The food giant ranks number one globally as ‘most praised by NGOs’ (non-governmental organisations) but a closer look at the praised/criticised rankings for food companies alone, reveals it ranks number one for both praise and criticism.
The findings come from a study by Sigwatch, a private research organisation and consultancy which tracks and records NGO campaigning across the world,
It collected data from over 7,500 NGOs and their campaigns during 2015 for the 'Corporations that NGOs Loved and Hated in 2015' study.
Speaking about Nestlé’s position, Sigwatch managing director Robert Blood told FoodNavigator: “Nestlé’s position is an interesting one because it was only a few years ago that they were viewed as ‘beyond the pale’ because of the legacy of their position on baby milk and then the Greenpeace Kit Kat campaign. There was such a lot of negative coverage that they had to retreat. It was striking that within a year Nestlé was making a commitment to change.”
Food companies and retailers did particularly well in Europe, with Unilever, Marks & Spencer, Nestlé and German supermarket chain Rewe coming out top. Eight of the 20 most praised were retailers.
Among the ten most praised companies by British NGOs were M&S, Unilever and Nestlé, Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola and retailers Sainsbury and Tesco.
Meanwhile multinational Monsanto came second globally in the most hated table, just behind oil giant Shell, which Blood described as a case of a company being attacked essentially just for existing. “There are a large number of activists who think Monsanto are the most evil corporation of all time but I don’t think Monsanto is particularly bothered about that – they just get on with their job.”
Carrot and stick
NGOs, of course, exist to create change by pointing out things that need improving.
In the past, Blood says they have concentrated on criticising and shaming companies but more recently they have gone for the ‘carrot and stick’ approach.
“In cases like this, they will use positive examples of change as a stick to beat other companies that have not made those changes. Praise is being used as a more sophisticated strategy. This doesn't mean the criticism goes away, it just means that it is more balanced.”
McDonald’s was another food giant that was loved and hated by NGOs globally, appearing in the number two position in the most praised table and number three in the most criticised list.
Blood said: “I was surprised that McDonald’s did so well and rather pleased that they came near the top.” He added that while food NGOs have problems with the fast food giant over health and nutrition, environmental NGOs have a different attitude thanks to the firm’s animal welfare policies, for example.
Across Europe, fossil fuel companies were the main target for action by NGOs in 2015 and featured heavily on the ‘most criticised’ list. In contrast, food companies, retailers and financial institutions took almost all the slots in the ‘most praised’ list with Unilever at number one, Marks & Spencer at number two and Nestlé at number four.
FoodNavigator contacted Nestlé but did not get a response in time for publication.