International human rights organization Free Tibet is urging Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz to end their financial investment in a Chinese-owned company that operates in Tibet.
In a May 17 letter to Kerry, Free Tibet Director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren called the Kerry family investment in a Chinese company, called Tibet Water Resources, Ltd. “inappropriate” and encouraged Kerry to “ensure that this investment comes to an end.” The company bottles and sells premium “luxury water” in competition with brands like Evian and Fuji.
“Free Tibet appreciates your personal support for human rights in Tibet,” the group wrote to Kerry, adding “it is, therefore, with concern and urgency that I am contacting you now about the reported Heinz family trust shareholding in Tibet Water Resources Ltd, a Chinese-owned company producing bottled water in the most repressed region of Tibet. I urge you to ensure that this investment comes to an end.”
The controversy erupted May 4 when The Daily Caller News Foundation reported Kerry and his wife have investments in a trust called “HFI Imperial” that consists of equity investments in 12 companies inside the People’s Republic of China, including Tibet Water Resources.
Free Tibet also told Kerry many Tibetans are being forcibly removed from their ancestral villages as Tibet Water imposes a 60-square-kilometer “water protection zone” for its bottling plant. “As you may be aware, Tibetan pastoralists have been relocated from their traditional areas in the millions, often leading to impoverishment and social problems.”
Free Tibet is one of the world’s leading Tibet advocacy organizations, with more than 140,000 Facebook followers and half-a-million unique visits each year, according to an organization spokesman. The group protests Chinese domination of Tibet, its culture and religion.
The organization recently contacted all investors asking them to end their investment in Tibet Water Resources, but reminded Kerry none of the others have “your public position or standing.”
The Department of State has not responded to Free Tibet’s plea for divestment and a department spokesman refused to comment to TheDCNF on the group’s letter.
But the human rights group noted Kerry’s investment was directly at odds with official State Department policy, which has denounced China’s repeated violation of civil and religious rights of native Tibetans.
The 2015 State Department human rights report said the Chinese government is engaged in “the severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of China’s Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly, and movement.”
Tibet Water Resources, Ltd. operates in the “Tibet Autonomous Region,” or TAR, where in 2008 Chinese authorities launched a wave of arrests that resulted in the imprisonment and torture of Buddhists and other political and religious activists.
While the State Department has remained silent about the Kerry-Heinz investments, The People’s Daily, China’s official news agency, denounced Free Tibet’s criticism of the Kerry-Heinz investments in a May 30 news article. “The Dalai Lama clique,” the People’s Daily wrote, “is attempting to hype up the issue as it ‘politicizes’ a foundation’s normal investment activity.”
Tibet Water Resources was chosen as the “official drinking water” at the 11th National Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and at the powerful 17th and 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
Environmentalists also denounced water diversion to produce the premium water, telling Kerry in the letter, “water bottling in Tibet is contributing to the destruction of Tibet’s environment and the depletion of its water resources.”
Heinz, now 77, may be withdrawing from some of her financial management duties. On May 24, the Heinz Endowment, which makes grants to activist groups, reported Heinz was stepping down from that part of the family’s $6.1 billion financial empire and turning it over to her sons.
Free Tibet is pressing for a quick resolution on the Kerry-Heinz investments in Tibet Water. Appealing to their previous support for human rights, Free Tibet told Kerry, “I hope you will now recognize that any investment in this company is inappropriate and counterproductive. On behalf of Free Tibet and our supporters, I urge you to ensure that the Heinz Family Trust divests its shares in Tibet Water Resources Ltd.”
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