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Does Nestlé chair Brabeck-Letmathe say water isn’t a human right? The messages are mixed 

“Nestlé chairman Peter Brabeck says WATER IS NOT A HUMAN RIGHT,” declares a meme shared on Facebook in South Africa.

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is “chairman emeritus” of Nestlé, a global food and drinks company.

Does he say water is not a human right? 



United Nations: water is a human right


Nestlé is based in Switzerland and makes billions in Swiss francs every year from selling bottled water. 

The company has been repeatedly criticised for its alleged role in restricting communities’ access to water.

The United Nations does say that access to water is a human right. The right isn’t included in the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

But in 2010 the UN general assembly adopted Resolution 64/292, which “explicitly recognised the human right to water” and “acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights”.

How much water do we need?


The World Health Organization says the minimum amount of water each person needs is 15 litres a day – but only in emergency situations.

“About 20 litres” of water per person per day “should be assured to take care of basic hygiene needs and basic food hygiene”.

But the “optimal access” to water is 100 litres or more per person each day, the WHO says. This amount should meet our hygiene and consumption needs.

‘Give water a value’


Before his appointment as board chair, Brabeck-Letmathe served as Nestlé’s CEO from 1997 to 2008.

The claim that he said “water is not a human right” seems to come from a statement he made in the 2005 documentary We Feed the World.

“It’s a question of whether we should privatise the normal water supply for the population,” he says in the film.

“And there are two different opinions on the matter. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.” 

He continues: “The other view says that water is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value. Personally, I believe it’s better to give a foodstuff a value so that we’re all aware it has its price, and then that one should take specific measures for the part of the population that has no access to this water, and there are many different possibilities there.”

Since 2005, both Nestlé and Brabeck-Letmathe have attempted to clarify this statement.

Right to water limited by litres?


In November 2012, Brabeck-Letmathe issued a statement responding to another documentary, Bottled Life: Nestlé’s Business with Water

“Water required for drinking and basic hygiene is without question a human right; ie, a minimum of 25 L per day per person, or 1.5% of global water withdrawal,” he said. 

“I am not of the opinion that the other 98.5% of fresh water used – including the watering of golf courses and carwashes – is a human right.” 

And in a 2013 interview with Guardian journalist Jo Confino, Brabeck-Letmathe repeated his statement that 25 litres of water per person per day was a human right.

“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,” he said.

In an August 2013 video statement, Brabeck-Letmathe increased his allocation of the “human right to water” to “about 50 to 100 litres a day”. 

He said he had “always supported” this right.

From ‘extreme solution’ to ‘human right’


In 2005 Brabeck-Letmathe did describe “declaring water a public right”, which “means that as a human being you should have a right to water”, as “an extreme solution”.

He did not say, in so many words, that “water is not a human right”.

Over the years Brabeck-Letmathe has tried to clarify his 2005 statement.

He has said he believed 25 litres of water – later 50 to 100 litres of water – per person per day was a human right.

We rate the meme as partly incorrect. – Eileen Jahn

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