Fiji Water Girl vs. Fiji Water Business Practices: Which Deserves more of our Attention?

Fiji Water is more than just the trendy artesian water it wants consumers to believe it is. Around since 1996 and now part of The Wonderful Company (makers of POM Wonderful, Wonderful Pistachios, amongst other “wonderful” products), Fiji Water has carried a pristine bottled water reputation, more expensive than other bottled waters. Mostly under the radar when it comes to news about MNCs, Fiji Water received great publicity and fanfare after this year’s Golden Globe Awards in January sparked a viral moment thanks to the “Fiji Water girl”. The model, hired to showcase Fiji Water on the red carpet, appeared to photobomb numerous celebrity photos leading to plenty of internet reactions and what one marketing group estimated a total of $12 million in brand exposure. As mentioned in my previous blog, MNCs love this kind of viral  attention – it’s free marketing for them. Of course, this kind of press can also serve as a useful distraction from an MNCs shadier practices.

In this case, Fiji Water ought to be examined in how it practices business in Fiji. For years, the company bottled water in/from Fiji employing Fijians. However, in 2010 after the Fijian government enacted tax hikes on MNCs extracting water in Fiji, the company threatened to leave for New Zealand. This is a classic move MNCs make. Fundamental in the difference between MNCs and states as actors in the international political economy is the relative mobility MNCs enjoy. That is, if they dislike the policies in a host or home state, they can move. States cannot move. Somewhat surprisingly, Fiji Water acquiesced and remained operating in Fiji despite the tax hike. However, that is not the full story. Fiji Water has also been accused of being complicit in a strict and repressive military government in power in Fiji while also restricting local access to its water source leaving Fijians to drink dirty water.

These kinds of business practices are absolutely not limited to Fiji Water. Exploitation and authoritarianism tolerance in the developing world by MNCs marketing primarily to the developed world is commonplace. While regulatory work ought to be done on international business practices, prospects of that actually happening look bleak with the capitalist, neoliberal system in place. We as individuals certainly have more power than we think to affect systems-change, but that still requires mass mobilization. In the meantime, conscious consumerism is important to recognize the MNCs practicing shady business. When considering sharing the viral Fiji Water girl moment with our networks, we ought to think twice.

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