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How companies responded to the violations highlighted on the Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet June 2003

This page was last updated on 1 December 2003.

Please keep writing to the companies concerned (background information, contact details and suggested letters are given on the action sheet). Please forward any responses you receive to us, even if they are the same as the ones given here.

Responses to:


Nestlé promises on '6 months' do not stand up.

Nestlé claimed to be taking the initiative on 6-month labelling and stated in its April 2003 Code "Action" report that "Nestlé has completed label changes on complementary foods to follow the six-month recommendation." Monitors around the world soon announced that this was untrue. Indeed, in some countries Nestlé has launched promotions for complementary foods labelled for use from 4 months of age since giving its promise. We asked you to write to Nestlé to call on in to abide by its promise.

There is mixed news contained in Nestlé's response. It will still not change labels in Hong Kong to conform with Department of Health requirements. But it says it has pulled its offending advertisement in Bulgaria and claims it has applied stickers to change the age of use given on labels there from 4 months to 6 months. We have contacted our partners in Bulgaria to find out if Nestlé is telling the truth. Many thanks to everyone who wrote to Nestlé.

Bulgaria was the 19th country where national campaigners have launched a boycott of Nestlé because of its baby food marketing malpractice (see press release 30 June 2000: Bulgarian Nestle boycott group aims to stem flood of baby milk promotion).

Campaigning has forced the world's largest food company to make changes. We need to expose more cases in our successful Campaign for Ethical Marketing. Unfortunately we are snowed under with work at present and have had to cut back on staff hours due to shortage of funds. Can you send us a donation to help with this work or buy some of our merchandise? Visit our on-line Virtual Shop.

Nestlé responded to one of our supporters in an email on 23 September. The relevant comments are included in their entirety below with Baby Milk Action's comments shown [*thus*].


When informing about the label changes in Nestlé's WHO Code Action Report,edition 7 issued in late April 2003, we also made clear that due to some lead time in the distribution chain, in rare cases there might be some delay some where before products with new labels appear on the shelves, or old products are not to be found anymore. What is important is that we investigate allegations of Code non-compliance whenever we can obtain
adequate information, and take action where necessary.

Regarding this issue, concerns have been raised about our complementary products in Hong Kong and Bulgaria.

Thus in developed countries, which Hong Kong in all respects qualifies as being, Nestlé follows the policies recommended by the national authorities.

The Hong Kong Department of Health is conducting consultations with health professional associations with a view to agreeing a general policy concerning the age for introduction of complementary foods. Nestlé Hong Kong will readily follow that general policy. [*In May 2003, UNICEF Hong Kong wrote in a letter to Nestlé: "the Department of Health of the Hong Kong Government has followed the WHO recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life." Why is Nestlé refusing to follow the Deparment of Health's position?*]

Next, in Bulgaria, Sinlac is an infant cereal speciality for babies suffering from allergies to cow's milk protein and soy protein. From the end of June 2003 NO infant cereals in Bulgaria are recommended from four months. "From six months" stickers have been put on all products previously recommended from four months. It is confirmed that the SINLAC advertisement was discontinued at the end of June. [*This, if true, is 2 months after Nestlé claimed that it had 'completed label changes' around the world, two years after Resolution 54.2 which Nestlé claims to be following and nine years after Resolution 47.5, which stated complementary feeding should be fostered from about 6 months. This prevarication demonstrates Nestlé's bad faith.*]

I hope the above information will demonstrate to you our commitment to endeavour to comply with the WHO Code and/or national laws and guidelines both in the developed and developing world, our ultimate goal being the well-being of both mother and infant. If you feel you need further clarification please do not hesitate to get in touch. I would like to send some further information on this subject if you could forward a postal address.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Beverley Mirando
Senior Policy Adviser

Joan Anderson
Senior Secretary
Ext 25888
Tel: 020 8 667 5888
Fax: 020 8 667 5440



Nestlé pushes infant formula in Botswana with outrageous claims

Baby Milk Action received the same comments on the labelling of complementary foods as given above in a letter dated 30 September 2003, which was received much later. It also addresses the violations in Botwana exposed on the action sheet.

Nestlé claims the leaflets found in Botswana were 'discontinued some years ago', perhaps attempting to imply that the leaflets found in the health clinics were there due to the health workers holding on to them. Yet, Nestlé continues: 'We are, instead, preparing new materials for health professionals...' If these new materials are still being prepared then Nestlé's representatives have only the 'discontinued' leaflets to distribute. We will continue to monitor the situation. The Code states such materials should be 'restricted to scientific and factual matters', but Nestlé claims its new leaflets will have an 'increased focus on the factual and scientific matters in these materials', presumably leaving in some of the promotional messages prohibited by the Code and Resolutions.

Regarding the leaflets given to bus passengers, Nestlé claims: 'These materials are handed only to distributors, not to the general public. Moreover, none of these leaflets has ever been used in Botswana.' This assurance is shown to be false by the report from Botswana. It is disappointing that instead of acting on the report of a violation and investigating how the leaflet came to be distributed to members of the general public, taking appropriate disciplinary action if necessary, Nestlé simply denies it ever happened. Nestlé's Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck, has said that he investigates 'any hint of a violation' - clearly not the case.

The full text of the letter, less the section quoted above, is as follows:

Dear Mike,

I refer to your e-mails setting out concerns about materials in Botswana and Gaborone and our labelling of complementary foods, and apologise for the delay in responding to you.

Botswana: leaflets for health professionals

In line with the WHO Code Article 6.2, these leaflets are handed over by our medical delegates to health professionals only, never to the general public.

As we continuously review and update the information given to inform health professionals about the properties of our products, taking into consideration new scientific developments as well as the health professionals' opinon on the literature provided, the use of some of the leaflets you quote ("37% in the shade") [**Baby Milk Action comment: which by no stretch of the imagination could be described as 'scientific and factual', now or in the past**] were discontinued some years ago. We are, instead, preparing new materials for health professionals in Southern Africa with increased focus on the factual and scientific matters in these materials. [**Baby Milk Action comment: The Code Article 7.2 says that information 'should be restricted to scientific and factual matters.' Nestlé appears not to understand the meaning of the word 'restricted'.**]

Leaflet for the trade handed out on a public bus in Gaborone

This leaflet is part of a set of materials which Nestlé uses to educate the distributors and their salespeople in South Africa about the restrictions stemming from the recommendations of the WHO Code. With easy-to-understand pictures, it shows concrete examples of marketing practices which should be banned [**Baby Milk Action comment: The Code prohibits all promotion of breastmilk substitutes. Why does Nestlé use the words 'should be banned' instead of 'are prohibited'? Nestlé, like all companies, is required under Article 11.3 of the Code to ensure that its activities at every level comply independently of government measures.**]

These materials are handed only to distributors, not to the general public. Moreover, none of these leaflets has ever been used in Botswana. [**Baby Milk Action comment: It is disappointing that Nestlé simply dismisses what we know to be true without investigating how distribution of the leaflets came to take place and taking appropriate disciplinary action if necessary. Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck, promises to personally 'investigate any hint of a violation' - clearly not the case.**]

Further it would not be sensible for any manufacturer to promote its products to mothers, as you claim Nestlé is doing, by handing them posters showing their products being barred. [**Baby Milk Action comment: What point is Nestlé trying to make? Those who contact Nestlé about its baby food marketing malpractice will know that the company produces many materials for the public in which it claims to abide by the Code and Resolutions, some of which include pack shots.**]


Yours sincerely
Hilary Parsons
Head of Corporate Affairs


Will Nestlé's competitors move on '6 months'?

Pressure from the boycott has brought about a significant change in policy from Nestlé as it has said it will abide by World Health Assembly's 1994 requirement that complementary foods are not promoted for use before 6 months of age. As global market leader its stated change in position should make it easier for its competitors to similarly change their policies. But will they do so, particularly when Nestlé's practices and public relations statements are two totally different things? Nestlé continues to promote complementary foods for use from too early an age in many countries as shown on the action sheet.

The suggested letter to other companies was as follows:

Nestlé claims that it is ‘taking the lead’ in complying with World Health Assembly Resolutions requiring that complementary foods are not marketed for use before 6 months of age.

It claims that other companies are not yet showing the same commitment.

Will you give a public undertaking to abide by the requirements of Resolution 47.5, adopted in 1994, as you have been repeatedly requested to do?


Heinz's response

Heinz refuses to make the changes required by the 1994 Resolution, which stated that complementary feeding should be fostered from about 6 months. It is interesting to recall why Heinz refused to do so last time around, because its reasons have now changed.

When we last campaigned on this in 2001, Heinz suggested (click here for the text of its letter) that it could ignore the 1994 policy on the age of introduction of complementary foods because WHO had also stated: "Infants should be fed exclusively on breast-milk from four to six months of age."

Heinz suggested it would change its position if the policy on duration of exclusive breastfeeding changed:

"Within recent months, the World Health Assembly has recommended urging members to 'support exclusive breast-feeding for six months.' This is a somewhat revised position and has been submitted for review and approval by member states.

"Understandably, advocates of the new WHA recommendation are eager for its worldwide adoption and implementation by member states. Heinz is a strong supporter of the work of WHO to promote global standardization for infant feeding and will comply immediately with a new, revised Resolution 47.5 upon its adoption by member states."

Heinz ignored the fact that Resolution 54.2 was indeed adopted by Member States, stressing the policy of promoting exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. This policy has been introduced by many countries around the world, including the UK.

In its latest response (dated 19 June 2003) Heinz only refers to the situation in the UK (though the question concerned global policy). It is now shifting its position, stating that the adoption of policy on exclusive breastfeeding is not enough, as "we are not aware of any new recommendations for those mothers who choose to bottle feed."

There is no evidence that introducing complementary food before 6 months of age is a benefit to any child (bottle-fed or breastfed), but there is significant evidence that it is a risk. Please continue writing to Heinz about its failure to comply to World Health Assembly policy in the UK and elsewhere.

The response received from Heinz is reproduced below in its entirety. Baby Milk Action's comments are shown [*thus*].

New Department of Health Advice on Baby Feeding

Thank you for your recent enquiry about weaning and advice about the introduction of complementary foods.

Heinz fully supports the Department of Health's advice that breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for babies. [*THE QUESTION WAS ABOUT IMPLEMENTATION OF RESOLUTION 47.5 GLOBALLY, NOT UK POLICY*]

The new advice (issued 12 May 2003) also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months before the introduction of weaning foods, with continued breastfeeding thereafter.

Official advice prior to this announcement has been to recommend weaning between four to six months to support infant nutrition for breastfed babies but we are not aware of any new recommendations for those mothers who choose to bottle feed. [*THE UK GOVERNMENT, LIKE MANY OTHERS, WAS BRINGING POLICY ON EXCLUSIVE BREASTFEEDING INTO LINE WITH RESOLUTION 54.2*]

Any change in infant feeding policy has implications for parents, health professionals and industry, however, unfortunately the Department of Health's announcement of this new recommendation was made without prior warning or consultation with all interested parties. [*RESOLUTION 54.2 WAS ADOPTED THROUGH THE DUE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS OF THE WORLD HEALTH ASSEMBLY AFTER AN EXPERT PANEL CONSIDERED OVER 3,000 STUDIES ON THE AGE OF INTRODUCTION OF COMPLEMENTARY FOODS*]

Heinz, alongside other baby food companies and healthcare professionals, will look to work with the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency on the best way forward in providing a clear and consistent message on baby feeding with respect to labelling and all information materials.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Nigel Dickie

Nutrition Consultant to Heinz