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Big Nestlé is watching you ! PDF Print E-mail
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On 12 June 2008, a very serious Swiss investigative TV program revealed that Nestlé paid Securitas,one of Switzerland's largest security firms, to plant a woman in a group of attac switzerland from the summer of 2003 until the summer of 2004. We were making conference and editing a book about Nestlé.

As a co-author she had complete access to the group's documentation and to all Attac's email contacts around the world, including information on union members in Colombia fighting for workers-rights in Nestle plants. Such information is potentially dangerous in the wrong hands; in the past people have been killed just for being active organizers especially in Colombia. Her regular reports and memos (physical descriptions, (political orientations, job.) about us and our activities, contacts were handed over to Nestlé, especially to the head of security of Nestle. The infiltrator met him at least one time. The name of the head of security of Nestlé is John Hedley, who in the past was working in the British secret services, the MI6.

We had a first audience in tribunal last month.

More of 150 newspapers (in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France) have been writing papers on the matter.


Big Nestlé is watching you !

Just over two months ago, a report by the "Temps présent" current affairs programme broadcast by Suisse Romande Television (TSR) revealed that Nestlé had commissioned Securitas to carry out surveillance work on a study group in Attac Vaud that was preparing a book entitled Attac contre l'Empire Nestlé (Attac versus the Nestlé Empire). What has happened since then in the media, in politics and in the courts?

« Even more than other multinationals, Nestlé is very attached to its unblemished image as a model company, clean but efficient ». These words were spoken on 11 June 2004, by Sandra Bott, one of the authors of Attac contre l'Empire Nestlé, on the day before the forum organised by Attac to launch the book. This was four years before she began to suspect that Nestlé attached so much importance to its image that she and her fellow authors had been infiltrated, simply for daring to think that the multinational was not a paragon of virtue. Le Monde Diplomatique described this little book as « remarkable, both for the quality of the information it contains and for its pertinence analysis of the ideology and methods of the big Swiss multinational ». However, the food industry giant only saw in it a rehash of previous texts.

On 11 June 2004, the Nestlé spokesman Marcel Rubin replied that his powerful employer had « no reason» to be troubled by this type of event as « everyone is free to hold their own opinions » and that as « Nestlé is the largest food industry group, it is bound to attract criticism». [1] As he was saying these words, Nestlé's mole, code-named Sara Meylan, was about to finish her infiltrating mission after a year of loyal service. If it is true that everyone is free to hold their own opinions, why did Nestlé pay out 200,000 francs [2] to obtain Sara's meticulous observations? Today, caught red-handed spying, the multinational has used its lawyers' verbal skills to implement a well-used self-defence strategy: cover your tracks by slinging mud at the opposing party and distracting attention from the crimes you are accused of.

The media and the political reaction to privatising security services

Good detective or spy novels often mirror and criticise society. This case contains material for a good novel, but it is far from being fiction; the real situation is polemical in itself. What came out of the analyses made by the Nestlé-Empire study group in the first hearing today were the rules of the game followed by the big companies. The actions taken by the food industry giant are based on scorn for democratic rules and for the social rights of its 250,000 employees. This code of behaviour prevails because the Multinational has the financial and legal means to protect it.

The report broadcast in Temps présent at 8:30 pm on 12 June 2008 triggered strong reactions in the national and international media. Headlines (in French) included « Nestlé's eye », « The Nestlégate affair », « Empire against Attac » and « The spy who adored Nestlé ». The media debate centred on the question of privatising security services. This put Securitas in the spotlight while Nestlé, which had hired the service, kept silent in the background. Among the many political figures who said they felt shocked and uneasy about the tasks entrusted to the Securitas investigation service were Luc Recordon, Joseph Zizyadis, the members of the Vaud Socialist Party, Catherine Labouchère (President of the Vaud Liberal party) and Madame de Quattro (Swiss Minister in charge of Security). In the end the federal official responsible for the protection of data and its head of information M. Tsiraktsopoulos demanded explanations from Securitas, and the Swiss Federation of Police Officers (FSFP) stated that its members were dismayed and even questioned its working partnerships with Securitas. The increase in the number and variety of security services being contracted out to the private sector, and the complicity existing between the Head of Securitas, the armament commission of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports (DDPS) and the Canton police were all analysed during the first wave of reactions to the affair.

The infiltration of Attac is not an isolated case and the reasons given by Securitas and Nestlé to justify it leave no doubt that there will be others. (The justification based on the state of emergency due to the G8 summit was a fabrication since the infiltration was initiated well after the summit.) Nestlé's unchanged position was confirmed by its legal director, Hans Peter Frick as he came out of the preliminary hearing on 23 July. He stated that he could not dismiss the possibility of having to resort to Securitas again in the future if a threat made it necessary to obtain information on an NGO. The question lies in what constitutes a « threat » for people who during the hearing, as well as making misogynistic remarks and petty personal attacks, insistently reproached the activists with inflicting real « violence on the (Nestlé) brands ».

As for the mole, Sara Meylan, she surfaced to justify her actions : « I did nothing illegal, I carried out the mission that Securitas had entrusted me with (...) for me it was not something emotional or political. It was my work (...) I had a boss and that is all. I don't even know what happened to the information I handed over to him. I was just the last link in the chain» [3].

The legal side  

Two complaints have been lodged by Attac's defence lawyer, Jean-Michel Dolivo, and at present both civil and criminal proceedings are under way. The civil case is based on the infringement of the personal rights of the authors of the book. The original aim was to obtain a confiscation order for the documents that the mole handed over to Securitas. However the judge, Jean-Luc Genillard only prohibited the destruction of the dossiers. After the preliminary hearing on 23 July, Nestlé's lawyer, Christian Fischer, handed over to the judge the 60-page report written by Sara Meylan. The mole was meticulous; the reports on the authors of the book read like real police files and included their names, ages, e-mail addresses and photographs, character traits, physical and ethnic descriptions, ideas and degree of political activism. This human raw material was collected by Sara for 30 francs an hour and converted into merchandise by Securitas to be sold to Nestlé without the knowledge of the authors. The authors went pale while the mole's report was being read, dismayed at the extent to which the details of their private life were coldly revealed for hard cash.

The problem is that certain things suggest very strongly that not all of the reports have been handed over to the judge. Although the mole made three or four reports per month for nine months, none have been presented for the month of June 2004, when the study group was at its busiest. Furthermore there is no final report, although Securitas say they always send one to their clients. But as far as the judge was concerned if Nestlé said they had no other documents, it was true. The judge's decision was based on trust in the accused party and the judgement of 8 July accordingly rejected the request for provisional measures and condemned the applicants to pay 2,250 costs to each of the accused parties. It is extremely worrying to note that such an important decision was based only on the subjective impression of the judge and not on the facts. This is symptomatic of the immense influence and power wielded by Nestlé.

How can Nestlé be trusted? The two protagonists, Head of Security John Hedley and Head of Communication François-Xavier Perroud (known as «the bolt») have both left the company since the infiltration case was revealed. In Switzerland alone, Nestlé and Securitas have already worked together on surveillance; in 2003, when South Korean workers came to Vevey to defend their rights, Swiss trade unionists were photographed. Nestlé has already used intimidation; in October 2005 the MultiWatch association (and the President of the Socialist party, Hans-Jürg Fehr, who supported Multiwatch) received threats when organising an event denouncing the company's practices in Colombia. Furthermore, in a similar case in 1986, it was established that the Swiss giant had commissioned Ernest Cincera - famous for having created files on thousands of Swiss activists - to obtain information about another third-world study group in Berne that had initiated legal proceedings against the company [4]. How can they be trusted? Students who were approached before Sara Meylan [5] revealed that Securitas used intimidation to recruit the mole who was to infiltrate Attac, demonstrating that the company did not take this mission lightly. This was only the preliminary hearing, designed for « provisional » measures. The main hearing is yet to come.

The criminal case is being conducted by the examining magistrate of the Vaud canton, Jacques Antenen. It is based on a presumed violation of article 179 of the Penal Code, which prohibits revealing private secrets, and listening in on or recording private conversations. The federal law for the protection of data may also be invoked. In the criminal case the magistrate has more leeway when proceeding to search for reports that may have been concealed by the accused and at the moment he is preparing to inspect the contents of Securitas' two computers.

On hearing this last news, Peter Brabeck came out of his lair and complained. The powerful President of Nestlé's Board of Directors used all his rhetorical skills to suggest that the company is being persecuted. What hurts him apparently is that although the company has shown its goodwill by handing over 60 pages of documents, the judge's gratefulness does not extend beyond that single act. It is easy to understand the judge, who must be at his wits end to find a way to get his hands on any concealed reports since, two months after the complaint was lodged, nothing has yet been done about searching the head office in the town of Vevey. Perhaps it is better to shed one's responsibilities and lay the blame on this situation. For Jean-Michel Dolivo « The case is basically political. On the legal plane it will be difficult to clarify everything. 

ATTAC Switzerland  ( )

Translated from French by Ann Oltra, Coorditrad

[1] See Le Courrier 11 June 2004

[2] Estimation of the price paid by Nestlé for infiltrating Attac made by the security specialist questioned by l'Hebdo



Last Updated ( Sep 16, 2008 at 06:15 PM )
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