Dispatches from Vittel Day 1 - Special Report: Preparing for “Rencontres Internationales sur l’Eau Bien Commun”, regarding Nestlé water taking in Vittel, France

Karen Rathwell (long time Board member of Wellington Water Watchers) and I arrived yesterday - Sunday Feb 10 - in Geneva, Switzerland. Franklin Frederick of Bern met us in Geneva and took us by train to scenic Vevey, Switzerland, location of Nestlé multinational headquarters. Karen made this brief and important statement outside the Nestlé headquarters: “From Elora to Vittel, Water is for Life, Not Profit!” (click for video)

Franklin is a Brazilian water activist living in Switzerland. Franklin initiated bringing together Collectif eau 88 and Wellington Water Watchers for this international summit Feb 12 on Nestlé water taking  to be held near Vittel, France.

Dr. Susan Glasauer, Associate Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph will speak at this forum on behalf of Wellington Water Watchers. Dr. Glasauer is a member of WWW Board.

Vittel France may seem like a long way from Wellington County, Ontario. In fact it is part of Nestlé’s strategy to deflect attention from their worldwide operations (100 bottling plants around the world) by referring questions about specific operations to their local representatives.  

Nestlé works hard to cloak the connection between their various water bottling operations around the world. In fact Nestlé water bottling operations are part of a sophisticated global strategy and business model with public relations directed by their head office.

Wellington Water Watchers was invited to Vittel specifically to help connect the dots between the impact of Nestlé operations in Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh (and is proposing for Middlebrook well in Elora) and Vittel, France. In preparation for this trip WWW reached out to our friends at SumOfUs.org and Story of Stuff to also bring information about Nestlé operations in the US.

 

Here is what seems to be typical of Nestlé operations in France, Canada, US and Brazil:

  • Nestlé pays nothing for the water they take

  • Nestlé may pay a very small administrative or license fee for a permit to take water – sometimes as low as $200

  • In many communities in the US and Brazil where Nestlé takes water the status of their permits to take water and the conditions that govern those permits are not transparent.

  • There are major differences of opinion between Nestlé, governments and independent experts and community advocates about the ‘sustainability’ of Nestlé’s water taking.

Wellington Water Watchers is here on a fact-finding mission to learn how Nestlé operates in other communities. So far we have learned the following about the Nestlé operation in Vittel:

  • All of the water Nestlé bottles in Vittel is exported to Germany and other countries

  • Nestlé acquires the water for free - Nestlé pays no taxes to the French government on this operation because the water is considered an export product.

  • Nestlé sells 1.5 litre bottles of Vittel water in Germany for 1 Euro each

  • Local residents pay 3 Euros for each cubic meter of water they use

  • Nestlé has been extracting water for bottling in Vittel since 1990, reducing the aquifer by 30cm/year. Experts agree that there is a risk of salinization of the groundwater from excessive extraction by the year 2040.

  • The French government is proposing to address the impending drinking water shortage by building a pipeline from another town for residents of Vittel. The effect of transferring this water by pipeline will be to deplete the surface waters in the area of the neighbouring town. Experts predict that wetlands in neighbouring towns will dry up and water levels in local rivers will drop.

  • Nestlé will continue to extract and bottle Vittel water for export if the pipeline is approved.

If Nestlé will behave this way in Vittel, how can we trust what they say about their water taking in Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh? How can we trust what they propose for Middlebrook well in Elora? How can we trust that the Ontario government will protect water – rather than protect the business interests of corporations like Nestlé?

The fight to protect drinking water is local AND global. As part of the local strategy Wellington Water Watchers demands that Ontario Premier Doug Ford protect drinking water and Say No to Nestlé.

And... if this is how Nestlé behaves in France, and the US - what is Nestlé doing in communities in the global south – Brazil, and South Africa for example – where communities have fewer resources to resist Nestlé?

This is the first of 5 special reports that Wellington Water Watchers will send in the next week from meetings in Switzerland and France. In these special reports I will share more about what I learn about the connections between Nestlé water taking in other communities around the world.

 

Mike Balkwill

Campaign Director

Wellington Water Watchers

Feb 11, 2019