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Bullshit in a bottle

In what is quite possibly the last word in cynical advertising, Starbucks and PepsiCo have teamed up with Matt Damon (the Hollywood star who drives a Toyoto Prius to save money, not to be part of an ‘environmental trend’, so he says) to distribute a brand of ‘charitable’ bottled water called Ethos. PR Watch reports that, at a time when more and more major US cities are trying to reduce the use of bottled drinking water because of energy consumption and pollution concerns, Starbucks will be using PepsiCo to help distribute the bottled water to tens of thousands of supermarkets, drugstores and wholesalers in the US. Ostensibly, the aim is to call attention to the plight of impoverished Africans who lack access to safe, clean drinking water. According to the Ethos Water website, five cents from each bottle purchased is donated to a Starbucks foundation to ‘alleviate the world water crisis’. Given that the water retails at $1.80 per bottle and five cents represents just a three per cent donation, it would seem that ‘helping children get clean water’ may not be quite as important as boosting company coffers after a rocky 2007. Critics say it is a profit-making enterprise disguised as humanitarian relief, that Ethos is exploiting the plight of Africans to sell more bottled water, and that donating directly to a reputable charity dedicated to water projects in Africa is a better way to address this serious problem.

New Internationalist issue 412 magazine cover This article is from the June 2008 issue of New Internationalist.
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