Nestlé, whose clashes with activists over sales of baby milk formula in Africa led to widespread boycotts in the 1980s, has been found liable in a civil case over the secret infiltration of a non-governmental organisation.A Swiss court last week ordered Nestlé and the Swiss security company Securitas AG to pay compensation following revelations that an infiltrator had attended "workgroup" meetings of Attac, an anti-globalisation group.
Some of those meetings took place at members' homes. The world's biggest food company has been at pains to repair relations with NGOs since the milk formula debacle, which led to new health regulations on its marketing.
The rise of social media and rapid dissemination of any wrongdoings -- and a new generation of more socially conscious consumers -- has further encouraged the maker of KitKats and its peers to address issues ranging from child labour on cocoa farms to saving water. Such initiatives are often carried out in partnership with NGOs.
But even though Nestlé has been fostering closer ties with its one-time foes, it has now been found to have been involved in the monitoring of activist activities. The long-running legal saga began in 2008 when Attac filed criminal and civil allegations against Nestlé and Securitas after Swiss TV alleged that an Attac workgroup in the canton of Vaud had been infiltrated by a Securitas employee on behalf of Nestlé in 2003.
The criminal case was dropped in 2009, but the civil case continued, and Jean-Luc Genillard, president of the civil court in Lausanne, has now ordered Nestlé and Securitas to pay compensation of SFr3,000 per claimant.
A spokesman for Nestlé said the company would like "to reiterate that incitement to infiltration is against Nestlé's corporate business principles", adding that it noted the judge's decision "with disappointment".
However, he said it was too early to say what, if any actions, Nestlé would take next. "We are unable to make any specific comments before the judge's reasoning is released. If it turns out that a Nestlé employee has acted negligently, we will take appropriate action," he said.
Securitas said it had stopped this sort of activity eight years ago and that the judge's ruling had no impact on its current operations. The group said it was now waiting for the judge's written reasoning. Attac said it was "very satisfied" that the civil court had condemned Nestlé's and Securitas's actions.
"Nevertheless, we'd like to point out that we are continuing to critically observe the worldwide activities of multinational corporations."