Monday, August 04, 2014

The Fight Nestlé Never Expected

Fryeburg, Maine residents pour out bottled water in protest of Poland Spring diverting the town's aquifer
When Nestlé subsidiary Poland Spring came to the tiny town of Fryeburg, Maine, USA nearly a decade ago, residents noticed that their water was vanishing. Lake levels were lowering. Streams were getting smaller. Nestlé was pumping the aquifer under their town for all it could get.

A battle over corporate privatization of our natural water resources

When the citizens of Fryeburg spoke up, Nestlé unleashed an aggressive, divide-and-conquer strategy. It sued the town, nearly bankrupting several local activists. It worked to ensure that local regulatory boards were friendly to its position and it took its case all the way to the state Supreme Court. But Nestlé also set up a Poland Spring shop for local outreach, and established the Fryeburg Business Association -- staffed by a Nestlé employee -- to lead a charm offensive. Local schools even have a bottled water vending machine and Nestlé hands out bottles of water to people in the town.

That’s right – a town sitting atop one of America’s most famous aquifers is being sold its own water... in plastic bottles. Nestlé is boldly planting a story -- telling the residents, even the children, of Fryeburg to get used to drinking their own spring water through Nestlé’s plastic bottles.

But we have a different story to tell and we need your help. We’ve been speaking with local activists -- the Friends of the Fryeburg Water District -- and they say that it’s vital we restore local residents’ sense of pride and ownership of their water resources.

That’s why we’re raising money to buy public drinking fountains for the town specifically designed to fill up reusable water bottles. We’ll also supply local residents with their own Fryeburg-branded water bottles, to take pride in the fight they’ve waged and send a clear message to Nestlé: We don’t want your bottled water.

Chip in today to buy water bottles and public drinking fountains for the Fryeburg school and town!

Nestlé has planted its presence in Fryeburg and its schools because it wants the local children to grow up assuming their local water should come in plastic bottles. To teach them that it comes from Nestlé, not from the tap. But imagine if the residents of Fryeburg had their customized water bottles, which they filled up directly from their local springs. Above each of the “hydration stations” will be a plaque with information and an inspirational quote about their natural spring water.

Each day, the kids tote their water bottles to school, and every time they fill them up it gives them a sense of pride in their natural spring water, reinforcing that they don’t have to depend on Nestlé for their water.

After a long battle with Nestlé, the townsfolk are exhausted. Many people took out first or second mortgages on their home during the long legal battle. Their muscles tense up every time they see a tanker truck rumble down their quiet roads, but they have always been playing defense.

But after a couple of dramatic shake-ups, the citizens of Fryeburg are starting to have hope again. In the biggest victory, the Fryeburg Water District resigned en masse after being hounded over conflict of interest, opening up the election to locals who want control of their water. The movement is energized, and if we can help give it these very visible, public markers of success, people can take even greater pride in their pristine local resource, and second-guess Nestlé's attempts to colonize the town.

Chip in today to show Nestlé that water is a public right!

Fryeburg isn’t the only fight, but right now it’s on the front lines of the battle over corporate privatization of our natural water resources. Fryeburg is the testing ground for Nestlé's goal of water rights’ contracts that will last for generations. And we’re pushing back.

Around the world Nestlé is trying to buy water out from under local people, purchasing it at a fraction of the price that it's worth, and making outrageous profits. Bottled water companies create massive pollution and run campaigns to make people suspicious of tap water. They also try to tell their own story -- that public resources should be privatized and owned by multinational corporations.

Nestlé's Chairman of the Board famously declared that the idea that human beings have a right to water was an "extreme" solution. Instead, Nestlé thinks that water should be priced and sold on the open market -- in reality, it means that Nestlé should be able to buy up a town's water rights and make billions in profits. Nestlé has shown that it will do whatever it can get away with, from causing local wells to run dry in Pakistan to pumping out millions of gallons during drought conditions in Canada and California.

We are all actors in this Story, and we're not going to let corporations like Nestlé write the script. Nestlé wants to reduce the world to things that can be bought and sold, so that it can muscle in on small towns and force them into terrible long-term contracts. But we are not just lone individuals. We are friends, neighbors, and citizens united by our desire for a better world for ourselves and for future generations. Acting together, we can show Nestlé that water is a human right, not a private good, and help support local water resources.

Chip in today to buy water bottles and public drinking fountains for the Fryeburg school and town!

Thank you,

-Claiborne, Michael, Annie, Allison and the rest of us at the Story of Stuff.

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