Nestlé  : Headlining credibility

The persuasive power of an unadorned statement of provenance.

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The feature

Nestlé, Swtizerland-based confectionery, drinks and foodstuffs company, makes a major play of independent verification of its social reporting.

Nestlé features its newly published [1 April] corporate responsibility report, Nestlé in Society, as the default item in the lead content highlights panel on its global home page. Beneath the headline ‘Nestlé in Society: full report published’, a sub-heading states ‘The report was prepared according to Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Guidelines at Application Level A+’. This clicks through to a summary page in the Media section that explains the significance of the GRI’s guidelines and its status as the leading non-profit organisation in the area of non-financial reporting. Links are included to the full and summary versions of the report in PDF.

Further information about the GRI is provided in the site’s corporate responsibility section, Creating Shared Value, within the Performance sub-section. This also includes a separate Assurance statement from independent auditor Bureau Veritas, which was engaged to assess the “accuracy, reliability and objectivity of the reported information”. Its statement includes detailed recommendations for improvements to the quality of reporting as well as a judgement on the extent to which the previous year’s recommendations were acted on. The statement is included in the full PDF report but not the summary.

The takeaway

GRI guidelines and independent assessment statements have over recent years become standard requirements for any company reporting its annual corporate social responsibility performance: the former provides a much-needed frame of common reference, while the latter puts it on the same audit footing as financial reporting. Indeed, Nestlé has been using both for longer than most. What is striking this year is the centre-stage promotion it gives in the launch of its latest report to these two key external endorsements of the credibility of the document and the reporting process behind it. Look no further than the home page headline and sub-heading for just how radical and bold a move this is: in the year of ‘storytelling’, Nestlé runs with an unadorned and plain-spoken note of provenance – it is not, it is saying, ‘telling stories’ in the alternate sense of making things up.

Such high-level visibility also suggests that Nestlé believes that the same ‘technical’ elements which would normally be looked for by corporate responsibility professionals and analysts as a sign of reporting rigour can also be persuasive with its wider public audience. Certainly, recently published research by Nielsen for inPowered Media Lab, points to the greater trust consumers place in ‘expert’ non-partisan comment over ‘branded’ views online when it comes to learning about new products and services. With that in mind, Nestlé should perhaps be looking for ways to keep a high profile for its message after it inevitably surrenders its star billing on the home page.
First published 01 April, 2014
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