Published: 01/12/2011

Nestlé workers will be familiar with what the company calls the “4 Nestlé behaviors”, which are used in the evaluation process to which non-management personnel are increasingly being subjected. One of these is “practice what you preach”.

Two recent events at Nestlé Chile’s Macul plant call into question management compliance with Nestlé’s professed dedication to the safety and health of its “people” (“our most important asset”) and the respect for the people, practices and laws of the countries in which it operates.

The first event occurred in July 2011, when a worker suffered a heart attack while on the job. He received no attention in the factory clinic, because the person on duty panicked and was unable to administer the necessary first aid. The worker, who had been working for two weeks straight without a day off, died a short while later.

One may assume that had the worker received proper first aid treatment, he may have had a fighting chance. The person responsible for the first aid clinic was clearly not sufficiently trained to carry out this function. To add insult to injury, the death was not recorded in the clinic’s logbook. These anomalies were only the most recent in a series involving the clinic, which have been highlighted by the union but so far not been properly addressed by management. These highlight a double standard in the way Nestlé “practices what it preaches” in terms of principles and standards – sometimes with severity, as in the case below; sometimes quite leniently, as in this case. The fact that it is common practice for lay clinic staff and management H&S staff – not medical doctors – to recommend medicines and accord sick leave, further shows the casual attitude displayed by Macul factory management – and their superiors in the Nestlé hierarchy – toward the factory clinic and the health and safety of their workers.

The second event occurred in September 2011 with the wrongful dismissal of a contract worker. The worker was in possession of a forklift operating license issued by the competent authorities, but was dismissed for operating a forklift – without a Nestlé-issued license. The plant manager, when challenged about the reasons for the dismissal, made derogatory remarks with reference to Chilean airplanes falling out of the sky and Chilean workers being trapped in mines because Chileans are careless and act foolishly.

The plant manager has attempted to justify the dismissal with the Nestlé slogan, “One accident is one too many”. No matter how compelling the message is, it doesn’t justify the violation of the company’s Internal Rules of Order, Health and Safety (stipulated in the Chilean Labour Code), which require that in cases of gross misconduct, a written warning be issued and copied to the Labour Inspectorate.

Fortunately, the dismissed worker was paid for three months of his contract. Is Nestlé giving us to understand that money can offset a wrongful dismissal and irrelevant and racist comments? Despite the time elapsed, the Federation of Nestlé Chile Workers is still waiting to hear how the company intends to resolve these issues and what corrective measures it intends to adopt.