Nestle probes Chinese farmers’ cheating claims

Swiss food giant Nestle said on Wednesday it is investigating allegations that a Chinese subsidiary has been short-changing dairy farmers for at least 10 years.

Nestle probes Chinese farmers' cheating claims

Dairy farmers in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang have accused Shuangcheng Nestle Co. of paying them less than the standard price for milk and manipulating the weight of their product.

“Nestle doesn’t cheat farmers. We take what is being reported very seriously and have already launched an investigation with the local government,” Nestle (China) Ltd spokeswoman Nancy He told AFP.

“Nestle does not tolerate such practices and will take immediate actions as soon as we find out the problem together with the government.”

Shuangcheng, a city just south of the provincial capital of Harbin, is home to more than 20,000 dairy farmers who produce 1,200 tonnes of milk every day, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Dairy farmers said the Chinese subsidiary — a major taxpayer in the city — had been cheating them for more than 10 years and local authorities had banned them from selling their milk to dairy companies elsewhere, Xinhua said.

A farmer surnamed Li said he was short-changed by 1.25 kilogrammes for two buckets of milk that a collection station operated by Shuangcheng Nestle said weighed 91.25 kilogrammes.

“I have gotten used to this as it has lasted for many years and is known to all,” Li was quoted by Xinhua saying.

Another farmer, Zhao Yongwu, said a collection station also owned by Shuangcheng Nestle underpaid him by one kilogramme for every bucket of milk he sold to them.

“They are always short-changing us. Some of us are so angry that we would rather kill our cows than send the milk to Nestle,” Zhao was quoted by Xinhua saying.

Shuangcheng Nestle has denied reports it has a monopoly on milk collection in Shuangcheng, saying there were another two companies operating in the city and farmers “were not forced to deliver to Nestle”, the China Daily said.


Swiss claim China deal posed no threat to dissidents

The Swiss strongly rejected accusations this week that a deal allowing Chinese officials to enter Switzerland and interrogate Chinese nationals, which only recently came to light, put dissidents at risk.

Swiss claim China deal posed no threat to dissidents
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter in Beijing in 2016. Photo: Mark Schiedelbein/POOL/AFP
Switzerland entered into a so-called re-admission agreement with China back in 2015. The deal expired on Monday.
The agreement, which remained a secret until Swiss newspaper NZZ divulged its existence in August, specified the terms for Chinese officials to travel to the country and interrogate Chinese nationals set for deportation.
Asia-focused rights group Safeguard Defenders this week published the text of the deal, plus a report about how it differed from similar agreements with other countries, and could pose a threat to “those the Chinese government wants to be returned”.
The details coming to light are “going to tarnish Switzerland's reputation”, Peter Dahlin, who heads the organisation, told AFP.
Following the initial revelation of the agreement in August, since-jailed Hong Kong dissident Joshua Wong weighed in on Twitter, decrying the secretive nature of the deal.
“Five years after the secret deal was signed, no Swiss MP had ever heard of the deal,” he tweeted on August 24, warning that “dissidents in exile” from Hong Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere, could risk extradition to China.
'Standard practice'
The Swiss migration ministry meanwhile flatly denied that there was anything secretive about the China deal, insisting it was a standard, “technical arrangement” like the ones it had reached with some 60 other countries.
While the agreement had never been posted publicly like many such deals, it “can be obtained on request at any time”, it said in a statement.   
Ministry spokesman Reto Kormann also stressed to AFP in an email that persons seen as threatened, like Uighur Muslims or Tibetans, would not be considered for expulsion, and “would not be questioned by Chinese officials”.
He explained that readmission agreements were needed because “most states are only willing to take back their own citizens if they can verify their identity”.
“Accordingly, such interviews are standard practice in Switzerland as in other European states.”
The China deal had been put to use only once in the past five years, in 2016, the ministry said. During that mission, “two Chinese officials stayed in Switzerland for several days to interview a total of 13 people”, it said.
The Swiss migration ministry had expected to renew the agreement before it expired on December 7. But it said is was not worried it had lapsed, stressing it was possible to invite in foreign delegations even without it.
After the deal came to light back in August, left-leaning parties called for more oversight, and the issue will now be discussed by parliament in the coming months.
After that, ministry spokesman Daniel Bach told AFP, talks with Chinese authorities about reinstating the deal would begin. “It is in Switzerland's interest to renew this agreement,” he said.
The Safeguard Defenders report meanwhile maintained that Switzerland's deal with China was in no way like its agreements with other countries.
The report compared Switzerland's deal with China to the ones it has with Sweden, India, Hong Kong and Britain, and said it found glaring differences.
“It differs so much,” Dahlin said, that comparing it to typical readmission agreements “is itself misleading”.
While such agreements are usually reached with immigration departments or foreign ministries, the deal with China was reached with its public security ministry, which handles immigration, but also police and intelligence matters.
The Chinese “experts” sent in are not immigration bureaucrats, but “agents”, Dahlin said, adding that the deal allowed them to “roam freely, conduct interviews and interrogations unsupervised”.
He warned the agents could conceivably also move freely throughout Europe's passport-free Schengen area, which “would obviously be a major concern for the capitals in the countries around Switzerland”.
Kormann however stressed that the Swiss migration ministry plans the duration of assignments, and the duration of the visas accordingly.
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry meanwhile told AFP the criticism of its agreement with Switzerland was based on “a misinterpretation of the facts”.
“Other European countries engage in similar cooperation with China,” she said.