Statement: Challenging the World Water Forum to Protect Water from Corporate Control

For Immediate Release

Statement: Challenging the World Water Forum to Protect Water from Corporate Control

Statement by Shayda Naficy, Senior Organizer, Challenge Corporate Control of our Water

BOSTON - This week, the World Water Forum (WWF) will convene representatives of the water industry, other major corporations and government officials in Marseilles to shape international water policy such that it to prioritizes for-profit models of water delivery, and profit-oriented allocation of the world’s most essential resource. While water for domestic purposes is a recognized human right, today nearly 900 million people lack consistent, safe access. Corporate control and management has proven a failure in addressing this tragic shortfall, instead diverting the investment dollars and political will required to reverse this global crisis. 

20 years of water privatization has demonstrated time and again that water corporations do not serve those unable to afford water nor invest in the infrastructure maintenance and expansion  critical for sustainable delivery of water. Corporate control of water has resulted in labor force downsizing, higher prices and shutoffs for poor and marginalized communities, reduced government capacity and oversight, decreased ability of water users to participate in and influence decision making, diluted legal recourse and information, neglect of long-term infrastructure and system expansion, as well as the shifting of the political and cultural values around water so as to grant access to users according to their ability to pay not their basic human right to the resource. Extracting corporate profits drains the resources required for reinvestment, with damaging consequences for communities, the environment and democracy itself. 

As the largest external source of financing for water in developing countries, the World Bank has served as a critical ally for the water industry in the push to privatize. With mounting evidence of the flaws of the private model, governments and civil society alike have grown increasingly resistant to turn water systems over to corporate control. The Bank’s response has been to bypass governments altogether: today, about a quarter of the Bank’s funding goes directly to the private sector, including equity (stock ownership) investments in transnational water corporations. Investing directly in corporate water providers precludes public accountability and democratic oversight; it also gives the Bank itself a direct financial stake in the ability of corporations like Veolia to profit off of water delivery. 

That’s why Corporate Accountability International, working with a broad range of allies and experts, is renewing and strengthening the call for the World Bank to divest from private water as a critical means of returning governance to legitimate and transparent institutions from the United Nations down to local and municipal governments.

In a forthcoming report slated for release at the World Bank meetings in April, Corporate Accountability International documents how the Bank’s investment in private water not only fails to deliver accessible safe water to populations in need, but is financially unsound for the Bank itself. The report reviews the many forms of support the Bank provides in promoting an agenda of water privatization, ranging from untenable funding packages and profit guarantees to the extra-financial research, advocacy and public relations which are used to market these policies to borrower governments and their populations. It then focuses on the Bank’s direct relationships with global water corporations, honing in on the Bank’s private sector International Finance Corporation (IFC), raising particular concerns around the inherent conflict of interest created by the IFC’s ownership stakes, and hence profit interests, in major water corporations. The controversy surrounding water privatization is irrefutable: while the water sector comprises a small portion of IFC’s portfolio of investments, 40 percent of the complaints received by its Ombudsman are water-related.

The World Bank and its corporate clients have sought for decades to remove water policy-making from transparent governmental spaces to business-oriented forums like the World Water Forum, as well as the Bank itself. The forthcoming report also exposes the newest face of Bank-supported corporate water governance in a recently-launched corporation housed at the IFC that uses the Bank’s access to and leverage over borrower governments to insert corporate water lobbyists directly into the national and local policy processes surrounding water. The 2030 Water Resources Group (2030WRG) convenes a consortium of water profiteers and water-intensive corporations ranging from bottlers Coca-Cola and Pepsi to beverage corporations SAB Miller and Diageo, to the world’s largest private water utility corporation, Veolia, in a powerful lobby group housed at the IFC and headed by the Chairman of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe. The stated aim of the group is to “transform the water sector” by introducing “new normative models of water governance,” one country at a time.

The World Water Forum is another tool in the corporate move to shift policy debates to opaque, elite forums insulated from broad democratic participation, asserting market assumptions as a starting-point for water policy. Since its 1997 inception, the WWF has been a lightning-rod for international protest, as a prime example of corporate interference with water governance. Organized by the private trade association, the World Water Council, in conjunction with host governments, this year’s Forum will be held in France, the home of the two largest water corporations, Suez and Veolia. While the movement to reclaim public control of water has made major strides in France in recent years, most notably with the 2010 transition of the Paris water utility back to public control, the Forum location of Marseille remains a stronghold for the private water industry, and the home turf of the World Water Council. 

With the controversy surrounding the Forum and the privatization agenda more broadly, attendance at the official forum is in marked decline. This year more than a thousand representatives from global civil society are converging on Marseille to protest the forum and organize the alternative Peoples Water Forum. The stakes for public and planetary health are profound, and a growing international movement recognizes water as a public good and a common resource that must be managed for the broadest benefit. The public health implications alone are staggering: the WHO reports that one tenth of the global disease burden could be alleviated through concerted investment in the water systems required to realize universal access to safe water. The solution to this human crisis is well-understood; what is required is the financial and political commitment to achieve universal fulfillment of this human right. Public commitment to this task has been undermined, and the necessary resources diverted, by the profiteering aspirations of global water corporations and allied institutions led by the World Bank.

This week Corporate Accountability International is exposing the illegitimacy of the WWF, challenging the corporate agenda and engaging directly with policy makers and other opinion leaders. In addition, Corporate Accountability International is a sponsor of the People’s Water Forum, and will be previewing the report with water justice allies and interested media. Specifically, the organization will conduct two panels on corporate interference in water governance and on the role of the World Bank in the promotion of water privatization. We will also be presenting key mechanisms for protecting public policymaking from corporate interference, based on precedents from the global tobacco treaty, which enacted in 2005, is the world’s first corporate accountability and public health treaty.

With its resources, connections and influence, the World Bank could play a critical role in reversing the global water crisis, alleviating human suffering and promoting sustainable, equitable development. Instead, by taking a profit stake in the fortunes of the private water industry, the Bank has allowed its mission of poverty alleviation to take a second seat to facilitating the profits of client corporations. The call for the World Bank’s divestment from private water recognizes that removing this institutional support for privatization would clear space for public, democratic oversight, and redirecting the Bank’s support toward the resulting public agenda and solutions would be a profound contribution to mobilize the momentum required to fulfill the human right to water on a global scale.

As Corporate Accountability International’s report (available on April 20, 2012 at or by contacting Shayda Naficy at 617-695-2525) finds, privatization has neither extended water access, nor proven economically viable. The preponderance of evidence provided in this report suggests the time has come for the Bank to divest from private water and redirect support to public and democratically accountable institutions.


Corporate Accountability International has been waging winning campaigns to challenge corporate abuse for more than 30 years. We were there at the beginning of this movement to demand direct corporate accountability to public interests and have been at its forefront ever since.

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