of Fiji Water, as detailed in a startling investigative piece in Mother
Jones magazine this month, seems familiar. Leafing through the story, I
found myself trying to remember where I'd read this tale before; like an old
melody at the back of my brain, it hovered, just beyond memory.
Suddenly it came to me: it's Dole, it's United Fruit, it's West Indies Sugar
Corporation, it's the old, old story. A company located in a lush, tropical
location with a totalitarian government that welcomes foreign interests with
deep pockets. It doesn't tax them, gives them access to the country's most
precious natural resources, and stands by with heavy artillery in hand,
protecting them while they strip the country.
Meanwhile, the country's citizens struggle with terrible poverty, hunger
and squalid conditions. The only part of the story that Fiji Water has not
yet repeated is the inevitable depletion of the resource -- in this case,
a 17-mile-long aquifer to which Fiji Water has "near-exclusive
access" -- and the subsequent abandonment of the country.
What makes this story so difficult to swallow is how eagerly the U.S.
seems to have embraced Fiji's co-owners Stewart and Lynda Resnick. On
this side of the Pacific, the pair cheerfully line the pockets of any
political figure in sight (they supported both McCain and Obama in the
past election) while selling Fiji's best, cleanest water at a huge
profit. On the other side of the ocean, the people of Fiji suffer under
terrible water conditions that have led to outbreaks of typhoid and
It appears that America adores the Resnicks: Lynda brags that she knows
"everyone in the world, every mogul, every movie star." These
relationships have proven handy, as the Resnicks have reaped $1.5
million a year in water subsidies for their almond, pistachio and
pomegranate crops in the U.S.
The Resnicks and their Paramount Farms and Paramount Citrus could use the
water to irrigate their fields (which are already subsidized by the
government), or they could sell it to municipalities. According to
critics, the Resnicks are "trying to 'game' the water market the way
Enron gamed the energy market."
So the Resnicks are not known for their even-handedness with politicians
or water, and their practices in the U.S. are not the greenest of all
possible greens. In fact, they could share responsibility for many of
our environmental woes. They could have a hand in California's future
water shortages, during which they could profit gloriously. All the
while, they are loudly and proudly marketing Fiji Water as the most
environmentally friendly bottled water company in the world.
This, of course, is not saying much. Bottled water is notorious for its
position in top five lists of "what not to do" for the planet.
One day, future civilizations will look back on this decade and wonder
in disbelief why it was that we pumped water out of one part of the
planet, encased it in plastic, then encased it again for shipping, and
spent many many non-renewable resources to bring it to another part of
the planet where clean water was already plentiful. It's patently
The story is disturbing because of the truths it tells us about
ourselves and our society. It's not just the water thing. It's the
marketing. Lynda Resnick has been repeatedly described as a marketing
genius for her ability to transform Fiji Water into a must-have
accessory for environmentally-conscious celebrities and politicians,
despite its heavy use of plastic and questionable commitment to
environmentally sustainable practices. And oh, we are drinking the
marketing at far greater rates than we are drinking the water. Our
celebrities both enormous (Obama, Paris, and their ilk) and minor (the
geekarati at the SXSW festival) can't live without it. So neither can
we. Whatever celebrities sell us? YUM. Damn the consequences.
It's troubling, at the end of the story, that the company is not, as Anna
Lenzer writes in her follow-up to the story (after Fiji Water
spokesman Rob Six defended
his company) doing anything about the military junta now controlling
Fiji. "A UN official . . . in a recent commentary . . . singled out
Fiji Water as the one company with enough leverage to force the junta to