Nestle Chairman Hits Back At Negligence Allegations
03/16/2012| 12:13pm US/Eastern
(Rewrites, adding detail throughout)
By John Revill
Nestle SA (NESN.VX) Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe Friday hit back at documents filed in the Swiss canton of Zug, which accused him and four other senior executives of negligent homicide after a Colombian employee and trade unionist was killed six years ago.
Luciano Romero worked for Nestle subsidiary Cicolac until 2002 and was killed by paramilitaries in September 2005. Colombian trade union Sinaltrainal and the European Center for Constitutional Human Rights, an independent non-profit legal organisation, last week filed a complaint with prosecutors in the Swiss canton of Zug, claiming Romero became the target of death threats after local Nestle management falsely accused him of being a guerrilla fighter in an ongoing conflict in the country. They allege that Nestle was responsible for Romero's death by failing to offer adequate protection.
In a letter addressed to Sinaltrainal and seen by Dow Jones Newswires, Brabeck-Letmathe distanced himself from the killing and said Nestle wasn't responsible.
"As we have made clear to you and your organization on many occasions, Nestle condemns all forms of violence under any circumstances, has never used violence, nor has it associated with criminals. We therefore reiterate that Nestle has absolutely no responsibility whatsoever, directly or indirectly, neither by action nor omission, for the murder of Luciano Romero," the letter said.
The Zug prosecutors' office will evaluate over the next few weeks whether the complaint has merit before deciding how to proceed.
The Swiss food titan has been a favorite target of activists since the 1970s, when it encountered tough criticism of how it marketed baby formula to mothers in developing countries. More recently it was cleared of being responsible for contaminated milk in China.
The filing of the complaint last week was widely covered in Swiss and German media, unpleasant for a company that is spending millions to boost its image as a responsible food company that takes the health of its customers and welfare of its employees seriously.
Brabeck-Letmathe's letter said Nestle management in Colombia had met with union officials many times to discuss the safety of its employees and said it took steps to safeguard their security.
"Nestle provided security measures to Sinaltrainal union leaders, such as temporary relocation and increased security at their homes and at the union headquarters," Brabeck-Letmathe wrote.
"Management at the Swiss company knew about the wrongdoing of its representatives in Colombia and about the intimidation of trade unionists locally. Yet it took no action," the ECCHR said.
Sinaltrainal has previously sued Coca-Cola Co. (KO) in a Miami district court in 2001 after the murder of three employees at independent bottling plants in Colombia. The civil complaint alleged that officials in the Colombian companies were involved in the murder of its members who were killed by paramilitaries. Coca-Cola was dismissed as a defendant in 2004, and in 2006 the independent bottling partners in Colombia were also dismissed, with the judge noting the lack of evidence in his dismissal, Coca-Cola said Friday.
Brabeck-Letmathe couldn't immediately be reached for comment Friday. Sinaltrainal referred questions to the ECCHR which said the complaint was brought to ensure Nestle takes its legal obligations more seriously.
-By John Revill, Dow Jones Newswires; +41 43 443 8042 ; email@example.com