On a nice blog run by a seemingly very nice Nestle employee, the writer suggested he was “surprised” at some of the reasons he’d read as to why Nestle Waters of North America pulled their proposed water bottling operation out of McCloud.
In an effort to air the “truth” he offered up Nestle Waters CEO Kim Jeffries’ letter, and while I agreed that Jeffries’ letter was true as far as it went, I also said that it was far from the whole truth. My response to the gentlemen’s post is below.
I always get a little nervous when I see the word “truth” in relation to anyone’s press materials.
For what it’s worth, I believe that Mr. Jeffries’ letter is largely true – that fuel costs and changing market conditions made the switch to a Sacramento plant largely seamless.
Still, it’s far from the “whole” truth, and I think asking us to accept it as such is a little disingenuous.
I don’t know which of the theories and speculation surprised you, but I’d guess you’re referring to the “locals send Nestle packing” stories and posts.
You might feel that’s not true, but I think it’s an entirely factual statement to say that Nestle would be pumping, bottling and trucking water out of McCloud right now if a group of committed local residents hadn’t challenged Nestle’s first contract with the McCloud Services District in court.
That same group pointed out that Nestle’s first environmental impact report was entirely bereft of flow studies downstream of the water extraction point, and therefore didn’t measure a key environmental impact at all – which largely forced Nestle to abandon the first (and incomplete) EIR.
This is a simple truth.
I appreciate your willingness to entertain comments on your post, and I recognize I can’t know your perspective on this issue. For example, I can’t know if you experienced this whole process from a distance or from ground zero.
I’ve seen it unfold firsthand, and feel there are several other “truths” at work here that aren’t mentioned in Mr. Jeffries’ letter.
First, it’s true that Nestle is leaving the tiny town of McCloud in a divided, polarized state. It’s a painful thing to see neighbors (and even families) pitted against each other over this issue. Mr. Jeffries won’t refer to it as such in his letter (why would he), but I feel it’s part of a lingering reality about Nestle’s impacts on small, rural communities.
For example, it’s true that Nestle’s own representative repeatedly demonized plant opponents by characterizing them as “wealthy, out-of-town (San Francisco) fly fishermen” or as non-contributing newcomers to the area – terms guaranteed to fire up an “us vs them” mentality in a small community.
It’s also 100% true that Nestle repeatedly maintained they weren’t going to interfere in the local election process (I’m referring to the 2006 elections), but then wrote a check for $2500 to the pro-Nestle slate of candidates the day before the election – in one fell swoop dwarfing the amount of money raised by all other candidates (both pro and con). This largely put the sword to Nestle’s contention that it wasn’t going to “interfere” in the election.
It’s also “true” that Nestle’s legal council did attempt to gain access to the private financial records of opponents of Nestle’s bottling plant (some of whom were friends of mine). We can argue about the “truth” behind Nestle’s motives in that instance, but from here, it looked a lot like legal intimidation.
The above are all verifiable facts, and all led to my decision to found a Web site that attempts to hold Nestle accountable for its actions in small, rural towns.
In the twilight between verifiable “fact” and what is “probably” true lies a whole raft of messiness on both sides. This hasn’t been a pretty process, and while I hold Nestle 100% accountable for a fair amount of unsavory behavior, I also cringed at some of the wilder accusations leveled by opponents.
Nestle’s CEO says the company is leaving because of market conditions and fuel costs. Opponents claim a victory, and suggest Nestle was sent packing by a ragtag group of citizens. And just to muddy things further, I’ve read press releases from national organizations suggesting greater involvement than seemed to be the case.
Where is the truth here?
Like always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but I know for a fact that Mr. Jeffries’ letter – likely the product of a gifted PR department – is hardly a complete vision of the truth – especially once you consider the simple fact that a new contract with the town of McCloud had become a very, very uncertain thing.
Did local citizens send Nestle packing? Is the bottled water market taking a plunge (and affecting capacity decisions)? Are transportation costs up? Does Nestle have a long, long ways to go to actually become the “good” neighbor it says it is?
I believe all the above are true.
If anyone has anything add, perhaps you could do so on his blog. After all, I didn’t delve into less “provable” concepts – like McCloud’s becoming a PR nightmare for Nestle, who at one point wanted to know what it would take to make the opposition “stop.”
Again, he created a simple post and seems like a nice guy, so any comments should be respectful. After all, if you worked for Nestle – and found yourself located a continent away from McCloud – your perspective on this would be very different from mine.
I would suggest that the remote perspective is a flawed one, especially if it’s informed largely by Nestle’s own official flow of information, but there it is.