On the 14th of October 2020, Dr. Yasmine Motarjemi (whistleblower and former Head of Food Safety at Nestlé) gave her presentation during the first seminar of the Corporate Social Responsibility and Business Ethics Blog’s End-of-Year Seminar Series 2020 entitled “CSR, Whistleblowing and Human Rights” and organized by Dr. Costantino Grasso, Dr. Dawn Carpenter, and Dr. Luca d’Ambrosio. The series has been organised in partnership with the Centre for Financial and Corporate Integrity (CFCI) of Coventry University and the EU-funded research project VIRTEU (Vat fraud: Interdisciplinary Research on Tax crimes in the European Union – Grant Agreement no: 878619).
In her terrific talk, Dr. Yasmine Motarjemi discussed whistleblowing in the context of “Labour Law, corporate culture and risk management in Multinational Enterprises.”
The career path of Dr. Yasmine Motarjemi spanned the World Health Organization in Geneva where she worked for a full decade for the prevention of foodborne illnesses before joining Nestlé as the corporate food safety manager in the year 2000. Since 2010 she has turned into a fervent advocate of whistleblowing and human rights. She graduated from the University of Languedoc, France, later at the University of Lund, Sweden, where she received a doctoral degree in Food Engineering. She is the author or editor of numerous peer-reviewed articles, books, training manuals and other publications among which the Encyclopedia on Food Safety. In 2019, Dr. Motarjemi was awarded the GUE/NGL Award for Journalists, Whistleblowers and Defenders of the Right to Information.
Summary of the Seminar (by Stephen Holden)
Dr. Yasmine Motarjemi, a public health advocate and a leading expert in food safety standards who previously held a senior role in the World Health Organization before joining Nestlé in 2000, became a whistleblower after her boss in the company’s quality management department side-lined because she repeatedly raised concerns about the handling of food safety incidents and internal processes.
During the seminar, Dr. Motarjemi considered freedom of speech and freedom of opinion rights within the context of the corporate environment, through the lens of her own experiences of whistleblowing, and the lack of whistleblower protections or other recourse for actions of retribution.
Beginning by considering the regulatory responsibilities for corporations based in Switzerland, and their responsibilities for ensuring corporations are compliant with meeting international standards, Dr. Motarjemi explored the role of the whistleblower in highlighting wrongdoing and the lack of protection afforded by the Swiss legislative and judicial system that facilitates intimidation and retribution towards those who would disclose illegality or other wrongdoing.
By providing information on food safety standards failures, Dr. Motarjemi contextualized the cultural problems within corporations – namely an unwillingness to act to prevent harm and injury through as this would provide financial and reputational damage, and the willingness of the Swiss state to overwhelmingly support corporations over the rights of the individual, and whistleblowers.