Issue number 21, October 1997
The International Nestlé Boycott is in effect in 18 countries. The boycott will continue until Nestlé ends its irresponsible marketing of breastmilk substitutes world-wide and abides by the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent Resolutions in policy and practice. The Boycott is supported in the UK by over 100 church, health and consumer groups, over 90 businesses, 80 student unions, 17 local authorities, 12 trade unions, 74 politicians and political parties and many celebrities.
34,000 boycotters call on Nestlé to change
Mr. Bejon Misra, General Secretary of the Confederation of Indian Consumer Organisations, joined Baby Milk Action London Group and other supporters at a demonstration outside Nestlé (UK) Headquarters in Croydon for the handover of a 34,000 name petition. Each person had pledged to boycott Nescafé coffee until Nestlé abides by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Mr. Misra organises training courses on the Indian Infant Milk Substitutes Act, under which Nestlé is being prosecuted. "Nestlé has displayed an unfortunate attitude by challenging the provision of the Act," Mr. Misra told the gathering.
Banquet House diners hear about malnutrition
It was audacious even by Nestlé?s standards. In March, MPs, health professionals and others were sent invitations to meet for cocktails and a buffet dinner at the prestigious Banqueting House in Whitehall. Nobel laureate Professor Robert Fogel of the University of Chicago gave a lecture entitled, ?When will humanity finally escape from chronic malnutrition??
Struck by the irony, Baby Milk Action sent an open letter to Mr. David Harris, Nestlé UK Chief Executive and host, asking when Nestlé would finally market its baby milks ethically, putting an end to one of the causes of malnutrition amongst the world?s poorer people. The London Group rallied support and the letter and leaflets were handed to guests as they arrived. A participant wrote afterwards: "the small protest group...had a considerable effect...the opportunity to raise issues with our hosts in a gentle way was appreciated."
Mixed blessings at the Church of England Synod
The Church of England Synod which took place in York in July brought mixed blessings to the campaign: Synod affirmed the conclusions of the report Cracking the Code, which named Nestlé as one of the companies violating the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in a "systematic rather than one off manner." However it failed to support a call to resume its suspended boycott of Nescafé. Nestlé became so worried prior to the vote that it issued a statement publicly supporting a weak Synod motion, which nevertheless called on companies to abide by all World Health Assembly (WHA) Resolutions. Previously the company had refused to acknowledge the Resolutions? validity and importance.
Nestlé again invited Synod members to visit its hospitality room. But whereas in 1994 its display attacked Baby Milk Action, UNICEF and other NGO's, this year Nestlé staff focused on employment, its financial support for York Churches and HIV. Nestlé's booklet A Missed Opportunity - which dismissed Cracking the Code and the WHA Resolutions - was nowhere in sight.
Dr. Hugh James of Leicester Diocese called for the Boycott to be reinstated. But Dr. Catherine Baxter of the Standing Committee urged Synod to oppose all amendments to the motion. She said Nestlé was not the only company violating the International Code and suggested that the Committee could not devote more time and resources to establishing the validity of allegations. Dr. James noted that Nestlé?s complaints about the methodology of Cracking the Code were "like a driver caught speeding who then complains that the automatic cameras weren't visible enough."
The original motion merely noted Cracking the Code, but impassioned speeches from the Bishop of Coventry and others stressed the integrity of report and emphasised that the only dispute over its validity had come from the companies. Synod was persuaded to send a much more powerful message to the companies and the conclusions of the report were affirmed.
- After the debate the Church?s investment managers were urged to ?examine their consiences? regarding investments in companies such as Monsanto, GEC and Nestlé by Liberal MP Norman Baker. Mike Tyrell, Chair of the Christian Ethical Investment Group, also wrote to Sir. Michael Coleman of the Church Commissioners calling on him to apply pressure on the company to adopt proper management and audit controls.
- When the Royal College of Midwives Council ended its support for the boycott, the Church contacted them to make it clear that Synod had not changed its view of Nestlé.
Support for the boycott is strong
The boycott by its very nature is a people's movement. While the Church of England Synod and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have recently come off the list of boycott endorsers, there continue to be additions. Recently we have added:
- Edinburgh University Students' Union
- Queen Mary and Westfield Students' Union
- Harvest Moon Wholefood (Hitchin and Hertford)
Following the decision of the RCM Council to drop its support for the boycott to "work from the inside", the RCM's official journal, Midwives, published many letters protesting about the Council's decision. Only one letter was received supporting Nestlé. The Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association (CPHVA) and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) restated their support for the boycott after the RCM Council announcement.
"....[it is] an intriguing assumption that accepting money from a company will lead to influence over that company's marketing policies....the long-term past boycott of South African produce was never taken as implying that all other régimes were flawless; it was a high-profile symbol of protest against appalling practices...."
Isobella Black responding to the RCM Council decision to drop the boycott
Midwives September 97
Nestlé receives business award for targeting new parents
Nestlé has been honoured by a business magazine for its success in countering Denmark's breastfeeding promotion campaign.
The Best of Europe Award for Big Brand Direct Marketing went to Nestlé for its Parents Club. Direct Response magazine reports:
"Danish local health authorities, however, effectively promote breastfeeding and the majority of Danish women breastfeed their babies. As such they are suspicious of communications from companies like Nestlé. Therefore the firm decided to tackle the issue of breastfeeding head on and create a dialogue with the health authorities, including midwives and health visitors, mothers-to-be and mothers with small babies. The target audience of the campaign were mothers with children aged from two months to one year.
"To recruit new members, Nestlé used ads and inserts in Danish magazine Parents and Children and carried out quarterly promotional campaigns in supermarkets across the country. More information material about baby nutrition and the club was placed in hospitals and maternity clinics. In less than one year, membership of Nestlé Parents Club has increased from under 10% to over 75% of Danish parents."
Another reason for boycotting Nestlé - it sets the trends that others follow
Nestlé in Russia and Gabon
As Nestlé increases its activities in Russia, legislators have become aware of the need for a baby food law. Nestlé offered to translate the UK law for the Government, neglecting to mention it is much weaker than the International Code and allows advertising to the public.
In June the Ministry of Health in Gabon asked Nestlé to stop promoting Cerelac complementary food to mothers and health professionals using free gifts, free samples and film shows. Nestlé responded to the Ministry in July saying it was a respected international company with the highest standards of morality and ethics and that it intends to disregard the Government?s requirements.
Nestlé and the TUC
Nestlé caused uproar at last year?s Trades Union Congress (TUC) meeting in Blackpool by demanding that Baby Milk Action leaflets be removed from the War on Want stall. A sit-down protest by over 60 women took place at Nestlé's stall as a result.
In May 1997, the TUC Women's Conference backed Baby Milk Action and adopted a motion calling on the TUC to reflect policy by screening exhibitors at conferences. The General Council was asked to refuse Nestlé a stall at the 1997 conference. However, the TUC Council and other Executive Councils met with Nestlé and. because of the company's false claims, it was allowed to attend this year's conference.
The South-East TUC Women's Committee invited Nestlé to put its case at a fringe meeting at the Conference in Brighton in September to answer the charges put by Baby Milk Action. We welcomed the opportunity to air the issues in a public forum and were disappointed when Nestlé refused to attend. The meeting went ahead nevertheless with Anne Kean MP, Jean Geldert of the UNISON Executive, Tony Graham of Christian Aid and Mike Brady of Baby Milk Action. The meeting was chaired by Megan Dobney of the South East TUC Women's Committee.
- TUC Women's Conference also called on member unions to circulate information about Baby Milk Action to branches. We greatly value the support trade unions show for the campaign. Please contact us for further details or leaflets. Branches and Chapels in the UK can affiliate to Baby Milk Action for an annual fee of £30.
What is going on in schools?
- Companies are estimated to spend £300 million a year marketing to schools according to the National Consumers Council. As part of Baby Milk Action's Schools Project on company sponsored educational materials, we have completed a survey of Head Teachers in four counties. Commercially sponsored materials are widespread (reported by 92% of the respondents). 76% said they received materials which were unrequested. Please contact us if you have concerns about sponsorship in schools or for further information on the schools project.
- Nestlé has been targeting school children for many years. In June parents in a London school complained when their children were given free Smarties in a deal to fund a new technology block. After eating the Smarties the children were expected to fill the tubes with money which Nestlé matched.
The Magic Kingdom lets kids down
As we have reported in the past, Mickey Mouse has joined forces with Nestlé to promote artificial infant feeding to families visiting Disneyland in France (Update 8). Visitors to the children's feeding centre have been outraged to find Nestlé's logo in abundance.
Write to Disneyland consumer affairs department and ask for a feeding area free of promotion.
Public Relations Manager, Disneyland Paris,
F 7777 Marne-le-Vallee, Cedex 4,
Swedish Professor and NUJ say no to Nestlé
- Nestlé's bid to sponsor a Professor of Nutrition at Örebro University in Sweden collapsed in September after widespread publicity. The three-year deal worth £90,000 would have given Nestlé a role in selecting the recipient and actively following the research. The matter prompted widespread debate within the academic community and beyond. Rose-Marie Frebran MP cited Nestlé's "independent" expert Professor Rey in defending the company's reputation, but was countered by Yvonne Ruwaid MP. The intended recipient, Inga-Britt Gustavsson, withdrew her application and the University agreed to set up an ethical committee to check future deals.
- The Executive Council of the UK National Union of Journalists rejected a £20,000 Nestlé sponsorship deal in September because of Nestlé's record on baby milk marketing.