Thursday, February 9, 2012

Honorary degree for Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

On March 1 the university will confer honorary degrees on three individuals: PeterBrabeck-Letmathe, Steve Hrudey, and Sunita Narain. A number of requests coming in via this blog, email, and Twitter have asked that we provide some explanation of the selection of Peter Brabeck-Letmathe in particular.
As is the case with all nominations for honorary degrees, the nomination of Peter Brabeck-Letmathe was brought forward to the Honorary Degrees Committee by a nominator, with letters of support from informed and distinguished referees familiar with the nominee’s accomplishments.
The selection process
Honorary degree recipients are chosen by the University of Alberta Senate's Honorary Degrees Committee, which is chaired by the Chancellor and comprises broad representation, including the President and Provost; elected members of Senate; and representatives from the academic community, support staff, the Alumni Association, Students' Union, and the Graduate Students' Association. Total membership on the committee is 20.
Complete nominations are sent to all members of the committee for their review and research prior to the selection meeting, and then each member brings his or her assessment to the meeting. Prior to voting and selection, thorough discussion of the merits of each nomination occurs. The nominations and the proceedings of these meeting are strictly confidential in order to protect the privacy of the nominees and to ensure that frank discussions can occur among members of the committee.

At the end of this process, the Honorary Degrees Committee elected to confer an honorary degree on Peter Brabeck- Letmathe, along with Steve Hrudey and Sunita Narain. All three recipients have provided extraordinary leadership in sparking dialogue, conducting research, and pushing for major policy change in addressing critical challenges relating to the management and safety of water.
Peter Brabeck-Letmathe was chosen in recognition of his emerging and growing role as a worldwide leader in water resource management. His recent advocacy and leadership calling attention to water issues worldwide is challenging industry and government to take quick action. He leads a worldwide project on “Water Resources,” as an active member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, and is one of the co-authors of the 2009 report of the 2030 Water Resources Group entitled Charting Our Water Future: Economic Frameworks to Inform Decision-Making. Of particular note to the selection committee was Brabeck-Letmathe’s decision to use his exceptional position within the global corporate sector, as Chairman of Nestlé, to engage government and business leaders on the critical issues of water resource scarcity and security.

The Honorary Degrees Committee also gave significant weight to the fact that, under Brabeck-Letmathe’s leadership, Nestlé was awarded the Stockholm Industry Water Award by the highly regarded Stockholm International Water Institute in August 2011. The company received this award for implementation of water management strategies put in place that include providing expert training for 300,000 farmers, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in water use and greater crop yields.

Throughout the history of the U of A, honorary degrees have been conferred on a wide variety of individuals from all over the world whose accomplishments have had a major impact on a diversity of professions and areas of expertise, in addition to society as a whole. This diversity is evident at spring and fall Convocation, and will again be evident at the special conferral ceremony on March 1.
Steve Hrudey, one of the two other candidates to be honoured that afternoon, has had an academic career distinguished by outstanding public service and leadership in researching, analyzing, applying, and changing public policy relating to safe drinking water. He was recently awarded the 2012 American Water Works Association A.P. Black Research Award—only the second Canadian to win this award in its 45-year history.
Sunita Narain, one of India’s most vocal and influential environmental advocates, has challenged and successfully incited individuals, governments, and multinational corporations to make major policy changes. For that, she with her organization, the Centre for Science and Environment, has been awarded the Stockholm Water Prize, and three times she has been listed in the US journal Foreign Policy as one of the world’s top 100 public intellectuals.
On March 1, we invite and encourage all members of the university community to come and hear these three diverse individuals speak about and debate their ideas on the actions local and global communities must take to preserve their access to plentiful, safe and secure water. Please see to register.
Indira V. Samarasekera 
President and Vice-Chancellor
Linda Hughes


  1. I appreciate the need for secrecy in the deliberations of the Committee.

    Without going into any details, however, is it possible to say whether committee discussion dealt in any way with controversies around Brabeck-Letmathe and Nestle? (These might have included boycotts since the 1970s, controversies over water markets in Alberta, his personally winning the "Black Planet Award" for environmental irresponsibility, etc.)

    I'm trying to understand whether the Committee was oblivious to arguments against the honorary degree, or whether it considered such arguments and opted to award the degree notwithstanding.

  2. If members of the UofA and broader community wish to protest peacefully against awarding an honorary degree to the Nestle Chairman, will UofA's leaders support their freedom to do so, and permit this protest on campus, including inside and/or outside the award venue?

  3. Who nominates people for honorary degrees? May we know who nominated Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe?

  4. I would like to contest the nomination of Peter Brabeck-Letmathe. Although he may personally be working on issues to do with water conservation, he represents a company which does not responsibly deal with water and water issues. If the University of Alberta gives him an honorary degree, it will be very bad publicity for this institution. Groups such as the Council of Canadians are already beginning to protest this decision. This has the makings of a public relations disaster: do not further damage the reputation of this university and give him an honorary degree.

    Regards, Julie Rak
    Professor, English and Film Studies

  5. We literally have the whole world to choose from in offering honorary degrees: every activist, leader, role model, and educator on earth.

    Why, then, have we opted to honor the head of a company so controversial for its environmental impact, advocacy of water privatization, and record on infant health?

    I thank the President and Chancellor for explaining how nominations for honorary degrees move through the Senate. I hope that they will share more, however, about the origin of the nomination and how it is that Brabeck-Letmathe rose to the nominator's attention out of a whole world of possibilities.

  6. Julie, did you even read the post above your comment? If he "represents a company which does not responsibly deal with water" then why "under Brabeck-Letmathe’s leadership, Nestlé was awarded the Stockholm Industry Water Award by the highly regarded Stockholm International Water Institute in August 2011." Let's do what universities are supposedly good at: raising and discussing important issues. March 1 at the Timms Centre - see you there.

  7. As U of A alumni, we are concerned about the nomination of Peter Brabeck-Letmathe. Brabeck-Letmathe's personal actions do not outweigh the harmful, irresponsible actions of his company, actions which affect the entire planet. Giving an honorary degree to this individual will lessen the prestige of other such degrees conveyed upon more worthy recipients.

  8. @Anonymous 10:35 AM

    You quote the PR release as a rebuttal to Julie, but uncritically so. The Stockholm International Water Institute (of which Nestle is a sponsor) is not 'highly regarded' in all quarters.

    See, for example,

  9. Please. According to the site, they won an industry award for the following reason: "Nestlé has been named the winner of the Stockholm Industry Water Award for its leadership and performance to improve water management in its internal operations and throughout its supply chain."

    Great initiative, but it's much like celebrating an oil company for buying plug-in electrics for its staff while continuing operations as usual. I hardly think a 30% reduction in internal water uses balances out the concerns that have been raised about Nestle's corporate practices.

  10. Some further (water market-oriented) information that might be of value to this discussion of the background to the proposed honourary degree:

    Nestle Group chairman says Alberta should consider water market (May 10, 2011; Council of Canadians News)

    "Alberta plays down water-sharing talks with Nestle" (May 12, 2011 - CTV News)

  11. Twice a graduate of the U of A and currently a grad student, I have witnessed very effective handling of unfortunate events as happened in the Faculty of Medicine last summer by President Samarasekera.

    Since she sits on this Committee herself, I am astonished that the nomination of Peter Brabeck-Letmathe came to this point--involvement in a company that does what Nestle does all over the world with water while at the same time having a water discussion as one of the items on the landing page for this prestigious research university is jarring.

    Given the time we are in as an institution and the province in which we operate as a University--and the importance of the leadership that a university MUST maintain in the milieu in which it is embedded--this nomination and subsequent approval of that nomination does not reflect well on the University of Albera.

    I cannot attend any meetings. Please know that there are many of us who noted the refusal of the University of Alberta to allow protestors on the property within the last 2 months, thus silencing voices in the very place where those voices are created. This is not the action that a pure research institution needs to be taking at this time.

    Nor is the nomination of this candidate for this honourific timely, sensitive, or well-received.

    Please withdraw this nomination. I am embarrassed at this action by my home institution.

  12. "As an institution, the university is a global citizen, and we want to live up to our responsibility to the world. We're committed to research and teaching, but we're also committed to citizenship."
    ---Brita Baron, U of A Vice-Provost and Associate VP International, quoted in the Folio, February 3, 2012, p. 6.

  13. This blog is promoted by the UA as a site for discussion, yet I think it would be appropriate for someone to be able to respond to thoughtful and very serious questions. Such as the earlier question:

    "If members of the UofA and broader community wish to protest peacefully against awarding an honorary degree to the Nestle Chairman, will UofA's leaders support their freedom to do so, and permit this protest on campus, including inside and/or outside the award venue?"

  14. Apologies for belated response to some questions and comments.
    Yes, the honorary degree committee does its due diligence on nominees. Proceedings of the committee are confidential, but generally speaking, a potentially controversial candidate would not be ruled out if the committee felt the person was a qualified recipient. As the president said recently, 'We recognize intellectuals, controversial or not.'
    Peaceful protest outside a venue is certainly permitted. The recent Occupy activity was not opposing protest--in fact they did so the following day--but was preventing the publicly proclaimed establishment of an illegal encampment. The university is a place of civil dialogue and discussion. The very event at which the honorary degree in question will be conferred is designed specifically to foster dialogue by bringing together very divergent viewpoints on the topic of water.
    Who makes a nomination is confidential. An honorary degree recognizes an individual, not the company that he or she works for. There is not an appeal process to overturn the selection of an HD recipient.

  15. I note that while Colloquy (can we not have a name?) has said that "the very event at which the honorary degree in question will be conferred is designed specifically to foster dialogue by bringing together very divergent viewpoints on the topic of water," questions from the floor must be submitted in advance and vetted. I would not like to see this practice become widespread at 'intellectual' events at the University.

  16. As an alumni of this university, I am appalled at the decision to award an honorary degree to an individual responsible for a corporation that has a terrible track record on environmental issues and water security. Nestle pumps 450 gallons per minute out of the Great Lakes, I hope that this is not their plan for Alberta water. As an institution of higher learning, the UofA should not be rewarding this type of corporate irresponsibility.

  17. I would like to provide your discussions on the appropriateness of honouring Mr. Brabek-Letmathe with some comments.

    It is still difficult for the international community to recognize the relevance of the private sector for our global agenda and for the development of our societies. This, on the other hand, has also to do with the slow recognition of the private sector of its role and potential contribution to global governance and societal development processes.

    Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe has been one of the world's business leaders who has come over to the global agenda of our shared public space and got engaged in affirming the basic values on which our societies and the international community must be built.

    When UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan invited the business community to a sharing of our basic global values founding in 2000 the Global Compact, Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe was one of the first business leaders in the world to join this new platform in which the business partners commit themselves to sustain ten basic principles of our international community - human rights, labour rights, protection of the environment and anti-corruption.

    I had the pleasure of making the personal acquaintance of Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe in 2009 on occasion of an international conference at the United Nations sponsored by Nestle on "Creating Shared Value: How business joins the UN's goals". At this conference Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe announced to grant every two years a US$ 400,000 prize for individuals, NGOs or small enterprises offering innovative solutions to nutritional deficiencies, access to clean water or progress in rural development. At this meeting also special attention was paid to the issue of water supply.

    In my opinion Mr. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe personalizes those values of the common good, the vision of our shared future and the courage for action which merit the recognition of an academic institution like the University of Alberta by honouring him with a doctor honoris causa degree.

    Walther Lichem
    Ambassador ret.
    (former visiting professor at the UoA)

  18. At this place we read: Honorary degrees are awarded as one of three types: Doctor of Laws, honoris causa; Doctor of Letters, honoris causa; or Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

    I could have missed it but has it been decided which honorary degrees will be awarded to the newest recipients?

  19. Dr. Rudnicki,

    They are as follows, and we'll look into updating the various places the info appears to ensure it is complete.

    Thank you.

    Sunita Narain – laws
    Steve Hrudey – science
    Peter Brabeck-Letmathe – laws

  20. It is good to see the comments by Walther Lichem as it is important to understand there are different sides to a debate. I would like to respond to his comments.

    Being part of the international community I do in fact recognise the importance of the private sector for our global agenda and the development of our societies, including their need to make a profit. The key issue is whether the private sector organisation concerned behaves in an ethical manner and sadly Nestle continues to fail on this point, which is why they are one of the most boycotted brands in the world. Nestle make a profit while others count the cost.

    Mr Lichem mentions Global Compact and how Mr Brabeck-Letmathe/Nestle was the first to commit to the principles. A simple internet search will show Mr Brabeck-Letmathe/Nestle have continuously failed in their commitment. In fact since Mr Brabeck-Letmathe committed to the principles Nestle have been voted the worlds ‘least responsible company’ in a global vote coinciding with the World Economic Forum. Global Compact, which I believe originally had good intentions, refuses to investigate complaints against Nestle over violations of the Global Compact Principles. Nestle are a patron sponsor of Global Compact.

    Nestle also have sponsorship links with the Stockholm International Water Institute who awarded Mr Brabeck-Letmathe the Stockholm Industry Water Award to which the Honorary Degrees Committee have given significant weight to.

    Clearly the Nestle PR machine recognises the importance of sponsoring which is why they also sponsored a UN conference and announced a grant every two years for individuals, NGO’s and small enterprises. It’s a pity Nestle only attend meetings with the UN when it suits Nestle and at other times have had ‘scheduling conflicts’. Also, many NGO’s are known to currently boycott Nestle e.g. Oxfam, Save the Children, World Vision etc.

    The UoA Honorary Degrees Committee states that the award is for Mr Brabeck-Letmathe as an individual but in my opinion, and i believe by the points Mr Lichem puts forward he would agree, you can not separate Mr Brabeck-Letmathe from his role as head of Nestle.

    For this reason alone I believe Mr Brabeck-Letmathe does not merit such an award and i find it sad that the reputation of the UoA will become forever damaged at the expense of the Committee’s pride.

  21. See if you can follow the thread: (For years and under protest by activists) Nestle funds SIWI's Water Week to the tune of $45,000 a year. (In 2011) SIWI gives Nestle its Industry Award, which the U of A uses to justify (Nestle chair) Peter Brabeck's honorary degree. Now it turns out that SIWI's ED (Anders Berntell) is leaving on March 1 to become ED of the 2030 Water Resources Group of the (International Financial Corporation, the private sector arm) of the World Bank, which set up in 2011 its 2030 Water Resources Group Phase 2 Entity to partner with the world's largest water corporations on water policy. The chair of the WRG? Peter Brabeck-Letmathe of Nestle.

  22. A university's job is to promote, provoke and discuss. Giving voice to a diverse range of opinions and belief systems is a critical part of constructive debate. As long as one plays by the basic rules (no porn, no violence, no racism, no holy war), we should applaud the decisions of the U of A to promote a meaningful discussion.
    Personally, I feel that if you do not ignite controversy, you probably haven't done much !!

  23. In response to the posting about the value of controversy: I think that everyone would agree that controversial decisions or ideas are not a bad thing in that they can stimulate productive discussions and synthesis of new approaches and ideas. HOW they are done is what is what I am concerned with. In this situation, many people that work on water management and distribution, infant mortality issues, and human health relating to baby milk supplements had no idea that this honourary degree was being conferred, let alone considered. And, these are not "protesters" or those of single "opinions" (to which the UA President referred), but rather established and highly respected researchers in these fields. I sincerely hope that this is not a harbinger of things to come for the UA. If this is how one makes the World's Top 20 Universities by the year 2020, then I do not want to part of that 'esteemed' list.


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