x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Nestlé 'victim of rivals' smears'

Iran government clears multinational food firm of Jewish links - but only after factory was forced to close by demonstrators.

Customers buying Nestlé products in a shop in Tehran.
Customers buying Nestlé products in a shop in Tehran.

Tehran // Allegations in Iran against Nestlé, the international food company, of having affiliations with Israel may have been spread by rivals of the company, a conservative Iranian news portal has reported. The report titled "Iran's Nestlé in Rivals' Trap" appeared on Tabnak, which is affiliated with an influential conservative politician, Mohsen Rezaiee, secretary of the Expediency Council and a former chief commander of the Revolutionary Guards.

The report by Tabnak said the allegations against Nestlé were made and spread by rival companies and importers of infant food, . The report also found a Nestlé factory in Qazvin, 200km west of Tehran, had to halt its operations after demonstrators demanded its closing following the military offensive in Gaza, but begun operating again after intervention from the state inspection organisation. While most Tabnak readers approved of the step taken by the judiciary to support foreign investment, some hardline readers left angry comments on the site and accused the news portal of supporting a company they claim has Israel-affiliated investors.

The General Inspection Organisation has cleared the company of charges of Zionism for the time being. In Iran, any person or organization charged with Zionist affiliations or sympathies is considered a possible threat to national security. "Our inspection has not proved allegations of Zionism. We'll stop the operation of the company if such allegations are proved," said Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, head of the General Inspection Organisation.

"We are not supposed to shut down factories on the basis of any baseless allegation and cause unemployment to hundreds of workers," he said. Demonstrations and calls on the Iranian government by self-proclaimed anti-Nestlé campaign groups to impose a ban on Nestlé products have made the headlines several times in recent years. And demonstrations against western companies with alleged affiliations to Israel, such as Nestlé, Benetton and Coca-Cola, are frequent in Iran whenever anti-Israeli feelings run high. A Benetton shop in an affluent northern Tehran neighbourhood was set on fire by radicals in the early days of the offensive in Gaza. Other Benetton outlets had to close for a few days until the situation cooled down; they are now all operating normally.

But many in Iran - where such Nestlé products as children's foods, chocolate and coffee are popular - are sceptical of the charges against Nestlé. "Some people think closing down factories belonging to Nestlé is in our interest, but they do not seriously think of the consequences of their actions. They are cutting a safe supply of infant formula to our children. Should we feed them with suspect Chinese formulas instead?" said Mahin Nazarghorban, 32, a mother of two.

According to the Tabnak report the company has a 75-per-cent share of the infant formula and food market in Iran. Others welcome the company for the investment and badly needed job opportunities it brings to the country. "What they are doing - if the company is not really Zionist-affiliated as they say - will scare away foreign investment from our country," Hamidreza Najafzadeh, 43, a businessman, said. "We need foreign investment and that will only come through if foreign investors find our society a safe place for their activities.

"Moreover, every foreign investor is screened by so many different authorities before they can establish themselves here that it seems to me it would be impossible for a Zionist-affiliated company to be able to enter the Iranian investment market." Iran Nestlé was established in 1998. The company imports Nestlé products from abroad and since 2001 its two factories in Qazvin have produced infant formula and food.

Another Nestlé factory, in Polour, 50km to the north-east of Tehran, has been bottling the area's mineral water since 2006. Although the mineral water production company has a large share of Iranian investment, the distribution of Nestlé mineral water in the Iranian parliament had to stop a few months ago after a female representative protested against it. Iran Nestlé exports one third of its products to other countries in the region, including some Arab countries, Sudan and Afghanistan.

Other Nestlé products such as Nescafé and chocolates are imported by the company. msinaiee@thenational.ae