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Bottling profit, not altruism

This Magazine Staff

This Thursday is World Water Day, and you may have read the gushing announcement from Starbucks about how the company is planning to donate 5 cents from every bottle of their new Ethos bottled water to “benefit India and Kenya.” Starbucks says its goal is to donate $10 million by 2010 to organizations that “are helping to alleviate the world’s water crisis.”
Now, the irony of selling bottled water in an effort to “save the world’s water” is so ridiculous I don’t even know what to do with this … Okay, for starters, the bottling of water has contributed directly to the crisis that the Starbucks CEOs seem so concerned about.
In India, underground aquifiers have been sucked dry, and locals are forced to buy water back in bottles for their drinking and cooking needs. In the southern state of Kerala, Coke and Pepsi use satellite imagery to locate reservoirs of groundwater and in Plachimada, bottling companies extract up to 1.5 million litres of water every day. All 260-bore wells installed by public authorities have gone dry. As well, the soil, water and air around the plant have become contaminated from a sludge by-product, made up of cadmium and other trace metals.
This same story is being told in community after community, all over the world. For more information on the devastation caused by water bottling companies, check out the Polaris Institute’s Inside the Bottle project.

Now, this is not to mention Starbucks’ less-than-rosy record when it comes to interactions with communities in the Global South. Oxfam recently launched a campaign targeting Starbucks for denying the rights of Ethiopian farmers by attempting to patent the names of indigenous coffee beans: Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe. According to Oxfam, “Starbucks has continually rejected Ethiopia’s requests to resolve the issue, and has refused to sign a royalty-free licensing agreement that would recognize Ethiopia’s right to control how its own coffee names are used.”
There are lots of World Water Day events going on in Canada and around the world on March 22nd, so no need to attend the ones being promoted by Starbucks (where no doubt they will encourage you to buy their branded water to help save the world’s water. Ack.) Here’s where you can find a list of community events all over Canada. And check out the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ World Water Day online action centre here.

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