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Issue number 25, July 1999


Boycott Summary

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.


  1. Brabeck flies in as Nestlé panics over ASA ruling
  2. Nestlé misinformation could be challenged in the courts
  3. Nestlé cancels its annual development lecture, but cannot escape the RRN
  4. Liberal Democrat Conference backs the boycott
  5. Granada does a deal with Nestlé
  6. Cereal promotion in schools
  7. More money for York Churches
  8. New Action Pack launched
  9. Nestlé swiftly backtracks on GM pledge
  10. Libby's juices in the UK and Ireland
  11. Demonstrators count the cost

Brabeck flies in as Nestlé panics over ASA ruling

Mr. Nestlé gets angry

Nestlé's Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck, was likened in a business magazine to Darth Vader from the Star Wars films when he swept into London for a press conference on 6th May 1999. Mr. Brabeck was attempting to limit the damage caused by an Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruling against a Nestlé anti-boycott advertisement. Marketing Week called the ruling "a first-class public relations disaster... which effectively brands the global corporation a liar, insofar as it claimed to have marketed infant formula products ethically." In January Baby Milk Action asked Mr. Brabeck if Nestlé would stop making claims similar to those in the discredited advertisement in publications, letters and meetings and if it would bring Nestlé's activities into line with the marketing requirements for breastmilk substitutes. We still had not received a reply when Mr. Brabeck spoke to the press four months later and told journalists that Nestlé's critics refused to discuss the issues with him. He attacked UNICEF's Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, and Save the Children for criticising Nestlé. Instead of facing up to the implications of the ASA ruling against claims which Nestlé makes elsewhere, he dismissed the advertisement as a "one-off" and "probably a mistake." According to an Independent on Sunday article entitled Mr. Nestlé gets angry (9th May 1999) reporters were stunned into silence by the display and Nestlé UK executives seemed embarrassed. "The Nestlé finance man began pursing and unpursing his lips. The PR man stared into the middle distance. The managing director of Nestlé UK squirmed in his chair" the paper said.

  • Richard Howitt MEP, rapporteur for the European Parliament's Committee for Development and Cooperation stated: "The ASA ruling blows apart Nestlé's pretence that it is operating responsibly in developing countries." (see European Parliament to investigate baby food industry, Update 25).

Shareholders misled

During the 1990's the baby milk issue has taken up two-thirds of the time at Nestlé's shareholder meetings, according to a new booklet distributed by Nestlé at this year's event on 3rd June. At the meeting Mr. Brabeck misled shareholders about the ASA ruling saying that it relates only to events over 20 years ago and before the International Code was adopted. This is untrue. We have asked Mr. Brabeck to circulate the full text of the ASA ruling to all shareholders and are investigating taking legal action.

  • Please send donations to Baby Milk Action's legal fund (enclose a cover note if you want your donation to be used for this purpose only).

A new line in the UK

While Mr. Brabeck has been blasting Nestlé's critics, the Chief Executive of Nestlé UK, Peter Blackburn, is trying a different approach. He is changing his tune following the ASA ruling against Nestlé's claim that it markets infant formula "ethically and responsibly." The new line is: "Nestlé does its best to market infant formula ethically and responsibly." Sadly, Nestlé's best is not good enough: its marketing policy is flawed and the latest reports provide evidence that widespread violations of the marketing requirements continue.

Ralph Claydon goes

Nestlé's Corporate Affairs Manager, Ralph Claydon, has had the job of countering the boycott for a number of years. Within a month of Mr. Brabeck's intervention in the crisis, Mr. Claydon retired from the company.

Nestlé misinformation could be challenged in the courts

In general, companies can make untrue claims about their activities and there is little anyone can do about it. Companies are vulnerable, however, when claims are made in advertisements - hence our recent victory before the Advertising Standards Authority . There is also scope for using libel law.

In its attempt to discredit its critics Nestlé has made comments which are defamatory to Baby Milk Action and has refused to retract or clarify these when asked to do so, or has simply failed to respond to our letters. Libel law could be used to protect our reputation and expose Nestlé's unethical baby food marketing activities.

For example, last year we gave Nestlé an award for shameful violation of the marketing code for breastmilk substitutes as part of the UK Food Group Awards on world food day (see Boycott News 23). The Lot of Bottle award was for Nestlé's "Health Educators" in the Philippines. These employees promote Nestogen infant formula to new mothers in the community. Our evidence is well-documented and we can call witnesses to support our case. Indeed, at Nestlé's shareholder AGM in 1996 a doctor from the Philippines raised this issue . Nestlé has made statements to the general public and the media denying that its employees in the Philippines make direct contact with mothers, implying that we are lying when we publicise this violation. This is defamatory to us, damages our reputation and makes it harder for us to carry out our work. Nestlé knows, however, that it will be expensive for us to take the company to court and to call witnesses from the Philippines and so feels able to continue to dispute the evidence.

If you have legal expertise, can you donate your time to help us expose company malpractice through the courts?

  • Can you contribute to our legal fund to help us bring companies before the courts? Contact us for details of how to make a donation

Nestlé cancels its annual development lecture....

In the past, Baby Milk Action supporters have handed out leaflets to MPs, Bishops and other VIP guests invited to the annual Nestlé Development Lecture, held at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. One guest commented that our low-key and polite presence had a considerable effect as Nestlé's top management were quizzed on baby food marketing practices while cocktails were served. We were waiting to alert the Rapid Response Network about this year's event, but found that Nestlé has discontinued the lectures.

...but cannot escape the RRN

Nestlé (UK) CEO, Peter Blackburn, was invited to speak at a Commonwealth Trade Union Congress event, New Trends and Social Responsibility, on 29th March. Nestlé was the only company billed to take part in the all-day event which had the purpose of examining "the emerging best practice in socially responsible companies working in the Commonwealth." The Rapid Response Network (RRN) handed out leaflets to participants as they arrived and Baby Milk Action's Patti Rundall raised questions inside. Mr. Blackburn assured participants that he had investigated Nestlé's baby food marketing record personally when joining the company ten years before and was adamant that all problems had been cleaned up 20 years ago! Barry Coates, Director of the World Development Movement, referred to Nestlé's attendance when speaking in an afternoon session on Corporate Responsibility in the Commonwealth, stating that it is actions that count, not words.

Liberal Democrat Conference backs the boycott

The Liberal Democrats debated the baby milk issue at their spring conference in Edinburgh in March. A resolution supporting the Nestlé boycott and the marketing code for breastmilk substitutes was passed "overwhelmingly". Nestlé reportedly spent thousands of pounds including materials in the conference pack for delegates and on a hospitality room in a hotel. The Nestlé Boycott Rapid Response Network distributed over a thousand leaflets, showing that enthusiasm and the facts are more than a match for the world's largest food company. News of the victory was immediately sent to partners around the world and is proving valuable in raising awareness in other countries.

A recent article in the trade press acknowledged the importance of the Nestlé boycott. As well as affecting Nestlé's image it puts ethical issues "high up the agenda in the UK" said Marketing Week on 12th May.

  • In June the Methodist Conference gave its support to the boycott once again.

Granada does a deal with Nestlé

Nestlé has struck a deal with Granada Road Services to run its national chain of coffee houses, called Café Nescafé, at service areas around the country. Four outlets have already opened and Granada plans to have the franchised café's in about 20 of its 57 service areas by the end of the year. Granada did not respond when we asked for its policy on leafleting - follow the guidelines.

Cereal promotion in schools

Nestlé has launched a cereal promotion campaign in schools. If a school signs up to the deal they are sent a kit to help them encourage pupils to collect box-tops from Nestlé cereal packets which can then be redeemed for cash. Baby Milk Action is receiving calls from parents concerned about the link with Nestlé (and its high sugar cereals) and a number of schools have refused the deal - one school is encouraging pupils to bring in 10 pence pieces attached to the lids of rival brands, half of the proceeds will be for the school and half for Baby Milk Action. Contact us for information if you wish to oppose a deal between Nestlé and your school.

  • Nestlé is believed to have broken the UK Law on labelling by including health claims on packets of Shredded Wheat. Sustain, an alliance for better food and farming, has raised the issue with the Trading Standards Office and Nestlé.

More money for York Churches

Nestlé and the York Millenium Mystery Plays have entered into a sponsorship deal worth £50,000 despite the fact that the 1997 Synod backed the Cracking the Code report which found "systematic" marketing violations by Nestlé and other companies. Ironically, if Jesus had been bottle-fed rather than breastfed he may not have survived the stable and there would be no Millenium.

New Action Pack launched

A new A4-size Action Pack has been launched by IBFAN. A version is available from Baby Milk Action for £5 (including postage and packing in the UK). This contains IBFAN information sheets (history of the campaign, scientific research, communication skills and more) plus Baby Milk Action materials, including:

  • A2 poster set
  • Badges
  • Bookmark
  • Petition sheet
  • Nestlé's Public Relations Machine Exposed booklet
  • Window sticker
  • Give Nescafé the Boot leaflets.

Nestlé swiftly backtracks on GM pledge

Nestlé UK announced on 29th April that it would attempt to keep Genetically Modified (GM) foods out of its products. Those who applauded Nestlé for agreeing to the ban were disappointed that Nestlé backtracked on the statement a week later. The Times reported on 7th May: "Peter Brabeck, chairman of Nestlé, said the multinational food company would continue to invest in genetically modified food and attacked the recent campaigns against the new products. Mr Brabeck described GM food as the 'technology of the future' and said 'building a wall against it is not a sensible strategy.'" GM foods will still be used in European markets and the US. GM maize is already being used in Nestlé's Butterfinger confectionery despite thousands of letters of protest (see Boycott News 23).

Libby's juices in the UK and Ireland

Baby Milk Action has been asked to clarify its position with regard to Libby's brands and the Nestlé boycott. Libby's remains a Nestlé brand and will appear, as appropriate, on the lists of Nestlé products Baby Milk Action produces for supporters of the Nestlé boycott.

Another company has signed a licensing agreement relating to the marketing of Libby's juices in the UK and Ireland. Baby Milk Action has concluded that it is correct to list any products from which Nestlé profits, including those where the profits come through ownership of a brand name.

Demonstrators count the cost

On May 22nd demonstrators gathered at Nestlé (UK) HQ in Croydon and handed in nearly 9,000 petition signatures. Signatories pledge to boycott Nescafé until Nestlé abides by the marketing requirements for breastmilk substitutes. A doll was added to the pile (left) every 30 seconds to symbolise the mounting death-toll. Contact us for petition sheets.