read the latest newscodewatch: meet the code-breakersread the latest Boycott news, and join the Nestlé boycottjoin Baby Milk Actionvisit the Resource Centresearch our growing databaselinks to breastfeeding resourcescontact Baby Milk Action

Nestlé warned about ethical claims

The January 1999 Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet did not appear as planned because staff had to work on another important case.

At the beginning of January we received notice from the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that it was upholding all the complaints brought by Baby Milk Action against a 1996 Nestlé advertisement. We had complained that the following Nestlé claims are inaccurate and misleading:

  • "Even before the World Health Organisation International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was introduced in 1981, Nestlé marketed infant formula ethically and responsibly, and has done so ever since."
  • "The Nestlé Charter concerns Nestlé's commitment to the WHO International Code in developing countries."
  • "Naturally they [Nestlé employees] do not provide free supplies [of baby milk] to hospitals for use with healthy infants."

The ASA sent its Final Complaint Report to Nestlé, asking it not to repeat these claims as made in the advertisement. Baby Milk Action wrote to Nestlé's CEO, Peter Brabeck, asking him to stop making similar claims in publications, letters and meetings and to withdraw Nestlé's discredited "Charter". We also asked if Nestlé would now bring its marketing policies and practices into line with the International Code and Resolutions.

After discussion with the ASA we began distributing an embargoed press release to alert the media that the ASA would publish the Complaint Report on 10th February. Then, nearly two weeks after it received its copy of the report, Nestlé appealed to the ASA and the ASA pulled the report from its forthcoming publication. After further discussion with the ASA we began to send out another press release informing the media. However, a magazine, Marketing Week, had also seen the Complaint Report and published an article on 4th February, bringing the case into the public domain.

In the Marketing Week article (shown above) a Nestlé spokeswoman is quoted as saying "We were surprised that in view of the embargo Baby Milk Action should have circulated the full adjudication." Yet five days before Nestlé gave this quote its Communication Director, Mr. David Hudson, received a letter from the ASA informing him that Baby Milk Action had acted in good faith throughout its dealings with the media on this case and had been specifically asked by the ASA to attach the full report to any press releases. Nestlé was also informed that the ASA had agreed that Baby Milk Action could send out an embargoed press release (a letter from the ASA setting out the facts is available on this web site). Nestlé's quote implies that we broke ASA rules in sending out the report. This could damage our reputation - it is important that partner organisations feel able to trust us with confidential documents. Accordingly our solicitors have written to Nestlé asking it to publicly acknowledge the facts and to withdraw its statement.

The ASA ruling is highly embarrassing to Nestlé as it asks Nestlé not to repeat the claims in advertisements. We can also use the ruling to expose Nestlé when it makes similar claims in its public relations materials such as Nestlé: Complying with the WHO Code (see action sheets for August 1998, September 1998 and October 1998). The ruling boosts our campaign calling on Nestlé to withdraw this misleading booklet.

While it is true that Nestlé has appealed against the ruling, it is important to know that Nestlé has been appealing against the recommendations of the ASA on this case since the first draft was prepared in August 1997. The investigation eventually lasted nearly two years and is one of the longest in the ASA's history. It is Baby Milk Action's opinion that the latest appeal is basically a delaying tactic. (See our press release Nestlé blocks publication of ASA report on its ethical claims.)

The decision of the ASA is now in the public domain and we will be reporting on it further in our next Boycott News newsletter. You may draw attention to it (and Nestlé's appeal) by writing to relevant newspapers, magazines or other media. If you are in the UK you can read the report in Marketing Week, 4th February 1999.

A report on the ASA ruling was also sent out by the Reuters news service. Please send us cuttings if the media in your area have picked up the story. And why not share your first hand experience of Nestlé's public relations machine in action? You could respond to news reports by sending a letter explaining that Nestlé makes similar claims when dismissing the violations reported in the Campaign for Ethical Marketing.

If the media uses Nestlé's quote implying that Baby Milk Action acted incorrectly in circulating the full ruling you could also explain that the ASA specifically asked us to attach this to our press releases. Nestlé was aware of this fact when it gave its quote and so our solicitors have written to Nestlé asking it to withdraw the statement. Baby Milk Action will provide a copy of the ASA letter on request.

Finally you could write to Nestlé asking it to acknowledge the seriousness of the ASA ruling, instead of continuing in its attempts to overturn it, and to bring its marketing policies and practices into line with the International Code and Resolutions.

Next month's sheet will be back to the usual format

You can be a Code Monitor.


press index