Thursday, June 16, 2011

100th birthday for Nestlé Philippines

Nestlé Philippines' 100th birthday
by Ducky Paredes
Published 16 June 2011 in MALAYA, Business Insight
(Original article available online here)

"IN commemoration of Nestlé Philippines’ 100th year anniversary, the local subsidiary of the world’s largest food and nutrition company will have two very special visitors -- Paul Bulcke, Nestlé S.A. Chief Executive Officer, and Frits Van Dijk, Nestlé S.A Executive Vice President and Zone Director for Asia, Oceania, Africa, and the Middle East -- for a couple of days in order to make Nestlé’s milestone year even more significant. 

Surely, their presence here will boost the morale of well-meaning Nestlé Philippines (NPI) employees — after all, how many times do the highest-ranking executives of a top-50 global corporation visit the country? The company has invested greatly in its centennial celebration, (including a tri-media and online advertising campaign and various CSR initiatives). The arrival of Bulcke and Van Dijk is therefore envisioned to be the shining star among a long list of activities. 

While goodwill creation may be the primary reason for the visit, my NPI source hints that it is also an information gathering activity. Pardon the coffee-inspired pun, but their trip may also serve a "3-in-1" purpose that will ultimately help Nestlé S.A. decide on whether they will intervene in certain issues that have served as a self-created plague destroying the Nestlé’s Philippine office. 

The first chore for the two Nestlé bigwigs is to examine the unresolved labor issue in their Cabuyao plant. Nine years has passed since more than 600 plant employees went on strike to enforce their right to negotiate their retirement benefits, and this labor-management conflict has drawn the attention of local and international media, human rights advocates, and cause-oriented groups.

The Cabuyao issue is particularly volatile. Very much contrary to the good image that Nestlé promotes for itself, this issue has resulted in 23 strike deaths, including those of union leader Meliton Roxas and the man who replaced him, Diosdado Fortuna. Roxas was killed right in front of the picket line in the middle of a protest, while Fortuna was killed on his way home. Without pointing any fingers, any outside observer would have to conclude that their and the 21 other killings could well have been strike-related.

There are also unresolved legal issues. While our Supreme Court has handed down repeated rulings in favor of the workers, NPI has chosen to simply ignore the Court. Last 2006, in fact, the Court explicitly ordered Nestlé management to call back its workers and initiate formal negotiations. Five years later, NPI has done nothing – NPI has not called back the workers; nor has it resumed formal talks.

Another item supposedly on the Nestlé S.A. agenda is the propensity of NPI’s top management to get themselves into legal trouble. At present, a number of their top executives – John Miller, Shahab Bachani, and Nandu Nandkishore – are facing perjury charges in Regional Trial Courts in both Quezon City and Makati. Miller happens to be the present Chief Executive Officer of Nestlé Philippines. One has to wonder how that looks as far as Nestlé S.A. is concerned.

Moreover, NPI’s legal entanglements do not end with their executives. The Philippines’ largest bank, Banco de Oro, is suing the company for false and deceptive testimony. While lawsuits may be a normal part of doing business when one is the size of Nestlé Philippines, to have the country’s biggest financial institution suing you for lying has to be an entirely different reality.

Finally, another issue that Bulcke and Van Dijk are reportedly monitoring is the possibility of a comprehensive Anti-Trust Bill finally being passed into law. Being alluded to many times as the poster boy for corporate bullying and exemplifying a tyrannical multinational, the spotlight would be right at NPI if ever this legislation pushes through. Even now, a number of their bankrupt distributors have gone to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) with complaints of predatory pricing and lack of corporate ethics complaints against NPI. 

The anti-trust issue has gained a lot of legislative momentum and with the diatribes of anti-trust advocate Lorna Kapunan, among the lawyers of anti-NPI clients, the movement towards an anti-trust Law is gaining even more ground. Considering the number of pressing matters that Bulcke and Van Dijk have to attend to, I sure hope they drank a lot of coffee and ate their cereal. They’re going to need Olympic energy to tackle the mess that Nestlé Philippines has made of what Nestlé S.A. means to Filipinos."

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