Nestlé chair invited to join who’s who of water privateers on new University of Alberta water board

Media Release
February 28, 2012

The Council of Canadians has learned that in addition to a controversial decision to award Nestlé Chair Peter Brabeck-Letmanthe an honorary degree at a special ceremony on March 1, the University of Alberta has also invited Mr. Brabeck-Letmanthe – along with a who’s who of international advocates for water privatization and markets – to sit on an external advisory board for a new university-based Water Initiative.

According to an email circulated to prospective advisory board members, the External Advisory Board of the new Water Initiative includes, in addition to Peter Brabeck-Letmanthe of Nestlé, representatives from oil giants Total and Nexen, IHS Cera, Belmont Capital Management, and ECPOR. International bodies at the forefront of water commodification, including the Global Water Partnership and the Water Resources Group, are also represented.

“The list we’ve seen raises serious questions about the purpose and direction of this new initiative at the University of Alberta,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “There’s no one on the list who is actively challenging the corporate push toward more water privatization and more water markets. It seems as though the president and the university through this initiative is lending its credibility and positioning itself on the pro-privatization, pro-market side of the global debate over who will control water in the future. This would certainly not be in the public interest and will have serious repercussions for Alberta's water.”

The initiative comes as Alberta Environment and Water Minister Diana McQueen has promised long-awaited public consultations on the government’s review of the provincial water allocation system will be held in 2012. A series of three reports of advice released in November, 2009 indicate the government is considering moving towards a provincial water market, and in May of 2011, Nestlé Chair Peter Brabeck-Letmanthe told Reuters, “We are actively dealing with the government of Alberta to think about a water exchange.”

“It was bad enough that the university chose to give its highest honour to a man who is unabashedly pro-water market and who has bragged about encouraging the provincial government to expand them. What’s worse is to also invite him to participate on a board that will be offering advice on these important issues,” says Scott Harris, Prairies Regional Organizer with the Council of Canadians. “The composition of this board raises serious questions about the ability of the university to remain neutral at a time when Alberta is grappling with policy decisions about its water future. President Samarasekera needs to come clean on the role of Brabeck-Letmanthe on this advisory board and where the funding for this initiative and its corporate-heavy advisory board is coming from.”

Hundreds of people have already called on the university to revoke the honorary degree to Peter Brabeck-Letmanthe, pointing to Nestlé’s appalling corporate record. A rally is planned for March 1 at 2:00 pm at the Timms Centre for the Arts, where Mr. Brabeck-Letmanthe will receive the honour.

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Note: This is the a list of advisory board members the Council of Canadians received as of the end of January, circulated in a message to potential board members. The membership of the advisory board has likely changed since then.

Water Initiative External Advisory Board

  • Anders Berntell, Executive Director, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)
  • Sanjay Bhatnagar, CEO, Waterhealth International
  • David Bissett, President, Belmont Capital Management Limited
  • Asit Biswas, President, Third World Centre for Water Management Mexico
  • Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman, Nestlé
  • Margaret Catley-Carlson, Patron, Global Water Partnership
  • Jean Michel Gires, CEO, Total Canada
  • Samantha Gross, Director, Integrated Research, IHS Cera Inc.
  • Upmanu Lall, Columbia University Professor, Dept of Earth and Environmental Engineering
  • Rabi Mohtar, Executive Director, Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute
  • Sunita Narain, Director General, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, India
  • Eric Newell, Chair, Alberta Innovates, Energy and Environmental Solutions
  • Stuart Orr, Manager, Freshwater, World Wide Fund for Nature
  • Arlene Ponting, CEO, Alberta Science Foundation
  • Marvin Romanow,  Former President and CEO of Nexen
  • Steve Stanley, Senior VP EPCOR Water Services
  • Guaning Su, President Emeritus, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • Mike Young, Executive Director, The Environment Institute, Adelaide University
  • Sascha Zehnder, International Scientific Director, Alberta Water Research