Farmers need protecting from corporate greed

Updated: 2011-11-02 15:10

By Yu Hongyan (

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Multinational companies involved in the agricultural sector should protect farmers' interests, experts said Monday, responding to news that Nestlé SA's subsidiary collaborated with local vendors to shortchange farmers.

Swiss food giant Nestlé said it would work with its subsidiary in Shuangcheng, Heilongjaing province to make improvements and replace a manager who has been accused of cheating local farmers for years.

This is not a rare case, but the inevitable result of farmers lacking opportunities to associate during the process of agricultural industrialization, said Wu Chen, vice director of the Social Resources Institute.

Leading agricultural firms are important in guiding farmers into the market and providing services and technologies to them, said Zhang Zhaoxin, division director and senior research fellow with the Research Center for Rural Economy of Ministry of Agriculture.

But farmers are not in the same position as big companies in negotiation and sometimes their contracts are not standardized, Zhang said.

Local governments are eager to attract investment from multinational companies and sometimes overact in helping the latter to get collective land, reducing competitiveness and costs, said Bian Yongmin, professor with the School of Law at the University of International Business and Economics.

"A company's corporate social responsibility (CSR) should first focus on its core business, and ensure interests of stakeholders on the supply chain," said Cai Rui, campaign officer, CSR Advocacy with Oxfam China. "As for companies involving in agricultural sector, they should improve farmers' viability."

It would be better to invite a third party to assess a company's CSR and local governments should promote competitiveness when attracting investment, said Ma Ji, associate professor with China Agricultural University.

Ma also urges multinational companies to carry out their first-class CSR in China, as they do elsewhere in the world.

But it is Chinese companies that set the basis for the CSR in China, Bian said. "When we ask for a better performance from a foreign company, we should also turn to see how our Chinese companies behave."