While I understand concerns about the economic and environmental implications of banning bottled water on campus, this issue has larger consequences that affect the basic human right to water. Across the globe, millions of people are threatened by water corporations that exploit public sources of water for profit. Large corporations like Coca-Cola and Nestlé extract water, often unlawfully, from local sources, leaving communities without access to the water in their own areas, and then sell it back to them in bottled form for an exorbitant profit. Water privatization has many negative consequences, which include encouraging corruption and leading to lower water quality, job losses, and wasteful spending. Because corporations are accountable to their shareholders and not their consumers, they are under little pressure to respond to these issues. Driven by profit instead concern for people, Coca-Cola operates with no concern for the humanitarian implications of its practices.
In the village of Mehdiganj, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, declining levels of groundwater due to the Coca-Cola plant that opened in 1999 have left the community without access to water. In addition, the plant began to discharge toxic liquids in 2000 that have not only ruined acres of farmland but have also produced numerous health problems, including an increase in cases of malaria. In 2006, thousands of people took to the streets to shout, “shut down Coca-Cola” as part of a three-year opposition to the Coca-Cola plant. These harmful practices are occurring globally, in Bolivia, the Philippines, and even in the United States.
It’s easy enough to not care when we have the privilege of being able to drink the water that comes right out of the tap. The freedom of choosing to buy bottled water is one not granted to most people in the world. Though there is enough safe drinking water for everyone in the world, one in nine people lack access to clean water, and more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence combined, including war. Water privatization contributes to these statistics.
By continuing to sell bottled water products from Coca-Cola, we are continuing to back the profit-driven water market, estimated to be at least $400-billion, that preys on disadvantaged populations. Our decision, along with the 16 other campuses, to stop selling bottled water would send an important message to these businesses that we do not support these gross human rights abuses. Access to clean water is a right that should not just be privileged to the people who can afford it. These communities that are being taken advantage of by billion-dollar corporations do not have the means to fight back. But we do. We have a choice, and I hope the UR campus makes the right one.
Frost is a member of the class of 2013.