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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

IUF Challenges Nestlé at ILO on Global Labour Relations

Posted to the IUF website 19-Nov-2007

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To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Tripartite Declaration on Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, the ILO held a two-day "MultiForum" under the slogan "Better Business: Productivity and Growth through Socially Responsible Labour Relations". The forum consisted of panels seeking to bring together transnational corporate management and their international union counterparts. To kick off the opening panel - "Effective practices in implementing labour principles" - the ILO invited Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck. The organizing principle behind this forum would have dictated the participation of the IUF - the global trade union representing Nestlé workers worldwide. Nestlé didn't want this, and vetoed IUF participation.

To avoid a potentially bruising confrontation over its global employment record, Nestlé sought to confine the discussion to "best practice" as supposedly exemplified in the European Works Council. Nestlé therefore attempted to find a European trade unionist willing to sit on the podium with Peter Brabeck. This manoeuvre didn't succeed, because potential union candidates at Nestlé Europe insisted that there could be no substitute for the IUF as Nestlé's global counterpart.

So the MultiForum went forward with Brabeck but no IUF on the podium. The IUF prepared an open letter to the Nestlé CEO, proceeding on the assumption that Nestlé's role at the forum was to speak of labour practices in Europe. But, with no European trade unionist present, Brabeck had to depart from the original script. He therefore seized the occasion to expound on Nestlé's corporate social responsibility as exemplified by, for example, microcredit and technical assistance to Asian and Latin American dairy farmers and the presence of the (state-controlled) ACFTU throughout Nestlé China. Brabeck suggested that unions were departing from their role of defending workers' interests and becoming increasingly "ideological" in criticizing companies like Nestlé.

The IUF, however, was there to challenge Brabeck on global employment practices at Nestlé and the company's refusal to recognize the IUF anywhere outside Europe.

When Brabeck finished speaking, IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald challenged him to enter into a serious discussion about building a structured relationship with the IUF. Oswald said that the issues concerning Nestlé workers around the world were far from ideological, but concerned very real workplace issues, citing the example of Nestlé Korea alluded to by Brabeck. In the Korean dispute, the conflict was rooted in Nestlés public threats to relocate production to China if the union failed to agree to a further reduction in the number of permanent workers and their replacement by casual employees. The Swiss government, in response to a submission to the OECD brought by the IUF, had found the IUF's reading of events to be correct. "The ethics of any company", said Oswald, "are best tested not in Europe, but in areas of the world where best practice is often worlds away. The IUF will therefore today repeat the offer to enter into a constructive global dialogue, despite Nestlé's disappointing efforts to exclude the IUF from this panel."

Brabeck replied by stating that there could be a relationship with the IUF at global level and expressed a willingness in principle to explore the possibility of an international agreement with the IUF – provided it did not seek to replace local collective bargaining processes (something the IUF has never proposed).

You can read the IUF's open letter to Nestlé here.