet Leaf Tea, Tradewinds Tea, and Zephyrhills. The strategic regional control over water extraction and sales across the United States is just a hint of what “the world’s largest bottled water company” is capable of doing in the largest consumer market in the world, and it is even more disturbing to think that this same type of market monopoly is replicated across 130 nations.[3]

Nestlé Waters. http://www.nestle-watersna.com/en/water-sustainability/reducing-our-carbon-footprint/our-operations-(value%20chain)/transportation-and-shipping/home

Nestlé Waters. http://www.nestle-watersna.com/en/water-sustainability/reducing-our-carbon-footprint/our-operations-(value%20chain)/transportation-and-shipping/home

Here in our state they have been fighting the legal battle over the control of water, and based on the recent Maine Supreme Court decision it is evident that they have once again won the battle. As indicated by Karen Marysdaughter from the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine, “after 3 ¾ years fight on this US precedent setting long-term contract, Nestlé has been awarded the upper hand of control over our groundwater for the next 45 years for their Poland Spring brand bottled water.” To those familiar with the history of Nestlé it was not a surprising outcome, nation after nation and local government after local government, the Swiss giant has been able to flex its muscle, capitalizing on its global army of lawyers and lobbyist in order to force the courts to decide in their favor.

Poland Spring’s history is very similar to that of Central Maine Power, once owned and controlled locally and accountable to local communities and now foreign owned and accountable to transnational shareholders who are as distant from local realities as Maine is from Switzerland. Poland Spring is not a Maine company as the misleading marketing across the eastern United States indicates. It is a Swiss company that bottles, markets, and sells water to the U.S. consumer. It is undeniable that the company provides jobs to the communities in Poland, Kingfield and Hollis, but it is also true that they do not pay taxes for bottling and selling the state’s resource. It is a fact that the company contributes to the economic development of the state but it is also true that the millions of dollars in revenues do not stay in Maine but instead leave the state and the country for that matter.

In March of 2015 LD 169 was introduced by Representative Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, which “applied a penny-per gallon tax on companies” that bottled water “in containers smaller than five gallons.”[4]  The bill never caught momentum and was killed by Democrats and Republicans who rose to the defense of the Swiss giant, arguing that the bill targeted a company that generated jobs in a state that “has never taxed renewable resources.”[5] Using the argument that the state’s law “gives water rights to the owners of the land the water is on,” the supporters of Nestlé’s operation in Maine gave a green light for the foreign company to strengthen its control over the resource.

More recently, the landowner rights of Nestlé were challenged by Fryeburg resident Bruce Taylor and the national non-profit organization Food and Water Watch.[6] Their objective was to pressure the state’s court to “throw out the Public Utilities Commission’s approval of a 25 to 45 year contract between” Nestlé and the Fryeburg Water Company.[7] The court’s decision of a couple weeks ago in favor of the Swiss giant once again revealed that the legislative, executive and judicial branches have no problem in supporting the interests of the foreign corporation.

This neoliberal outcome in support of foreign interests used to be the textbook story of developing nations. These were the types of case studies analyzed in my Foreign Affairs and Economic Development courses in college back in the early 1990s. The difference was that the extraction of resources in the hands of foreign corporations took place in very distant places like Bolivia or India. Twenty-five years later I do not have to look far to find similar case studies under the present dynamics of globalization, all I have to do is look outside my window. What used to be a foreign issue has now become a local issue.

 

Julio Carrión Cueva. "Different Priorities." Cartoon Movement,, October 11, 2012.http://www.cartoonmovement.com/collection/32

Julio Carrión Cueva. “Different Priorities.” Cartoon Movement,, October 11, 2012.http://www.cartoonmovement.com/collection/32

Our local Supreme Court has awarded the Swiss giant a concession of up to 45 years for the control of our water. Its subsidiary, Poland Spring, may now continue to “withdraw up to 603,000 gallons of water per day” in Fryeburg without any fiscal, social or environmental accountability.[8] Nobody knows what the world will look like in 2061 when the concession is up for review, but if one if to believe what many global experts already predict, that clean water will be the next oil, then Nestlé has played its cards correctly. This reality is alarming and yet very few seem to care.

[1] Stefano Tijerina. “The Glocal Realities of Energy in Maine.” Bangor Daily News, April 26, 2016. https://glocal.bangordailynews.com/2016/04/26/home/the-glocal-realities-of-energy-in-maine/.

[2] “The History of Poland Spring.” Poland Spring. Accessed May 15, 2016. http://www.polandspring.com/#/assured/history_and_heritage

[3] “Our History.” Nestlé Waters. Accessed May 15, 2016. http://www.nestle-watersna.com/en/about-nestle-waters/our-history

[4] Scott Thistle. “Tax for bottled water companies faces struggle in Maine Legislature.” Sun Journal, March 11, 2015; see also LD 16 http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_127th/billtexts/HP012701.asp

[5] Thistle. “Tax for bottled water companies faces struggle in Maine Legislature.”

[6] Scott Dolan. “A group challenging a water contract with the Fryeburg Water Company has asked the court to reject the Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the deal.” Portland Press Herald, March 1, 2016.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

Stefano Tijerina

About Stefano Tijerina

My name is Stefano Tijerina and this blog’s objective is to connect Maine’s social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues to the global system, centering on how the local impacts the global and how the global impacts the local or what is known in Global Studies as the "Glocal" effect. In our present era of globalization it is crucial for the general public to understand how the new dynamics of the international system impact our lives here in Maine and how our local decisions impact the earth.