When will the Food and Beverage industry learn that covert C-suite behavior just won’t fly today in our socially translucent metasphere?
After members of the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and NestleUSA, for example, were publicly lambasted in 2012 for their million-dollar smear campaign to defeat California’s Prop 37 GMO labeling initiative, the GMA went into stealth mode. In response to California public outcry, the GMA set up a “secret” multi-million dollar fund to try to keep I-522 from being passed under the guise of “Defense of Brands Strategic Account’s.”
However, the Washington Attorney General successfully filed suit to disclose the identities of the opponents to Initiative 522, revealing the same GMA member players who were publicly admonished in California last year.
As Washingtonians prepare to vote on I-522—The No campaign in Washington, which is comprised of biochemical companies like Monsanto, Bayer, BASF in consort with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, General Mills, NestleUSA and ConAgra Foods, among others, has raised a record for any state initiative—$22 million—one half raised by GMA. Furtively using social to appear as a grassroots campaign (e.g., their “No 522” Facebook page), No on 522 has been called an “astroturf” initiative—a ruse. At the same time proponents of Yes on 522—a true grassroots campaign—has raised nearly $8 million, mostly from small donations, in favor of GMO labeling. Other committees also have raised monies. That alone should speak to the sentiment of Washington citizens on the GMO issue.
I continue to follow global public conscience on food safety, analyzing and reporting consumer sentiment in my NetBase global data intelligence platform. So I find equally disturbing, no, appalling, actions taken by other CEO members of the GMA who continue to raise the issue of social responsibility and corporate reputation management.
For example, Peter Brabeck, the current Chairman and former CEO of Nestle, the largest producer of food products in the world and the manufacturer of more than 60 global water brands, has stated publicly that “access to water is not a public right.” This statement is on record from the company who continues to invest money to thwart the labeling of GMO-filled products.
In another recent instance, Barillo CEO Guido Barilla stated he would not show gay families in company ads. “I would never make a spot with a homosexual family,” he told the Italian news agency ANSA.” Not out of lack of respect but because I do not see it like they do.” “My idea of family is a classic family where the woman has a fundamental role.”
So why do I get that queasy feeling when the Food and Beverage industry, in particular, resorts to smarmy behavior implicating real or perceived human health risks? The “self-regulatory” license bestowed by the FDA on such biochemical companies as Monsanto absolves them from publicly disclosing science implicating human health risks from GMO seed crops, or results of independent studies revealing the noxious health risks of such chemically resistant herbicides as Monsanto’s Roundup.
Why does a dual standard still exist within the C-Suite when it comes to social responsibility all the while corporate Centers for Excellence and Corporate Governance strive to coach employees on best social practices—many realizing that innovation and customer loyalty do and can germinate organically from the rank and file of an enterprise?
The value placed on corporate social responsibility by digital native Millennials—our next generation of global business leaders—cannot be dismissed. It must be embraced by a single standard, cognizant of the social and human cost of surreptitious corporate behavior.
The dual standard should no longer be accepted in our socially connected universe.