Nestle shuts Zimbabwe factory, citing intimidation
Nestle, one of the world’s largest food companies, has shut down a factory in Zimbabwe after a dispute with the government, it announced Wednesday.
The company came under pressure from the government to buy milk from suppliers not of its own choosing, it said.
The dairy at the center of the dispute is owned by the wife of President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwean media reported.
Government officials and police paid an “unannounced visit” to the Nestle factory on Saturday, and a tanker of milk was “forced” upon the factory, the company said. Two company managers were questioned and released the same day, the company said.
“Since under such circumstances normal operations and the safety of employees are no longer guaranteed, Nestle decided to temporarily shut down the factory,” the company said.
Nestle bought milk from the dairy reportedly owned by Mugabe’s wife for most of the year, but in October it stopped the arrangement — which it said was always intended to be a temporary response to the country’s severe economic crisis.
Since it stopped buying milk from the Gushungo Dairy Estate and seven other farms on October 4, “Nestle Zimbabwe has faced pressure to purchase and process fresh milk from certain non-contracted suppliers, a request which the company has consistently refused,” it said.
Mugabe deflected a question about the dispute in a news conference on Wednesday, the Zimbabwe Times reported.
“I don’t know; have you any detail about that?” Mugabe said, apparently puzzled, looking first at Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and then at Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara for a response, the newspaper said.
Nestle, a Switzerland-based company, has been in Zimbabwe for 50 years, it said.
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since it gained independence in 1980. During his tenure, the country has gone from being one of the breadbaskets of Africa to extreme poverty, out of control inflation and outbreaks of disease including cholera.
Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, became prime minister under a power-sharing agreement this year.