Barlow joins growing chorus calling on U of A to revoke honorary degree for Nestlé CEO

Media Release
February 15, 2012

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has written to the University of Alberta warning that rewarding former Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe with the institution’s highest honour “would be a global black mark on the university’s reputation”. Barlow served as Senior Advisor on Water to the 63rd President of the United Nations General Assembly and was a leader in the campaign to have water recognized as a human right by the UN. The organization’s U of A chapter is organizing a protest at 2:30pm, Thursday, March 1, at the Timms Centre for the Arts, just before Brabeck-Letmathe is expected to receive the honorary degree.

“His and his company’s record on the very issue for which you are rewarding him with an honorary degree, water, is particularly egregious,” says Barlow, in her letter to the University’s President Indira Samarasekera. The letter can be read in full here.

“As chairman, and formerly CEO, of Nestlé S.A., Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is linked to very serious allegations from numerous organizations around the world related to the company’s human rights abuses, degradation of the natural environment, the promotion of unsafe products in developing countries in violation of international agreements, and other unethical practices,” says the letter from Barlow. “For these reasons, I am also writing to ask that you revoke the honorary degree to be awarded to Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe.”

Responding to President Samarasekera’s recent comments in media stories, Barlow added, “The claim that Brabeck-Letmathe is being given the degree because he “put [water scarcity] on the global agenda” is beyond ridiculous. Nestlé, under his leadership, has been a major contributor to the global water crisis.”

Barlow notes that Nestlé is the world’s largest bottled water producer. In 2010, Nestlé Waters sales totalled CHF 9.1 billion (equivalent to approximately $9.9 billion Canadian). In some cases, Nestlé pays pennies for the water it takes from communities and sells it in bottles at thousands of times what it paid for. For example, in Ontario, Nestlé pays $3.71 for every million litres it extracts from at its Aberfoyle bottled water operation but charges 300,000 times that cost for the product which emerges.

Barlow warns President Samarasekera that “Nestlé’s harmful impact on the natural environment and its role in the privatization and commodification of this vital, collective resource calls into question the University of Alberta’s claim that Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe is playing an “emerging and growing role as a worldwide leader in water resource management.” I urge you in the strongest possible terms to revoke the honorary degree that you plan to award to Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe in order to preserve the honour and integrity of the University of Alberta.”

In May of 2011, Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe reported to Reuters that Nestlé was actively in discussions with the government of Alberta to encourage it to move toward a water exchange in its current review of the provincial water allocation system, adding that Alberta is the ideal place for a water market due to increasing competition for water between agricultural producers and the petroleum sector. The sale of water as a commodity through a water market is a violation of the human right to water, and for-profit corporations that stand to profit from such a direction by government should not be involved in setting government water policies.

The Council of Canadians will be screening the brand new film Bottled Life, which explores Nestle’s global business with water and the impacts Nestlé is having on communities around the world, on February 28 at 2pm, in TELUS 217/219 at the University of Alberta.

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