I am a former senior scientist and Acting Director of the World Health Organisation. In my last position, I was an Assistant Vice President at Nestlé, in charge of global food safety. I held this position from 2000 to 2010, when I was fired. It may be interesting for you to know that I was born in Iran but have a triple nationality in the countries of Iran, Sweden and Switzerland.
My battle for food safety, public health and human rights in Nestlé started 23 years ago. However, this was preceded by 20 years of hard work to improve food safety and public health in the world. In a competitive and macho world, the road to success was not easy. It involved many uphill struggles. My personal story of pain and suffering that Nestlé has inflicted upon me is nowhere near as important as the outrage that resides in me from my experience with the despicable manner that food safety was managed in this specific case.
The space here does not allow me to go into the details of mismanagement that I experienced in Nestlé. I can only say that I really did not mean to become a whistleblower, but Nestlé management did so much wrong, that I felt that I had no choice.
Perhaps, the worst thing that the Nestlé management did was to refuse to pay attention to my internal reporting as a result of which incidents happened. To err is human, to persist in error is diabolical.
Instead of addressing my food safety concerns, after several years of excellent performance, Nestlé Management subjected me to a severe case of sustained and persistent psychological harassment, which felt like torture to me. For four years, while continuing to fulfil the responsibilities of my senior position, my superiors stripped me from my projects and prerogatives, dismantled my team, humiliated me, isolated me, defamed me, denigrated my opinion, blocked my instructions, withheld information, spied on me, threatened me, forced me into impossible or humiliating jobs and they did all this and more without any regard for the implications of such practices.
The daily humiliations felt like being lashed over and over with a whip. The isolation and exclusion from the professional world felt like a prison, a large prison without walls and yet still a prison as no one talks to you, no one sees you and no one hears you. Sometimes one wishes to be dead rather than go through such harassment.
I share my story because my abuse is a symptom of an even deeper, much larger problem. If Nestlé or other companies can behave this way, break the law and bully individuals and communities alike, it is because public health and judicial authorities are failing to meet their responsibilities.
Even when I reported incidents to public health authorities, NGOs, Unions or my professional community, with few exceptions, they were not interested in investigating food safety management problems that I was reporting or in learning from my experiences.
The only option for me was to report my case to judicial authorities. However, even then I was subjected to retaliation. Nestlé counter-sued me for violating professional secrecy. Nestlé also teamed up with my litigation insurance company, which I had to challenge in another court. The Fonds de Pensions Nestlé (Nestlé Pension Fund) sued me for my publications and my efforts to survive professionally. These are just a few of the major hurdles I have faced. However, the path to justice is often long, arduous and full of pitfalls. Victims have sometimes to confront false medical examinations, mischievous lawyers, sham investigations, misleading facts or half-truths, character assassination and more. It is difficult to put into words the cost I have paid in terms of my health, the well-being of my family, the strain on my financial resources and the impact on my life overall. Although the impact on me has been profound, it remains a symptom of an even larger problem.
The main problem is the justice system. It took me 12 years to bring the Swiss court to confirm that I had been subjected to bullying and psychological harassment. However, there were no consequences for the manager responsible for both the mismanagement of food safety and my harassment. They remained in their senior position and were never sanctioned.
When the justice system allows companies to commit social and professional assassination of whistleblowers without sanction and turns a blind eye to their alerts against wrongdoings, then I can only conclude that our system is corrupt.
Although my whistleblowing experience started by attempting to deal with lapses in food safety management, my story ends by showing a total dysfunction of our society.
As Rumi, the Persian Poet, says. “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” My story of whistleblowing is indeed just a drop in an ocean of malfeasance and criminality. However, in this small drop, you can find all the facets of a dysfunctional system of governance, from the criminal negligence of a multinational company, to the violation of human rights, the failures of the regulatory authorities, the dysfunction of the justice system, the silence of politicians, NGOs and consumers, the censorship and cover up of the media, and the overall corruption of the system of governance that break any individual who speak out against wrongdoings.
This text is an excerpt from the acceptance speech given at the occasion ofGUE/NGL award for Journalists, Whistleblowers Defenders of the Right to Information, in Honour of Daphne Caruana Galizia, April 2019 (https://www.w-t-w.org/en/award-for-journalists-whistleblowers-and-defenders-of-the-right-to-information/)
For more information, please see:
1) NESTLE Whistleblower letter to company CEO Ulf Mark Schneider
2) Final Words: Food Safety Culture and Management at Nestlé
3) The case of Nestlé: my journey as a whistleblower
4) Yasmine Motarjemi: The untold facts about the Nestlé case
https://www.humanrights.ch/de/anlaufstelle-strategische-prozessfuehrung/interview-yasmine-motarjemi-the-untold-facts-about-the-nestle-case (Editor's note: this matter resulted in the employment tribunal awarding €2.1M.)