Published: 20/07/2010

How many times can a company lie in the course of attempting to undermine a union? It is difficult to say if Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, holds the record (the competition is stiff), but it is certainly an over-achiever…

For three long years, our affiliate SBNIP representing workers at the Nescafé factory in Panjang, Indonesia, has been trying to bargain a new collective agreement, including wage bargaining. Nestlé management responded by retaliating against SBNIP officers and members, creating a company union, pressuring workers to ‘join’ it and even faking signatures on membership documents.

They also simply lie.

We’ve lost count of all of them, but here are some of the bigger Nestlies Panjang workers and others have been told to swallow.

Lie number 1: In response to the union’s 2007 request to bargain a new agreement including wages, they were told: nowhere does Nestlé negotiate wages; “remuneration is the prerogative of the employer and is based on individual performance” (from the minutes of the deadlocked April 2008 negotiations). The IUF produced collective bargaining agreements with other Nestle unions, agreements which include wage scales.

Lie Number 2: In 2009, unable to maintain the claim that Nestlé doesn’t do wages, Nestlé ‘conceded’ that wages are part of collective bargaining, and agreed that it might be possible to negotiate them at Panjang. Fast forward to February, 2010, when the company agreed with the IUF to send a message to the Panjang union stating (among other things) “We take this opportunity to express our readiness to include wage negotiations in the CLA 2010-2011, and ask you, as the Union which is holding the majority representation, to start the process to negotiate the CLA [Collective Labour Agreement] 2010-2011.”

That was in Switzerland. The letter which was sent to the union in Bahasa Indonesian omitted the key phrase “as the union which is holding the majority representation” – thereby opening the door to bringing a fake organization into dubious ‘negotiations.’

Lie number 3: This year, when IUF members at Nestlé (again) wrote Nestlé corporate management that management ‘s anti-union practices at Panjang violated international labour standards and norms, and it was time to stop stalling and conniving and start genuine negotiations, the company brazenly asserted that “In no case has Nestlé Indonesia delayed, or tried to delay, the negotiations”. As if 3 years of repression, chicanery and lies had never taken place!

Lie number 4: The same response being peddled to IUF members states that “The Swiss National Contact Point of the OECD has not found Nestlé Indonesia in contravention of its Guidelines.” This is a lie, because the Swiss National Contact Point as a matter of policy never issues a formal statement as to whether the Guidelines have been violated or not. In accepting a submission, as they have done in the past in a number of cases concerning Nestlé submitted by the IUF, the NCP simply states that their agreement to become involved implies no judgement on whether the company has violated the Guidelines. When a ‘final statement’ is officially published by the NCP, this position is again restated – as a reminder of the procedural rules, not as a conclusion. In no sense can this can be construed as a statement vindicating management practices or absolving Nestlé. But this is not what Nestlé is telling people.

Nestlé are past masters of the technique of repeating something often enough in the hope that it will be accepted as true. This practice has recently been extended to issuing CSR reports which they claim to be in compliance with the requirements of the Global Reporting Initiative, falsely assigning their own reports a grade, and even hiring an outside agency to ‘certify’ its accuracy. As the IUF has shown, the exercise is entirely bogus and can’t hold up to even casual scrutiny.

Those who work for the company measure what they say against what they do – the only standard we know.

Click here to send a message to Nestlé in support of the Panjang workers.