NestlÃ© seems to be on the offensive regarding their reputation on the web. This discussion page from Wikipedia illustrates a balanced and reasonable approach by corporate PR to keeping their public image clean. Another facet of this campaign emerged this morning in a comment on my post regarding Scoble’s open-faced warmth and the hospitable welcome he gave NestlÃ© leaders on a recent occasion at Microsoft. George Vezza of NestlÃ© disagreed with my representation of his firm and shared his disagreement here:
George signs off as a “Senior Leader,” and I think it is telling that his title is (or quite recently was) also “Vice President, Marketing and Communications, NestlÃ© Region Caribe.” While it was Robert’s presentation “that has urged [George] to reach out to the bloggers of the world,” I think we can safely assume that it is also a corporate public relations strategy.
I do think that Robert helped convince the company leadership that they should pay attention to blogs. Good job Robert! And thanks for the follow-through George. By opening up the conversation I think people of conscience on all sides of these issues will make more progress than by sitting in our little bloggy corners talking inward and only to each other about depressing situations. I responded to George in my comment box, but the response was lengthy and I thought to raise the discussion up here to the blog post level in order to keep it alive a little longer and to draw some attention to it. I was raised by a corporate dad, a meat industry guy who found community among his co-workers. We were well provided for, and our friends, dad’s co-workers and their families, were nice people with decent values. I get where George is coming from. Anyway, here’s what I wrote in response to George’s comment reproduced above:
George, I stand corrected. The corporation of course is NOT cruel. It is mere artifice, a product of paper, forms and agreements. And you are correct that in a few minutes time I did pull together third party accounts of your company’s ethical lapses, rather than returning to source material for documentation. And of course a lot of that source material would come from NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) and non-profit organizations, since there is no profit in struggling against a system that emerged in the 17th century to organize markets and has seen little change since an oligarchy of major shareholders emerged to stabilize that system for their own continuing profit.
I appreciate your sensitivity to criticism, and I am sure Robert can stand up for himself if he feels like he needs to question my assertions regarding his awareness of your company’s tacit support of slave labor in raw materials markets in the chocolate industry and the thirty year uncorrected history of infant formula marketing in third world markets that is well documented in this Wikipedia article.
I understand your loyalty and the cloying self-righteousness of your assertion that your community, your friends and co-workers in the corporation, is motivated by positive feelings, by empathy and concern for your fellow man and that you ship foodstuffs to hurricane victims. On behalf of victims of natural disasters everywhere, thanks!
Your corporate community comprises hundreds of thousands of employees working for a company founded on a market economy that limits the liability of shareholders to corporate assets. Naturally it is management’s responsibility to protect those assets and to break no laws.
I don’t think that you are evil George, nor are your hundreds of thousands of co-workers. But I think you have been sold a bill of goods regarding ethical responsibility and the way your corporation shades the difference between doing what’s permitted and doing what’s right.
I’m sure I am naive in some ways. I’m refusing to be a “good German” in this era, trying to remind people that while many good men and women died during World War Two, corporations like Krupps, Mitsubishi, Shell Oil, Nestle, and IG Farben lived on. Of these companies, only Nestle was fortunate enough to be a global enterprise with headquarters in a neutral country. Shell Oil shared that good fortune by being nominally a company that belonged to the “Allies.” But indeed, these companies did business across borders, profited by the need to feed, and arm, and fuel armies on both sides of the conflict. I am sure it is naive of me to think that a principled position for the directors at IG Farben to have taken would have been to deny the German government access to Zyklon B and to refuse to use forced labor.
But Nestle is not IG Farben, and where Nestle’s business plans and marketing strategies have a negative impact on local populations, the issues are not so easily qualified. There are billions of us on this planet and we need large organizations seeing to the logistics of food and beverage manufacture and supply. The way we are organized in a free market system, Nestle is at the pinnacle in meeting our demands.
If you can honestly say and support that these demands are not manipulated to the detriment of consumers in the case of the African baby formula market, that your bottled water operations consider the balance of inflow and withdrawal assuring that aquifers are replenished rather than drained, that your company has a positive program to refuse raw materials from slave grown cocoa bean plantations, then I will take it all back and apologize to you and to Robert for mixing him into this and to Nestle staffers and shareholders world-wide for raising an issue that I believe needs public discussion.