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Issue number 26, December 1999


Boycott Summary

The International Nestlé Boycott is in effect in 19 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.


Bulgaria joins the boycott

The Bulgarian IBFAN group, Women and Mothers Against Violence, launched the Nestlé Boycott in their country on 12th August because of Nestlé's violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly. The boycott is now active in 19 countries.

Nestlé is claiming that the Bulgarian Government has verified that its activities comply with the marketing requirements, but the letter from the Bulgarian Ministry of Health which Nestlé is circulating does not go this far. The letter only states that the Ministry of Health is not aware of violations of an EU Directive (which is more limited than the International Code and Resolutions and does not apply to Bulgaria). Nestlé is apparently telling governments that they must go no further than the Directive in protecting infant health, which is untrue even for countries within the European Union.

Dr. Roumjana Modeva, President of the Bulgarian IBFAN group, said:

"We have reported many Nestlé violations to the Ministry of Health. People change in the Ministry very often and we will contact the person who wrote the letter Nestlé is circulating. We have not been able to stop the violations and so we have had to launch the Nestlé Boycott. We also want to support mothers and babies in other countries where Nestlé is aggressive."

Nestlé violations in Bulgaria include direct promotion to mothers.

Nestlé eclipsed by Mark Thomas

Satirist/investigative journalist, Mark Thomas tried very hard to fulfil his "moral duty" to present evidence of violations to Nestlé representatives, but they did not appear to want to know.

Mark first encountered Nestlé at its launch of a neon advert in Piccadilly Circus, on 11th August, the day of the solar eclipse. Baby Milk Action's Rapid Response Network was also there, giving out leaflets.

Mark Thomas focused on one aspect of Nestle's marketing - its labelling. Nestlé's infant formula labels in many countries are not in appropriate languages and Nestlé's follow-on milks (which are unsuitable for new-born infants) often share the same brand name and packaging as infant formulas.

Mark tried to present evidence to Nestlé staff, including information about Nestlé's attempt to "economically blackmail" the Zimbabwean Government. In a taped interview, Timothy Stamps, Minister of Health of Zimbabwe said:

"They called a try and tell Parliamentarians that if we went ahead with putting the Code into regulation they would remove themselves from Zimbabwe. We knew this to be an idle threat."

Mark travelled to Nestlé's Swiss Headquarters in Vevey, where Corporate Affairs Manager, Geoffrey Fookes, refused to meet him and an assistant, Mr Rank, dismissed the evidence as "your interpretation." Hilary Parsons, Nestlé (UK), refused to withdraw Nestlé ‘s"Charter" which claims that Nestlé complies with the International Code.

Tess Kingham MP and Richard Howitt MEP also appeared on the programme. Richard Howitt said he would raise with the European Parliament and Commission some of the examples which violated the EU Export Directive and Resolution. Mr. Howitt is calling for Nestlé to be first in the spotlight at forthcoming public hearings in the European Parliament.

The Mark Thomas Product, Channel 4, 5 October 1999 (

Nestlé Chairman attacks codes of conduct

In February 1999 the French investigative programme Le Vrai Journal focused on Nestlé. The Minister of Health in Gabon was interviewed about Nestlé's promotional activities at health facilities. The Ministry had been calling on Nestlé to stop such promotion since 1991, describing them as "flagrant violations." The journalist Ferrucion Petraco also appeared in the programme and recounted an interview with Helmut Maucher, Nestlé Chairman, which took place in September 1998. Mr. Maucher said of the International Code:

"Codes like this, codes of conduct slow down business; codes of ethics have never worked, there are too many cultural differences; when there is competition, they (codes) are not observed; when they are too general, they are no use, if on the other hand, they are too detailed, they are difficult to apply. What's more, they prevent competition."

Nestlé enters UK baby food market

In August 1999 Nestlé launched a range of complementary ("weaning") foods in the UK. The Junior range of foods uses the Blue Bear logo familiar in many other countries. Nestlé is planning to spend as much in the last four months of 1999 on its media campaign promoting the products in the UK as each of its main competitors will spend in the whole year. A major part of Nestlé's plan is believed to be direct marketing to mothers. Promotional techniques include a link with Tumble Tots children's clubs, where free samples are to be distributed. Nestlé also markets specialist infant formula and other breastmilk substitutes in the UK and is expected to launch a wider range next year. It has been building links with healthworkers by offering them free gifts and sponsoring events. Nestlé was asked by Baby Milk Action to give an undertaking that it will abide by all relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly in the UK now and in the future. Nestlé pointedly failed to do so.

Nestlé's promotional techniques violate Article 5.5 of the International Code which forbids "direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children."

The promotional events for these products present an ideal leafleting opportunity for boycott supporters. Contact Baby Milk Action for leaflets and/or to join the Nestlé Boycott Rapid Response Network.

Nestlé free supplies in Argentina

Following a campaign by Baby Milk Action's partners in Argentina, Nestlé has stated that it will no longer provide free supplies of infant formula and other breastmilk substitutes to health facilities. Distribution of free supplies has been very effective in persuading mothers and health workers to favour artificial infant feeding and is banned by the World Health Assembly. Nestlé's undertaking, however, is for one year only. Nestlé Argentina says that it will now only donate free supplies for "exceptional social cases" - the position set out in Nestlé's "Charter". So, prior to June 1999, Nestlé Argentina's policy was breaking the "Charter", the Code and the Government policy. Baby Milk Action calls on the Government to introduce enforceable legislation to stop Nestlé resuming the practice next year.

  • In May 1999 the UK Advertising Standards Authority upheld Baby Milk Action's complaint about a Nestlé anti-boycott advertisement. Nestlé had claimed: "Naturally they [Nestlé employees] do not provide free supplies [of baby milk] to hospitals for use with healthy infants." Nestlé's marketing in Argentina provides fresh evidence that this is untrue.

Flagrant violations in Russia and the Ukraine

In Boycott News 24 we exposed Nestlé's Piltti infant formula, which had an infant picture on the pack even though this is banned by the International Code and Nestlé's own "Charter". Nestlé claimed it had only recently bought the company and had not had time to change the labels. This was shown to be untrue as the labels had already been changed to include the Nestlé name.

Now the labels have been changed again (See the Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet November 1999). Nestlé has now added a ship logo to the labels and is producing self-adhesive transfers bearing this logo and the Piltti name, which advertise the product. Nestlé is backing this promotion with a website (see, gift packs to mothers and sponsorship of paediatric events. Distributors are also being offered promotional items for Bona infant formula, including pens, bags, 'baby passports', brochures and posters. These promotional strategies not only violate the International Code, they again violate Nestlé's "Charter" which claims: "Nestlé does not advertise infant formula to the public."

Nestlé reacts to ASA ruling

The ruling against Nestlé by the Advertising Standards Authority prompted Peter Brabeck, Chief Executive of Nestlé S.A. (Swiss HQ) to take personal charge of tackling the boycott (see Boycott News 25).

Rather than addressing our legitimate concerns he seems to be following the advice of the marketing experts, Saatchi & Saatchi. Marketing Week asked Marjorie Thompson of the agency what Nestlé should do: "She suggests the way to counteract the bad publicity is to go on the offensive showing the benefits of Nestlé's financial contributions to charities, such as Kids Club Network which provides after-school care for children."

Kids Club offensive

Following Saatchi and Saatchi's advice, Nestlé is sponsoring a series of Kids Club events around the country.

Nestlé is promoting its link with Kids Club in its public relations materials and has achieved national press coverage for its Nescafé Kids Club Challenge. Kids Club has stated it keeps the situation under review.

Cereal promotion in schools

Nestlé is promoting its breakfast cereals and polishing its image through a "box-top" scheme. By collecting tokens off packets of the products, schools can raise money. We are aware of a number of schools who have turned down this offer - both out of support for the baby milk campaign and because of concern over the high-sugar and salt content in some cereals. Contact Baby Milk Action if you would like a sample letter and leaflets to oppose a Nestlé promotion in your school.

Planning a demonstration?

Nestlé is the target of protests in many countries for diverse reasons. As well as its baby milk marketing malpractice, Nestlé is criticised for the way it treats its employees, for involvement in oppression of native populations, unfair trade, undermining the democratic process and other issues. Baby Milk Action has limited resources for highlighting these issues, but we can direct callers to other campaigning groups.

Similarly, if you are arranging a demonstration or action against Nestlé, you may wish to include information on the baby milk issue.

Baby Milk Action can provide leaflets, posters and briefing materials. Please give us notice and, if possible, send a donation to help cover our costs.


Baby Milk Action is committed to non-violent protest and calls on all our supporters to refrain from violence to people and damage to property. Our leafleting guidelines were published with Boycott News 23 - we stress that leafleters should be careful not to cause an obstruction and that it is best to offer leaflets and not to take offence if they are refused.

Legal defence

Briefing materials are available from Baby Milk Action and published on this website. Baby Milk Action stands by everything it publishes and has supporting evidence. If challenged by Nestlé or others, please contact us. We can help you prepare responses. Baby Milk Action will also step in if there is a legal challenge to any statements you have taken from our material, as long as the meaning has not been changed. Only make statements beyond those made by Baby Milk Action if you have your own evidence.

Staff need convincing

In general Nestlé staff are not aware of both sides of the argument in the baby milk issue and may have only read the public relations materials distributed by Nestlé management. Such materials contain untrue and discredited statements (see Nestlé's Public Relations Machine Exposed).

If we can convince Nestlé staff that the management should abide by the International Code and Resolutions, they become valuable allies. We plan to picket Nestlé factories and offices (contact us to become involved). We believe that staff should encourage their employers to behave responsibly and that they should be protected if exposing malpractice.

Tartex update

Tartex has confirmed that its vegetable paté in tubes continues to be made by Nestlé and the contract runs until 2002. We continue to list these products and we call on Tartex to cut all links with Nestlé. This is having some success - Tartex Vessen patés in tins are no longer made by Nestlé. Tartex has asked us to make this clear to boycotters.

Nestlé may know all about you

A search of the Data Protection Register indicates that Nestlé has applied to keep extensive details on members of the public (conduct your own search on the Internet: Nestlé is legally required to release information to you. Contact Nestlé to find out if they are storing anything on you regarding your: marriage or partnership; family, household members; travel, movement details; leisure activities, interests; membership of voluntary, charitable bodies; academic record; membership of committees; career history; creditworthiness and others.

Send a letter headed "Subject Access" to Mr. Blackburn, Chief Executive, Nestlé, St. George's House, Croydon, Surrey, CR9 1NR giving your name and address details. Keep a copy - Nestlé has 40 days to reply.

Nestlé recruitment hits snag

Cambridge University Students' Union (CUSU) and People and Planet group held a demonstration at a Nestlé graduate recruitment event in November, causing it to be cancelled. CUSU President, Tristan Jones, told The Cambridge Student newspaper: "It gives a clear message to Nestlé that they are not welcome in Cambridge." Leeds and Oxford Universitites held similar peaceful protests resulting in Nestlé's departure.

Stop press - Nestlé donates a million

Nestlé has announced it is entering into "partnerships" worth £1 million with four UK charities: Kids Club Network, Macmillan Cancer Relief, British Red Cross and Shelter. This is described by Nestlé as a "branded community investment programme," meaning it is an opportunity to promote Nescafé coffee as well as support good works.

While Baby Milk Action does not wish to undermine the work of these charities, we regret that they are allowing their good names to be used as part of Nestlé's attempt to buy a caring image following the damning ruling against it by the Advertising Standards Authority.