Food Giant Nestlé Promises Better Treatment For Animals Caught In Supply Chain

Whatever do you mean, Pukka Sahib?1

Nestlé`s "supply chain" (animals in captivity for transformation into food products) is huge. The sheer number of suppliers it controls, and by ricochet, the number of animal lives whose living conditions could be assuaged by a directive of compassion is also huge.

The respected international organization, Mercy for Animals, whose investigation uncovering systemic abuse of animals at a Nestlé supplier dairy farm was apparently the root cause of Nestlé's new supplier code, had this to say about Nestlé’s recent announcement:

"While there is still work to be done, Nestlé's new policy represents the most sweeping animal welfare policy ever adopted by a major food distributor. We hope that the rest of the food industry will follow Nestlé's lead in prohibiting the cruel confinement of animals in cages barely larger than their bodies, mutilations without painkillers, and other inhumane practices. "2

But, animal lovers and animal lawyers, don't start singing hallelujah, lighting candles  or breaking out the champagne just yet. Whereas a corporate policy is defined as a "formal declaration of the guiding principles and procedures by which a company will operate ... (and) forms the basis for measuring performance and ensuring accountability.... Nestlé's press release is carefully word-crafted as a pious intention to move in a general direction towards better animal care through their suppliers’ practices."3

Without a crystal ball to see how Nestlé realises their laudable objective, it would be a fair measure of anticipated future behaviour to look at the company track record in following their mission statement. From their corporate website, Nestlé's mission statement and "guiding principles" are articulated  as:

"We believe that leadership is not just about size; it is also about behaviour. Trust, too, is about behaviour; and we recognise that trust is earned only over a long period of time by consistently delivering on our promises. These objectives and behaviours are encapsulated in the simple phrase, “Good Food, Good Life”, a phrase that sums up our corporate ambition."

So how’s working that mission doing?

Wow, not so great!

Nestlé made the news in August 2014 accused of poisoning drinking water while offering clean well water for sale:

"In view of the fact that every day more children die from drinking dirty water than AIDS, war, traffic accidents and malaria put together, Maude Barlow, a former UN chief advisor for water issues, states: “When a company like Nestlé comes along and says, Pure Life is the answer, we’re selling you your own ground water while nothing comes out of your faucets anymore or if it does it’s undrinkable – that’s more than irresponsible, that’s practically a criminal act. ....”4


Notwithstanding Nestlé’s corporate ethos, what is good news, however, is that with respect to better, more humane animal husbandry, clearly public opinion is making big business pay attention. That Big Business does pay attention to more humane animal husbandry, other than the antithetical US factory farm BIGAG gag laws5, is helpful in acquiring a critical mass of public opinion necessary to make the legislators and judiciary pay attention.

In an unrelated but oddly similar case, a US dairy operation supplying cheese to fast food franchises was caught using undeniably cruel means to handle sick cows to get them to slaughter. Forbes' article reminds readers of recent similar occurences and casts doubt on the factory farm industry's ability to self-police.6 A clear signal that the court of public opinion, especially that of the business and shareholder world, ultimate source of financing, is losing patience with the «ooops, single mistake, sorry» story.

As Lord Sankey, of the Privy Council, is famously quoted as saying that the law is "a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits".7 Natural limits are usually defined within their sociological normative context, defined by public opinion susutained over time.

Hopefully, Nestlé walks as Nestlé talks, but even so, the little tree of Animal Law just got a squirt of fertilizer.

Refererences and Citations