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NGOs call Nestlé’s human rights assessment a ‘PR stunt’

By Caroline Scott-Thomas+

20-Dec-2013

The groups accused Nestlé of overlooking the human right to water, among other allegations
The groups accused Nestlé of overlooking the human right to water, among other allegations

Nestlé’s human rights impact report released earlier this month has been condemned by a coalition of NGOs as nothing more than a PR stunt.

Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company, hailed the release of its white paper as the first ever human rights impact assessment from a multinational firm. The paper used information from the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) to assess the company’s human rights impact in seven countries, Angola, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan.

However, Blue Planet Project, FIVAS, Food & Water Watch and Public Services International said in a joint statement that the analysis is flawed and “a far cry from an independent analysis on the human rights impacts of Nestlé’s activities”.

“Given the selective focus, limited scope and glaring omissions, the report cannot be seen as anything more than the company’s latest public relations stunt,” said Jorgen Magdahl of the Norwegian NGO FIVAS.

Maude Barlow, founder of the Blue Planet Project and chairperson of the Council of Canadians and Food & Water Watch, said: “The analysis is fundamentally flawed because it is a selective examination of corporate policy rather than corporate practice.”

Among specific accusations, the statement claims that the criteria for Nestlé’s report were limited, overlooking the human right to water, for example. It cites several cases in which Nestlé has been challenged over its access to water, including in Pakistan and in Canada.

In October this year, Nestlé Waters Canada accepted drought restrictions detailed in a ‘permit to take water’ for its Hillsburgh, Ontario bottled water production well – closing a 2012 appeal launched by the company against permit conditions  that restricted the amount of groundwater it could draw in the event of a drought.

Nestlé has defended its chairman’s position on water several times, saying that ‘of course’ he sees water as a human right .

Speaking about the release of the company's white paper, director for human rights and business at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Allan Lerberg Jorgensen said: “Human rights impact assessments are an emerging science. No one knows quite what they are or should be.

“By sharing the lessons we have learnt we hope to move practice forward. What we’ve done is by no means perfect and there will be things we may have missed. Whereas corporate human rights impact assessments are still a rare best practice, publicly sharing the results takes it one step further. Nestlé deserves a lot of credit for being perhaps the first multinational company to take this step."

The organisations also criticised Nestlé for its role in shaping public policy on water through its involvement in groups like the 2030 Water Resources Group, the UN Global Compact and the Global Water Partnership, “despite growing opposition to corporate control of water around the world”.

A Nestlé spokesperson told FoodNavigator: "We are disappointed by the reaction from the NGOs you have chosen to highlight and completely reject their criticism of the document and the process behind it."  

Nestlé’s human rights impact assessment is available online here (pdf).

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