LOS ANGELES, CA — Fiji Water has shut down its bottled water plant in Fiji over a tax hike that would have increased its payments to the government by 45 times.
Bad news for the nearly 400 workers at the plant and anyone who enjoys the high-end brand, but good news for those concerned about the environmental impacts of bottled water.
While the bottled water industry as a whole has been under attack as wasteful and, in some cases, unnecessary, Fiji Water has been especially highlighted for having the heaviest packaging and for transporting its bottled water thousands of miles, which uses more energy than moving around locally-sourced water.
And although a couple years ago Fiji Water began saying that its product is carbon negative, that is based on carbon offsets, from tree plantings, that would not occur until 30 years in the future.
On Friday, the Fijian government announced it would increase its tax on companies that extract water for producing bottled water. Any company that extracts more than 3.5 million liters per month — which is only Fiji Water — would pay 15 cents per liter. Fiji Water currently pays one-third of a cent per liter, and the jump would increase its water extraction taxes from $500,000 to $22.6 million (all figures are in Fijian dollars).
Fiji Waters President John Cochran said in a statement that the company pays "millions of dollars in duties and income tax to the government," more than $1.8 million annually in royalty payments to the Yaqara Pastoral Company Limited, $250,000 a year to a trust for six villages around its factory, and $1 million a year on clean water and other quality-of-life projects.
However, Mother Jones reports, Fiji Water's corporate income has been tax-exempt since 1995.
Fiji Water is also suspending or canceling construction contacts, engineering and support services contracts, packaging purchases and all other purchases from local suppliers.
"We consider the government’s current action as a taking of our business, and one that sends a clear and unmistakable message to businesses operating in Fiji or looking to invest there: The country is increasingly unstable, and is becoming a very risky place in which to invest," Cochran said in his statement, but added that the company is willing to work with the government and would prefer to continue operating in the country.
Fiji's current president was put in place after a military coup in 2006, led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who is now the country's prime minister. Mother Jones previously reported that when a journalist was in the country working on a story on Fiji Waters, police officers detailed and questioned her over emails she was sending about the company.
A week ago, Bainimarama deported Fiji Water's director of external affairs, David Roth, saying that he was interfering in Fiji's domestic affairs and governance. Fiji's immigration minister resigned instead of deporting Roth.
Fiji Water bottle - CC license by Flickr user strfireblue