On April 1, Gov. Jerry Brown announced California’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions and instructed cities and towns in the state to cut their water use by 25 percent. This announcement has come on the heels of historically low snowpacks and persisting severe drought conditions that are threatening the state’s already strained water supply. The current drought is now in its third year and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
But even as cities and towns are being forced to cut back, corporate giant Nestlé has continued to extract millions of gallons of our state’s water each year and ship much of it to the rest of the country as bottled water. Most egregiously, it was recently discovered that Nestlé has been illegally drawing tens of millions of gallons of water each year from the San Bernardino National Forest, even though their permit to do so expired in 1988. In addition, the company has been accused of drawing up to 80 million gallons of water per year from Sacramento aquifers while residents have been under severe water restrictions. It is clear that this behavior is incompatible with our state’s current drought and need to preserve essential water supplies.
After speaking with disgruntled Nestlé truck drivers, Students Coalition Against Labor Exploitation learned that even as Nestlé has made billions undermining California’s already scarce water supplies, it has also subjected these drivers to unsafe and unfair working conditions. These workers work 12-hour days lifting more than 10,000 gallons of water in the course of each day. This results in numerous bodily injuries, especially imposing harm on their backs. If these injured workers cannot return to work within 90 days, they will lose their routes and have to start over. Despite this, the drivers do not make enough money, and many will therefore work upwards of 70 hours a week to provide for themselves and their families.
SCALE was also disappointed to learn that USC has a substantial contract with Nestlé for water cooler jugs. USC orders so many of these that there is an entire truck dedicated exclusively to regularly bringing these jugs to our campus. Given Nestlé’s business practices and USC’s sustainability commitment to “…maintain an aggressive water conservation program,” a diverse and growing coalition of students and student groups are coming together to call on USC administration to challenge Nestlé to conduct their business in a way that aligns with our school’s commitments to sustainability and fair practices. We recently delivered a letter signed by these groups to the office of the chief financial officer, Robert Abeles, and are awaiting his response by May 1. Mr. Abeles was not available to personally receive our letter.
By continuing to financially support Nestlé without challenging these water and labor practices, USC is tacitly condoning them and contributing to reduced access to water in our community and the mistreatment of workers just trying to make a living. Join us in calling on USC to communicate our concerns to Nestlé and ask our university and Nestlé to uphold commitments to sustainability and the community.
Senior, environmental studies
sophomore, cognitive sceince