Liverpool FC and Tibet water part ways after year-long campaign

12th September 2018

Free Tibet and its partners urged the club to scrap a 2017 sponsorship deal with the water bottling company

Liverpool Football Club has parted ways with Chinese company Tibet Water Resources Ltd. Free Tibet and its supporters have been pushing the directors of the Premier League team for over a year to terminate a sponsorship agreement that they signed with Tibet Water last year.

Tibet Water is a Chinese company that operates in Tibet, where it extracts and bottles water from Tibetan glaciers. The water is marketed under the brand "Tibet Spring 5100", a high-end product that the Chinese Communist Party has used as its official drinking water at several of its national party congresses. The company’s move into Tibet was part of a wider, government-backed effort to bottle Tibet’s water. Tibet Water is only able to operate in Tibet due to China's brutal military occupation, taking Tibet's water without the permission or consent of the Tibetan people.

The sponsorship deal, announced on Liverpool FC’s website in July 2017, immediately provoked opposition from Tibetans. We contacted the club’s owner, John W.Henry, and the directors to raise our concerns about why this deal was bad for the club and bad for Tibet. In our communications with the directors, we raised the club’s very strong public commitment to human rights.

We were met with silence from the club. A coalition quickly formed, including Tibet Society, the International Tibet Network and consumer group SumOfUs. Working with the Tibetan community, we attended Liverpool’s first match of the 2017-2018 Premier League season in Watford to hand out leaflets to the club’s fans.

Our mobile billboard driving around Liverpool

The campaign continued to grow. We were approached by a number of concerned Liverpool fans, several of whom contacted the club themselves to express their disappointment in this deal. We launched several online actions, including a petiition with SumOfUs which would go on to be signed by over 86,000 people. This generated masses of local, national and international press coverage, with the BBCCNN and the Financial Times covering the campaign. More than 4,000 people also took action on the Free Tibet website, where they sent an email directly to the club's owner asking him to ensure that this deal was scrapped.

At the beginning of the year we escalated the campaign further, driving a mobile billboard around the streets of Liverpool. In spring we received the support of 25 MPs from across the political spectrum, who wrote an open letter, urging the club to terminate the agreement and “reaffirm (its) commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.”

In August, on the opening day of the new football season, a Liverpool fan and Tibet supporter contacted us to draw attention to the club’s football programme. Tibet Water, which had featured in the club’s match programmes throughout the previous season, was now absent from the list of sponsors.

This was the first suggestion that the sponsorship agreement had ended.

Over the past few weeks, we have since been able to confirm that the deal was not renewed and that Liverpool FC has decided to no longer partner with Tibet Water.

Free Tibet is grateful to the Tibet supporters, Liverpool fans and members of the public that got involved in the campaign.  We would also like to thank our partners in the campaign, the International Tibet Network, SumOfUs and Tibet society.