Nestlé has nothing to fear from Swiss legal system
10 May 2013 – Fourteen months after receiving a criminal complaint, the office of public prosecution in the Swiss Canton of Waadt decided on 1 May 2013 not to investigate whether Nestlé and its managers were liable for negligently contributing to the death of Colombian Nestlé trade unionist Luciano Romero. In March 2012 ECCHR together with Colombian partner organizations lodged a complaint with the prosecution in the German speaking Canton of Zug, who failed to initiate an investigation and instead handed the proceedings over to the Canton of Waadt. Rather than promptly beginning an investigation, the prosecution in Waadt made use of various formalities to delay the proceedings until they could declare that the matter had become time-barred. The victim’s widow, who had lodged her own criminal complaint and who is represented by Zurich lawyers Marcel Bosonnet and Florian Wick, will appeal the decision.
Overall, the proceedings demonstrate that the Swiss judiciary is unwilling to pursue substantiated allegations against corporations. Swiss law makes it effectively impossible for non-European victims of Swiss firms, in particular, to enforce their rights before the courts. The criminal complaint accused senior managers as well as the Nestlé firm itself of negligently contributing to the murder by paramilitaries of Luciano Romero on 10 September 2005 in Vallepudar, Colombia. Despite being informed about the threats made against Romero, they failed to use the resources available to them to prevent the murder. He had previously worked for the Colombian Nestlé subsidiary company Cicolac for several years.
To this day, Colombia is plagued by an armed conflict in which trade unionists and other social groups are subjected to systematic persecution. The direct perpetrators of the crime – those who actually carried out the murder – were convicted in Colombia in 2006 and 2007, a rare occurrence in the country with the world’s highest rate of murder and intimidation of trade unionists. At the close of these proceedings in 2007, the Colombian court called for a criminal investigation into the role of Nestlé subsidiary Cicolac as well as the parent company, yet no such investigation was carried out. Despite ample indications of criminal liability, no prosecutor in Switzerland or in Colombia has initiated an investigation. It was left to Colombian lawyers and trade unionists together with the ECCHR to investigate the circumstances of the case and work on behalf of the family of Luciano Romero, work which evidently came too late.
The charge would have set a legal precedent as it could have marked the first time a Swiss company has been held liable in Switzerland for a crime committed abroad. The provision of Art. 102 regarding the criminal liability of companies was added to the Swiss Criminal Code in 2003 and has rarely been utilized since then.