It’s consumerist irony in the cruelest sense — the nation that supplies the world with what’s perhaps the highest-end bottled water in the supermarket is unable to provide more than half of its citizens with safe, clean drinking water.
The situation drives home one of the most common problems with capitalism in developing nations — in order to compete in the global market, a poor country like Fiji ends up forsaking the wellbeing of its own population. A nation with an ample supply of clean water (which is technically owned by an American company) instead sells it to American consumers.
This absurdity is highlighted in a recent NPR segment, excerpted here (Fishman, the interviewee, is a writer at Fast Company):
Mr. FISHMAN: … they actually have turbocharged the marketing of Fiji Water. It was a glamorous brand when they bought it. It’s now a universal brand. It’s a complicated product. It seems absurd in the stores here in America. It is, frankly, absurd. No one in this country needs water from Fiji …
RAZ: I always feel a little bit guilty when I buy it, I got to tell you.
Mr. FISHMAN: Well, and the most remarkable thing is, in Fiji itself, 53 percent of the people who live in Fiji don’t have access to clean, safe water. So Americans can easily get clean water from Fiji more simply than Fijians can.
The product actually looks a little less silly when you go all the way back to Fiji and meet the people who produce it. They have great jobs and they’re learning how to work in the global economy in a factory no different than the Poland Spring factory in Maine, or the Dasani factory in suburban Washington.
And so the product itself is a little silly, but what’s interesting is that it benefits Fijians in a way that’s not silly at all.
I disagree, Mr. Fishman — the entire arrangement is incredibly silly. In what world, other than one which perceives global capitalism as paramount, does it make any kind of sense to ship bottled water from a water-starved nation to a country thousands of miles away that already has a surfeit of the product — at the expense of locals who could use that water? That sort of seems like the definition of a silly idea to me.