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.
EDIT: Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is the former CEO of Nestlé, but is currently a Chairman.