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Nestle opposes ‘blue communities’ vision

Nestle corporate headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland

A ‘blue community’ is a municipality that adopts a framework that recognizes water as a human right, opposes the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events, and promotes publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services. In March 2011, Burnaby became the first blue community in Canada. Then in September 2013, Bern became the first international blue community.

Blue communities can also be religious groupings, universities, First Nations, or unions. In November 2013, the Evangelisch-reformierte Kirchgemeinde Bern-Johannes Church and the University of Bern became the first church and university-based blue communities. In January 2015, Tsal’alh, St’át’imc Territory became the first Indigenous blue community. And in November 2015, the 34,000 member Swiss public service workers union VPOD became the first union to become a blue community. The 200,000-member Swiss trade union UNIA also became a blue community in September 2016.

The blue communities initiative is catching on with more than 3.6 million people worldwide now living in a blue community.

But the Swiss-based transnational Nestle doesn’t like the blue community vision.

In March 2014, Nestle’s director of corporate affairs John B. Challinor II wrote, “It appears that [Thunder Bay city] council fully recognizes this resolution for what it is: a Trojan horse-like treatise developed solely to encourage Canadian municipalities to ban the sale of bottled water in their facilities under the guise of human rights and infrastructure management.” He added, “The Blue Communities Project is not an environmental initiative — it’s a political campaign being waged by CUPE against the Canadian beverage industry and its 13,000 employees across Canada.”

Then Challinor claimed, “We agree with the Council and CUPE that water is a human right [and] we also support continued investment in our municipal systems.” But Nestle chairman Peter Brabeck has stated he only believes in the “human right to hydration and hygiene” in relation to the “1.5 per cent” of the water used for these purposes, not for the other 98.5 per cent of water. And Challinor’s support for “investment in our municipal systems” could relate to Nestle’s role in the World Bank’s Water Resources Group which says to be eligible for funding water projects must provide for at least one partner from the private sector.

Despite Nestle’s intervention, Thunder Bay became a blue community.

In March 2013, DurhamRegion.com reported, “Deputations against the Blue Communities Project proposal [at Oshawa’s development services committee] were made by John Challinor of Nestle Waters and Jim Goetz of the Canadian Beverage Association.” And in April 2012, the Nanaimo Daily News reported, “City councillors have seen letters and e-mails from lobbyists hoping no further action on the ban will be taken. Nestle Waters Canada writes the Blue Communities designation is more of a political campaign by CUPE than an environmental initiative. and calls the proposed ban ‘an overly simplified, factually incorrect, feel-good resolution’.”

Nanaimo became a blue community, Oshawa did not.

Nestle also intervened to stop Chatham and Cobourg from becoming blue communities, but was unsuccessful in stopping Victoria.

In September 2012, Nestle even wrote the City of Guelph to ask that it withdraw its co-sponsorship of a community screening of the film Tapped, a documentary about the bottled water industry.

On September 22, the Council of Canadians launched a new Boycott Nestle declaration to stop the transnational corporation profiting from water. Many people are outraged that Nestle outbid the Township of Centre Wellington when it tried this summer to purchase a local well to ensure its drinking water supply. Nestle wants the well for “future business growth”. Since then, 24,836 people have signed our pledge. You can add your name by clicking here.

To find out more about how to make your community a blue community, click here.