Last fall, Nestlé took the unusual step of admitting slave labor exists in its seafood supply chains. These accusations had been around for a while, but Nestlé’s report owning up to them was seen as groundbreaking for the industry. The thing is, in hindsight this isn’t looking quite as groundbreaking: Nestlé doesn’t really buy that much fish, and human-rights advocates have shifted to a much bigger raw material for the conglomerate — cocoa from the Ivory Coast — that they also say is tainted by ties to slavery, only Nestlé won’t acknowledge it. Their anger is mostly centered on Nestlé’s tactics to kill a big lawsuit filed by former victims of child slavery who worked on these farms. And this fury’s officially kicked into high gear now that the Supreme Court looked at the case and refused to throw it out, taking Nestlé from good guy back to bad guy in slave-labor news.
People in the industry say Nestlé has found itself at the center of a “landmark” labor battle from which it probably won’t emerge looking good. As The Guardian sums up succinctly: “This puts the company in the unfortunate position of disclosing slavery in one part of its operations, while at the same time fighting through the courts to fend off accusations that it exists in another — more profitable — part of its business.” Nestlé primarily buys seafood for its cat-food brands. Cocoa, on the other hand, is in dozens of products: everything from Toll House chocolate chips and Häagen-Dazs to Raisinets and Butterfingers.
Not surprising, those are the products consumers say they’ve started rethinking:
The water shortage in Michigan is adding another layer of bad press — even though, in this particular case, Nestlé is among the companies donating free bottled water. Years ago, former Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said (very ill-advisedly) that the idea of humans having “a right to water” was “extreme.” Nestlé and water have probably never appeared together since without incensing someone, especially not in the midst of a myriad other PR woes raging on: