Monday, August 24, 2009

Truth About Fiji Water

Do you know Fiji, that brand of fancy, pricey bottled water that you sometimes see in convenience stores? I've drunk a bottle or two in my day, but I never really spent much time thinking about Fiji Water. When I did, I guess I associated the brand with a tropical paradise and beaches with clear blue water. Fiji's popularity among celebrities has made it the US's #1 imported bottled water, and apparently the brand has to some extent insulated itself from the green backlash against bottled water by tauting itself as an eco-friendly business. But last week I read a damning expose in Mother Jones which has forever changed my opinion of the brand.

Is Fiji Water Green?

No. According to the article, Fiji Water imports the plastic for its bottles from China, and its bottling plant runs on diesel generators. A lot of the green initiatives that the company credits itself with have yet to be implemented. The article also points out that -- you know -- having your water shipped to you from halfway across the world is not such a green choice.

Is Fiji Water Socially Conscious?

Fiji Water also likes to publicize its charitable donations, especially its contributions to bettering the lives of Fijians. Mother Jones points out that the company does not release the exact figures of how much it gives to charity, but forget about that... I was more struck by the fact that, whereas Fiji Water comes from a pristine aquifer that was discovered in the early '90s, many Fijians do not have access to clean drinking water and as a result outbreaks of diseases like typhoid are common. The company purchased a 99-year lease to the land over the aquifer and almost no one else has tapped into this source.

And did you know that Fiji is ruled by a military dictatorship that has suspended freedom of the press and committed human rights violations? Fiji Water has a very close relationship with the island chain's government: the foreign-owned company represents 3% of the nation's GDP, and it enjoys favorable tax treatment. In return, the company of course keeps its mouth shut about any government oppression. The article notes that when Fiji's government attempted to levy an additional tax on the bottling company, Fiji Water condemned the measure as "draconian" and temporarily closed down its plant in protest, but they haven't reacted similarly to measures infringing on the human rights of the people of Fiji.

Fiji's government actually loves Fiji Water and it loves being associated with the company given that some of the world famous brand's goodwill and coolness rubs off on the island nation. When Anne Lenzer, the journalist who wrote the article for Mother Jones, travelled to Fiji to investigate the company, she was arrested and questioned by police. In addition to complaining about her seditious activity (reporting abroad on the junta's crackdown via email), the police also accused her of being sent by a rival water company (Kentwood? Poland Springs?) to tarnish Fiji Water's image.


When I think of Fiji Water the first person who comes to mind is my friend Nicole. She has been drinking Fiji for like ten years (trendsetter!). We used to joke about how she was broke and her car was busted, but she'd have on designer sunglasses and be sipping $4 bottles of water. When I forwarded her the link to this article her reaction was "OMG, I had no idea! I am never buying Fiji Water again!" Neither will I.

Image: photo taken from piecesofflair blog.


FIJI said...

As President of FIJI Water, I encourage readers to read our response to the article, which we have posted on our blog: I also encourage readers to post any questions they might have on our blog, where all reasonable queries will be responded to by employee representatives.

We strongly disagree with the author’s premise that because we are in business in Fiji that somehow legitimizes a military dictatorship. We bought FIJI Water in November 2004, when Fiji was governed by a democratically elected government. FIJI Water does not nor will ever actively support the government of the day. The government does not speak for us and we cannot and will not speak for the government. What we can do is try to help the socio-economic development of Fiji as much as we can by running a world-class company that provides much-needed jobs, health care, education, and clean drinking water to the people who live in the villages surrounding our company and the greater community of Fiji.

John Cochran
President, FIJI Water

Jessie Wong - Superhero said...

You spoke truth to power and power heard you and responded (pretty lamely, but still), that's cool.

Meeg said...

Yeah. Maybe connecting Fiji Water to the military dictatorship is going a bit too far. But does it get much more exploitative then bottling, commercializing and exporting pristene water while 1/3the people of Fiji don't have access to clean drinking water. And there was a big outbreak of typhoid there earlier this year.

And sure, Fiji Water isn't actually trudgeoning political dissidents, but it's also pretty clear they don't give a shit.

bathmate said...

very useful blog.


Jacob said...

The main issue I have here is with the privatization of a local resource which native inhabitants of Fiji desperately need to surrvive. As they do not have an adequate clean water supply and spreading illnesses because of it.

You may say that every bottled water company which uses a natural resource for its water is privatizing a source belonging to the people of th land. However, this case is much different from water companies which get their water form mountains, springs and glaciers far from inhabited lands, or where the people do have a clean supply of water from other sources. Regardless of what the government of Fiji is, was, or will be, this operation deprives Fijans of their indigenous resources, causing suffering of the nation at the hands of greedy corporate moguls. Do you measure "social reponsibiliy" by an international company's relationship to foreign governments, or to the citizens affected by their business operations?

ryan0mega said...

So what am I supposed to do with my remaining 12 bottles of Fiji water? I might use them for a fish tank. Or drink them.

Shannon said...

It makes me sick that the owners of Fiji water (Stewart and Lynda Resnick) would be so greedy as to infringe on the rights of the Fijian people and deprive them of their own water supply for personal gain! especially when they also own many other profitable companies such as POM juice which made over 91 million dollars in 2006!! when is enough for these people??? also, Lynda continously brags about how "young hollywood" cant make it through the day without her 4 dollar a bottle water and she strives to have Fiji water brand publicized at every political or prestigious hollywood event in America!! its like get over yourself you selfish disgusting American!! how do you even sleep at night! i have already e mailed Lynda Resnick a couple years back with my concerns and she replied personally to me and snobbishly ended her e mail stating she was on a "holiday with her husband in Europe" and proceeded to pawn me off to one of her employee's for furhter assistance providing me with a B.S fact sheet that has been continually disproved by American jornalists who have traveled to Fiji and done the foot work!

tess said...

Eff the Fiji water company! Ppl need to STOP DRINKING that water...

HuggsX3 said...

Don't worry Fiji Water. I am writing a page about you, and I will not claim that you are a military dictatorship, or are against and human rights. :) Some people are just a tad bit irrational and extreme. :p

rhettnis said...

I bought a bottle of fiji today for the first time. I read the label and thought to myself that this is a lie and it's probably some kind of tap water. To my surprise it was no lie. Also to my surprise was this article. Yes it's sad this people don't have access to clean water. Thats not this companies fault. They're in the business of making money not giving it away. You say the country is getting so much money from this company and people are dieing from lack of clean water. I'm sure the country could get a good discount on a few bottles if they wanted to save lives. I think that I could care less about they're being green or not. I'm pretty sure the global warming fad is over. Lastly if any of you people care, I mean really care send your money to the people of fiji instead of boycotting. If your boycotting and not sending money your doing less than you were before you read an article full of more questions than answer about the "big evil fiji water company". Have a great night people. I know I will b/c i'm soaking in my bath tub which I filled with refreshing bottles of crisp clean Fiji Water.

Unknown said...