Nestlé CEO launches blatant
violation in China
Nestlé’s Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck
Letmathé, claims that he personally investigates ‘any hint of a
violation’ of the World Health Organisation marketing requirements. Yet generally he fails to respond to our reports or a member of staff
attempts to justify malpractice. We believe that Mr. Brabeck has
institutionalised violations of the Code and Resolutions to increase company profits and has taken a conscious decision to invest in
public relations strategies (such as the booklet shown below) to try to
divert criticism. Further proof comes as Mr. Brabeck has personally
launched a blatant violation of the Code and Resolutions in China.
In May 2005 Nestlé was forced to recall its Neslac Gold 3 and
Chengchang 1+ formulas in China after the authorities found they
had higher than permitted levels of iodine. Nestlé first resisted the
recall. The China Daily newspaper reported (10 June 2005): "Many
believe it reacted with the speed and alacrity of a sailor drunk on
shore leave” and said “as many many as 87 per cent of consumers
said they would stop purchasing Nestlé products, primarily because
of the firm’s lukewarm response to the milk powder issue after the
problem was found.” China’s implementation of the Code is weak.
Half of Nestlé’s sales in China are infant formula and other
nutritional products. Reporting on evidence of aggressive marketing
last year China Daily (21 May 2004) noted: “The number of babies in China fed
exclusively on breast milk during their first four months of life has
declined from around 76% in 1998 to only 64% today.”
In a recent
interview with Mr. Brabeck China Daily (17 October 2005):
“Sales growth on the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan slowed to 7.5 per cent last year, held back by the withdrawal of Neslac. Brabeck is looking to the mainland, the world’s fastest growing major economy, to stoke demand as European consumer spending stagnates. The milk-powder cans now carry a sticker with a ‘Thumbs-up’ logo to show it’s produced in line with iodine standards. Nestlé is giving out samples and stationing doctors in Beijing supermarket chains to answer customer concerns.”
Article 5.5 of the International Code explicitly prohibits companies from targetting pregnant women and mothers of infants and young children. UNICEF has informed Baby Milk Action that young children are defined as up to 3 years of age and the prohibition is absolute (click here for UNICEF's letter). Companies cannot use a milk for older babies as an excuse for the contact.
One of the brochures
produced by Nestlé’s anti-boycott
team, with an
introduction by Mr. Brabeck
in which he states: “If we
find that the Code has been
deliberately violated, we
take disciplinary action. As
CEO, I personally review
any reports of Code
violation and I make sure
appropriate action is
Will Mr. Brabeck
sack himself for the blatant
violation in China?
It is even more futile asking the Chairman to take action to stop Mr. Brabeck's malpractice as in April, despite the opposition of many investors, Mr. Brabeck became Chairman as well as CEO. This violates corporate governance best practice introduced in the wake of the Enron scandal (see Update 36).
Thanks to people writing letters (see May 2005 action sheet) and
pressure from the boycott, it seems Nestlé may be shifting its ground
on Baby Milk Action’s proposed independent, expert Tribunal. This
will investigate who is telling the truth about its marketing practices.
Senior Policy Advisor, Beverley Mirando (one of the producers of
the above PR brochure) was pressed by an interviewer on University
of East Anglia Livewire student radio on Nestlé’s refusal during the
Student Union referendum on re-newing support for the boycott.
Ms. Mirando said Nestlé is now prepared to consider taking part .
letter to the man who thinks spending a fortune on PR offensives
is better than changing company policy
Peter Brabeck-Lethmathé, Chief Executive, Nestlé S.A.
Avenue Nestlé 55, Vevey 1800, Switzerland. You
can select the text below and copy and
paste it into a word-processor or into the comment
page on the Nestlé site. Note Nestlé keeps
changing the address of the comment page. If the link
to it is dead go via http://www.nestle.com/.
I am disturbed to read that Nestlé is placing doctors in
supermarkets in China to promote Nestlé Neslac formulas
direct to parents. As you know Article 5.5 of the International
Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes prohibits seeking:
“direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or
with mothers of infants and young children.” According to
UNICEF’s Legal Officer, who advises on interpretation of the
the World Health Assembly measures: “Any form of contact
with mothers of children under the age of three years is
prohibited, irrespective of the motivation behind the contact.”
It appears from media reports that you are closely associated
with this strategy. How can you reconcile your stated
commitment to take action against violations of the Code, when
you yourself are responsible? I call on you to stop the
promotions in China immediately and revise your instructions to
staff to bring them into line with the Code and Resolutions.
Your past assurances that Nestlé complies with the marketing
standards is undermined by your refusal to participate in the
independent, expert Tribunal proposed by Baby Milk Action.
Your Senior Policy Advisor, Beverley Mirando, has recently said
Nestlé will now consider taking part. Can you confirm you have
changed your policy and will accept Baby Milk Action’s
UK government to abandon mothers to baby food companies?
It is 15 years since the UK government was one of
the countries signing the Innocenti Declaration on the Protection,
Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding. In November 2005
campaigners celebrated the increase in breastfeeding rates and
legislation stopping baby food marketing malpractice, which the
Declaration has helped to achieve (see Update 37). At the same time the UK
Government was apparently abandoning its commitment to one of
the key undertakings.
The Declaration called for a national
breastfeeding coordinator and a multisectoral national
breastfeeding committee to be introduced. Although the committee
did not see the light of day, National Breastfeeding Coordinators
for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were
appointed. We now hear the English post may be scrapped.
A coordinated approach is more important than ever. Baby food companies are exploiting the lack of government investment in breastfeeding support in increasingly aggressive ways.
The leaflets shown here are produced by companies and placed in clinics. At first sight they seem to be providing impartial information on infant feeding as there are no company logos on the front. Mothers are likely to collect them alongside health service leaflets.
Inside they promote company brand names and encourage mothers to visit company websites, phone company carelines and sign up to company mother and baby clubs.
“Which baby milk should I use, and when?” asks this leaflet, seemingly providing objective information. But when you arrive at home you find the SMA logo.
The Cow & Gate leaflet pictured here says: “Fancy £1,000 worth of Mothercare vouchers?”
Company websites often offer free samples of follow-on milks and other inducements.
At the same time, companies are co-opting the healthcare system
to direct mothers to them. For example, Cow & Gate is promoting
its branded telephone ‘careline’ to health workers in a letter: “we’re happy to take calls direct from mums. So, when you can’t
be there to listen, we can be an extra pair of ears.... We’re keen to
show you that we’re a valuable source of additional impartial help
for you... and you could win £250 to spend at Marks & Spencer.” Clearly Numico, the company behind the Cow & Gate formula
brand, does not understand the meaning of the word ‘impartial’.
Neither is it fulfilling its responsibilities under Article 5.5 of the International Code.
Although the UK government has yet to
implement the Code and Resolutions fully in legislation, Article
11.3 of the Code requires companies to abide by its provisions
independently of government measures.
Suggested letter to Caroline Flint MP, Public Health Minister ,
Department of Health, Richmond House, 79 Whitehall, London,
SW1 2NS. (You can select the text below and copy and paste it into a word-processor or into an email).
It is extremely worrying to see monitoring evidence publicised by
Baby Milk Action showing how baby food companies are
targetting mothers in clinics with what purport to be information
materials. These are really promoting formula milk brand names
and company websites and carelines.
I encourage the
Government to implement the International Code of Marketing of
Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the
World Health Assembly in legislation to stop such violations.
As this is the 15th anniversary of the Innocenti Declaration on
the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding it would
be welcome if the Government publicly confirmed it will continue
to support the posts of National Breastfeeding Coordinator and
establish National Breastfeeding Committees, as called for in the
Declaration. Otherwise how will you achieve the commitments to
breastfeeding in the Choosing Health white paper?
letter to the men ultimately responsible for the marketing strategy (you can select the text below and copy and paste it into a word-processor or into the website comment page):
Jan Bennink, CEO, NUMICO, PO Box 1, 2700 MA Zoetermeet,
The Netherlands. Fax: +31 793539620. www.numico.com
Robert Essner, CEO, Wyeth, 5 Giralda Farms, Madison, NJ
07940, USA. Fax: +1 6106886228. www.wyeth.com
I am aware that your company is targetting mothers through the
UK health care system with leaflets promoting your formula brand
names and company websites and carelines.
Such practices are prohibited by Article 5.5 of the International
Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which prohibits
seeking: “direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant
women or with mothers of infants and young children.”
11.3 requires you to abide by the provisions of the Code
"independently of any other measures taken for implementation of
I call on you to stop all targetting of mothers and
offering inducements to health workers.
can be a Code Monitor.