WORKSHOP: Case Study - Oxfam scores swift victory over Nestle

Bene Archbold

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Background: Oxfam launched a campaign last December to pressurise multinational food company Nestle to drop its $6 million lawsuit against the Ethiopian Government. The multinational was seeking compensation for a subsidiary livestock company that was taken over by the Ethiopian Government under nationalisation in 1975. Oxfam condemned Nestle's action towards one of the world's poorest nations struggling in the grip of serious famine and needed to act quickly to raise public awareness to convince the food company to abandon its claim.

Aims: Oxfam sought to galvanise its 10,000 supporters to back the campaign by being able to contact Nestle directly. The charity also needed to build a cost-effective programme that could be sent quickly to supporters and passed on to friends and family. It also wanted to draw supporters' attention to its ongoing work against the exploitation of coffee growers by food giants such as Nestle.

How it worked Due to tight time constraints, Oxfam decided to run the campaign via email. Generating a print-based campaign could have taken up to two weeks, by which time it may have been too late to have any real impact. The charity worked with internet company Advocacy Online to develop an email in both English and French, explaining the reasons behind the campaign. The email, which included links to different parts of the Oxfam site and other related portals, was sent to 25,000 people in 12 different countries including the UK.

When a recipient opened the email, they were encouraged to click on a link to enter personal details and sign a general petition. They could then click through to another page where they could either put their name to an individual pre-written email or send a personalised email expressing their views. The charity also sent out regular updates on how the campaign was progressing.

A media and PR campaign ran alongside the email drive.

Results: Oxfam claims that the campaign was one of its biggest successes in recent history as Nestle reduced the claim to $1.5 million and agreed to donate the money to famine relief.

More than 44,000 people took direct action and two-thirds of these had received the email from a source other than Oxfam. Even though Oxfam regularly uses email to roll out its programmes, the Nestle campaign pulled in the fastest-growing response to any appeal to date.

Oxfam credits the success of the campaign to its timing, and to Nestle's original response that proved very unpopular with the media and the general public.

"The Nestle campaign has a very morally creditable message that may have struck a chord with people in the run up to Christmas," said Alison Woodhead, trade campaign manager of Oxfam.

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