Action Alert: Tell the U of A that Nestlé Chair Peter Brabeck-Letmathe doesn’t deserve an honorary degree

Scott Harris
7 years ago

The University of Alberta has announced that on March 1 it will award an honorary degree to Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the Chair of Nestlé, the world’s largest multinational food and water corporation and the largest bottled water corporation in the world. While the university claims that the honorary degree will honour those who have contributed to “the preservation, distribution and management of one of humanity's most vital resources: water,” the reality is that Nestlé is one of the biggest global voices pushing for the privatization and commodification of water worldwide, is the largest player in the bottled water industry and is depleting aquifers in communities throughout North America to bottle and sell, is the target of global boycotts for its marketing of breast milk substitutes in violation of international standards, has a long list of labour violations in countries all over the world, and is currently involved in a court case in which Nestlé has admitted it hired agents to spy on the French activist group ATTAC. (More information on Nestlé’s corporate practices is below.) Call and email the University of Alberta President and Chancellor and tell them that the head of corporation with a track record like Nestlé doesn’t deserve what the University calls its “highest honour,” whose recipients are “individuals whose extraordinary intellectual or artistic achievements or significant service to society set a standard of excellence.” If you're a current U of A student or alumni, be sure to let them know when you contact the University. You can use our online form to send an email to President Samarasekera and Chancellor Hughes, or send your own message: University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera Telephone: (780) 492-3212 Fax: (780)492-9265 E-mail: University of Alberta Chancellor Linda Hughes Phone: (780) 492-2268 Fax: (780) 492-2448 E-mail: You can also let the University know what you think on Twitter: @ualberta #ualberta Background on Peter Brabeck-Letmathe and Nestlé In May of 2011, Brabeck-Letmathe bragged to Reuters following a speech in Geneva that “We are actively dealing with the government of Alberta to think about a water exchange,” adding that Alberta is the ideal place for a water market due to increasing competition for water between agricultural producers and the petroleum sector. ( Nestlé is the world’s largest bottled water producer. According to US-based Food & Water Watch, in 2007 Nestlé manufactured 72 brands of bottled water and its bottled water operations brought in $9.93 billion in sales. US consumers disposed of some 30.08 billion bottles in 2006. That year, Nestlé controlled 30.4 percent of the US bottled water market, measured in volume of water sold. If market share in volume roughly equates to the market share in the number of single-serve PET plastic bottles sold, that means 9.14 billion of those bottles could have been a Nestlé brand. Given that 86 percent of plastic bottles end up in landfills rather than being recycled, 7.86 billion of the empty PET plastic water bottles in the trash could have come from one of Nestlé’s nine domestic bottled water brands. That pencils out to more than 491,250,000 pounds of Nestlé plastic in the trash, rather than being recycled, or, better yet, never produced in the first place. ( Nestlé has been challenged by communities in numerous US jurisdictions, including Michigan, Colorado, Maine, California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas, for their practice of targeting small communities and withdrawing massive amounts of water from aquifers for their bottled water operations, often at a fraction of what residents pay. In 2009, after a nine-year legal battle with Nestlé, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation secured a settlement with Nestlé to reduce Nestlé's water removal by 50%. The group initially filed a 2001 lawsuit alleging that extraction from the bottled water plant would lower lake and stream levels. In 2003, the judge ordered Nestlé to stop its water withdrawals but this decision was reversed by the Michigan Court of Appeals. Food and Water Watch estimates that in 2003 Nestlé withdrew 7,050,254,807 litres of water for its bottled water operations in the United States alone. ( and and and In November 2003 a judge in Illinois approved a $12 million settlement in a class action lawsuit against Nestlé for misleading advertising arising from its claim that its Poland Springs brand was naturally pure spring water. Nestlé was also challenged in 2008 by a coalition of environmental groups in Canada for its claims in ads that “most water bottles avoid landfill sites and are recycled"; "bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world"; and "Nestlé Pure Life is a Healthy, Eco-Friendly Choice.” ( and Brabeck-Letmathe said in the 2005 documentary film We Feed the World that the idea that water is a basic human right – which was recognized by the United Nations in a unanimous General Assembly vote in 2010 – was “extreme” and that “water is food and should have a market value.” ( For years Nestlé has been the main public face and regional lobbyist for the bottled water industry in Canada. John B. Challinor II, Nestlé Waters Canada spokesperson, makes written, and often in-person, interventions when resolutions to phase-out the sale of bottled water and promote public tap water are debated at municipal council meetings and school board or school district board of trustee meetings. Further, Nestlé Waters Canada will frequently write letters in local papers across the country trying to discredit and comment on student-led initiatives on bottled water issues. In the months of February and March 2011 alone, the Polaris Institute found that Challinor had written 28 such letters to editors. Challinor also participated in a debate at an intermediate school in the small town of Estevan in southern Saskatchewan in June of the same year, where students had decided to phase-out bottled water sales. ( Nestlé’s questionable corporate practices extend well beyond water: Nestlé has been the target of boycotts by groups such as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and the Infant Feeding Action Coalition (INFACT) since 1977 for its aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes in violation of international standards. It has been found to be responsible for more violations of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods than any other company. ( In 2007, the Foundation for Ethics and Economy awarded Peter Brabeck-Letmathe and Liliane de Bettencourt of Nestlé “The Black Planet Award 2007,” writing that “this award is to pillory the Swiss multi-national for the irresponsible marketing of baby food contaminated by genetically manipulated nutrition, their tolerance of child labour and monopolisation of water resources.” ( Nestlé is currently embroiled in a scandal in which is hired undercover agents to spy on the French global justice organization ATTAC. ( Nestlé has been accused of serious labour violations, including incidents of violence, murder and intimidation of its employees since 1986 in countries including China, Colombia, El Salvador, France, South Korea and the Phillipines. ( Nestlé has also been the target of lawsuits over the company’s involvement in the trafficking, torture and forced labor of children who cultivate and harvest cocoa beans that go into its chocolate products. One lawsuit says Nestlé “not only purchased cocoa from farms and/or farmer cooperatives which they knew or should have known relied on forced child labor in the cultivating and harvesting of cocoa beans, but … provided such farms with logistical support to do so with little or no restrictions from the government of Cote d’Ivoire.” ( The International Union of Food Workers (IUF) says, “What happened under Brabeck's reign as CEO (1997-2007) and continues today was a growth strategy for the world's largest food company that systematically destroyed and degraded tens of thousands of jobs while Nestlé products filled the shelves of supermarkets, corner stores and street stalls around the world ... The famous Nestlé brands are increasingly made in the obscure factories of third-party contractors, raising questions about food safety and quality as well as the working conditions of the new generation of workers who produce, package, warehouse, transport and distribute Nestlé products but are told they don't work for Nestlé.” (

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