PREDA INFORMATION OFFICE — 22 NOVEMBER 2005: You would think that the wealthiest and, arguable, one of the most politically powerful and influential food companies in the world, that claims to have the best quality products, would have the cleanest record when it comes to workers’ rights and employees benefits. So are we to be shocked at a three-year strike by workers demanding justice and fair wages at Nestlé corporation in the Philippines?
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the workers’ demands, you would think that a corporation like Nestlé that claims to be socially responsible would solve such a dispute quickly with honour and justice.
But there is blood on their doorstep, that of Diosdado Fortuna, leader of the Nestlé Philippine union in Calamba, Laguna, south of Manila.
This brave man was shot dead as he made his way home from the picket line last September 22. No doubt his rousing speech the previous day on the 33rd anniversary of the imposition of Martial Law by Ferdinand Marcos sealed his fate. He compared the human rights abuses of that brutal regime to those of the present. Perhaps it was a bit extreme but not deserving of summary execution. That brutal sentence is sufficient to warn me and others to write with greater caution considering the huge number of journalists assassinated in the Philippines in recent years. Watch my trembling scrawl.
Nestlé ought to have condemned all the violence that led up to the murder. Now any apologies for their silence and inaction can only sound hollow and be seen as too little, too late. After this disgusting murder the sight and smell of Nestlé coffee makes me nauseated. It is the bitter taste of oppression.
Nestlé is one of the most boycotted brands in the United Kingdom and in 20 other countries hundreds of thousands of customers refuse to buy the Nestlé brand. They deplore the alleged unfair practices of the company and claim that it never seems to learn, change and correct itself.
That is not entirely correct. One of the big issues that has turned millions of people to criticise this company is its former aggressive promotion of baby milk powder in poor countries, endangering the well being of thousands of children. Now it has toned down its marketing tactics, perhaps forced to admit by the sheer strength that breast feeding is best.
But those who promote the Fair Trade movement are in for a shock this month when Nestlé brings to the market Partners’ Blend coffee. It has been granted for a Fair Trade mark that will give it an image of paying fair and just prices for produce. But how can Nestlé qualify?
“To give a Fair Trade Mark to Nestlé,” says Patti Rundall of Baby Milk Action, “would make an absolute mockery of what the public believes the Fair Trade Marks stands for. Nestlé’s proposal is an entirely cynical token move whose main aim is to rescue the companies appalling image... most of Nestlé’s coffee is bought on world markets at crippling low prices.”
We can only say: pour the herbal tea.