Fiji Water, the supplier of the swanky "artisanal" water, announced today that it has shut down its operations in Fiji because of what the company calls "discriminatory" tax hikes in the remote South Pacific country. So soon, Fiji water won't be from Fiji anymore.
Last week, Fiji's government raised the tax rate on companies extracting more than 920,000 gallons of water per month from one-third of 1 percent to 15 percent. Fiji Water is the only company that meets that description, and the bottler says the spike forced it to pull out of the country entirely.
In a strongly worded statement, Fiji Water complained that the government was trying to seize its business and said the country was no longer safe for foreign investment. "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," Fiji Water President John Cochran said in a statement on the company blog today. "The country is increasingly unstable, and is becoming a very risky place in which to invest."
Bainimarama hit back, insisting that the country was safe for "credible" foreign investors and accused Fiji Water of being indifferent to the plight of the Fijian people -- 4,000 of whom have lost their jobs thanks to the shutdown. "As usual Fiji Water has adopted tactics that demonstrate that Fiji Water does not care about Fiji or Fijians," Bainimarama told the state-influenced Fiji Times. "They have made statements about supposed instability in Fiji and know it is not true, yet do so because they simply do not want to pay the new taxes."
Four things to know about the Fiji Water crisis:
1. Soon, Fiji Water May Come From New Zealand
Cochran said he was open to negotiating with the government in Fiji but if all else fails, Mother Jones thinks the American company might be looking to neighboring New Zealand for its next water source. "Fiji Water owners Stewart and Lynda Resnick have one potential backup hydration source in New Zealand, where they own the Spring Fresh brand of bottled water," Mother Jones writes.
Time.com reminds its readers that Fiji's political environment is far stormier than Western tourists dream of. "While we Westerners think of Fiji as an idyllic tropical destination with pristine beaches and turquoise waters, the real story of the remote South Pacific island is a much different reality," it writes. The country, Time said, "has been under military rule since a coup in 2006, its press is muzzled and its economy has declined due in part to sanctions imposed by the European Union and its neighbors, Australia and New Zealand."
3. Fiji Water Isn't the First Company to Leave Fiji
The Associated Press reports that media mogul Rupert Murdoch sold his stake in the Fiji Times this September, after the government imposed limits on foreign-owned media companies.
4. Fiji Water -- the Company, at Least -- May Not Be So Pure
In 2009, an investigative report in Mother Jones magazine accused the company of tolerating Fiji's military regime, using shady tax shelters and restricting access to its aquifer while Fijians drink dirty water.