On October 24th, 2017, the Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy (BCLBE) hosted Ricardo Cortes-Monroy, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of Nestlé.
Nestlé is the world’s largest food company, manufacturing more than 10,000 different products, employing around 330,000 people, and maintaining a presence in over 150 countries. Mr. Cortes-Monroy not only manages the company’s giant legal department, but is recognized as a leader in the legal community for advancing corporate citizenship.
He explained that sustainability and corporate responsibility should be understood as legal issues, and urged this needs to be embraced by other inside counsel. In the past, these concepts were only acknowledged as public relations concerns—indeed many lawyers today view corporate responsibility as nothing more than a marketing fad. Mr. Cortes-Monroy, however, explains these concepts are relevant business considerations. In the food industry, you must maintain trust and a positive reputation to be successful with consumers. But for Mr. Cortes-Monroy, the bottom line is, “It’s not about what is legal, but what is right.”
The paramount example of Mr. Cortes-Monroy’s commitment to this ideal is the Thai fisheries case. In 2014, media outlets and NGOs began reporting on ties between horrific labor conditions on fishing boats in Thailand and Purina cat food, a brand owned by Nestlé. In response to these reports, Nestlé’s legal department commissioned global NGO Verité to investigate its production sites in Thailand. Using supply chain mapping, Verité confirmed a link. In an incredibly dangerous move and despite significant legal risks, Nestlé published the report online, basically admitting wrongdoing. Mr. Cortes-Monroy recognizes, “from a defense lawyer perspective, what we did was crazy.”
Yet, the company was publically praised for disclosing the report and announcing an action plan to combat slave labor in its supply chain. Measures outlined in the plan include commissioning an emergency response team, launching an awareness campaign, training boat owners and captains, and utilizing a traceability system and audits. Nestlé’s disclosure ultimately shielded the company from liability under the safe harbor doctrine in one California class action.
Nestlé’s commitment to corporate responsibility may be having an influence on other companies, as well. Pulling straight from the Nestlé playbook, Patagonia engaged Verité to investigate forced labor in their clothing supply chain and to assist the company with a strategy moving forward.
Nestlé continues to strive for improvement in sustainability. For example, the company has committed to purchase only cage-free eggs by 2020. As Mr. Cortes-Monroy concluded, “Challenges are still there, but there has been remarkable progress in the last few years.”
The presentation also discussed Nestlé’s Summer Internship Program for 1L students. Second year Berkeley Law student Lauren Kelly-Jones was on-hand to share her experience interning in Nestlé’s Legal Sustainability & Creating Shared Value group this past summer in Vevey, Switzerland. Interested first year students may apply for next summer’s program when the application becomes available on December 1st.