Nestlé is draining a French village of its water – is Canada next?

A video posted on the Focus on Europe website looks at how “in Vittel, France, Nestlé is bottling so much spring water that the water table is sinking. Now, a pipeline kilometres long to bring water from another community is in the planning. Citizens and environmentalists are up in arms.”

The video describes how Nestlé fills more than 2 million bottles of mineral water a day after pumping it out of the Vittel spring, which is located underneath the village. Nestlé has been pumping water from the spring “en masse” since the 1960s.

An investigation shows groundwater levels have dropped dramatically in Vittel, and that industry consumption accounts for 50 per cent of all water use. To ensure local residents have enough water to live, the village is now looking to build a pipeline that will bring it in from a neighbouring community.

Vittel’s Mayor says that Nestlé can’t be shut down because there are “too many jobs at stake.”

But local environmentalists are fighting back by building a legal case against Nestlé’s water takings on the basis that water is a human right and should be available to people and the community first, not corporations like Nestlé.

Nestlé is a multi-billion dollar corporation that bottles water around the globe, including in Canada. As water becomes scarcer due to droughts, climate change and pollution, the question of who should have access becomes even more pertinent.

As Emma Lui, the Council’s Water Campaigner, writes in the new book Corporatizing Canada, “Nestlé has been bottling water in southern Ontario since the late 1980s. Every day, it draws up to 4.7 million litres from two wells in Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh in Wellington County, near Guelph. In August 2016, Nestlé purchased the Middlebrook well in Elora, despite the local municipality’s attempt to buy the well to safeguard its water supply sparking a national outcry.”

“Nestlé’s bottled water operations in B.C. have also stirred opposition. Despite the droughts in 2015, Nestlé continues to extract 265 million litres annually from a well in Hope, located on Sto:lo Territory. The well connects to an aquifer that six thousand nearby residents rely on. Nestlé is not the only corporation putting local watersheds at risk in the province. Agriculture Canada reports that 83 per cent of Canada’s bottled water exports come from B.C.”

The Council of Canadians has been pushing provincial governments to put an end to Nestlé’s and other bottled water withdrawals, which permanently remove water from the watershed by placing it in plastic bottles that companies like Nestlé then sell at an inflated price. Under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, governments are required to obtain free, prior and informed consent to these water takings. Water is a human right, commons and a public trust, to be shared, protected, carefully managed and enjoyed by all who live around it – not a source of profit.

Learn more about the campaign to stop Nestlé in Canada, watch the video about Nestlé's water grabs in B.C. and Ontario, and if you haven’t already, sign the Boycott Nestlé pledge.