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NGO accuses China’s water bottlers of depleting Tibet’s resources

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bottled water

NGO accuses China’s water bottlers of depleting Tibet’s resources
Campaigners have rounded on China’s bottled water industry, which they say threatens Tibet’s water resources in a region where glaciers have melted substantially over the last three decades.

Free Tibet, a pressure group that monitors human rights, has begun an international campaign to deter international sales of Tibet-sourced bottled water and persuade investors in one Chinese bottled water company to sell their holdings. 

The move is in response to the growing number of government-supported Chinese businesses which bottle water in Tibet under Beijing’s official “Sharing Tibet’s water with the world​” initiative. 

While their products are currently only available in China, the premium Tibet Spring 5100 brand has revealed plans to begin exporting, including to the European Union. Bottled from a site north of Lhasa, the Hong Kong-listed company was reported to be in receipt of state subsidies worth over 360m yuan (US$50m) in 2014.

With just 7% of the world’s freshwater supplies but 20% of its population, China is now the world’s biggest market for bottled water and, according to Euromonitor, has seen consumption grow to 37bn litres last year from 19bn litres five years previously.

Unlike most of China, the Tibetan plateau is rich in water resources. From there, water is bottled from mountain springs and glacial sources and then marketed on the basis of Tibet’s reputation as a pristine environment. 

However, glaciers in Tibet have shrunk by 15% over the past 30 years and, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, are melting faster now than at any time in the past. The region has also been heavily dammed for hydropower across the Tibetan Plateau.

The Tibetan water tower cannot support all the damming and the extracting that is taking place right now​,” Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum, has said.

Bottled water doesn’t have nearly the impact that dams and water-intensive industries do, but it’s another big drop being taken out of the bucket​.”

Under the “Sharing Tibet’s Water with the world​” initiative, introduced in 2014, the Tibet’s government signed contracts with 16 major companies to bottle water in the autonomous region. Then in November 2015, it announced a new 10-year plan to expand the industry, with a production target of 10m tonnes by 2025.  

This 70-fold expansion is being incentivised with significant tax breaks to companies and a lower extraction fee than elsewhere in China.

Tibet’s water is not an infinitely renewable resource and thanks to melting glaciers and China paving Tibet’s mountains with dams, now is the worst possible time to turn it into a consumer product​,” said Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren. 

The bottled water ‘gold rush’ in Tibet isn’t just a scramble for profit but threatens Tibet’s environment and all those who depend on its water​.” 

Free Tibet has contacted an initial eight institutions holding shares in Tibet Water Resources, owner of the Tibet 5100 brand, one of which, Schroder Investment Management, confirmed that it no longer maintained a holding. The British NGO said it will contact more institutions as the campaign develops.

More stories from China…

Nestlé brings global brands to video media in Alibaba anniversary tie-up

Nestlé and Alibaba Group have launched an e-commerce and marketing campaign to bring the Swiss corporation’s brands from overseas markets to China as its celebrates 150 years in nutrition. 

Nestle

The six-month campaign will leverage Alibaba’s online and mobile marketplaces, media platform and rural services under a “Planet of Wonders​” theme.

The campaign began this week with a three-day “Super Brand Day​” promotion on Tmall.com featuring 154 products from 30 of Nestlé’s brands—67 of which were new to Chinese consumers.

These included Nido milk powder from the Netherlands, Nestlé Damak chocolate from Turkey, Nescafé Gold from France, and Nestlé and Wyeth infant nutrition products from Switzerland, Britain and Germany. 

"There is no better place than China to start the story of the next 150 years. Consumers here are very discerning and adapting to technology faster than almost anywhere else in the world,​” said regional Nestlé executive Wan Ling Martello.

Alibaba said that its vast ecosystem powered by Big Data has made it possible to enable a “digital transformation​” for companies like Nestlé in China through brand-building and customers relationship management.

The Swiss company will also tap into a virtual reality campaign on Alibaba-owned Youku Tudou, one of China’s top online video and streaming service platforms, marking the first time the portal has worked with a brand partner on a virtual reality campaign in China.

We will continue to expand on our partnerships and infrastructure to deliver access to the widest selection of the best products from around the world to consumers, whether they live in Beijing or a rural village in the farthest edges of the country​,” said Daniel Zhang, Alibaba Group’s chief executive.

Shanghai officials eye completion of comprehensive food safety database 

Supermarkets will take the lead in a process to merge Shanghai’s various food-monitoring systems into one network in a bid to improve safety management, according to officials.

Database

Larger stores will now be charged with uploading information of all their stock-keeping units into a database, ahead of smaller grocery retailers and street markets following suit at a later date.

Supermarkets which fail to upload the information could face a fine of up to 20,000 yuan (US$3,100), said Yan Zuqiang, director of the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration.

Previously, we have established monitoring systems for meat and meat products, aquatic products, dairy products and bean products​,” Yan said. “A monitoring system for restaurants is being set up and already includes one-third of local eateries​.”

With the three systems forming a single network—available for public scrutiny at spaq.sh.cn—officials will be able to inspect retailers and soon weigh up their performance through the system.

In the future, we will set up an evaluation credit system for each enterprise​,” Yan added. “Those that perform well will be honoured and those that perform badly will be punished​.”

Meanwhile, a top legislator has called for improvements and reforms to the country's food safety supervision system.

Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, said enforcement was still week and fell short of public expectations, after teams of inspectors were sent to regions across the country to assess practices there.

Citing difficulties in supervising farming and small food vendors, Zhang said reforms needed to be deepened to ensure that the law is implemented properly. A report on the exercise will be submitted to the NPC for review next month.

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