Water: Basic human right or product that should be privatized?

By: Jennifer Pretty Apr 30, 2013
Peter Brabeck

NGOs- what do you think of them? Extremists who “bang on” about human rights? That’s what Nestlé chairman and former CEO Peter Brabeck said, he dismissed the work of Non-Government Organizations (charities) as “an extreme solution”.

What was this controversy that was so extreme? The argument, which was entirely started by Nestlé, was over whether water was a basic human right or not. Brabeck said there was a “question” over whether water should be privatized or not. To most people it’s not really a question, but to a company looking to sell water as a “foodstuff” it is.

What NGO’s believe is simple – every human being should have access to clean water. What Nestlé believes is also simple – every human being should have access to clean water, at a price.

What Brabeck doesn’t mention is the effect that privatizing water has on poor communities. A book was published on the subject back in 2004, called “The Age of Commodity: Water Privatization in Southern Africa” which described the way that water privatization goes hand-in-hand with corruption in poor countries. It lets the big multi-nationals take advantage of vulnerable people who, after all, can’t very well live without water.

Basically, if you charge people for water, what else are they going to have to sacrifice? Food? Education? Selling water for profit just isn’t ethical and should be considered a basic human right, whatever the corporations might think.

What is Peter Brabeck’s motivation in all this? Is he speaking from the heart or is he just hoping to make a fat profit? The Austrian has been with the company an impressive 45 years now, so his loyalty is unquestioned. But let’s take a look at what Nestlé have done over those 45 years.

In 1974, they sued an author who alleged that they were responsible for infant deaths in developing countries. The allegations went like this, Nestlé aggressively promoted their baby formula, by giving mothers free samples in hospitals and convincing them that it was superior to their breast milk. Once they’d left the hospital, the formula was no longer free, but by then their milk had dried up so they had no other option. Once home, the formula was made with unclean water, given far too sparsely or put into unsterile bottles. The result? Hundreds of babies who should have been breastfed died of malnutrition or dysentery.

These allegations kept popping up throughout the 70s and 80s, despite a WHO code on the marketing of formula in 1981. Nestlé has always denied the claims, but a boycott has been in place since 1977.

Does Peter Brabeck sound like someone who has your best interests at heart? Or someone who works for a company unbothered by human cost?

Click here to view the video of Peter Brabeck speak.


Until next time,

Peace, love and vitamin C!


Jennifer Pretty began her career as the director of artist development for a well-known Canadian music label. Branching out on her own, she then started her own PR business “Pretty Media Management” planning and hosting various charity, entertainment and fashion events. As a dance and fitness class enthusiast Jennifer is a firm believer in the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. She also loves to cook, travel, spend time with family and friends and most importantly living life to the fullest!