The company came under fire last month following comments from its chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe that water should be privatised as a commodity and that access to it was “not a public right” – leading to accusations that Nestlé Waters was undermining its own shared value commitments.

However the company’s executive vice president for corporate affairs in north America, Heidi Paul, sought to clarify her organisation’s position during a recent twitter chat.

“To be clear, clean water to meet hydration and basic hygiene needs is a human right. The question is, how does society ensure enough water is available to also grow the food that is needed and support the other uses of water?” she questioned.

“The issue becomes clearer when you see how water can be wasted, either though lack of funding to shore up leaks in pipes or using crops for fuel.

“The point about giving water a value, beyond meeting drinking and hygiene requirements, is to address water scarcity, and ultimately food scarcity,” she said.

Nestlé Waters has also faced scrutiny for its bottled water operations which some observers feel contradict its shared value aims. However Paul said the company’s intentions were being misunderstood.

“Yes, bottled water is a healthier alternative to sugar beverages and offers clean water in times of crisis, but that’s not all that we mean by creating shared value,” she pointed out.

“For my team, [it] is an approach that Nestlé Waters focuses resources at the most significant intersections between the company and society.”

As an example, she cited partnerships with various NGOs to address areas like improving watersheds and advancing recycling policy.

One way the company is looking to place more value on water use is by calling for market pricing mechanisms that could drive greater efficiency measures.

Chairman Braback-Letmathe has outlined three options that could help accelerate resource savings across business and industry.

Acknowledging that pricing regulation could be one way forward for water management, he pointed to two other possible solutions – cost curving and shadow pricing.

“For every water basin of the world we are establishing a cost curve – what it would cost, what we would need to implement, in order to balance out the demand and supply side,” he said.

Maxine Perella

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