As it currently stands, Nestlé pays a mere $3.71 per every million liters of water the company pumps out of the ground in Ontario in order to bottle it and then and sell it back to customers. The company has been under fire for everything from water exploitation to child slavery, banning labour organizing activities near its facilities, and the use of palm oil in its products.
The latest concern regarding water exploitation may finally be seeing a breakthrough in Ontario, however, as the provincial government, which sets the price rates for water, will reportedly propose a steep increase in the amount that Nestlé, along with other similar companies, will pay.
The new fee the government is proposing will be $503.71 per million liters of water, which is an increase of about 13,500 percent.
Nestlé’s license permits the company to pump 4.7 million liters of water per day from two sites in Ontario. The new proposed rate will mean the company now has to cough up $2,367 for the water it takes every day, as opposed to the $17.50 it pays now.
The company has been the subject of controversy in Ontario since September, when they purchased a well by outbidding the small Ontario township of Centre Wellington that was hoping to ensure it had a publicly-owned source of water for itself. The issue led to the province proposing a two-year moratorium on any new or extended water-taking permits in October.
“These are very unique permits,” Mike Nagy, of the environmental group Wellington Water Watchers, said. “This type of pumping was never intended from the permit-to-take-water process. It was never foreseen 30 years ago when the permitting process was put in place that people would take advantage of it, put it in a piece of garbage…and send it around the world for great profits.”
Stephen Scharper, a professor at the University of Toronto’s School of the Environment, believes the price increase is something to celebrate, simply because it shows the public’s concerns on the matter have been taken seriously. However, there is a bigger question that must be issued: is water meant to be a commodity?
“There’s an economic issue here, yes, and if water is being used as a commodity then it should be priced accordingly,” Scharper explained. “But the larger question is whether water for bottling purposes should be for sale at all.”
“If this decision leads to an acceptance of water as a commodity instead of a basic common good, then that might be a problem,” he continued on to say.
Water isn’t meant to be a luxury, it’s meant to be a necessity. “We believe water should be a commons, and we support the government in raising rates insofar as they recover the cost of the permitting system,” noted Robert Case, an assistant professor of social development at the University of Waterloo and treasurer for the Wellington Water Watchers. “But this raises the dangerous perception that water has a price on it—money isn’t going to put any more water back in the watershed.”
There’s also the concern of the waste accumulated as a result of bottled water being put on such a high pedestal. “The industry pumps water out of the ground, and spews out a plastic bottle for every 500 milliliters—we get water, which we can get anyway from public sources, and we’re left with garbage,” noted case.
Nestlé acknowledged the concerns in a statement, saying “In principle, we believe all groundwater users should be treated equally, but we understand and appreciate that opinions differ regarding the rates various water users should pay. Nestlé Waters Canada agrees that water sustainability is non-negotiable and all investments in groundwater research are a positive step toward our shared prosperity and a sustainable future.”
But perhaps the underlying concern is truly the general view of bottled water in its entirety. “We’ve got really clean tap water,” said Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne. “People don’t need bottled water, for the most part, and we’ve got to protect our resource.”
It’s time commercial interest takes a back seat, and hopefully companies like Nestlé are made to acknowledge protecting the water needs of municipalities and First Nations communities is a necessity.
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