Friday, March 02, 2007

Nestlé Fairtrade whitewash 2007

We are in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight. As I wrote at the start of the week, Nestlé has one token Fairtrade product which it uses to try to improve its image while continuing with corporate malpractice. See:

An example of Nestlé's use of the Fairtrade mark in its PR campaign is the advertisement shown below, kindly sent in by a supporter this week.

Partners' Blend 2007

Click here for a larger version

The advertisement is headed ‘Coffee with a conscience’ and includes this text:

---extract begins
Behind every cup of coffee there’s a story – and the story of Nescafé Partners’ Blend is one of hope

A quick lesson in coffee growing

The problem for coffee producers has always been that their livelihood is directly linked to the coffee bean price on the world’s markets. If that price drops (as it has in recent years) the growers, and their families, suffer. And should the coffee crop fail for any reason, they’ve nothing to fall back on.
---extract ends

But, ta da, Nestlé is there to help with its Partners' Blend initiative.

This is dishonest, because only 0.1% of the coffee farmers dependent on Nestlé are involved in Partners' Blend. Over 3 million are not and they have suffered as Nestlé and the other companies in the oligarchy of processors have forced down prices. Nestlé has also fuelled the problem of over-production, which also drives down prices, by, for example, encouraging farmers in China to move into coffee. It is also accused of buying coffee grown illegally in a nature reserve in Indonesia.

We registered a complaint with the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over Nestlé’s mass advertising campaign last year. Then too, Nestlé suggested its new initiative was helping to address the crisis in the coffee industry.

Then, as now, the advertisements said virtually nothing about the actual coffee ostensibly being promoted. There was no comment on its flavour, where it could be bought, how much it cost. The ASA rejected our complaint, while refusing to include in its ruling the key figures on how few farmers are involved in Partners’ Blend coffee. They said they had been supplied with this information by Nestlé, but didn’t include it in the ruling, even though it is in the public domain. Including this highly relevant information would have discredited the ruling. We reported the case to the ASA ombudsman, hoping this would prompt a revision, but he said he could not comment on the ruling, only that they had followed the correct procedure in conducting the investigation.

The only recourse left would be seeking a judicial review. This would cost time and money and we judged it to be inappropriate to use either to pursue the case further. Every day we have to make judgement calls on what to put our time to. We had done enough to ensure reports of Nestlé’s Fairtrade coffee included information on its baby food marketing malpractice and the boycott. This went some way to undo the damage the award of the mark had caused. Pursuing a judicial review to further expose the injustice to coffee farmers was outside our issue.

Unfortunately advocacy organisations that had campaigned on the coffee issue in the past had either moved on to other campaigns, or were cautiously welcoming the fact that Nestlé had made a move into Fairtrade. Just a few organisations spoke out to say the mark should not have been awarded for such little commitment from Nestlé. For example, Equal Exchange's co-director, Rob Everts, said at the time:

"We understand what it takes to commit to more equitable relationships with small coffee farmers. We have long recommended that for large corporations the Fair Trade starting point should be 5% of their total imports. Given Nestlé's dismal track record on many fronts in the developing world, they have an even steeper credibility hill to climb than most, and should in fact begin even higher than 5%. Large companies tend to subsidize their modest Fair Trade purchases by paying farmers much lower prices on the rest of their coffee imports."

We were only informed by the Fairtrade Foundation about the award late in the day, two years after discussions had begun and when the announcement was imminent. Our view was that Nestlé would use the award just as it is doing - to try to improve its image, divert criticism and undermine the boycott, so damaging our campaign. We also advised that giving the mark for so little would give Nestlé what it wanted - a PR tool - without requiring a significant change in practices.

Are we to believe Nestlé has been converted and will soon be buying all of its coffee through the Fairtrade scheme, or even 5% of its coffee? I think not, as it can run mass advertising campaigns having been given the mark for buying just 0.02%. My experience tells me that Nestlé has all it needs for its PR purposes so expect little more. Any improvement in the lot of the 3 million farmers outside the scheme will only come through concerted campaigning - or regulatory systems. Some of those who are more experienced about Fairtrade than I think differently, of course, at least in the UK. Some organisations, such as the Italian Fairtrade organisation opposed giving the award.

After we reported Nestlé to the ASA last year, we did take some comfort from the fact that Nestlé changed later advertisements to refer to the coffee product more than Nestlé being the salvation for coffee farmers.

But this year, Nestlé has reverted to boasting of how it is helping to save farmers. It should not really fall to Baby Milk Action's to set the record straight and campaign on behalf of coffee farmers. We can speak out only to the extent it furthers our aims.

For example, church and university groups did invite us to participate in debates with Nestlé during Fairtrade fortnight. We accepted as we could raise awareness of the baby milk issue and the boycott. Nestlé refused to debate. Why? Because it knows it has lost all past debates and would lose again. See my blog on Nestlé's change in policy on debating at:

For resources to expose Nestlé's use of the Fairtrade mark, see:

And please do keep sending examples of Nestlé's use of the mark.


Anonymous said...

My university student friends from years ago were well into the antiNestle message. For their convincing already impoverished 3rd world mothers to spend out money on formula milk when nature gives it out free ... plus numerous "fair trade" issues ... I'm so glad fair trade has become an issue nowadays. I remember our teacher telling us at school how chocolate was farmed (back in the mid80s) with the attitude "this is terrible but what can any of us do about it". It wasn't until 1990 that I'd even heard of traidcraft ... well anyway this is a great blog you've got here. You're welcome to visit mine: Drop by! You're most welcome. It's a secret diary format blog though & pretty different to yours. All the best to you now from Gledwood.

Anonymous said...

Mike, one of our local commercial radio stations, SAGA 105.7FM in the West Midlands has Nestle and the Partners brand as its partner on the breakfast show - for Fair Trade fortnight of all things! They are also offering prize hampers including a jar of Partners in a daily draw.

the link to the radio's website is at

(copied and pasted from the website:

Play Fair every weekday with Mike Wyer on the Full Saga Breakfast Show.

NESCAFE Partners' Blend have joined forces with Saga 105.7fm to promote Fair Trade week 5th March - 11th March.

NESCAFE Partner's Blend are hoping to highlight the benefit of helping farmers in El Salvador and Ethiopia who grow the coffee beans to support their communities and their environment.

For more information please )