Amidst the fast and furious tweets of often contradictory information regarding the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber, this little gem caught my eye: "Nestlé CEO wants to privatize water". Now at first I thought that the headline was merely a grabber to talk about the booming bottled water industry, but then I watched the video and realized, no this guy really thinks that it is a great virtue to be able to privatize water in the future.
Activists accuse Nestlé, the leading seller of bottled water – which accounted for nearly 8% of its total 2011 sales of 83.6bn Swiss francs (£58bn) – of being more interested in lining its own pockets through a back-door privatisation of countries' water supplies, than in saving the planet.
Last year, a documentary film, Bottled Life, accused Nestlé of extracting ground water for its bottled brands at the expense of local communities, often in poor countries. While the company refused to take part in the film, it did post online a rebuttal of the allegations.
Brabeck, in combative mood, responds that it is important to be less emotional and more analytical about the issues, although he acknowledges that pressure from civil society groups forced Nestlé to recognise that a company cannot create value for its shareholders if it doesn't create value for society in parallel.
"The fact is they [activists] are talking first of all only about the smallest part of the water usage," he says. "I am the first one to say water is a human right. This human right is the five litres of water we need for our daily hydration and the 25 litres we need for minimum hygiene.
"This amount of water is the primary responsibility of every government to make available to every citizen of this world, but this amount of water accounts for 1.5% of the total water which is for all human usage.
"Where I have an issue is that the 98.5% of the water we are using, which is for everything else, is not a human right and because we treat it as one, we are using it in an irresponsible manner, although it is the most precious resource we have. Why? Because we don't want to give any value to this water. And we know very well that if something doesn't have a value, it's human behaviour that we use it in an irresponsible manner.
"If you look back to when I was born, there were 2.7 billion people and we were not even using 40% of the renewable water, but by seven billion we are already over-using it and if we are going to be up to 10 billion [people], we have to change our relationship with this resource."
If the challenge of water scarcity is to be met, Brabeck says all players in society need to become more effective. Businesses that recognise the scale of the problem have to put pressure on others to act and the thousands of active NGOs need to start working together to create change, rather than each pushing their own particular agendas. Brabeck warns businesses not to hide behind a philanthropic agenda but to build water stewardship into the heart of their business strategies.
There's no question that global climate change and the population boom has resulted in vital resources like water being in short supply. But listen to this guy fly his Ayn Rand freak flag and ask yourself, does this sound like he's interested in protecting a resource for impoverished populations or looking to make a buck?
It’s a question of whether we should privatize the normal water supply for the population. And there are two different opinions on the matter. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution. And the other view says that water is a foodstuff, like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value. Personally, I believe it’s better to give foodstuff a value so that we’re all aware that it has its price and then that one should take specific measures for the part of the population that has no access to this water, and there are many different possibilities there.
I’m still of the opinion that the biggest social responsibility of any CEO is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise. For only if we can ensure our continued, long-term existence will we be in the position to actively participate in the solution of the problems that exist in the world. We’re in the position of being able to create jobs: 275,000 here, 1.2 million who are directly dependent on us in principle. That makes 4.5 million worldwide, because behind each of our employees are another three people, so we have at least 4.5 million people who are directly dependent on us.
If you want to create work, you have to work yourself, not as it was in the past where existing work was distributed. If you remember the main argument for the 35-hour week was that there was a certain amount of work and it would be better if we worked less and distributed the work amongst more people. That has proved quite clearly to be wrong. If you want to create more work you have to work more yourself. And with that we’ve got to create a positive image of the world for people and I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be positive about the future. We’ve never had it so good; we’ve never had so much money, we’ve never been so healthy, we’ve never lived as long as we do today. We have everything we want and still we go around as if we were in mourning for something.
The arrogance and hubris of this man is exactly why his solutions will never truly answer the real problems.