PRs praise 'proactive' Nestlé announcement on human rights abuses in supply chain

PR professionals have praised the FMCG giant Nestlé for its "proactive" and "co-ordinated" announcement in which it acknowledged concerns about human rights abuses in its supply chain, and detailed actions to combat the issue.

PRs praise 'proactive' Nestlé announcement on human rights abuses in supply chain

On Monday, an announcement on the Switzerland-based multinational's website said: "Given increasing concerns about labour and human rights abuses in the seafood supply chain and our commitment to eliminate such practices, Nestlé has published an Action Plan on seafood sourced from Thailand."

The announcement quoted executive vice-president of operations Magdi Batato as saying: "This will be neither a quick nor an easy endeavour, but we look forward to making significant progress in the months ahead." It linked to further information - which detailed concerns about child labour, trafficking and crews being forced to work more than 16 hours per day - and an infographic (a crop from which is pictured above) showing the steps it was taking to stop these abuses, in collaboration with "NGO partner" Verité.

All press enquiries on the matter were being handled in-house by Nestlé's global team in Geneva, with regional teams not able to comment.

A spokesman for the company said Verité had spent three months earlier this year studying conditions on vessels, ports, mills and farms, and published the action plan shortly after it was finalised.

He said: "As a result of the work carried out by Verité, we are now in a position to publish a detailed action plan on the issue, to ensure practices significantly improve in the seafood supply chain. The focus on Thailand is because we became aware that there was an issue there... We constantly review potential risks throughout our global supply chain across different commodities."

The announcement was a "brave" move, according to Chris Rumfitt, founder and chief executive of public affairs and PR agency Field Consulting.

Rumfitt said: "This is a brave move from Nestlé. It is taking on a difficult issue that's not presently high in the public consciousness and the risk is it becomes a poster child for the problem. But by taking control of the story rather than waiting for scandals to happen, it has a better chance of being seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem."

Kate Blakeley, deputy managing director of consumer agency Cirkle, said that the announcement was "a positive move" for the company: "It sets out its stall to a range of stakeholders and it's a start point for a long-term debate, possibly even partnerships.

"How organisations behave on societal issues matters more than ever before. Research shows that societal purpose drives greater consumer engagement and is increasingly linked to purchasing behaviour. In today's fast-paced, activist society, we're all one click away from exploring and participating in the behaviour of companies," she said.

Ollie Lane, senior account director at lobbying and PR firm PLMR, said Nestlé's openness had "turned it round to a position where it is actually winning praise from anti-trafficking groups".

He said: "It has abided by one of the themes of the ICCO Summit last month – that nice-sounding words are no longer enough: they must be accompanied by action that underlines that the issue will be addressed.

"Nestlé will, no doubt, have been pleased that Verité's report said the problems it uncovered were not unique to Nestlé – providing Nestlé with vital cover," Lane went on to say, although he also added: "There is a strong sense of leadership running through the response – Nestlé wants to show it is setting the example here, for others to follow."

In addition, the chief executive of an anti-slavery CEO has told PRWeek Asia that admissions of this type "will likely become more prevalent as brands watch to see the consumer reaction".

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