Since the beginning of its activities in Parque das Àguas (Park of Waters) in São Lourenço, state of Minas Gerais, the transnational company Nestlé has been piling up a long list of irregularities. This according to the non-governmental organization MACAM, a Brazilian water advocacy group.
Among the alleged infractions are the exploratory drilling for water in the park without proper authorization, the de-mineralizing of the water – an activity expressly forbidden by Brazilian law – and building a factory without the necessary authorization and an environmental impact study.
“The Parque das íguas holds the largest diversity of mineral waters in the world,” explained Francisco Villela, an activist of MACAM. MACAM stands for Movimento dos Amigos do Circuito das íguas Mineiro (Movement of Friends of the Minas Water Circuit). “These waters have always had medicinal value, and de-mineralizing them compromises this potential.”
In Brazil, water is considered a patrimony of the state, and is protected by the National Department of Mineral Production (DNPM).
According to Paulino Soares de Souza, retired professor of the Federal University Fluminense and current lawyer for MACAM, even though a water company may obtain licensing (from local authorities, for example), the company must still obtain permission from DNPM.
In September of 1996, Nestlé had no such permission when the company drilled its first well in Parque das íguas. Only in 1999 did the company seek permission from the DNPM to drill; and the prosecutor of the DNPM that year granted a decision favorable to Nestlé.
In spite of all studies and documents about the waters of the area, he declared the water not to be mineral, and therefore not under the protection of DNPM.
Two years later, government prosecutor Pedro Paulo Aina obtained a study, which showed that the water did in fact contain a high level of iron.
However, Nestlé had already begun a process of removing iron from the water and selling it as common water with the addition of salts.
The Brazilian Code of Mineral Waters expressly prohibits the process of removing iron from water.
But as the water was no longer “mineral,” and therefore no longer under the protection of the DNPM, the company was able to obtain bottling permission from another government agency, Anvisa, which is in charge of monitoring the commercialization of foods and beverages. Nestle labeled this water as “Pure Life.”
Aina took Nestlé to court, demanding that Nestlé no longer be allowed to drill and bottle water in the region, and that they pay damages, returning any profits they obtained from the sale of the water.
The court ruled against Nestlé. Nestle appealed the decision and two days later were back drilling for water. Aina obtained an injunction, another court case, won it, and once again Nestlé appealed.
The case went to the federal courts in Brasília where a judge ruled in favor of Nestlé, granting them permission to operate in the park until October of 2004.
Since the expiration of the permission, the DNPM has not made any decisions or recommendations, and Nestlé has continued its operation.
“So all of this to say, that in these past eight years, after all of the irregularities cited, Nestle’s operations in Poço Primavera have never been interrupted. They have always managed to dart around the problems, maintaining good relationships with the DNPM and local and state agencies,” commented activist Villela.
“During Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s term, everything was copasetic. Even the DNPM said that the water was not even mineral, showing an absurd level of protection of the company. When Lula assumed presidency, there was talk about change, but these promises have not been met. Nestlé has actually become partner in the federal government’s Zero Hunger program.”
In 2003, the DNPM actually did an internal audit conducted by federal prosecutor Monica Almeida Horta. In her report, she underlined the illegal character of Nestlé’s operations in São Lourenço, and stated that the earlier declaration of the department that the water was not mineral was rendered in a “disastrous form.”
She asked that disciplinary actions be taken against those who in the department rendered decisions allowing for Nestlé’s illegal operations. She also solicited for the immediate cessation of Nestlé’s mining in the park.
Upon acquisition of Perrier Vitell (the renowned water bottler who also happened to be in Parque das íguas), Nestlé became the biggest operator of mineral water in the world.
After its first drilling in 1996, the company delayed a year to begin bottling. But during this year, water was continuously pumped without using any of it. Millions of liters of water were simply wasted.
After bottling began, the minerals in the water were of no interest to the company, and were/are being removed. To date, the company has not issued one report as to where this enormous quantity of minerals extracted daily are going.
And the company has not issued one environmental impact study as to the possible effects of these minerals on the land where they are dumping the minerals.
Another issue is that in order to save money on operations, Nestlé used and amplified the existing structures put in place by Perrier. However, the company did the amplifications without the necessary licensing from the government and without doing an environmental impact study.
They cut trees and devastated a whole section of the park, violating a municipal law which prohibits this activity near springs. They also destroyed the oldest fountain in the park, built in 1892. The company sought approval only after the project was finished.
Brasil de Fato