Nestlé Found Guilty of Spying on Swiss Activists


by Pratap ChatterjeeCorpWatch Blog
January 30th, 2013

Image by phdinparenting. Used under Creative Commons license.

Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has been found guilty of spying on Swiss activists in 2003 with the help of Securitas, a private security company. Jean-Luc Genillard, president of the Lausanne civil court, told the two companies to pay 3,000 Swiss Francs ($3,267.55) to each of nine victims.

Vevey, Switzerland, based Nestlé sells $91 billion worth of products a year such as Nescafé coffee, KitKat chocolates and Maggi noodles. The company has frequently been criticized for marketing baby food in poor countries in violation of a 1981 World Health Organization code that regulates the advertising of breast milk substitutes. It has also come under fire from Greenpeace for using palm oil grown on deforested land in Borneoand buying cocoa beans from plantations that used child labor in Cote d’Ivoire in a film entitled “The Dark Side of Chocolate.”

In 2003, a group of activists with the Association pour la Taxation des Transactions pour l’Aide aux Citoyens (ATTAC) in Vaud, Switzerland, started working on a book on the global policies of Nestlé. At the time aSecuritas employee started to attend meetings using the false name of Sara Meylan.

In June 2008, Temps Présent, a Swiss TV program, revealed that the Securitas agent had briefed Nestlé security personnel as well as corporate communications staff about the ATTAC meetings she attended including ones that were held in activist homes. Securitas also provided this information to the local police.

ATTAC members sued Nestlé after the news report was aired. “We are revolted by this practice, which overturns the principles of freedom of expression and basic democratic rights,” a press release from the group stated. “We condemn the role played by Securitas. This private security company, whose activities traditionally consist of guarding buildings and car parks, accepted a contract to spy on a group of people who in no way represented a threat or a danger, except for the fact that the results of their research activities could not be controlled by the transnational Nestlé.”

In recent years Nestlé has started to respond directly to some complaints of activist groups like Greenpeace, according to the Financial Times. “For a company like ours to prosper over the long term we have to create value for the communities in which we operate,” Janet Voûte, Nestlé’s global head of public affairs, told the newspaper. “And we fundamentally believe we cannot create shared value – not just for shareholders but for society – alone.”

Despite the new public relations strategy to contain activists, the company has been unable to quash the Vaud group. Although ATTAC dropped a criminal case against the two companies in 2009, it continued to press a civil claim in Lausanne courts which it dubbed “Nestlégate.”

“We are very satisfied that the civil court has now condemned NESTLE’s and SECURITAS AG’s spying activities,” ATTAC said in a press release issued after the judge ruled against the companies last week. “Nevertheless we’d like to point out that we are continuing to critically observe the worldwide activities of multinational corporations like NESTLE, especially concerning its hostile trade union policies and the excessive pumping of groundwater in different parts of the world.”

Nestlé reacted to the court ruling “with disappointment” although it added that “incitement to infiltration is against Nestlé’s corporate business principles.”

 

Nestlé in court for surveillance of ATTAC (25 January 2012)


On 24 and 25 January 2012, the multinational food-industry corporation Nestlé and the Swiss private security firm Securitas will be in court in Lausanne, Switzerland, defending themselves against a civil suit for spying on the “anti-globalization” movement ATTAC. This trial, which has been delayed for a long time, will finally lift the veil of secrecy that has been draped over this spying scandal.

Nestlé and Securitas are accused of illegal surveillance and violations of privacy of ATTAC and its members. The charges were filed after Télévision Suisse Romande revealed on 12 June 2008 that a group of ATTAC members in Canton Vaud, who were working on a book on Nestlé’s policies, had been infiltrated and spied on by a Securitas employee on behalf of Nestlé. The woman joined the ATTAC group in 2003 under the false name “Sara Meylan”, attended working meetings (sometimes in the homes of members), and prepared detailed reports on them for Nestlé. As a member of the group, she had access to internal information, and to all the research by the authors, and to their sources and contacts, both in Switzerland and abroad.

On 26 September 2008, the plaintiffs denounced to the examining magistrate another Securitas spy, who was still active in ATTAC in 2008 under her real name. Nestlé and Securitas had claimed initially that the spying had been ended with the departure of “Sara Meylan” in June 2004. When this second secret agent was discovered, the companies said that this agent had not written any more confidential reports for Securitas and Nestlé since 2005.

The criminal proceedings were dropped on 29 July 2009 after a faulty investigation. The Canton examining magistrate at the time accepted the statements by Nestlé and Securitas and gave as one reason for dismissing the case the three-year statute of limitation of the Data Privacy Act – although the second Nestlé-Securitas agent had still been active in ATTAC in 2008!

Now the civil proceedings will come to trial on 24-25 January 2012. The trial is open to the public, and is thus a unique opportunity to shed light on the activities of Nestlé and Securitas.

PROTEST LETTER
Dear Sirs,

We were shocked to learn that Nestlé is being sued in Switzerland for surveillance of the organization ATTAC, which has written a critical book about the negative effects of Nestlé‘s activities.

Nestlé had ATTAC infiltrated by at least two agents of the private security firm Securitas over a period of several years. The agents, one of them under the false name “Sara Meylan”, joined the ATTAC group concerned, attended their meetings, and prepared detailed reports for Nestlé. By means of their access to internal information they had access to all research, sources, and contacts in Switzerland and abroad.

When Nestlé president Brabeck was asked by the Swiss human-rights organization Multiwatch at the 2010 annual general meeting what Nestlé had done to stop this spying, and whether he could guarantee that Nestlé was no longer engaging in such activities, he answered evasively that surveillance and infiltration were not Nestlé policy. The year before, he justified Nestlé’s activities by the absurd accusation that ATTAC was a violent organization, and Nestlé needed to protect itself.

We are indignant about this infringement of freedom of organization and speech and of the right to privacy by Nestlé in Switzerland. We would like to know whether Nestlé is continuing its surveillance of organizations that defend human rights. If so: what organizations are involved? What is Nestlé’s justification for these activities, and what is your intention in doing so?

Thank you in advance for your views on this matter.

Yours sincerely

Nestlé, the world’s largest food-industry corporation, can pay for armies of lawyers, drag out trials in Switzerland, and blackmail the media with advertising boycotts. ATTAC Switzerland is a grass-roots democratic movement that lives on the commitment of volunteers, and has little money to spend. In the trial against Nestlé, ATTAC depends on support – both moral and financial.

Please send a message of solidarity to Attac Switzerland!

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