Another town says no to Nestlé

March 18, 2009

Jamilla El-Shafei, co-founder and organizer of Save Our Water in Maine, reports on a new development in the battle against multinational giant Nestlé.

NEWFIELD, Maine--Residents here voted March 14 for a rights-based water extraction ordinance that effectively prohibits Nestlé Corp., owner of the Poland Springs label, from extracting groundwater to fill their water bottles. The vote passed 228 to 146.

Two weeks ago, citizens in the nearby town of Shapleigh also voted to approve the same type of ordinance, which rejected what some consider a corporate assault by the largest food and beverage conglomerate in the world.

The ordinance affirms the right to self-government at the municipal level by requiring that corporate entities wishing to conduct business in the municipality defer to the will of the people.

Essentially, the new law strips corporations of their status of "personhood," which they obtained in 1886 by a judge's ruling, thus also denying them the right to challenge or nullify the ordinance--a strategy that countless corporations have used to dilute or block pro-environment and other pro-worker measures.

The battle to take local control of groundwater resources began last year when resident Ann Wentworth was hiking in the Vernon Walker Wildlife Preserve and discovered that the Nestlé had (illegally) drilled "test wells" without notifying the townspeople.

What you can do

For more information on the fight in Maine and the rights-based ordinance passed in several towns, visit the Save Our Water Web site. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund Web site also has information about organizing strategies for communities challenging corporate power.

Maine activists will be featured in an upcoming documentary by Atlas Films titled Tapped, by Atlas Films, which examines the role of the bottled water industry and its effects on health, climate change, pollution and reliance on oil.

The wildlife preserve had been given to the state of Maine with the condition that it was to be preserved as part of "the commons" for residents of Shapleigh and Newfield to enjoy in perpetuity. Nowhere in the preserve's charter did it say that the state of Maine could sell the water to a corporation.

Maine is one of only two states that have the "Absolute Dominion" law, which says that what is under the ground belongs to the property owner. The state of Maine is supposed to act as a trustee and steward of the land for the residents.

Coincidently, the brother of Maine Gov. John Baldacci worked as an attorney for Nestlé/Poland Springs bottling company, until a public outcry "encouraged" him to resign.

The entanglement of the state and Nestlé is not new, but what is new is that activists and citizens alike have thrown down the gauntlet and declared, "Water is for life and not for profit."

To quote Maude Barlow, the UN Advisor on Water and author of the book Blue Gold, "Under the current model of globalization, everything is for sale. Areas once considered our common heritage are being commodified, commercialized and privatized at an alarming rate. The assault on, and defense of, the commons is one of the great ideological social struggles of our times."

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