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Osceola Township, Michigan, might look unremarkable to a casual observer: a small community of less than 400 households in the middle of the state. But the community has become the epicenter of a David and Goliath struggle with one of the world’s most powerful corporations.

In early 2003, Nestlé appealed a court decision that ruled the company’s water pumping harmed the residents of Mecosta and Osceola counties, as well as the local environment. In 2005, Nestlé appealed and the courts stripped residents who lived alongside streams from having legal standing greater than the corporations bottling water and exporting it out of state. People challenging their behaviour have reportedly been silenced with strategic lawsuits against public participation called SLAPP suits.

Thousands of people around the world have chipped in with small donations to help Osceola cover its legal costs and save it from bankruptcy. When the courts ruled against the township in January, it seemed the campaign might be over. But the township and allies refuse to back down. Osceola appealed the decision and thousands of people from New Zealand to Germany have kept supporting the additional costs of the appeal.

Last year, bottled water consumption reached 36.7 gallon average per person in the U.S. Nestlé is first in line to take reap the benefits through its facilities in Michigan, where it now owns several wells dedicated to tapping underground springs that feed the state’s rivers.

In November, Osceola County Courts heard Nestlé’s case. But unlike 15 years ago, when Nestlé tried to intimidate small towns in Michigan with armies of lawyers, groups like SumOfUs worked directly with the local community and helped Osceola county cover over $50,000 in legal fees. A new generation of activists are well-placed to ensure that corporations don’t go unchecked.

Hannah Lownsbrough

executive director, SumOfUs

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