|Statewatch article: RefNo# 28150
|Statewatch Bulletin; vol 18 no 2 April-June 2008
|Nestlégate: The food multinational Nestlé infiltrated a group of globalisation critics writing a book on the company. The assignment was carried out by the private security firm Securitas
On one side there was a small group from Lausanne from the alter-globalisation network Attac. In the autumn of 2003 the group set itself the target of researching the global (mis)conduct of the food corporation Nestlé. One year later, the book Nestle - Anatomy of a global company was published. On the other side there was the company in question, the biggest food corporation in the world. Nestlé contracted Securitas, the biggest security company in Switzerland, to spy on the book's authors. A young woman, under the assumed name Sara Meylan, worked on the book project whilst passing on information to Nestlé. On at least occasion she reported back to the Nestlé headquarters before she disappeared in 2004.
This was uncovered by the journalist Jean-Philippe Ceppi in the programme Temps présent the West Swiss television station. The regional Waadtland police knew of the infiltration. Formal questions were asked by the Social Democrats in the regional Canton's parliament to clarify what exactly the police knew and if they obtained the files compiled on Attac. Sara Meylan's official employer was Securitas Schweiz AG, (which should not be confused with the global security firm Securitas AB). The Swiss variant is a family business offering a security package, from bodyguards to the installation of alarm systems.
The spying operation was carried out by the Securitas department "Investigation Services IS", which cooperates with the Securitas subsidiary Crime Investigation Services AG (CIS). In the Chamber of Commerce register, CIS is straightforward about its purpose: they offer "surveillance and research of any kind" the company's file informs us. CIS's head of the trustees board is Reto Casutt, who is also the general secretary of Securitas. "We are usually active in the fields of insurance fraud and hooliganism", he said. "Local authorities contract the IS to uncover abuses of handicap-insurances, for example". The company then might watch the claimant completing a workout in the gym, for instance or intercept football fans before games around stadia.
Casutt emphasizes that "observations within the framework of the G8 summit at Lake Geneva" were a rare occurrence, because this involved an unusual threat situation. "Before and after there was no infiltration of groups", Casutt claimed. The woman operating under the pseudonym of Sara Meylan was sent into the anti-G8 protest camp in the summer of 2003 merely to find out the demonstration routes that were being planned by the protesters. However, the Nestlé book project only began after the G8 summit. Casutt cannot or does not want to explain what this has to do with demonstration routes.
The methods by which IS recruited their spy can be worked out by comparison with the case of a student based in Lausanne. In autumn 2003, he sent an open application to Securitas. Instead of being offered a job as a night porter, he was invited to a total of four meetings in cafés. Bit by bit he learned that he could earn 30 Swiss Francs an hour for participating in Attac meetings and writing reports on them. "The recruitment method reminded me of spy novels", the student said. He finally turned down the job offer, despite threats against him by an IS employee.
Whilst Securitas made at least partial admissions to the media about the Nestlé scandal, the Nestlé press office was silent on the matter. The sole statement on the case exists only in writing. The company maintains that it conforms to the law and that it does not want to disclose any information on security matters, "for obvious reasons". Hints as to the nature of Nestlé's security culture are provided by John Hedley, who was head of security at the time of the Attac-infiltration and, according to a press report, is a former MI6 agent. On a website for managers in the security sector he writes: "We [in security] are judged by our overall contribution to the profitability to the group". He uses the case of prevention to exemplify his point: "Having the ability to reduce the number of events that are unforeseen is a very valuable metric". The achievement of this goal, according to Hedley, would get the attention of management. "If you can tell a story that says, We were able to preempt a problem that was going to affect us, and, Oh by the way, had we not done this, this would have been the cost that is a very good story to tell." He points out himself which kind of problems could be expensive: "There's a very strong argument that brand and reputation are worth more than physical assets."
At Nestlé's headquarters in Vervey, one might now question what exactly was more damaging for Nestlé's image: the book, of which roughly 1,000 copies were sold before the scandal, or "Nestlégate", which has received international media attention. However, as mentioned above, no one wants to talk about the matter in Vervey. Attac's book, on the other hand, reportedly enjoys increasing sales figures.
Dinu Gautier is Editor Internal Affairs at WOZ – die Wochenzeitung (The Weekly Newspaper)
An interview with a surveillance victim : "And suddenly the spy was gone"
One of the authors who was spied on by Sara Meylan was Janick Schaufelbuehl. The 34-year-old historian now holds a research position at the University of Lausanne and is no longer active in Attac.
WOZ: How did the spy Sara Meylan manage to join the circle of authors?
Janick Schaufelbuehl: That was easy. She introduced herself to us as an employee of an insurance company who was interested in the issue and that she would like to join the project. Attac is open to people who want to become active, so we never became suspicious.
WOZ: What did she contribute?
Janick Schaufelbuehl: She was quiet, seemed to be shy and did not say very much. She wanted to write a chapter on the issue of "Nestlé and coffee". However, the text that we received from her was so catastrophically bad that we had to completely rewrite it. Today I wonder who really wrote it, maybe it was a cooperative venture between Nestlé and Securitas.
WOZ: You only learned about the spying from journalist Jean-Philippe Ceppi?
Janick Schaufelbuehl: Yes, it was a real shock. We met privately, sometimes at people's homes, including dinners and discussions. She had access to all of our e-mail communications and therefore also to our communication with contacts in other countries, such as a French organisation that was preparing a court case against Nestlé at the time. Then in the summer of 2004 she suddenly disappeared, and her e-mail and telephone number stopped working. Until today she has not re-appeared.
WOZ: The police knew of this case?
Janick Schaufelbuehl: Apparently the Waadtland canton police also received the files and notes she compiled on us and our meetings. This, at least, is what the journalist Mr Ceppi says.
WOZ: Have you seen these reports?
Janick Schaufelbuehl: Ceppi has the files, but does not want to disclose them to us, to protect his source. But he showed me a protocol that was very detailed. We assume that Sara Meylan recorded our meetings, because she never took notes.
WOZ: And what are you going to do now?
Janick Schaufelbuehl: We are initiating legal proceedings against Sara Meylan, Securitas and Nestlé for violating our privacy and we are also lodging a complaint against them for violation of the Data Protection Act. However, we are aware of the fact that this is an international problem. In the US there was a case where Greenpeace was infiltrated - also by a private security firm - on request of a multi-national corporation. And in France there is currently a pending case of a politician who was also spied on by a private security firm. It is extremely important to research the role of these huge security companies, especially when considering that private firms are also taking part in armed conflicts, in Iraq, for instance.
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