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.