Cameron Fioret, a PhD student at the University of Guelph and member of the Guelph chapter of the Council of Canadians, writes in a thought-provoking op-ed that “the advent of the commodification and privatization of water has resulted in strife and inequality amongst the most marginalized people in society.”
Fioret goes on to say that “it is a widespread, pressing issue that will be exacerbated by climate change, whereby clean water will be even more of a luxury for the privileged few of humanity. Anyone who desires for a world of equitable access to clean water should not tolerate the status quo.”
Pointing to water commodifcation and privatization in Ontario communities such as Aberfolyle, Erin and Six Nations of the Grand River, Fioret says grassroots activism can make a difference. “This type of activism begins in the community and works its way up to political institutions and the enacting of laws. It is at the grassroots level where we ought to foment change, leading it to rise to the level of influencing politicians, lawmakers and policy creators.”
He writes, “Activism that starts in the community can inspire the democratic process, pushing the will of the majority to combat the will of the small but influential (read: moneyed) private interests. Water commodification and privatization have led to citizens being denied freshwater, yet private interests continue to syphon water — sometimes on expired permits — for themselves. Profit is exalted while the public loses access to a necessity for life.”
The Council of Canadians has been supporting and amplifying community efforts to stop Nestlé’s relentless water grabs in Ontario and British Columbia. In Ontario, Nestlé is already allowed to pump up to 4.7 million litres of water out of the ground every day from two wells that it bottles at its Guelph plant. Astoundingly, Nestlé continues to do this on two expired permits. Nestlé recently outbid the local community to purchase a third water well “for future business growth.”
Between its pumping from Ontario and B.C., Nestlé is already allowed to take up to 2 billion litres of water out of communities every year. It pays practically nothing for the water it then sells across Canada and to export markets for obscene profit. The export of bottled water from Canada to the U.S. has increased 383 per cent in the last decade, resulting in billions of single-use plastic bottles that clog our landfills and oceans.
Just downstream from Nestlé’s Ontario bottling plant is the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, where only nine per cent of residents have access to clean drinking water.
As Fioret argues, “A government which aspires to a just, equitable distribution of water would take heed of grassroots activists' calls for commonly held water, while cementing such a message in law. Human rights law and international law, ‘soft law,’ recognizes water as a human right, yet our system lags behind. The denial of water to those in need can be resisted by a community/locality, but it is at the larger governmental level where laws can be passed to protect against such injustice. Grassroots activism allows for recognition and participation by those most directly affected by a certain injustice of water ownership and distribution, while democratic principles are the arguments — the tools — such movements use in their fight.”
Read more about the Council of Canadians’ campaign to stop Nestlé from profiting from water – which should remain a shared, publicly managed resource for all.