Mother Jones Responds to Fiji Water

| Thu Aug. 13, 2009 2:39 PM EDT

Fiji Water spokesman Rob Six has posted a response to our story at the company’s blog. Writer Anna Lenzer replies:

Six’s key points are the same he and other Fiji executives have repeatedly made, and which are reflected in detail in my story: Donating money for water access projects or kindergartens is laudable, and I discuss Fiji’s charitable projects in Fiji (despite numerous requests, Fiji wouldn’t disclose how much it spends on most of these projects). The piece also makes it clear that Fiji Water accounts for significant economic activity in Fiji, and company executives are quoted to that effect.

Six doesn't address the key questions raised in my Mother Jones story, from the polluting background of Fiji Water’s owners past and present, to the company’s decision to funnel assets through tax havens, to its silence on the human rights abuses of the Fijian government. My piece doesn’t argue that Fiji Water actively props up the regime, but that its silence amounts to acquiescence.

"We cannot and will not speak for the government," Six writes. I didn't ask them to speak for the government, I asked them to comment on it. Though Fiji Water casts itself as a progressive, outspoken company in the US, it has a policy of not discussing Fiji’s regime “unless something really affects us,” as Six was quoted in the story.

The regime clearly benefits from the company's global branding campaign characterizing Fiji as a "paradise" where there is "no word for stress." Fiji's tourism agencies use Fiji Water as props in their promotional campaigns, and the company itself has publicized pictures of President Obama drinking Fiji Water. This is a point repeatedly made by international observers, including a UN official who in a recent commentary (titled "Why Obama should stop drinking Fiji water”) called for sanctions on Fiji, and singled out Fiji Water as the one company with enough leverage to force the junta to budge. Yet the most pointed criticism the company has made of the regime was when it opposed a tax as "draconian;" it has never used language like that to refer to the junta's human rights abuses.

It’s worth remembering that there aren’t very many countries ruled by military juntas today, and Americans prefer not to do business with those that are. We don't import Burma Water or Libya Water.

As to Six’ point that the company didn’t know I was in Fiji: I did contact Fiji Water before my trip, and Six mentioned that the company was "thinking about taking a group of journalists to Fiji"; I didn't follow up about joining such a trip. Despite news reports showing that Fiji wouldn’t cooperate with journalists who went there independently, I chose to do so and visited the factory on a public tour. I had planned to speak to Fiji Water’s local representatives, and to visit the surrounding villages, afterward. But it was at that point that I was arrested by Fijian police, interrogated about my plans to write about Fiji Water, and threatened with imprisonment and rape. After that incident, personnel at the US embassy strongly encouraged me not to visit the villages. I did discuss my trip to the islands with Six after I returned, and had extensive correspondence with him on numerous questions, many of which he has not addressed to this day. Here are some issues Fiji Water could address in public:

- Why won't the company disclose the total amount of money that Fiji Water spends on its charity work? Do its charitable contributions come close to matching the 30 percent corporate tax rate it would be paying had it not been granted a tax holiday in Fiji since 1995? 

- Will Fiji Water owners Lynda and Stewart Resnick, who in the company’s PR materials contrast our tap water supply with the “living water” found in their bottles, disclose the full volume of pesticides that their farming and flower companies use every year? Could limiting those inputs create better water here at home?

- Fiji touts its commitments to lighten its plastic bottle (which is twice as heavy as many competitors’) by 20 percent next year, to offset its carbon emissions by 120 percent, and to restore environmentally sensitive areas in Fiji, but its public statements never acknowledge that these projects are, in many cases, still on the drawing board or in the negotiating stages. Why?

Read Six' post after the jump.

Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery are the Co-Editors of Mother Jones. You can follow them on Twitter here and here.
 

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