How Whistleblowers are being assassinated in Switzerland (Part I)
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How Whistleblowers are being assassinated in Switzerland (Part I)
No matter which country, wherever the whistleblowing takes place, the words of whistleblowers are identical in terms of retaliation. Everyone has experienced this fact in their own way: the future appears grim after their professional career came to an end because as in most of the cases, the business world turned its back on those who dared to tell the truth. The justice is slow whilst files are kept waiting and the opponents ostracize the personality of the whistleblower. The citizens find themselves powerless, financially crippled and an extremely large majority of families are in great distress. The same techniques are used in countries that claim to be developed and which proclaim to be democracies. Everything is done to both ostracize the whistleblowers and to minimize the visibility of their alert. However times change, attitudes change and these past years many are the ones who joined the Resistants facing a system where everybody gets chewed up.
I have often wondered whether, like me, the other whistleblowers had in mind President Kennedy’s quote when they decided to blow the whistle, to alert:
Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
President John F. Kennedy
Switzerland defines itself as a neutral country where it would be pleasant to live and work, offering a higher standard of living than the majority of the European countries. Each citizen facing the justice testifies how difficult it is to be heard and respected. Foreigners take a different look at the Confederation when citizens from whatever field of activity confront the justice. From the outside, one could expect a justice supporting the ‘neutral’ citizens, in the image of the country. It is nothing of the sort. Even when it involves cases as sensitive as those relating to the products of the food processing industry for babies and infants, whistleblowers are not more protected than the ones working in the finance industry. This is rather shocking when we know that the headquarters of numerous sensitive companies such as pharmaceutical, food, chemical activities are located in Switzerland. Even the numerous NGOs and foundations which have their headquarters in Switzerland turn their backs on the whistleblowers.
Since 2015, Yasmine Motarjemi, Corporate Food Safety Manager at Nestlé from 2000 to 2010 spent a lot of her time explaining to me that in Switzerland, where my former employer UBS has its headquarters, nobody is really interested in the fate of the whistleblowers except a few activists. Not a single law exists to protect the women and men disclosing malfunctions. Not even an investigation is made relating to the facts disclosed and only if they are being forced by a foreign country, as it was the case for the FIFA or banking scandals. Psychological harassment, even if it is officially known as “psycho-terror”, is not considered as a crime. It is widely accepted and victims are forced to accept a so-called “out of the court settlement” which is imposed by their employer and is treated with confidentiality. Yasmine explains that the victims have no choice but in accepting the conditions of the agreement and forced into silence because they have no means to continue the legal struggle against multinational companies. With the confidentiality of the settlements, one puts a cover on the harassment even if one can find other corruption cases at the core of the case. The employers who harassed their employees will never be known. As such, the system creates other victims.
The demonstration is far from being over. The ten-year experience endured by this high level executive has enabled her to know the subject perfectly well, like all of us. She has related part of her experience in an article entitled “Whistleblowing: Food Safety and Fraud” published in the June-July 2014 edition of Food Safety magazine. She also told me that some of her works have been censored by the scientific media.
We were both invited to speak during a round-table entitled “Whistleblowers, the Obstacle Course” during in November 2016 in Paris. Yasmine then explained that “as a whistleblower filing a complaint in the ‘country of chocolate’, bearing all the outrageous legal fees, the complexity and slowness of the legal procedures, as well as to fight an opponent who would make the trial drag out, it was all extremely difficult. The purpose of this nasty game is to destroy and ruin the employee a little bit more than he / she was on leaving the company”. This is a replica of my very sad experience in France. As an example, Yasmine says she filed a complaint in March 2011. The first hearing took place in June 2014 whilst the other hearings are few and even from December 1st, 2015 until May 2017 etc. She sighs and states: “For years, the victim is therefore mobilized, he / she keeps turning over his / her revulsion, before he / she can, at last, be listened to by a court. In the meantime, for different reasons, it is impossible to work. One lives in a state of siege. One is barely allowed to smile. Anyway, the soul and the joy of life of the employee have already been killed”.
Photo: Yasmine Motarjemi receiving the Daphne Caruana Award from the Greek Eurodeputy Stelios Kouloglou at the Strasbourg parliament, April 16, 2019. Personal collection
Yasmine was also been taken to court because she had revealed the content of her complaint and the subject of her dismissal. “A difference of opinions on the management of the food safety” with her immediate superior is mentioned on her letter of dismissal.
The former Nestlé executive asks the same questions as the French whistleblowers: “How dare they speak about human rights and freedom of speech?” She also wonders what happened to the so-called transparency principles of the Nestlé CEO when hedeclared that “Trust and transparency must be at the core of the business”.
The complaint was filed against her due to the fact that she had exposed her difference in opinions regarding food safety when in reality the matter is truly about the consumers’ health.
Yasmine was brought before the ‘Social Insurance’ court because she had developed intellectual activities and had been willing to pass her knowledge and her expertise on to scientists and food safety professionals. In fact, she has published an encyclopedia and books relating to food safety. She emphasized that the work is her professional testimony. The court had finally concluded that she has an unusual sense of duty and that the statements of Nestlé pension funds, which had most probably been encouraged by Nestlé to file a complaint, are erroneous. She sighs that “Nobody talks about it. NGOs and media are immured in their silence, probably to protect Nestlé”.
Pursuing the account of her experience with years facing both the justice and the Swiss authorities, Yasmine explained that once the observations were disclosed to the sanitary authorities, the latter did not even bother to send an acknowledgment. She ironically stirs up that, in Switzerland, one is inclined to think that there is no need for whistleblowers because there would not be a single corruption problem. As a consequence, it is not worthwhile to vote for protection laws. The Deputies did not even want to look at the situation. Yasmine quotes Ahmadinejad, the former Iranian President who, in replying to a question relating to human rights and the execution of homosexuals in Iran would have said: “We do not execute homosexuals in Iran because we simply do not have homosexuals in our country!” As far as the testimonies of the Nestlé Management at court are concerned, the appointed managers held on to ridicule the judicial procedure and would have made fun of the justice, of the judge and of Yasmine without a mention of the outrageous or contradictory answers being related in the media or without any consequences for the guilty managers. The witnesses would have lied and “I am being told that lying at court is allowed in Switzerland” concludes the whistleblower. “Key witnesses have been briefed by the other side and this is most probably accepted by the justice”. She gives several examples of answers given by the Nestlé managers in a letter which she sent to Mark Ulf Schneider, the new CEO of Nestlé in January 2017.
As far as those Deputies she applied to in order to share her experience and ask an examination in order to improve the system, she never received any answers. She explained that the greatest deception has been her professional network and the technical media because they are the ones most able to understand the importance of malfunctions and are in a position to act. They have also closed their eyes.
For decades, Mrs. Motarjemi has been leading a war for food safety public health, human rights and justice.All her career, she worked hard to reach a high position in her professional field and then a ten-year fight to force Nestlé, one of the food’s giant to comply with the requirements of the food security management. Morality and ethics of this exceptional whistleblower have led her precipitous drop-off: retaliation such as moral harassment, redundancy, her career came to an end, lost of her financial and social status and physical and psychical health damages. A ten-year legal and psychological fight to speak up the truth.
In spite of the legal success where the harassment suffered by the former Nestlé Food Security Manager was recognized last year at court, no effective lessons have so far been learnt from the scandalous events she had disclosed. She publicly declares : « There hasn’t been any changes in the food safety practices nor changes in the Swiss laws as far as whistleblowers are concerned, nor sanctions of the Nestle managers who violated the law nor compensations for my damages. After a ten-year fight, Nestlé refusesthereforethe story continues at court. ». She keeps on regretting « the passivity of our decision makers, the silence of the public health and food sector professionals, the blatant disregard of both the civil society and of the media. »
Cover photo: Eberhard Grossgasteiger Unsplash
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