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NEWS: Protests disrupt Nestle chair receiving honorary degree at the University of Alberta

There has been an intense campaign underway for the past three-weeks opposing the University of Alberta’s decision to grant Nestle chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe an honorary degree and reports that he will be named to the university’s new advisory group on water.

Some of the highlights:

February 8: Prairies organizer Scott Harris posts an action alert calling on the University of Alberta to not grant Brabeck-Letmathe an honorary degree, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13478. By February 28, University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera admits on a CBC Radio interview that she has received “thousands” of messages of opposition due to our action alert. That radio report – featuring Samarasekera and professor Amy Kaler, who opposes the Nestle chair receiving the degree – can be heard at http://www.cbc.ca/edmontonam/episodes/2012/02/28/honorary-degree-debate/.

February 15: Chairperson Maude Barlow formally writes Samarasekera asking that she withdraw the offer of the degree to Brabeck-Letmathe, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13602.

February 23: Harris writes in a widely-read rabble.ca blog, “The University of Alberta is embroiled in controversy over its decision to award an honorary degree to Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the Chair of Nestlé, the largest multinational food and water corporation in the world and one of the most unpopular.” His full blog can be seen at http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/campus-notes/2012/02/university-alberta-vs-nestl%C3%A9-controversy-and-honorary-degrees.

February 27: The Edmonton Journal reports, “With 100 researchers working on water issues, the University of Alberta is putting together an advisory group to enhance its leadership role on water on the global stage, university president Indira Samarasekera announced Monday. …She declined to discuss what role might be played (on the advisory group) by Brabeck-Letmathe, who advocates water markets and whose company runs one of world’s biggest bottled water businesses. She acknowledged the announcement of his honorary degreee caused some controversy and that her office has received a lot of mail, including aletter from Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians and a former senior adviser on water to the United Nations in 2007-08. While the press has portrayed the controversy as ‘a mass outcry, as far as I’m concerned there is one group that is upset and that’s the Council of Canadians,’ she said. …Barlow thinks the water initiative is getting off the wrong foot by honouring the CEO of Nestle, a company under fire for years for dubious practices marketing baby formula in the Third World.” That’s at http://www.edmontonjournal.com/wants+take+global+leadership+role+water+issues/6218791/story.html.

February 28-29: The late edition of the Edmonton Journal reports, “More than 70 non-governmental organizations and groups from across the world joined in an open letter Wednesday to U of A president Indira Samarasekera, opposing the honorary degree, says the Council of Canadians. They had disputed Samarasekera’s statement this week that the Council of Canadians was the only group upset. ‘This should put to rest the notion that there is not much opposition to this ill-conceived decision,’ said Maude Barlow, the council’s chair.” That article is at http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Debate+continues+swirl+over+honorary+degree+Nestle+exec/6229038/story.html, our media release is at http://canadians.org/media/water/2012/29-Feb-12.html. Also, the University of Alberta chapter hosts two screenings of the documentary ‘Bottled Life: Nestle’s Business with Water‘ on campus. More on the film, which features Barlow, at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13184.

Today! The day starts with an Edmonton Journal editorial stating, “The university should re-consider its decision to exclude Council of Canadians national chair Maude Barlow from the advisory panel. Barlow, who served as the first senior water adviser for the United Nations, has been critical of the decision to honour Brabeck-Letmathe. The Council of Canadians was also quick to criticize the potential makeup of the advisory group, based on a preliminary list of 19 people it claims were being considered at the end of January.” That’s at http://www.edmontonjournal.com/business/Diverse+water+panel+welcome+idea/6231494/story.html. By this afternoon, 150+ people were protesting at the Universiy of Alberta, http://edmonton.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20120301/EDM_nestleprotest_120301/20120301/?hub=EdmontonHome. And now, we are receiving email updates from Harris that shouts of ‘shame!’ are being heard as Brabeck-Letmathe receives his degree. An Edmonton Journal reporter is also sending “live-tweets” now about the “University of Alberta protest”. Those reports and messages from others can be read at http://www.edmontonjournal.com/health/Protests+begin+against+honorary+degree+Nestle+exec/6235719/story.html.

More soon.