Nestlé shuts down Zimbabwe plant

The spokeswoman for Nestlé’s Zimbabwean operation Brinda Chiniah said the decision to shut down was taken because it was no longer possible to guarantee “normal operations and the safety of employees” at the factory.

Chiniah also disclosed that Nestlé Zimbabwe had not processed or paid for the milk that was last Saturday forcibly deposited at its Harare factory.

“Since under (the) circumstances normal operations and the safety of employees are no longer guaranteed, Nestlé decided to temporarily shut down the factory,” Chiniah said by email from Nairobi, Kenya. She did not say when the factory was expected to re-open.

Nestlé, which until October 1 had bought between 10 and 15 percent of milk processed at its Harare plant from Gushungo, stopped accepting milk from the farm after international media coverage of the milk purchases put the firm under the spotlight. 

Some human rights groups incensed at what they perceived as Nestlé’s support for Mugabe’s controversial farm seizure programme also threatened to call on consumers to boycott the company’s products if it did not stop buying Gushungo milk.

Grace was allocated Gushungo under her husband’s chaotic and often violent land reforms that also saw senior members of the military and Mugabe’s ZANU PF party, their friends and allies handed some of the best farms seized from whites.

While banning milk deliveries from Gushungo was able to silence Nestlé’s international critics, the company has, however, since then faced immense pressure from Mugabe’s militant allies in government and in ZANU PF to reverse the October 1 decision to stop taking Gushungo milk.

For example, immigration officials are reportedly refusing to issue Nestlé’s new managing director with a work permit, while the firm’s bank accounts were at pone time temporarily frozen o orders from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. 

In addition to Nestlé’s troubles, the militant Affirmative Action Group (AAG) that campaigns for black empowerment has called for the taking over of the milk processor by indigenous Zimbabweans.

But things came to a head last Saturday when Empowerment and Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and his Agriculture counterpart Joseph Made stormed the Nestlé factory and demanded that the company takes in a tanker of milk from Mugabe’s farm.

Kasukuwere and Made, who were accompanied by an AAG official and two senior police officers, told Nestle officials that by  "refusing to accept the milk, the company was placing sanctions on Zimbabwe, and that this could well result in its closure or arrest of senior executives."

Company official let the government ministries leave the milk at the factory which, according to Chiniah, Nestlé has not processed or paid for.

Tightening the screws on Nestlé, police on Monday summoned two senior managers at the firm to Harare Central police station where they were questioned and later released without charge.

But it appeared the latest round of troubles finally convinced the authorities at Nestlé to order a shutdown of the Zimbabwe operation that has been running for the past 50 years. — ZimOnline.