While in Trinidad earlier this year, I was surprised to see photos in the local papers of young Nestlé employees dressed as nurses out on the streets. They were giving out samples of chocolate and flowers on a day they had named as “National Day of Goodness”. I was surprised because the company got so much stick from western NGOs for stunts like this that they used to promote their baby milk in Africa a couple of decades ago. I’ll come back to this sickeningly hypocritical PR stunt later.
The sad reality about the world’s largest food company is that they source some of their foods from places where slave labour still exists. And they claim not to know about it. On the Guardian website search for Nestlé and slavery to see the accusations about seafood in Thailand and chocolate in Africa. That’s 3 continents and counting. Here is a summary of what I was able to find out about their Brazilian coffee sources.
The workers on some coffee plantations are trafficked and work for little or no pay. Some are forced to live on rubbish heaps drinking water alongside animals. They live in huts without doors, mattresses or drinking water. They are victims of debt bondage, non-existent work contracts, and they are exposed to deadly pesticides without any protective equipment; so it’s not surprising that they suffer from breathing difficulties, skin rashes and birth defects. Human rights abuses are rampant. While Brazil is the world’s biggest producer of coffee, less than 2% of the retail price goes to the workers: they get on average $2 (£1.42) per 60 litre sack of beans.
Nestlé, a Swiss multinational, admits there is a slave labour risk on Brazil’s coffee plantations, but says they do not know the names of all the plantations that supply them. However Starbucks and Illy manage to know the names of all their suppliers. What’s the problem Nestlé? Ignorance is no excuse. You are one of the most profitable companies in the world so you can afford to investigate and find out which places to blacklist.
Meawhile over in the Caribbean, 2 days after The Guardian’s exposé, Nestlé rebrands its UHT milk with Swiss alpine scenes on every tetrapak, and proclaims “Do some good. Tweet your promise to do good or share a dosomegood moment with us online.” The multinational continues “The best part of doing good is sharing it with others. That’s why Nestlé has embarked upon this Day of Goodness to remind Trinidad and Tobago that there’s positivity in every one of us. Join the movement for good today by sharing a glass of milk, opening a door, making someone smile – anything that passes on a good deed from one person to another.”
“Opening the door” sounds like a good idea to me. Let’s “open the door” and kick this food giant out of it! Once again, as with the earlier baby food scandal, this company deserves to be boycotted. It’s evident they only care about the bottom line. Let’s hit them in the only place where it ever hurts – their profits. It was noticeable that the Trinidad Guardian and Newsday both published articles and photos going along with the PR stunt and taking it at face value. Perhaps they were mindful of the the vast advertising revenues they both got from one of the largest food and drink providers in the country. So much for a free press in a capitalist economy.
Here are a few of the products to boycott:
Spread the word! What else? (Are you on board, Mr Clooney?)
The Guardian online 2 March 2016
The Trinidad Guardian 4 march 2016 (www.guardian.co.tt) page A32-A33