Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nestle's idea of fairness and transparency

"Nestle's idea of fairness and transparency"
by Ducky Paredes
22 March 2011, Malaya (original article available online)

“BDO charged that Nestle ‘acted in utmost bad faith and in wanton, fraudulent, reckless, oppressive and malevolent manner.’”

WE wish to assure the public that our activities are conducted in compliance with the Nestle Corporate Business Principles, consistent with universally accepted practices adhering to fairness, transparency and compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. These same principles have governed the way Nestle has done business in the Philippines for 100 years, allowing us to earn the trust of our consumers all these years. In turn, we expect our partners to be guided by the same principles."

This is the assertion of Ms. Edith de Leon, the Head of Corporate Affairs of Nestle Philippines, Inc. (NPI), a Switzerland-based multinational company producing and marketing a wide range of consumer products.

De Leon was reacting to media articles critical of the company’s business practices that, among others, included unjust termination of agreements, predatory pricing, perjury and offering false testimony in evidence.

The particular complaints in this regard were filed by two of its major distributors, Service Edge Distribution, Inc. (SEDI) and FDI Forefront II Trading Corporation (FDI 2).

"Adherence to fairness, transparency and compliance with all applicable laws and regulations." Grandiose words, nice to hear but, if not sincerely meant, amount to nothing.

But how does her company’s actual actuations square with her lofty Corporate Business Principle?

Was Nestle Philippines being fair and transparent when, it ‘’knowingly and deliberately provided false and fraudulent information’’ in 2009 to Banco de Oro regarding the financial status of its distributor, Interbrand Logistics and Distribution, Inc. which was then renewing its loan and credit facility with the bank?

The bank renewed Interbrand’s credit facility and extended it a series of 19 loans totalling P123.25 million in the second half of 2009 on the strength of Nestle’s repeated positive endorsements and certifications about its distributor’s financial stability and payment performance. It turned out (eventually) that Nestle knew all along that Interbrand was in serious financial trouble; yet, just the same, Nestle participated in what amounted to a cover-up in order to protect and advance its own business interest.

Banco de Oro took Nestle to the court, accusing it of having "knowingly made a false representation with intent to mislead the bank into renewing Interbrand’s credit facilities and allowing Interbrand to make further availments under the same to finance the purchase of (Nestle’s) products which would eventually lead to (Nestle’s) benefit."

BDO charged that Nestle "acted in utmost bad faith and in wanton, fraudulent, reckless, oppressive and malevolent manner."

Referring to the complaint on predatory pricing filed by SEDI and FDI 2, De Leon said this was dismissed by the Department of Trade and Industry. True or false?

According to the two distributors, what actually happened was that the DTI declined to make a definitive ruling on the merits of the case supposedly because it did not have jurisdiction over the complaint, due to the lack of applicable jurisprudence and the absence of pertinent laws on predatory pricing and unfair trade practices.

This is precisely why several anti-trust bills seeking to curb these abusive practices have been filed in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.

The fact is that top Nestle officials are also facing perjury charges before courts in Quezon City and Makati City and these are now being evaluated by prosecutors of the Department of Justice. Named respondents are Nestle chairman and CEO John Martin, chief financial officer Peter Noszek, business executive manager for liquid beverages Shahab Bacani and regional sales manager Jose Ceballos.

Was Nestle also being transparent when it quietly shipped out Peter Noszek, who is now reportedly in the US? Of course, there was no Hold Departure Order for him, but Nestle insiders say that Noszek’s departure was kept so hush-hush that they only found out about it one morning via an office advisory.

It may be assumed that the company also did not inform the DOJ officials concerned about Noszek’s departure. So he is now effectively out of reach of the country’s judicial system. Neat, isn’t it? Sure it would be -- for a criminal organization but, for a legitimate business? One has to wonder if similar "reassignments" are also in the works for chairman and CEO John Miller and other officers.

De Leon also asserts that Nestle’s pricing policies are compliant with the laws as well as recognized standards of trade practice in the country. But does Nestle include in these "recognized standards" the distributors’ expenses in distributing and delivering Nestle’s products to the wholesalers, dealers and other retail outlets? Does it also take into account the financing cost and high interest rates that distributors have to shoulder in purchasing Nestle products?

Both SEDI and FDI 2 claim that the price bulletins issued by Nestle for its products are so inflexible and do not take these factors into consideration.

They were allegedly also ordered by a Nestle regional sales manager to give unrealistic discounts to a favored group of wholesalers.

They also allege that Nestle’s unfair price strategy, aggressive sales targets and unilateral suspension of in-house financing arrangement caused them to incur heavy losses and placed FDI 2 in dire financial straits. This purportedly prompted Nestle to demand that additional capital be infused into FDI 2, which was complied with, using borrowed money.

In spite of having complied with the demand for additional capital, Nestle allegedly terminated the distributorship agreement on December 21, 2007. This forced the company to cease operations, with the result that it was unable to pay its employees, or to give their 13th month pay.

Again, was Nestle adhering to ‘’fairness and compliance with all applicable laws and regulations" in the case of its distributor, FY Sons, Inc.?

Nestle sued FY Sons before the Makati Regional Trial Court in relation to a dispute over supposed unpaid accounts. But the court handed down an adverse ruling against Nestle and ordered it to pay FY Sons P1 million in actual damages and P200,000 as exemplary damages and attorney’s fees. Nestle elevated the case to the Court of Appeals but to its chagrin, the CA upheld the lower court’s ruling and even raised the penalty to P1.5 million.

It was established in both the Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals that Nestle "indeed failed to provide support to respondent; unjustifiably refused to deliver stocks to respondent; the imposition of P20,000 fine was void for having no basis; that petitioner failed to prove respondent’s alleged outstanding obligation; that petitioner terminated the agreement without sufficient basis in law or equity and in bad faith; and that petitioner should be held liable for damages."

Nestle took the case further up -- to the Supreme Court but Nestle again received a stinging rebuff when the High Tribunal sustained the CA decision. The SC ruled that Nestle failed to prove that FY Sons owed it the sum of P995,319.81 and that the seizure of the distributor’s time deposit of P500,000 was improper.

The Court ordered Nestle to refund the amount, with interest.

Furthermore, the SC castigated Nestle for "being at fault and in bad faith" and rejected its plea for moral damages and attorney’s fee from FY Sons.

In effect, the Supreme Court said Nestle was guilty of violating certain laws and of committing unfair trade practices.

This is what Ms. De Leon calls Nestle’s "adherence to fairness, transparency and compliance with all applicable laws and regulations?"


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