Thursday, December 02, 2010

Water of Fiji

Nothing seems to worry people in the United States more than gasoline prices. Three dollars a gallon? Shocking! Four dollars? National emergency! Raise the gasoline tax? Prepare for a hanging.

Thanks to the convenience of supermarket unit-pricing labels, however, I learned that at least somebody in my town is willing to pay ten dollars a gallon! That is more expensive than gasoline in the Netherlands, and nobody pays more for gas than the Dutch. Of course, I'm not talking about gasoline -- that would be crazy. This is water -- from the other side of the planet.

Most of the world's water is not drinkable because it is salt water. And most fresh water is frozen. And most liquid fresh water is not accessible. And some of that is polluted. Still, between my local grocery store and Fiji is nearly the entire planet, and surely some way could be found to get water from a bit closer by.

Bottled water is occasionally about convenience, but it is mainly a triumph of marketing over common sense that a lot of bottled water is served in homes and offices (and university campuses worldwide, even mine). Oil is brought up out of the ground, transported to a refinery, manufactured into plastic, and then sent thousands of miles to Fiji, where it is wrapped around water. From Fiji, it is shipped just about as far as anything can be shipped, in order to be served in locations where safe tap water is readily available.
In A Bottled-Water Drama, NRP reporter Guy Raz is not focused on the environmental ethics (or lack thereof) of shipping bottled water in plastic. Rather, this is an intriguing story of the differences between the waters of Fiji (controlled by the government of Fiji) and Fiji Water (controlled Lynda and Stewart Resnick). 

When Fiji tried to increase the tax from about penny a gallon to about 32 cents per gallon, the Resnicks fired all their workers and closed the bottling plant. Since Fiji Water is now the leading export of the country, they thought this drastic move would spare them the inconvenience of taxation. The government threatened to give access to their wells to another company, so the Resnicks relented and will pay the tax they owe to the country that has contributed so much to their wealth. (It did not make them wealthy; they also control Teleflora and POM, so Fiji Water just makes them even more wealthy.)

The company blog does describe the events, but paints itself -- as many of the wealthy do -- as a victim, in this case of a "discriminatory tax." The giving back section of the web site describes the many environmental and social good deeds of the company.

The environmental and social projects of Fiji Water are intended to "offset" a seriously flawed business model, but in reality they do not seem to go beyond the usual greenwash. One sign of the shallowness of the commitment the Resnick family (of Aspen and Beverly Hills) has made to the people of Fiji, is the ludicrous claim that the water tax forced not only the firing of all employees but also the curtailment of school construction and other projects. Congratulations to the government of Fiji for standing up to the bullying, and exerting its sovereignty.

Just as an egg cannot be unscrambled, bottled water cannot be redeemed, even through recycling.


  1. Clearly Guy Raz of public radio and millions of consumers who buy bottled water just don't get it. How big money corporations can bamboozle millions is beyond my understanding. This reminds me of diamonds and their marketing - diamonds are not a Black South African woman's "best friend". The economic processes of corporate greed and mistreatment of workers and the environment are the issue here. It is disingenous to compare workers in Maine with those in Fiji - talk about hostage taking. And what happens when the Fiji water table drops to an unsustainable level and the Fijians struggle to get water.
    We need to educate ourselves about the issues surrounding the commodification of water - water is for life not for profit.
    And I cannot count the number of times I have seen reports of a conference on sustainablity and right there on the conference tables are those plastic bottles of water. What a blatant contradiction.
    Water for life not for profit

  2. It's too bad that BSU is 60% (ish) commuters and has serious contracts with Pepsi, because I would like to get RID of all bottled drinks on this campus. The truth behind bottled beverages, particularly water, is horrendous. I think SJL should have a movie night on water issues sometime next semester; we could screen FLOW or something like that.

  3. The new Science Building will have a whole room for vending machines (but no room dedicated to human rights). In the existing building, the administration once sent electricians to create outlets for a total of seven Pepsi/water machines in the building. Professors literally blocked this move with educational exhibits, so that we "only" have two. But it looks like more are on the way in the new, "green" building.

    So yes, a viewing of FLOW is in order.


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