Is Fiji Water Pure Evil?

It might not be as silly as it sounds

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There's a rising buzz around Anna Lenzer's blockbuster report  in Mother Jones magazine about Fiji Water. The bottled water company with a hip, green image is in fact, according to Lenzer's extensive investigative reporting, a force for considerable harm. The charge that bottled water is wasteful is nothing new. Here are the charges that are:

  • "The military junta for which Fiji Water is a major source of global recognition and legitimacy," and which is an oppressive, if not exactly totalitarian, regime.
  • Shady financial dealings inferred from "the corporate entities that Fiji Water has—despite the owners' talk of financial transparency—set up in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg."
  • The company's "nearly exclusive" access to the aquifer that could otherwise help reduce the "typhoid outbreaks that plague Fijians because of the island's faulty water supplies."

Perhaps the most damning charge is implied when the reporter is arrested, bullied, and threatened by Fijian police mere minutes after sending e-mails critical of Fiji Water from a local internet cafe. The implication, further suggested by Lenzer's point that Fiji Water has never paid the government any taxes, is that the notorious Fijian government may act--sometimes violently--on behalf of the water company. Of course, neither Lenzer nor Mother Jones seem predisposed to pull punches, so there's probably a good reason this is only implied and not state outright.

Industry Defense  Asked to respond to the report, Tom Lauria of the International Bottled Water Association, of which Fiji Water is not a member, pointed out that only about 2% of bottled water in the US is imported. Lauria compared bottled water favorably to soft drinks and beer, which spend far more on advertising and are, of course, less healthy.

Fiji Water's Defense  Fiji Water spokesman Rob Six defended the company. Six pointed out that the company formed when Fiji's was a democracy, arguing that the company does not "legitimize" the current government but serves the country in spite of it by working to "address the underserved areas of Fiji’s development." He details "our investment in Fiji", citing their "critical role in flood relief in Fiji, renovation of schools, and bringing much needed health care to rural villages." He concludes:

Had we known [the reporter] was in Fiji, we would have been happy to escort her to any one of the 75 villages who have been a beneficiary of a clean water project sponsored by FIJI Water this year alone.  She could have visited one of the villages surrounding our plant to visit a kindergarten that was recently built or to meet a local Fijian who received a life-saving corrective heart surgery by a physician we brought to the island.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.