It is amazing with how little social responsibility some companies manage to keep up a reasonably good image. BP is one such example. A major contributor to climate change, with recent scandals and disasters in Texas and Alaska – it nevertheless still maintains this cosy, green, ‘we’ve-made-a-start’ image.
There are also examples for the opposite. Nestlé is a case in point. Yes, they had some major blunders in the past about the marketing of their infant formula. But by and large, the company is nowhere up there with the oil, tobacco or car industries; no large scale environmental disasters, no deliberate misinformation of the public and no negligent acquiescence in killing their customers. Nestlé’s products are by and large OK; yes, some of them, such as KitKat might not be the healthiest, but by and large Nestlé is a food company who even amongst its peers (such as McDonalds, Cadburys or other food companies) does not look like the worst villain.
Despite all that, Nestlé has ‘skillfully’ managed to be one of the most vigorously criticized companies; in fact they hold the record of the most boycotted one. The latest blunder of the Swiss multi reads a bit like a piece out of a cheap spy novel: allegedly, according to Swiss television, Nestlé has hired the private security firm Securitas to spy on the Lausanne chapter (next door to Nestlé’s HQ in Vevey) of the NGO Attac. Main point of interest for Nestlé allegedly was a book the group was writing about the company.
It is amazing how illiterate in an ethical sense a company with this legacy can be. It is even more bizarre considering that under its current CEO Brabeck-Letmathe Nestlé has made considerable inroads into systematically addressing CSR. Yet, the deeper DNA of the corporate culture seems more stubborn than – maybe ephemeral – CSR fashions dictated from the top floors. It obviously crossed nobody’s mind at Nestlé, that some companies have actually started to talk to their ‘adversaries’ – stakeholder dialogue we call this.
It might be interesting to speculate about the reasons why Nestlé is so clumsy in addressing its stakeholders. We won’t get into that here. Sure to say though, Nestlé still has more of a ‘Feindbild’, a stereotype of an enemy, when they think about their stakeholders…