The good folks at Corporate Accountability International published a transcript of an interview with the leaders of four different community groups – all of whom are dealing with the unwelcome attentions of Nestle Waters of North America’s bottled water operations.
As you read these, notice the similarities between their stories – despite the fact the communities are separated by the width of a continent. Nestle’s template includes sneaking in under the run, dividing communities, and dangling too few jobs for too little money.
First, Deborah Lapidus of Wisconsin recounts her group’s hard-fought victory over Nestle’s intention to build a water bottling plant:
So, how did this happen? Nestlé, which was then called Perrier Group of America muscled itself into our community. It foresaw $1 million a day sales of a product that cost the company essentially nothing and that was bottled so-called spring water. Nestlé promised to bring jobs to the area and they kept repeating the philosophy that development equals progress. It looked like our local zoning might be up for sale. However, many citizens when they found out what was happening, they valued our natural setting and they saw through all the corporate lies and they were insulted by tactics such as offers of money to local officials and an offer of money to the PTO of the little tiny school in the area. Nestlé also bought the prize calf at the county fair and got their picture in the paper. This was really insulting to people.
However, the issue divided neighbors and even families because some of them apparently stood to gain financially but others of us would lose our beautiful environment. Now Nestlé, to make it brief, they abandoned their efforts only after we had massive grassroots action here. We realized that Nestlé was really after something that was very precious to us.
So, what we did included creating and distributing two videos. We garnered the support of many environmental organizations particularly from Madison and the rest of Wisconsin and we had four years of grants from foundations that Concerned Citizens of Newport got.
Finally, as part of our public education project, we got legal assistance, a lot of it was pro bono and this delayed Nestlé’s quest for profit sufficiently that Nestlé turned away from Wisconsin. We regret that our so-called success was to Michigan’s detriment because what they did was they went to Michigan.
Then Terry Swier of Michigan recounts her group’s fight against Nestle’s pumping operation in Mecosta County, which damaged an entire watershed, leading to several lawsuits – including Nestle’s infamous lawsuit designed to severely curtail the rights of Michigan citizens to file environmental lawsuits:
Over eight years ago, MCWC organized, stood up to and challenged a large corporation, Nestlé that wanted to bottle our spring water and ship it to other states and countries for its own profit. Our lives have changed since Nestlé came to Michigan with plans to pump 720,000 gallons per day of spring water from a private hunting preserve, pipe it to its plant, bottle it and ship it out of the Great Lakes Basin for its own profit. Nestlé’s pumping has lowered a stream, two lakes and adjacent wetlands.
MCWC, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, has spent over a million dollars in court cost and lawyer and environmental expert fees. Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation has taken Nestlé to court to prove that water belongs to the people and ask for adjustment of Nestlé’s pumping levels to prevent environmental impacts. Nestlé has continued to run communities dry in more ways than one. MCWC is again heading back to circuit court in July 2008 to ask the judge to adjust Nestlé’s pumping limits.
Friendships had been severed as people took sides in the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation versus Nestlé battle. Nestlé did interrogative telephone polling, asking questions about MCWC and its president. Nestlé sent private investigators to homes of people who had signed MCWC’s referendum asking intimidating questions. Nestlé has threatened a potential strategic lawsuit against public participation known as a slap suit against my son.
Throughout all of these, Nestlé proposed to be a good neighbor company to our area yet it continues to pump at high rates during periods of lower precipitation and recharge.
Next we heard from Debra Anderson of McCloud, who recounted her experience once Nestle came to town:
A special town meeting had been called to discuss the Nestlé project and many people came out so that they could actually understand what the project was, voiced their concerns and their comments and get questions asked and people were just like I said shocked when at the end of that meeting, the gavel was struck and the contract was signed for 100 years. Many felt that the public profits had been circumvented and that the deal was actually struck behind closed doors with Nestlé prior to the meeting.
This contract was egregious for numerous reasons. Not only did it give Nestlé the right to 1,600 acre-feet of spring water but it also gave them an unlimited amount of ground water. It was an unheard of 100-year contract for less than a tenth of a cent a gallon. This project would add over 600 truck trips a day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to our beautiful two-lane scenic volcanic highway. That meant that a truck would be leaving McCloud every three minutes around the clock.
They would destroy our historical mill site by tearing down all of the remaining historical buildings and McCloud is known to being a historical mill town. Not only would they be changing the integrity of our town but also our way of life but most of all, this contract was taking the control of our water away from the local people. Nestlé had truly treated our community as though we were a third world country and this all came on the guise of boosting our economy by creating jobs which, in reality, were too few jobs for too little pay.
Finally, Ann Winn-Wentworth of Maine – vice chair of POWWR (Protecting Our Water and Wildlife) shared her experience helping to pass a rights-based water extraction ordinance in two small Maine towns:
In February of 2008, Nestlé began public hearings in Shapleigh to pave the way for large scale water extraction from our local aquifer which is on a 4000-acre Vernon Walker Land Preserve and it was discovered that those monitoring wells had been there for over three years and none of us were made aware of it. This is on land that must remain in its natural state. It was purchased with federal funds to always remain in its natural state. Many of us care deeply for this preserve and we’re [up in arms] to learn that the State of Maine who manages this land would allow a foreign corporation to go in, cut trees and install wells without any notification. Both towns, Shapleigh and Newfield, share this preserve and we were gravely concerned.
POWWR recently got their ordinance – though they had to call a special town meeting to do it – and now they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Will Nestle attempt to challenge the ordinance?
The similarities in the stories above are striking, and there’s little question that Nestle’s approach to small rural communities – despite the “good neighbor” happy talk – is a largely predatory one.