On 19 December, Nestle suspended operations at its Harare factory saying that the safety of employees could no longer be assured.
The company had been under pressure to continue buying and processing milk from non-contracted suppliers, including from Gushungo Dairies, an estate managed by Grace Mugabe, the wife of Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe. This followed a promise from Nestle in October to end business dealings with Gushungo Dairies.
Management finally decided to close the Harare factory when government officials and police arrived unannounced and forced the deposit of a tanker containing milk of non-contracted suppliers.
Since then local Nestle management has been in regular contact with the Zimbabwean authorities to reach a resolution.
Having received written assurance from the Minister of Industry and Commerce to guarantee the security of staff and to not interfere in the operating processes, Nestle decided to restart activities at its Harare factory on 31 December.
In an article published in the Herald, Zimbabwe Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube said Nestle had also agreed to work with the government.
Ncube was quoted in the state-run newspaper saying the parties: “Collectively reached an understanding to work together in ensuring that milk produced at Gushungo Dairies is absorbed by the local dairy processors.”
In October Nestle stopped buying milk from Gushungo Dairies after international media reports criticized the food giant for buying milk from a farm that is run by Grace Mugabe, and had been seized from its original owners under controversial land reform laws.
Nestle has not commented on the comments made by Ncube in the Herald, but a spokesperson did tell Dairy Reporter that: “The company reiterates its commitment to source milk exclusively from its contracted farmers.”
As for the future, the company underlined its long-term commitment to Zimbabwe. The spokesperson said: “Nestle has been in Zimbabwe for 50 years, working with the population of Zimbabwe and striving to maintain a long-term viable operation in often challenging conditions.
“We operate in Zimbabwe, as we do in every country, through good times and bad. We work for the long-term, in a way which has positive impact on our consumers, employees and suppliers.”