Stop Nestlé’s water grab, or let them help themselves?

Depending on where you get your data, Chaffee County public opposition to Nestle’s 2009 acquisition of valley water ranged from 98-99%. People raised hell. Chaffee County commissioners were apparently the last people on earth to hear about Nestle’s reputation in other communities or via social media commentary about Nestle’s own online sabotage. We were sold out by our County Commissioners. In my lengthy conversation with former commissioner, and generally upstanding citizen Tim Glenn at Citizen HQ, I was struck by his myopic view of the sellout. I appreciated his, and the other commissioner’s strong values, but sadly their idealism and trusting nature about Nestle’s promises felt juvenile and more than a little naive.

With a little homework it was clear that Nestle was laughing all the way to the bank. In the end, after realizing that the commissioners were ignoring public comment entirely, locals had the opportunity to negotiate for millions in a trust ..they chose to settle for pennies. I cannot speak to the details in the letter below, but when Nestle first came to the valley, I was stunned by the first hand comments I heard from other communities where Nestle was allowed in. The general consensus was: “don’t let them in, but if you cannot fight them off, watch them very closely.”

I am posting a letter that we just received, and the links above for all of new folks to the valley who may have missed the “Nestle hearings” a couple years ago. -bd*


The most obvious damage to Nestlé’s reputation has been its unethical marketing of artificial baby milk, particularly in the global south. This started to become a major issue in the 1970s when War on Want published a report called “The Baby Killer”, which was translated into German by the Berne Third World Action Group who were subsequently sued for libel, having named their version “Nestlé Kills Babies.”

However, as McDonalds were later to find out, suing critics tends to have a rather galvanising effect, and the publicity which came out of the case hurt Nestlé much more than the activists. In 1977 a boycott was launched, which continued until 1984, when Nestlé agreed to abide by the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. However, the fact did not match up to the promises and the boycott was re-launched in 1988, continuing vigorously today.

There is, of course, much more to Nestlé than the baby milk issue. The company has attracted criticism for its use of genetically modified ingredients, and for its cocoa and coffee-buying policies, including purchasing cocoa from Ivory Coast, which has recently received heavy press coverage due to the existence of child slavery on cocoa plantations. The company has also been implicated in lobbying against vaccination of livestock during the British Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 2001. From environmental destruction in Brazil to the intimidation of trade unionists in Colombia, from demanding millions in compensation from hunger-stricken Ethiopia to bolstering its image through proposing donations to breast cancer charities – Nestlé is easily one of the world’s most hated companies.


Submitted by Kristin Urquiza

In the name of greed, Nestlé has: struck backroom deals with politicians to control local water supplies without community consent; pumped billions of gallons of water, threatening wildlife and pristine wilderness areas; and aggressively marketed bottled water to low-income communities to convince them to spend their hard-earned money on something we all already get from the tap.

If that wasn’t enough, Nestlé is now working directly with the World Bank to put public water in private hands country-by-country. Your support today will help expose and challenge this Nestlé-led partnership. You can help by giving today to prevent this Nestlé-led global corporate water grab. In 2011, Corporate Accountability International helped North Florida residents put the kibosh on Nestlé’s plans to make their cherished Wacissa River a bottling hub. In 2012, the organization will again stand with such communities, whether in North America or in developing countries the bottling giant is now targeting for expansion.

You can help guarantee water as a human right, not a commodity to be bought and sold. Please fund this work as generously as you can. Thank you in advance for your support toward realizing a world where this most basic human need is available to all people.


Kristin Urquiza
Think Outside the Bottle Campaign Director
Corporate Accountability International

Corporate Accountability International is working toward a world where decisions affecting people and the environment are based on public interest, not maximizing corporate profits. Learn more about Corporate Accountability International’s campaigns here.

*Since its inception, I have used The Citizen as a tool to take a personal stand on a few issues: One was Nestle, another was to help pass the bond for our new high school, whose construction is coming along wonderfully. Lastly, I am a huge fan of high school mountain bike race team. Call me biased, but with hundreds of thousands of pageviews, free global distribution and as long as we are living in a relatively free society we should all be using The Citizen to exercise our voice. I try my best to hide in the background and leave the rest of the Citizen as a forum for the community. Thanks for caring about the valley and supporting this little social experiment.

The Citizen is happy to provide a forum for comments and discussion. Please be civil, truthful, and relevant. Please suggest removal of comments that violate these standards. Real names are appreciated.

11 Responses to “Stop Nestlé’s water grab, or let them help themselves?”

  1. Larry Goode

    Since they are already taking water now. What can we do to stop them or amend thier contract to better protect our area? It is easy to write a article about what they are doing wrong and I do appreciate you bring this to our attention and I thank you for that. But not so easy to come up with a viable solotion! Please understand I would like nothing better than to send Nestle packing. With your knowledge of this matter tell us what we should be doing as citizens of this community to protect our and our children's future and stop big corporation's from harming our natural resources and our beautiful community.

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  2. Marshall

    Much like OTR will play out in my and many others opinion, IF allowed to proceed, we will be facing some of the very same issues with that project as we face with Nestle now.

    It flummoxes me that Nestle was approved given the opposition. It would appear that the stewards of the community completely ignored the wishes of their constituents. Much as I predict will happen with OTR Corporation's proposal. Where was, and where IS the representation ?

    Now that the deal is done, we find ourselves saying, why was this rushed thru, why was this jammed down our throats, why didn't we get all that we could have out of it, Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda. Not an enviable position.

    Given that Nestle, just like OTR Corporation, is a for profit corporation if they didn't see a buck to be made, at someone else's expense, it wouldn't have been proposed in the first place.

    This reaction of "Oh, we better get it or it might go away" or "Don't ask for to much, it might jinx the deal" is just what Nestle, and OTR Corporation desire and are counting upon.

    What Nestle, and OTR Corporation see, are 2 wolves, discussing with a single sheep, what to have for dinner. Not an enviable position from the sheep's viewpoint.

    My 2¢, your mileage may vary.


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  3. cory

    This seems to be a question of property rights. While I in no way chose to support Nestle's actions, I do feel they have certain rights (I won't go so far as to say that a corporation is a person).

    Without knowing enough about the situation, I find myself asking, "Did they have to get a variance from the county or was the hearing to make sure that they had dotted all their "i's" and crossed their "t's" in terms of following the county rules?"

    The reason I ask is that I see more and more people getting frustrated with the outcome of a situation than addressing it before it becomes a problem.

    I wonder if the direction of the discussion should be focused on preventing this sort of thing in the future? It sounds as if there were a lot of folks speaking in opposition to nestle. What steps have they taken since then to rectify the situation that allowed nestle to utilize the water in the first place? Are they going to feel the same frustrations when dannon follows the blueprint laid by nestle to use Ark valley water or are they passionate enough about the issue to address it before it becomes another issue?

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  4. John Graham

    The word that comes to mind is myopia: not being able (or choosing not ) to see the larger picture. Take Nestle. In the short term/ narrow view it looked like some temporary construction jobs are created ($), some landowners and realtors are pleased ($), some truck drivers are hired ($), some attorneys and engineers are happy ($). And Nestle is VERY happy ($$). The longer term/ broader picture sees valuable aquifer water leaving the valley via high carbon footprint tanker trucks which are unloaded into millions and millions of plastic bottles. Money in trade for system degradation. I don’t think that most residents of the valley would vote for that larger picture, but short term interests seem to prevail. That appears to be a sign of the times… of quarterly reports and not seven generations ahead.

    Education that focuses on long term broad visioning is an essential first step if we want different outcomes than we are receiving. We need to understand in our minds and hearts that resources are limited, the environment is not immune from abuse, growth in terms of expansion and more is not the solution.

    Nestle is here and will stay as long as it is profitable for them … read, as long as the public continues to buy their bottled water. No buyers, no Nestle. And like any other company, Nestle is looking for growth opportunities wherever they can find them.

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  5. cory

    I too applaud you for your involvement. My larger point here is the reactive vs. proactive response to issues. I agree that education is important in this area. However, I feel the ability to educate (and subsequently change the actions of) all the potential consumers of bottled water will take quite a bit of time.

    I still wonder what action the oppostition to Nestle is taking to make sure that we don't have another company come into our valley and do the exact same thing? Is this really about water being taken from our valley or is it about Nestle?

    If it is about the water, It seems the immediate questions are: How did this project get apporved? What were the rules/ regs. that allowed this to pass? What do we need to do to those rules/ regs to make it so this doesn't happen in the future? Do we have community support to change the rules/regs? What do we need to do to increase support?

    To share concerns and frustrations is only the first step. Learning from what we've been through and creating action steps to make sure that the issue doesn't happen again is key.

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  6. Bill Donavan

    The issue was about water being taken. Nestle's history made it easy to dislike them however. The system actually worked, however the three commissioners had a very conservative approach to property rights. To the degree that we elected them, we are all culpable.

    Fast forward to November 2011 and we only had one person run unopposed for Salida Mayor, and the turn out for most city and county meetings is generally abysmal.

    FWIW, my action step was to start the Citizen. Please pass it on. Care to be a writer? I'm serious. You are all very thoughtful. Thanks for commenting.

    Also, John, what is the monitoring situation? tia -b

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  7. John Graham

    From my perspective, the issue was not only about water being taken. The issue included environmental concerns as well. These concerns ranged from disturbing the ecology of the immediate area, to the carbon footprint associated with pumping and trucking the water to get it to Denver, to the impact of the plastic bottles. Chaffee County was an enabler for Nestle. Many of us did not want that, nor did we want to see the water pumped from the aquifer, nor did we support the negative environmental issues.

    As for monitoring, the County requires Nestle to monitor itself and submit an annual report to the County. The report is due March first for each previous year. County staff reviews the report during the month of March and then makes it available to the public at the County offices.

    In a recent note from Don Reimer at the County he stated that Nestle information is no longer on the (web)site, since it has been over two years since the application was approved and they needed the space for other materials.

    Nestle also makes monthly reports to the State Water Engineer concerning actual water withdrawals.

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  8. Marshall

    If anyone wants to contact him, Steve Witte is the state water engineer

    I believe the information is a matter of public record and shouldn't need a FOIA.

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  9. Elena

    I am a student and I have not been a very big fan of Nestle for a long time, however the issues of corporate social responsibility and environment protection have always interested me. That is why I would like to share some of my thoughts in regards of Nestle – Chaffee County issue. However, like it is often happening to some scientific researches where the scholars use all available for them theories, at end, get the results totally opposite to the expecting ones, my letter may sound as the Nestlé’s defence wile in fact I was going just to try to find some solutions to this issue.
    1. It is already the fact that Nestle have entered into a long term water leasing contract with the Colorado’s governing body (sorry, I do not know what you call councils in USA). The rights to use the Chaffee County’s springs have been passed to Nestle with this agreement. We do not know the exact words of it but we can only hope that this contract discusses the issues of negative externalities and Nestlé’s responsibility to return the leased resources into possession of Colorado council in close to the original condition or something like that. For pennies or for millions, the agreement has been signed and now this is not a property question but rather the business ethics issue: how Nestlé treats the controlled resources? What action should be done by county’s people to stop Nestlé’s unethical business activities?
    2. The overview from Corporate Watch shows that Nestlé takes up an aggressive position in business. Nether bad publicity (the company easy evades any financial losses resulted from it) or boycotts of its products have changed the company’s desire to achieve its goals – the profit-maximisation. As Milton Friedman suggested in 2005 the companies use the profit-maximisation approach to business have “one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception of fraud”. That is why such things as using GM ingredients in food production, having business relationships with the companies accused in child slavery, demanding millions of compensation from hunger stricken Ethiopia, threatening a wildlife on operating territory or making profits from targeting the low-income communities to purchase the bottled native resources that are usually available for the last ones at no costs any way, those things that would shock us, the ordinary people, who would see it as immoral or socially irresponsible, are totally justified by Nestlé. For instance, it is well known that any form of slavery is immoral and illegal in is a civilised world, but is there a law stating that you are not allowed to do business with the 3d world company that uses slavery? None. It seems morally wrong but it is not against of law. That is why, actually, Nestlé doesn’t do anything wrong and it still acts within the legal framework. To expect from them to do business in differently would be nonsense unless its stakeholders voluntarily give up on their mega profits.
    3. For a business, even such giant as Nestlé, to stay competitive in a market or to expand successfully, it must constantly monitor its external environment. I am sure, that prior to the entering into this lease contract Nestlé performed a full stakeholder analysis for projected plant where the county’s community and your local governing body were featured as stakeholders with your needs, wishes, and of course, your legislative positions. Clearly, the decision to proceed with the project on the lease of your springs was a result of the existence of favourable conditions for their business. The performed costs-benefits and stakeholder analysis could show, for example, the community’s desire for benefits from the New business’ establishment, or your commissioners’ easy-dealing-with way of making business and their positive attitude towards Nestlé, or, as it has been assumed, the lack of knowledge of the Nestlé’s business reputation, and, apparently, your environment protective legislation is weak enough to attract Nestlé. This returns my analysis back to the Friedman’s theory stated earlier that a business must comply with current law, including the environment protective regulations. And, if your county’s legislation isn’t strong enough, why should Nestlé lose the opportunity to get advantage while still acting within your rules?
    Thus, the conclusion could sound like that: Nestlé, which methods of making business is unethical evidently, might be untouchable as long as it acts within the frames of the law of your country or state while the strong environment protective legislation would affect its external business environment and, in turn, might force the company to stop treating your community as means to increase its shareholders’ value. This is County citizens’ responsibility to persuade your governing body to put in place stringent environmental legislation.

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