Speaking at the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society conference Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman and chief executive officer of Nestlé, Switzerland, faced strong criticism for the gender imbalance within the higher echelons of Nestlé management.

Responding to criticism of the fact that there are only two women on the company’s board and no female members of Nestlé’s executive committee, Brabeck-Letmathe said that he did not believe in quotas. Women, he maintained, should be appointed to high level positions on the basis of merit alone.

Discussing corporate social responsibility, Brabeck-Letmathe said that Nestlé is active in its approach to responsible business and leadership.

Detailing Nestlé’s international growth, Brabeck-Letmathe said that responsible business means creating sustainable business. “We have adopted a completely new concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) based on ‘shared value’,” he said. To the Nestlé CEO, this means returning value to shareholders and ensuring product value. 

Brabeck-Letmathe went on to address global consumer preferences, dismissing the idea of a ‘global consumer’. 

“The trend toward localness is getting stronger,” he told his audience of female professionals. “We rely on the local consumer who makes his daily decision to buy our brand, so it is the ‘localness’ of our CSR that takes priority”.

Regarding other aspects of Nestlé’s CRS approach, Brabeck-Letmathe stressed that the company took nutrition and health concerns, such as the rise of obesity, very seriously.

Brabeck-Letmathe observed that the company has a different reputation for CSR in different markets. He contrasted Nestlé’s good corporate image in developing countries with its bad image in the United Kingdom. “What counts for me is the perception we have on the local level. What we need is the trust of our local consumers,” he concluded.