A complaint against Swiss multinational company Nestle has been accepted by the Human Rights National Commission (CNDH) in Mexico after cultural promoters and Indigenous rights activists accused the company of stealing Indigenous designs and using them in collectible cups.
The town of Tenango de Doria's is known for their colorful designs representing Indigenous cosmology. Many of the designs are distinctive and have often been targeted by cultural appropriators and commodified, often without any attribution to the community.
Cultural promoter Carlos Arturo Martinez Negrete, who has been assisting Tenango´s craftspersons with the lawsuit since 2016, says the company's actions constitute a violation of the groups human and cultural rights.
Martinez says that the fact the complaint was accepted by the CNDH is already a victory in itself because it confirms that the rights of the Indigenous people were violated by Nestle.
The document by the commission, states that Nestle's actions violate international treaties regarding human rights and “seriously injure” craftspersons' income because it “inhibits sales of the original products by accessing commercial distribution chains that are unavailable to our communities.”
The complaint was handed in last October and it will now allow the CNDH to supervise and accelerate the demand process that Tenango's craftspersons started in 2016, which seems to have been stalled by the prosecutors' office.
Artisans Adalberto Flores Gomenz and Angelica Martinez said they noticed the plagiarism after they saw their own designs on the cups in a department store, “they had drawings from Chiapas, Oaxaca and from Tenango, one of which was my own drawing.” Among the stolen designs are a deer, an armadillo, and a hummingbird.
Nestle claims they didn't infringe any copyright law and that they are actually supporting Indigenous communities by “raising up the country's Indigenous culture.” To do so, they hired an artist “Mike Infierno,” who inspired himself with traditional Indigenous iconography he also uses in his tattoo designs, without being an Indigenous person himself or crediting anyone for them.
Traditional tenango piece embroidered by artisan Elvira Clemente Gomez at her home in Santa Monica, Tenango de Doria, Hidalgo, Mexico. June 5, 2016. Thelmadatter, Wikimedia Commons.
The Swiss company says the collectible cups were brought to the market in collaboration with the “Pro Indigenous Mexico Foundation,” and were inspired by designs of the Huichol, Maya, Mazahua, Otomi, Tzeltal and Zapotec peoples. Tenango de Doria's main indigenous group is Otomi (called hñahñu or hñato in their own language), followed by the Nahuatl people.
According to Martinez, the problem originates when corporations abuse of the idea that craftsmanship is “of the public domain,” because artisans don't usually register work that belongs to a generations-long tradition of cultural expressions and visual representation.
Spanish clothing trademark Mango and a popular Mexican Youtube called Yuya were also accused of stealing the designs for their products in the past and are included in the complaint.
After pressure, Mango admitted they were influenced by Tenango's iconography for the design of one of their sweaters and has already removed it from the market.
Chocolate Abuelita is very popular in Mexico and it's known to use traditional and nostalgia motives in their marketing, which associate it to a national narrative despite being a Swiss brand. Their trademark image is Sara Garcia, who used to portray the “traditional” grandmother in several Mexican movies.