Water Activists Exposed
Critics of the private water industry like to describe themselves as charities, consumer advocates, and water policy experts. In reality, these organizations are extremely well funded and internationally connected advocacy groups without water service or water policy expertise. Unfortunately, these activists are not focused on what’s best for a local community.These activist groups share significant financial and personnel connections with like-minded national and international groups. They rely on misleading information from these partner organizations, while ignoring independent sources. Their funders are often anonymous and do not represent the voices of local concerned citizens. They cannot and should not be looked to as independent experts on a community’s water needs.
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Founded by Ralph Nader in 1971, Public Citizen is a Washington, D.C., based advocacy group that aims to increase corporate regulation and to influence federal government decision-makers. In 2005, Public Citizen spun off Food & Water Watch to focus on more specific issues, including anti-private water efforts. 1
In the Public Interest tries to serve as an online resource to provide the public with “high-quality” and “accurate” information on issues pertaining to privatization and contracting. However, In the Public Interest takes an openly biased stance on private water, often sharing Food & Water Watch research that is both misleading and unsupported. In the Public Interest provides visitors to their website with a skewed picture of private water, something that is not at all “in the public interest.” 2
WaterJustice.org was created at the World Social Forum in 2004 – an international meeting of social groups opposed to globalization – to fight private water. Groups including Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the Council of Canadians and the Transnational Institute all played a major role in its creation. Water Justice has essentially created a forum for water activists to collaborate and share biased information and research on private water’s real track record. Content from Food & Water Watch is regularly featured on the site. 3
Described as a populist movement, Massachusetts-based Alliance for Democracy believes the American economy, government, culture, media, and environment are monopolized by corporate America. The Alliance for Democracy’s agenda is fueled by an Occupy Wall Street-style anti-corporate ideology that believes that all private markets are bad and that businesses cannot be trusted. 4
Food & Water Watch and other likeminded anti-privatization groups are funded by a network of foundation money and anonymous donations, making it nearly impossible to decipher whose interests are actually behind the anti-private water agenda being advanced. In fact, between 2011 and 2016, nearly 75 percent of FWW’s revenue – more than $64 million in total – came from anonymous sources.
Founded in 1977 as the Infant Formula Action Group, Corporate Accountability International (CAI) has evolved into a larger effort against corporations in the areas of public health, human rights, and the environment. More recently, CAI launched Public Water Works, a campaign to fight private water.
In an effort to discredit private water providers, CAI often releases reports and collaborates with groups like Food & Water Watch and the research arms of global trade unions to make unsupported claims about water privatization. CAI researchers rarely cite sources or experts aside from themselves or likeminded groups, and reports are full of inaccuracies and misleading claims. 6
Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU), funded by a global confederation of trade unions, was established in 1998 to focus on research to support anti-globalization and anti-privatization initiatives. PSIRU has collaborated with Food & Water Watch, Corporate Accountability International (CAI) and the Transnational Institute on recent anti-private water research and publications. In one recent report released in collaboration with CAI the lead PSIRU researcher argued against private water by citing his own work 115 times, seemingly finding very few independent studies or empirical evidence to support his ideological views. 7
Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW) tries to function as the face of local opposition against water privatization. Local FLOW groups take on responsibility for attacking potential and existing water arrangements in their areas through petitions and public opposition at city council meetings and in the news. While FLOW groups often position themselves as a grassroots movement, many of these “local” groups are closely linked to Food & Water Watch, often teaming up to create research reports and coordinate on efforts against local privatization initiatives.8
Food & Water Watch and other likeminded anti-privatization groups are funded by a network of foundation money and anonymous donations, making it nearly impossible to decipher whose interests are actually behind the anti-private water agenda being advanced. In fact, between 2011 and 2015, over 75 percent of FWW’s revenue – more than $52 million in total – came from anonymous sources. 9
- “About Us,” Citizen.org website; Biography of Ralph Nader, Nader.org; “About Us,” Food & Water Watch website
- “About Us,” In the Public Interest website; “Water and Sewer,” In the Public Interest website
- About the website,” WaterJustice.org website
- “About AfD,” The Alliance for Democracy Website website
- Foundation Directory Online (FDO) accessed May 3, 2018; FWW IRS 990s, 2011-2016; SVCF Grantee Lists; Tides Foundation Grantee Lists; Grants were verified by IRS 990s of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Columbus Foundation, Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the National Philanthropic Trust, and the Vanguard Charitable Endowment.
- “About Us,” Corporate Accountability International website; “Public Water Works!” Corporate Accountability International website; “New Report Highlights the Case for Public Water,” Public Water Works! Blog, Nov. 2014
- “About Us,” Public Services International Research Unit website; Emanuele Lobina, “Troubled Waters: Misleading industry PR and the case for public water,” Public Services International Research Unit, Nov. 2014.
- “Felton Water System,” In the Public Interest website
- Foundation Directory Online (FDO) accessed April 23, 2017; FWW IRS 990s, 2011-2015; SVCF Grantee Lists; Tides Foundation Grantee Lists; Grants were verified by IRS 990s of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Columbus Foundation, Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, the National Philanthropic Trust, and the Vanguard Charitable Endowment.