Field of Science

Drink FIJI Water and support military dictatorship

How do we decide who we trust? When someone writes an article telling a mean story about someone else, how are we to know if this is the truth?

FIJI Water is doing very well, in part by promoting itself as Carbon negative, by boasting of various good deeds (e.g. permanently protecting a UNESCO World Heritage site and its rain forest from logging), and by being consumed by many famous people, such as Obama, Paris Hilton, and Mary J. Blige. At the same time the water really comes from Fiji, which is ruled by a military junta, and where many people ironically don't have access to clean water.
If you drink bottled water, you've probably drunk Fiji. Or wanted to. Even though it's shipped from the opposite end of the globe, even though it retails for nearly three times as much as your basic supermarket water, Fiji is now America's leading imported water, beating out Evian. It has spent millions pushing not only the seemingly life-changing properties of the product itself, but also the company's green cred and its charity work. Put all that together in an iconic bottle emblazoned with a cheerful hibiscus, and everybody, from the Obamas to Paris and Nicole to Diddy and Kimora, is seen sipping Fiji.
All this is from an article, Fiji Water: Spin the Bottle, by Anna Lenzer, who went to Fiji to see the bottling plant by herself.
Nowhere in Fiji Water's glossy marketing materials will you find reference to the typhoid outbreaks that plague Fijians because of the island's faulty water supplies; the corporate entities that Fiji Water has—despite the owners' talk of financial transparency—set up in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg; or the fact that its signature bottle is made from Chinese plastic in a diesel-fueled plant and hauled thousands of miles to its ecoconscious consumers. And, of course, you won't find mention of the military junta for which Fiji Water is a major source of global recognition and legitimacy. (Gilmour [the company's founder] has described the square bottles as "little ambassadors" for the poverty-stricken nation.)
It's not that I have seen Lynda Resnick (current owner of FIJI Water) excoriate Anna Lenzer's claims, but I'll be damned if FIJI Water is willing to admit that they are true. Assuming that someone financially involved in FIJI Water will eventually answer (and by 'answer' I mean 'deny') part of her criticisms, my question is how it is that we'll believe one or the other.

I don't drink FIJI Water, though I'm sure it's tasty. Since recently I don't drink any bottled water, actually, but that's a different story (though not entirely). But if I was a long-time consumer of FIJI Water, I can see that the emotional investment that I had made would make me more likely to dismiss claim's such as Lenzer's, until I saw solid proof. (By 'emotional investment' I mean the fact that while drinking it regularly, I would expect that doing so wouldn't cause all sorts of calamities in another country, for example, and if I then had to admit to myself that I had been wrong all that time, then I would be emotionally upset - we don't like when that happens.) On the other hand, now that I don't drink it, I don't really have anything at stake, and I don't have to face the fact that I am part of the problem (that FIJI Water causes disease, climate change and other human and environmental tragedy).

But if reading just one article that highlights good reasons why we shouldn't be drinking it isn't enough to rationally make up our minds on the subject, then what exactly is enough? Two considerations, I would say:

1. Consider that history shows that those who stand to make or lose a lot of money are usually the ones who are fine with screwing over other people. This is to be contrasted with what history tells us about investigative reporters' practice of making up complete falsehoods just to get a great story printed.

2. Independent evidence. Anna Lenzer isn't the first to write about FIJI Water's involvement with a military dictatorship and problematic environmental practices. See Message in a Bottle, What it takes to bring you Fiji water, and Fiji government yields to bottled water company pressure. We must of course be careful that we aren't reading more than one article from the same source, but apart from that, it would seem clear and hard to denounce that there is something fishy about the water from Fiji.

Incidentally, I went to Ontario Mills Mall this sunday, and almost every vendor the food court were aggressively pushing FIJI Water - at $2.99 per pint. I asked around and was told that the decision to do so comes from the Manager of HMS Host, whom I now intend to write a letter of complaint to.

Important update 8/17:
FIJI Water already had published a reply to Lenzer's article, and Lenzer has a reply to that on the same page. Bottom line is that while FIJI Water does do some charity work in the local Fiji communities, this does not excuse doing business with a dictatorship.


  1. Interesting post! I personally just don't 'get' bottled water. It always seemed like a scam to me to pay for something that comes out the tap for free.

    On a more post-related note I suddenly had a scary moment the other day when I suddenly realised I have NO IDEA where my clothes come from, or what kind of unethical procedures might be involved in their was a little worrying.

  2. I suddenly realised I have NO IDEA where my clothes come from, or what kind of unethical procedures might be involved in their was a little worrying.

    Very true. The sad fact remains that most corporations are primarily driven by the demand for profit, and this results in decency taking second (or third?) place. I have heard that the clothes we wear hurt the environment and people involved in its manufacture unnecessarily (see The Rainforest Site for some alternatives), but it truly is difficult to be a conscientious consumer on all points. I suppose bottled water is as good place to start as any.


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