FIJI Water: Hard to Swallow

fiji water bottled bottle resnick

You may not drink it, but you’ve seen it. It’s that square, artsy plastic bottle with pretty flowers and palms on the label. It’s cool. It’s expensive. It’s FIJI Natural Artesian Water.

Obama drinks it. So does Paris Hilton. And if you missed that, there’s a big marketing campaign explaining just how environmentally friendly buying the water is.

An investigative piece in Mother Jones is challenging that.

The charges are pretty damning:

Nowhere in Fiji Water’s [part of Roll International] glossy marketing materials will you find reference to the typhoid outbreaks that plague Fijians because of the island’s faulty water supplies; [or] of the military junta for which Fiji Water is a major source of global recognition and legitimacy…Half the country has at times relied on emergency water supplies, with rations as low as four gallons a week per family…Patients have reportedly had to cart their own water to hospitals, and schoolchildren complain about their pipes spewing shells, leaves, and frogs…[While] Fiji Water has nearly exclusive access to the aquifer; the notoriously corrupt and chronically broke government has not been able to come up with the money or infrastructure to tap the water for its people…

FIJI is dismissive of the article: “The real irony here is that the reporter suggests that buying FIJI Water somehow legitimises a military dictatorship, when in fact the jobs, revenues, and community projects supported by FIJI Water are strong contributors to growth in the well-being of the Fijian people.”

MJ’s Anna Lenzer, the story’s author, disagrees with that in a follow-up: “A UN official…singled out Fiji Water as the one company with enough leverage to force the junta to budge.”

If the magazine is correct, Fiji’s story is a familiar one, as Sarah Gilbert of DailyFinance points out:

Leafing through the story, I found myself trying to remember where I’d read this tale before; like an old melody at the back of my brain, it hovered, just beyond memory.

Suddenly it came to me: it’s Dole, it’s West Indies Sugar Corporation, it’s the old, old story. A company located in a lush, tropical location with a totalitarian government that welcomes foreign interests with deep pockets. It doesn’t tax them, gives them access to the country’s most precious natural resources, and stands by with heavy artillery in hand, protecting them while they strip the country.

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