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Coca-Cola director to head OTPP-owned Chilean water utility

Ottawa – The Chilean water utility Essbio has named Coca-Cola director Jorge Lesser García-Huidobro as the new president of its Board of Directors. This appointment is sparking new concerns about the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan role in water privatization in Chile, especially given Coke’s controversial history in the region, says the Council of Canadians.

“As a majority shareholder in Essbio, what is the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan going to do about the selection of a Coca-Cola Chile Board member to head the water utility?” asks Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow. “Given the leading role Ontario teachers have playing in opposing Coca-Cola products in schools (like Dasani bottled water), the OTPP has a responsibility to respect the values of its contributors.”

These concerns are compounded by recent news reports which indicate Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has directed state development agency Corfo to sell its remaining minority stake in water utilities Esval, Essal, Essbio, and Aguas Andinas, thus fully privatizing them. The Chilean government is claiming that this privatization will fund the reconstruction of infrastructure damaged by the February 2010 earthquake.

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan owns 50.83 percent of the Chilean water utility Essbio and 69.4 percent of Esval. The Council of Canadians hand-delivered a letter to the previous president of Essbio during the World Water Congress meeting in Montreal last September outlining the organization’s opposition to the OTPP investments in private water in Chile. There is no word yet if the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan intends to increase its ownership share of these water utilities.

“It is outrageous that someone who had a stake in selling bottled water for Coca-Cola is now running public water assets,” says Council of Canadians Water Campaigner Emma Lui. This past week, Coca-Cola Chile announced that it would sell its stake in Chilean bottler Coca-Cola Embonor to Revenue Libra Holding. “A former Coca-Cola executive clearly sees water as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder rather than as a human right for all people.”

The Council of Canadians has been calling on the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to divest from for-profit water utilities in Chile and for the ownership of these private, for-profit water utilities to be fully transferred back to public control.