Written by Franklin Frederick, edited by Miranda Fox
Original blog available here.
The Swiss Government and Nestlé have a curiously close relationship. Several new appointments demonstrate the revolving door between the Swiss food and beverage corporation and Swiss public office. Last year, the former CEO of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, was chosen to lead the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator, a foundation to regulate new technologies. Brabeck is well known for his statement declaring that the human right to water is an “extreme” position in a 2005 documentary.
At Nestlé, Peter Brabeck spent most of his career battling all forms of state regulation of the private sector, the best-known case being the regulation of infant food marketing standards, particularly milk powder. Choosing Brabeck to chair this foundation indicates that the real purpose of this initiative is to prevent any form of regulation that might limit profits from the technological advancements of the private sector. It also indicates the recognition of Nestlé’s power within the Swiss Government.
A few months after the launch of this new foundation with Brabeck at the helm, the Government of Switzerland made another appointment tied to Nestlé. Christian Frutiger, Nestlé’s current Global Head of Public Affairs, will soon take over the Vice-Presidency of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). This is the government agency responsible for development aid projects in other countries, particularly in the global south.
This is a continuation of the growing collaboration between the private sector and the government, and specifically with Nestlé. The SDC supported the creation of the Water Resources Group, an initiative led by the world’s largest beverage companies Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The Water Resources Group is a tool designed by these corporations to privatize water under the guise of sustainability and development aid. Ironically, Switzerland has one of the best public sanitation and water distribution services in the world, but uses Swiss citizens’ tax money to support water privatization in other countries through the SDC partnership with Nestlé.
If appointed, Frutiger will be directly responsible for the SDC’s ‘Global Cooperation’ Division and the WATER program. Christian Frutiger started his career at Nestlé in 2007, and contributed to the success of the corporation’s bottled water products. In 2008, just a decade after its release, “Pure Life” became the world’s top-selling brand of bottled water. Frutiger was also instrumental in smoothing over Nestlé’s reputation in Switzerland after the corporation was convicted of spying on other groups and activists critical of its business practices.
The appointment of Frutiger and Brabeck point to deep and far-reaching problems in global governance and water management. These actions reveal a link between the private sector and the Swiss government and a collective goal to deepen the privatization policies – especially around water – and corporate control over public resources. These new roles of Peter Brabeck and Christian Frutiger indicate that the transnational corporate sector is very consciously organizing and articulating itself at the government level to ensure that its demands and policy proposals are met.
The SDC does not consider problems with Nestlé in many parts of the world as a reason to re-evaluate its partnership with the company. There are very well-documented problems with Nestlé’s bottling operations and water pumping in the U.S.A, Canada, and France, for example – countries considered to be established democracies. What is common among all of these countries is that the governments always stand in favor of the company and against their own citizens. None of this seems to bother the Swiss Government, the SDC, or Christian Frutiger – and if such problems occur in these countries, what couldn’t happen in countries that are much more fragile in their social and political organization? As the current Head of Public Affairs of Nestlé, Christian Frutiger has done his best to ignore completely the problems created by his employer around the globe.
What is happening in Switzerland is just the tip of the iceberg – the visible part is the international articulation of big corporations, and the taking over of public space for political decisions by the world corporate oligarchy. We have to be vigilant and well organized to defend our waters, our earth, and our society from the corporate attack on the common good.