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Nestlé and Novartis rethink role in Turkey ad campaign

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Okan Ozer | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Several big multinational companies are reconsidering their involvement in an official campaign promoting Turkey as a business location that was conceived before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently tightened his grip on power.

Switzerland's Nestlé has indicated it could pull out of the international initiative, led by Turkey's economy ministry, to restore investor confidence in the country.

"Our participation in the campaign is currently on hold and we will consider next steps in the near future," Nestlé told the Financial Times. Swiss pharmaceuticals group Novartis also hinted its participation was under review. Joe Jimenez, chief executive, this week told journalists that the campaign's timing was "probably unfortunate".

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The Basel-based group said Novartis was "still currently involved" but "we continue to watch events closely".

The campaign, involving 17 global companies, was thought up by Nihat Zeybekci, Turkey's economy minister, who has led roadshows in the UK and other countries. It followed last year's spate of terrorist attacks, a quashed coup and the imposition of a state of emergency, which contributed to a slower economic growth of about 2.9 per cent, down from 6.5 per cent in 2015.

Nestlé has had a presence for more than a century in Turkey, where it employs more than 3,800 people. Novartis has operated in Turkey for more than 60 years and employs 2,300 in the country.

The economy ministry directed questions about the campaign to the Turkish Exporters' Assembly, which said in a statement, "This is a global campaign which demonstrates our economy is standing still; our will and our state are even stronger . . . it has a neutral standpoint."

The campaign includes posters and videos, usually half a minute long, of local representatives of global corporations describing their long history in the country, and inviting others to "Come to Turkey, and discover your own story". The Samsung representative talks about how safe he feels in Turkey. The Nestlé representative talks about feeling at home there.

Campaign organisers said they had recently sought to reconfirm approvals from the backers and that "most of the brands have already confirmed".

However, the reservations expressed to the FT reflected private fears about the reputational damage for participating companies — many of which have operated in Turkey for decades — given the controversy of political situation in Turkey and its relations with the EU.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted on Tuesday to restart monitoring human rights conditions in Turkey after having suspended their review in 2004 as Turkey made reforms to join the European Union.

Motor company Ford said that when it agreed to support the Turkish ad campaign last autumn "our sole intent was and remains to promote economic development and our proud business association in Turkey for more than 90 years. It was not our intention for this ad to be interpreted as anything else."

The UK's Vodafone said it had not changed its position on Turkey but added: "Our commentary in the advertising campaign is focused on the Turkish economy and on our long-term commitment to support our customers, employees and business partners. We do not express a view on political matters."

General Electric, which employees 2,000 in eight facilities in five Turkish cities, backed the initiative without qualification. "We are supportive of this campaign," it said in an emailed statement.

Japanese carmaker Toyota also said it would carry on with the campaign, saying: "We will continue with our business in Turkey aiming for sustainable growth."