I remember the joy I felt after being offered a job at Nestlé as a water specialist. When I told the news to my friends, I received some skepticism. They were doubtful about Nestlé’s position on water as a human right and whether the company was doing enough to help people in developing countries access it.
Nestlé believes that water is a human right. The company supports the United Nations’ SDG 6 and has made a commitment to improve water, sanitation and hygiene promotion (WASH) in communities where it works. As a water specialist, it’s my job to develop the programmes and partnerships that help Nestlé deliver this commitment.
In October 2018, I travelled to Sub-Saharan Africa. I was overseeing Nestlé’s WASH program in collaboration with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Many countries in the region lack proper water and sanitation infrastructure so improving services there is vital.
As part of my trip, I visited the Sululta district in Ethiopia. The watershed there faces serious environmental and social challenges; many people have to fetch water from unsafe sources and open defecation is still widely practiced, particularly by children.
With the IFRC, Nestlé wants to improve conditions for the local residents in Sululta, providing more water pumps and toilet facilities. With safer water and better hygiene, communities will be less susceptible to illness and disease. Adults will have more time to work and provide for their families while children will have more time can go to school and learn.
In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire the benefits of the WASH program can already be seen. Since 2007, over 465,000 people in Nestlé’s cocoa farming communities have improved access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene promotion. This is testament to Nestlé’s strong partnership with the IFRC.
One of the first people I met at Nestlé was an employee from the Sub-Saharan region. At the time, she said to me, “Christian, where I come from people regard Nestlé as a key contributor to development, not as the opposite.” I was glad to have visited Ethiopia to see this development for myself.
There is always more we can do but seeing the positive impact of the WASH program in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and now Ethiopia, I feel reassured that Nestlé is doing its part.