Controversial conglomerate plans to go net zero

Food and drink conglomerate Nestlé has announced new goals to reach net zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Nestlé intends to sign the ‘Business Ambition for 1.5°C’ pledge ahead of the upcoming U.N. Climate Action Summit. Despite these new climate ambitions, the company remains marred with controversy and scepticism of its sustainability and human rights records.

In order to achieve the net zero emissions goals the company has set for itself, Nestlé intends to launch more environmentally friendly and nutritionally balanced products, including more plant-based foods and drinks, along with alternative packaging materials. The company intends to increase its carbon-absorbing agriculture, including reforesting and biodiversity initiatives, and invest in 100 per cent renewable energy use in its factories, warehouses and offices. According to Nestlé, these plans are in line with consumer demands, which have begun to sway further in the direction of eco-friendly products and firms.

Nestlé has claimed that government policy will be needed to support the sector’s shift toward the Paris Agreement’s goals, by reducing barriers to entry in the renewable market and incentivising innovation.

These goals are examples of Nestlé’s effort to increase CSR ratings and remain relevant to consumers who are increasingly concerned with environmental and human rights abuses. The conglomerate has long been the subject of controversy and scrutiny in the public eye. In 2017, an investigation conducted by an NGO found that much of Nestlé’s cocoa had been grown illegally in protected areas in Africa. Ninety per cent of the land mass in these protected areas had been converted to cocoa production, contrasting the company’s new reforestation plans. The company is also well known for its continued effort to privatise water sources around the world. Nestlé’s subsidiaries in the bottled water sector have repeatedly constructed deals to pump water from reservoirs, deals which have been criticised by locals and environmental groups for the rate and quantity at which water is extracted, even in the midst of droughts. Heads of the company have been publicly criticised for attempts to change legal classifications of water, successfully convincing the World Water Council to change the classification of access to drinking water from a “right” to a “need” in 2000. In 2005, then-CEO of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said: “One perspective held by various NGOs—which I would call extreme—is that water should be declared a human right." The company also claimed in 2008 that bottled water was the world’s most environmentally responsible consumer product, a claim which was quickly and vehemently contested by environmental groups.

The controversies extend past environmental concerns. Nestlé has been accused of sourcing cocoa and seafood from plantations and producers known to use child and slave labour. The company has so far been unable to prove the ethical sourcing of over 50 per cent of its resources, and goals made in 2001 to eradicate these human rights abuses by 2005 have still not been met in 2019. The inability to meet these targets may cast doubt in the minds of consumers regarding Nestlé’s new CSR promises.

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