Originally posted at my blog spin.off , while working on the book.
Last week, 12 June 2008, the Swiss investigative reporters program Temps Present revealed that Nestlé had infiltrated Attac Switzerland, for more than a year. The food multinational paid Securitas, one of Switzerland’s largest security firms, to plant a woman in the protest group from the summer of 2003 until 2004.
Using a false name the infiltrator participated in meetings and preparation sessions around the time of the July 2003 G8 summit in Evian. After the summer members of the group started editing a book about the “Nestlé Empire.” As a co-author she had complete access to the group’s documentation and to all Attac’s email contacts around the world, including information on union members in Colombia fighting for workers-rights in Nestlé plants. Such information is potentially dangerous in the wrong hands; in the past people have been killed just for being active organizers.
The Securitas agent never gave an address or phone number and refused to appear in any Attac photos, but the group considered this her personal right. After the work on the Nestlé book had finished, she disappeared and could not be reached. However, through an anonymous call to the Suisse anti-corruption hot line of Transparency International, her story reached the desks of the television reporters of Temps Present.
Her regular reports about the group’s meetings were handed over to Nestlé and she was also introduced to the head of security of Nestlé to clarify her findings. The surveillance reports were subsequently passed on to the regional police. They were thus informed of this illicit activity but didn’t inform the persons concerned.
Nestlé refused to comment on camera and issued a written statement instead, aimed at downplaying the affair. The company’s response to the accusations, Temps Present reported, was limited to saying it took a series of“appropriate measures” to boost security of its staff and buildings at the time of the G8 summit five years ago. The company added that it took these measures in close co-operation with Securitas and the Vaud cantonal police, while strictly respecting the law.
Surprisingly, Securitas did agree to give an interview and the general secretary of the company, Reto Casutt, admitted people had taken part in meetings under false names. This might “not be sympathetic” according to the Securitas CEO, but is not forbidden either. He also revealed that Securitas maintained good contacts with the local police about the operation, keeping them informed about the progress at all times. A spokesperson for the local police confirmed this co-operation to the Temps Present reporters.
Because the infiltration of political groups or unions is strictly regulated for the police, it was easier to have a Securitas agent do the work, the Suisse paper Le Matin Dimanche wrote. Surveillance by private agencies has not been regulated at all.
Switzerland’s data protection and personal privacy laws are very strict and at issue in this case is the question of whether security firms can offer investigative services that abuse private citizens’ and organizations’ rights. Private security is a growing business in Switzerland, as elsewhere, TSR points out, and it works closely with government authorities in several areas. Lausanne-based Securitas reportedly has 10,000 employees. Among its many mandates: it escorts asylum seekers who are sent back home, patrols CFF trains, and at the moment it has a large security role for the Euro 2008 games. The company is part of the Securitas group based in Sweden.
Attac held a press conference in Lausanne, on 13 June, the day after the documentary was aired.
Attack’s lawyer Jean-Michel Dolivo explained the organization is planning criminal and civil legal action against Nestlé and Securitas. Members of Attac feel the infiltration breached their privacy, and also suspect the woman has secretly taped conversations, which is forbidden. Meanwhile, Luc Recordon, Green party senator from Vaud, raised the issue with the federal cabinet. The leftwing parties have asked the local parliament for clarification. The Swiss Privacy Commissioner also wants to know exactly what has happened.
Yesterday, an investigation was lauchned into the spying affair, the role of Securitas, and hopefully also the role of the police. If indeed the police knew about the operation all along, further steps can be taken, the responsible member of the Kanton council Jacqueline de Quattro, said on the West Swiss News on Wednesday, an official investigation for instance.
Nestlé spy story gets cantonal investigation
19 June 2008
Lausanne, Switzerland (TSR, Fre) – Vaud’s cantonal council will begin an investigation to see if Nestlé’s reported use of the security firm Securitas to infiltrate and spy on an anti-globalization group continued after the 2003 G8 summit in nearby Evian, France. [background story] The council told TSR that an independent former judge will most likely be assigned to the investigation. Meanwhile, the federal authority responsible for ensuring data protection laws are observed will question Securitas about its role in the affair, reports TSR. The group, Attac, has filed penal charges against “X,” unknown persons who may have broken the law at the multinational food group and Securitas. Attac may also file civil charges for attacks on its reputation.
The cantonal council announced its plans after pressure from the political Left and in the wake of heavy media coverage of the affair after TSR’s Temps Présent programme broke the story 12 June that a Securitas employee had infiltrated Attac for the acount of client Nestlé and had access to confidential documents and information for several months. The multinational is not commenting on the affair.
Other sources used:
13 June 2008
Attac Press Statement Scandalous : Nestlé Accused of Spying
14 June 2008
http://www.lematin.ch, Securitas promet ne plus pratiquer l’espionnage politique
18 June 2008