Fiji Water quits South Pacific over tax rise

Pop stars, celebrities, and even the US President may soon have to find a new way to quench their thirst after the fashionable mineral water company Fiji Water announced that it was to cease operating in the South Pacific country that bears its name, amid a growing dispute with the nation's ruling military junta.

The firm said it had decided to close its only factory, in the Yaqara Valley on the main island of Viti Levu, with the loss of 400 jobs, after the government announced a new tax of 15 cents [10 pence] per litre on companies extracting more than 3.5 million litres of water a month. Previously, the tax rate was just one third of one cent.

"This new tax is untenable and as a consequence, Fiji Water is left with no choice but to close our facility," the company said, arguing that it "sends a clear and unmistakable message to businesses operating in Fiji or looking to invest there: the country is increasingly unstable and a very risky place in which to invest."

The move means orders from suppliers have been put on hold by Fiji Water, which produces the most popular brand of imported water in the US. It sells its highly-recognisable bottles in 40 countries, and claims to be responsible for 20 per cent of Fiji's exports and three per cent of its GDP.

The firm has been clashing with Fiji's military regime, which took power in a 2006 coup. Earlier this month, its executive David Roth was deported from the country in a dispute that saw him accused by the junta's leader, Frank Bainimarama, of acting "in a manner prejudicial to good governance and public order". If Fiji Water's decision to pull out of the nation stands, it's difficult to see how the product can survive: the trendy brand revolves around the allegedly unique and life-enhancing properties of the underground spring from which it is sourced, which is said to be particularly pure.

That marketing pitch has been enough to turn Fiji Water into a favourite of the celebrity classes, drunk by everyone from Scarlett Johansson and Justin Timberlake to Nicole Kidman and the Obamas.

Fiji Water has also aggressively styled itself as an eco-friendly product, claiming that it pays to offset all the carbon emissions which come from transporting square plastic bottles from one of the world's most remote locations to the refrigerators of major cities. Al Gore swigs it while delivering speeches about global warming, while the firm's owners are the well-connected LA-based philanthropists Lynda and Stewart Resnick, who have given millions of dollars to progressive causes and Democratic Party politicians.

Not everyone is convinced by their green-washing, however. Some critics have scoffed at the notion that bottled mineral water can ever be environmentally responsible, and point out that many residents of Fiji have no access to clean drinking water, and suffer from diseases such as typhoid.

Others have raised eyebrows at the firm's corporate structure: court records show that, in 2008, it was owned by an entity in the tax haven of Luxembourg, though some assets have recently been transferred to Switzerland. Despite its current hostility to Fiji's taxman, the firm has enjoyed tax-exempt status on corporate income since it was founded in 1995. Fiji is meanwhile suffering from economic sanctions against its government from the EU and other trading partners. Its regime has fallen out with many overseas investors, including Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which in September sold its controlling stake in Fiji's main newspaper in protest at ownership limits on foreign media companies.

Yesterday, Mr Bainimarama launched his own PR offensive, claiming that "as usual Fiji Water has adopted tactics that demonstrate that Fiji Water does not care about Fiji or Fijians".

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style