5 October 2009
Swiss food manufacturer Nestlé will stop buying milk from a Zimbabwean farm owned by president Robert Mugabe's wife following threats to boycott its products.
The Daily Telegraph revealed last month that Gushungo Dairy Estate, owned by Grace Mugabe, supplied up to a million litres of milk a year to Nestlé's manufacturing plant near the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. The previous owner of the farm was reportedly forced to sell it to the state for a fraction of its market value.
The food giant purchased the milk through its Zimbabwean subsidiary, and as such was not bound by EU, Swiss or American sanctions preventing the transfer of funds to president Mugabe. The EU says sanctions will remain in place until Zimbabwe improves its human rights record.
The company said in a statement it purchased milk from Gushungo and seven other farms as a temporary measure from February because the country's dairy industry was "at real risk of collapse" after the Dairy Board of Zimbabwe - which previously bought milk from the farm - had fallen into financial difficulties.
"This helped prevent a further deterioration in food supplies in Zimbabwe at that time," the statement said. The Dairy Board is now able to resume milk purchases from the Gushungo farm, it added.
"Nestlé has been in Zimbabwe for 50 years, working with the population and striving to maintain a long-term viable operation in often challenging conditions. We operate in Zimbabwe, as we do in every country, through good times and bad. We work for the long-term, in a way which has a positive impact on our consumers, employees and suppliers.
"In light of the recent controversy surrounding our relationship with the Gushungo Dairy Estate, we believe that this announcement reflects our long-term commitment to Zimbabwe while acknowledging the specific circumstances around these events."
Last week, South African civil rights group AfriForum launched a global campaign calling for a consumer boycott of all Nestlé products. Following Nestlé's plans to withdraw its custom from Mugabe's farm, AfriForum's CEO Kallie Kriel said: "This event proves that ordinary people can use their power as consumers to ensure that justice will prevail."