BOTTLED LIFE - Statements by Nestlé and our response

Upon release of our film "Bottled Life" in January 2012, Nestlé posted the following web page via Nestlé Waters, the corporate water division page Internet.

On this web page, Nestlé states its position on the film. The corporation phrases the questions and provides its own answers. On the internet, this Nestlé page is quite difficult to find. Nonetheless, as the responsible film production company, we at DokLab would like to respond to this publication. In the following text, the Q&A by Nestlé is shown in italics. We have numbered the segments. Our comments are shown in red type.

Nestlé No.  Nestlé is always open to participate in discussions and projects that are objective and allow us to convey our position and our activities in a clear manner.  Nestlé was not convinced that this would be the case with the film, Bottled Life. We have nothing to hide.  Nestlé is a responsible company that is committed to compliance with all laws and regulations related to our business, including water use, consumer communication and codes of business conduct.

DokLab Nestlé confirms its refusal of discussion on the pretense of wanting to protect the corporation and its staff from unfair representation in the film. We have the impression that Nestlé dodged discussion in order to evade unpleasant questions.

Nestlé No.  Nestlé is always open to participate in discussions and projects that are objective and allow us to convey our position and our activities in a clear manner.  Nestlé was not convinced that this would be the case with the film, Bottled Life. We have nothing to hide.  Nestlé is a responsible company that is committed to compliance with all laws and regulations related to our business, including water use, consumer communication and codes of business conduct.

DokLab "The wrong film at the wrong time" was the characterization voiced by a member of the Nestlé executive management in conversation with the authors. But Nestlé is still attempting to create the impression of pursuing a policy of open communication. Fact is that Nestlé not only refused any discussion with respect to "Bottled Life", but also in relation to the US-made film "Tapped", a publication also dealing with the problematic nature of bottled water.

Nestlé The Jarar Valley pipeline project was a project initiated and lead by the UNHCR to improve the access of clean water to refugees living in the Kebribeyah camp. Nestlé was one of the early donors for this project, a donation also supported by the provision of technical expertise in a site visit in 2004. A second site visit had been planned for 2005, but due to rising security concerns in the region this second mission was cancelled. As the video mentions, the UNHCR were to mobilize other donors to take over the support for the project, with the overall objective being to hand the management of the pipeline over to the Ethiopian authorities. Today the pipeline is part of the Jarrar Valley Water Supply System and in 2010 the UNHCR further expanded the project by supporting the extension of the electricity grid to Jarrar Valley, thus improving both the capacity and the reliability of the Water Supply System.

DokLab Nestlé admits that financial support was discontinued in 2005. The corporation eloquently confirms our statements in the film, but makes no reference to the accusation of unfair advertizing practices with the project (to this day on the Nestlé homepage, Peter Brabeck claims credit for sustainable activities in the Jarrar Valley).

Nestlé No. Bottled water does not compete with or replace tap water as the primary source of drinking water in any country.  It is a player in the packaged beverage market where we offer a healthy hydration alternative to consumers drinking other types of beverages. Consumers choose to buy our products for their constant taste, Nestlé quality guarantee, convenience, and healthy hydration benefits.   Nestlé believes that all citizens should have sustainable access to water that is of sufficient quality and quantity, particularly for their daily hydration, cooking and hygiene needs.   Over three-quarters of our volumes in 2010 were sold in Europe and North America, which also have the most developed, safe and efficient water supply systems in the world.

DokLab Is Nestlé concluding here that the sale of bottled water in developing countries is unjustifiable from an "ethical viewpoint"? Or is the answer simply missing the question? "Bottled Life" shows how in a Pakistani village, the people are suffering from exposure to drinking water of poor quality, whilst in the factory just next door, Nestlé is producing "Pure Life", drawing the water from a deep well. Hardly a dweller in this village can afford "Pure Life". For the average wage in Pakistan, the so-called "healthy alternative" is prohibitively expensive.

Nestlé No. Bottled water is part of the packaged beverage market and is not in competition with public water supplies.  Like all industries and consumers, we also rely on the safety of public water supplies as Nestlé and Nestlé Waters may be a customer of public water supplies.  We therefore support policies that are fair for all water users and promote water safety and sustainability.

DokLab There is no simple "yes" or "no" answer to question 5. At no point does the film assert that Nestlé is obstructing governments from investing in water infrastructure. It does however address the highly complex relationships, prevailing for around two decades, between private and public offerings of drinking water. And the film maintains that deficiencies in public water supplies are at any rate not harmful to Nestlé's water business.

Nestlé No. We are a very small water user.  Nestlé uses just 0.005% of global freshwater withdrawals and Nestlé Waters uses just 0.0009% compared to 70% used by agriculture.

DokLab Nestlé certainly does control water resources, even if the relevant percentage may appear small against worldwide consumption. The decisive factor is the volume of water that Nestlé pumps out of the individual regions for its profit-oriented activities. Fact is that Nestlé controls significant springs or parts of groundwater flow, although neighboring communities would prefer to retain public ownership. In this context, the film "Bottled Life" selected only a few examples in the state of Maine. The list, alone in the USA, can be extended at will.

Nestlé No.  The price of a bottle of water is similar to that of other packaged beverages as it incurs similar costs linked to production, quality assurance, bottling, storage and distribution.  While the detailed price structure of our products is confidential, it is possible to provide a loose overview of the costs incurred by packaged beverages: one-third can be attributed to water and raw materials, one-third to production and one-third to distribution.

DokLab Here, Nestlé eloquently eludes its own question. Fact is that as landowner, Nestlé gets the water as a totally complimentary commodity and can pump it off free of any charge. This applies not only to US deals, but also for those, for example, in Pakistan or Nigeria.

Nestlé No. Nestlé Waters is committed to managing the water resources we operate around the world in a responsible manner.  For example, the Sheikhupura factory in Pakistan close to the village of Bhati Dilwan operates two deep wells for its bottling activity. Both wells are equipped with the instrumentation necessary to monitor the key hydrodynamic parameters (including flow rate and water level) on a continuous basis.  This extensive monitoring allows us to identify any risks and to take immediate action to mitigate them to avoid negatively impacting the local aquifer system.

DokLab In Sheikupura, Nestlé is extracting water from two deep wells and selling it at a high profit. The population there has no means to draw its own drinking water from wells of this kind. In the past years, receding groundwater levels have become a fact of alarming magnitude. The extent, to which Nestlé with its two deep wells is contributing to this decline, is known only to the corporation itself. In order to expand its production of bottled water in Sheikupura, Nestlé was subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment in 2007. The report required subsequent amendments. However, Nestlé never published the amended document. Why not?

Nestlé Groundwater in the Lahore region is primarily used for irrigation in the agricultural sector but also for industrial purposes and municipal water supply.  At the Sheikhupura factory Nestlé Waters operates just two wells compared to the estimated 680,000 wells operated by other water users in the Indus Basin aquifer.

DokLab The 680,000 wells mentioned by Nestlé are spread across the vast Indus basin, one of the granaries of the Asian continent. With regard to receding groundwater levels, "Bottled Life" however explicitly refers to one region around Sheikupura.

Nestlé No, we would like to correct this statement.  The people from the said village (near the Sheikhupura factory) did not ask for access to the deep well we use, what they asked for was the company’s help to provide clean drinking water to this village. As part of an ongoing programme, Nestlé installed two water filtration plants catering for clean water provision to a population of more than 10,000 people in the Sheikhupura region where Bhati Dilwan is one of the many villages. (The first plant is installed in the nearby hospital and the other in a school close to the Nestle factory). Another water filtration plant is planned in the Bhati Dilwan community in 2012 (right behind the Sheikupura factory); it has been announced and the necessary work of land marking, etc. has started.  Additionally Nestlé has also built new blocks for two secondary schools (one for boys and one for girls) in Bhatti Dhilwan. 

DokLab Fact is that Nestlé did not respond to the petition filed by the village population with regard to better drinking water. Our own on-site research revealed this in spring of 2009. Nestlé now maintains that "a water filtration system for the village is planned for 2012". Could it be that our film prompted the change of heart for the Nestlé managers?

Nestlé No. Nestle uses far less water than Maine’s agricultural activities. Poland Spring’s water use represents less than 1% of all the groundwater water used in Maine each year.  This amount is based on industries required to report water usage. Poland Spring’s actual share is even lower because bottled water is one of the few industries required to report its water use.  For more information on Maine water usage, please see the 2009 Annual Report of the Maine Water Resources Planning Committee at

DokLab The film states verbatim: "In Maine, Nestlé pumps about as much water as that used by the entire agricultural sector throughout the state. That's around three billion liters a year." On the homepage of its Poland Spring brand, Nestlé itself has published data according to which in 2006 the corporation used more water in Maine than the agricultural sector. A comparison of the two consumptions is legitimate.

Nestlé No. Nestlé’s goal is to bring meaningful benefits to each community through our presence, and create shared value that earns respect and trust. Through sponsorships, donations, and volunteering, we support causes and organizations that are important to local communities. The company creates shared value by creating good jobs and paying taxes that diversify the local economy, as well as through environmental stewardship, giving back and getting involved. The company has a long history, dating back decades, of giving back to local communities as part of our Good Neighbor Policy.

DokLab In the USA, some people welcome the donations by Nestlé, others rather regard these corporate activities as cheap propaganda, if not even as attempted corruption. "Bottled Life" lets both sides voice their opinions.

Nestlé No. The Fryeburg Planning Board approved Nestlé Waters North America/Poland Spring’s application for approval of its load-out facility but a small group of opponents filed an appeal.  The anti-Nestlé Waters North America appellants made eight separate arguments that their due process rights had been violated by Fryeburg’s Planning Board.  In each instance, the Board of Appeals explicitly found that there was no undue process violation.  (See the Fryeburg Board of Appeals decision dated January 27, 2006) The Maine Law Court upheld the Planning Board’s original decision to approve the water station.

DokLab Fact is that on January 27, 2006, the Fryeburg Zoning Board of Appeals turned down the permit issued to Nestlé by the Fryeburg planning authorities. Nestlé only won the dispute before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, deploying a massive contingent of lawyers with corresponding funding, thus exceeding by far the means of local opponents. Nestlé also engaged in proceedings before supreme courts in other federal states. The corporation won in most cases. In Michigan, following a year-long dispute, a settlement was reached, arousing considerable public attention.

Nestlé No. Ordinances are drafted by the town’s attorney and go through a public review process.  Select Board meetings are open for comment from the public and from stakeholders.  All of Poland Spring/Nestlé Waters North America’s comments on water ordinances are made transparently and publicly on the record via this process.

DokLab Here, one statement contradicts the other. Former members of the Shapleigh and Newfield Planning Boards, for example, have a different view of affairs.

Nestlé No. The people in Shapleigh did have the ultimate say as to whether Nestlé Waters North America could even test for water in their town. Beginning in early 2008, Poland Spring held four public information meetings at the Shapleigh Memorial School to answer questions and describe how the locally controlled process might work, and to provide information about the aquifer and the company so the public could consider whether to grant Poland Spring permission to test the town-owned site.

DokLab When Nestlé started to stage information events in 2008, the exploratory drillings in the nature reserve had taken place long before (2006 and 2007). By coincidence, hikers had discovered the drill pipes left in the woods at the time.

Nestlé No.  Nestlé Waters North America develops appropriate water resources in accordance with regulatory controls and with sound scientific methods.  These water resources support the health and growth of the business, and our use of groundwater at any one site does not compromise the health of the aquifer.   We do not site proposed water withdrawal projects according to the strength or weakness of local ordinances or logistical convenience, but rather to the occurrence of high quality spring water, which is a function of regional geology.  In fact, Poland Spring decided not to go forward in Shapleigh because the quantity of water available was insufficient to support development of a spring water source.

DokLab Fact is that the population was opposed to Nestlé's activities in the nature reserve. Subsequently, in their community bylaws, the village meetings of Shapleigh and Newfield declared water to be a fundamental right.

Nestlé No. The origins of bottled water can be traced back to the earliest civilisations and the spa movement in Europe and the Americas, long before marketing was even invented. Indeed at Nestlé Waters, some of our brands have been bottled for over 100 years: Perrier has been bottled since 1863, Poland Spring since 1845 and Sao Lourenco since 1890.  Bottled water still has its place in today’s society in which lifestyles are increasingly on-the-go: consumers choose to buy bottled water products because they appreciate the fact that they are convenient and portable, have a constant taste, don’t contain calories, and come with the Nestlé quality guarantee.  To empower consumers to exercise their right to informed choice and promote healthier diets, Nestlé Waters is committed to responsible, reliable consumer communication on our products.  We operate in a highly competitive industry, where marketing of our products is necessary to differentiate our brands from those of our competitors.  Consumer communication and marketing are also the opportunity to raise consumer awareness about the advantages of drinking water as part of a healthy lifestyle, the specific natural origins of many of them, as well as the importance of recycling.

DokLab In the Western world, bottled water is not a prerequisite "to promote a more healthy nutrition". Tap water is completely sufficient. More on this topic at Food and Water Watch.

Nestlé No. Nestlé Waters’ business is based on compliance with the Nestlé Corporate Business Principles which guide our work with, amongst others, consumers, human rights, our people, suppliers and the environment.  Our business is also in compliance with all local laws and regulations related to our activities.  Beyond this, Nestlé Waters respects the strict internal standards and guidelines pertaining to water resource management and protection to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the water resources we operate.

DokLab Astonishingly, legislation regarding the utilization of groundwater in Maine/USA was for years almost as sketchy as that in Pakistan or Nigeria. In Pakistan and Nigeria, the countries we visited, the statutory framework for groundwater usage remains practically non-existent.