Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of two Nestle bottling plants in California on Wednesday to deliver petitions demanding the company stop bottling operations in the drought-stricken state.
The petitions – carrying more than 500,000 signatures – were accepted by Nestle staff members at both the Sacramento and Los Angeles bottling plants, protesters said, as residents and activists chanted slogans like “Our water is not for sale” and “Water is a human right, don’t let Nestle win this fight.”
In Sacramento, where around 50 protesters gathered, one eight-foot-long banner read: “Nestle, 515,000 people say leave California’s precious water in the ground,” referring to the total number signatures collected on the delivered petitions.
California has now entered its fourth consecutive year of drought, and residents of the state’s cities have been told to cut their consumption by as much as 36%.
“It is very disturbing and actually quite offensive that a foreign company is taking our water, bottling it and selling it back to us,” said Nick Rodnam, one protester at the Los Angeles plant, who launched one of the petitions on Change.org.
While Starbucks recently pulled its water bottling operations from the state on ethical grounds, Nestle and other companies like Walmart continue to source water for bottling in California, buying at the same rate as residents and selling at one hundred times the profit.
Morgan Goodwin, a 30-year-old city council member in Truckee, California, who took part in the protests at the Sacramento plant, said Nestle was treating California water as a “free-for-all”, while his constituents had been ordered to cut their water consumption by 28% in a state-issued mandate.
At the beginning of last month, California governor Jerry Brown took a historic step by issuing an executive order outlining mandatory water conservation measures, including a 25% average cut in urban areas.
Last week, Nestle CEO Tim Brown declared he had no intentions of pulling his water sourcing operations out of the state. If anything, he said in a radio interview, he would like to increase operations.
“There are over 1 million Californians who are without safe access to clean water in California today,” said Walker Foley of Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based NGO.
In some small, poor California communities facing clean-water crises, residents spend up to 10% of their income on bottled water, the organization says.
“It is a glaring contradiction that water is a human right, but companies like Nestle are allowed to bottle and privatize a public asset at a tremendous markup,” Foley said.
“We feel good about what we’re doing delivering healthy hydration to people throughout the state of California,” Nestle’s Tim Brown said last week.
“As the second-largest bottler in the state, we’re filling a role many others are filling. It’s driven by consumer demand, it’s driven by an on-the-go society that needs to hydrate,” he said.
Rose Hackman, The Guardian