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Nestlé desperate to link with Mandela says Lord Attenborough

Baby Milk Action Comment on BBC Documentary:
Mandela : the Living Legend (BBC One - 9pm 5th March 2003)

Updated: 12th March 2003

Health campaigners have reacted with outrage and incredulity at scenes of Lord Richard Attenborough attempting to persuade Nelson Mandela to take half a million pounds for his Foundation from Nestlé in return for a photo opportunity. South African media reported that Mandela's Children Fund charity would not only refuse money from Nestlé, but had done so in the past. A report on states:

"In a statement it [Mandela's Children's Fund] reiterated the position it took in 2000 regarding a donation Nestle proposed to the Fund. In July 2000 the Fund was approached by Nestle, to contribute towards its Aids Orphan Appeal, a theme it had adopted for Mandela's birthday celebration with the children in that year.

"However given the Nestle debacle in relation to HIV/Aids infected mothers and their campaign on promoting formula milk as opposed to breast milk and the disadvantages they put out publicly regarding breast feeding, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund declined the donation.""

In the BBC programme Lord Attenborough was seen telling Mandela:

“I know that if you said, ‘I want more money’, knowing Nestlé as I do, if (someone like you) said I wanted another half million or another whatever it is for his own trust, you would have it like that. They (Nestlé) are so desperate to reinstitute themselves in South Africa, to be seen to have changed their philosophies and that they are now totally in favour of everything he (Mandela) stands for. May I ask him to ring you?”

Mandela’s Personal Assistant, Zelda La Grange, then met with Lord Attenborough before explaining to the interviewer:

“Obviously to be associated with Mandela means a lot – but people come from other angles wanting him to engage in different things. Some of them may be laudable projects – but people over expose him – they use him - they abuse him. I’ve learned to be extremely suspicious about people in this job, but you have to be that way.”

Nestlé is responsible for more violations of international standards for the marketing of baby foods than any other company. This malpractice contributes to the unnecessary death and suffering of 1.5 million infants around the world every year. Nestlé’s irresponsible activities in two African countries were highlighted as recently as January in the British Medical Journal.

Baby Milk Action is not aware of any official link between Nestlé and Lord Attenborough, but he was seen in the programme pressing Mandela to accept a personal call from a representative he knew at Nestlé.

Patti Rundal OBE, Policy Director at Baby Milk Action, said:

"Knowing Lord Attenborough's good works, it was a shock to see him appearing to act as a messenger for Nestlé in the documentary. We are increasingly worried by the reports we receive from our partners in southern Africa about Nestlé's aggressive and irresponsible promotion of baby foods. Nestlé is desperate to improve its image by linking its name to good causes, hoping nobody will check what they are really doing. The case againt Nestlé is well documented. We need to see changes on the ground, not slick public relations."

After a preview in The Times by Andrew Pierce (20 February 2003) and a letter from Baby Milk Action, Lord Attenborough apparently realised he was stepping into controversy and his office put out a statement which indicated that he attempted to have the programme changed. While in the programme Lord Attenborough appeared to suggest he believed Nestlé had changed its “philosophies” his statement put forward a contrary view:

“Lord Attenborough supports UNICEF’s position on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes. The WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes aims to support a child’s right to the highest level of health by ensuring that mothers are able to make informed decisions about how to feed their babies, free from commercial pressure. There is, however, evidence of routine violation of the Code by all major companies, including Nestlé. UNICEF expects all manufacturers of breastmilk substitutes, feeding bottles and teats to comply with the Code in all countries.”

UNICEF is reportedly wanting to meet with Lord Attenborough to discuss his comments and his role as a UNICEF Ambassador (The Guardian 7th March 2003).

A spokesperson from the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund has told Baby Milk Action that it would not accept money from Nestlé, because they are aware of the problems with Nestlé's baby food marketing activities. It has refused a donation in the past. We are still awaiting a response from the Mandela Foundation on its funding policy.

For further information

Patti Rundall, Policy Director, Baby Milk Action, 23 St Andrew's St, Cambridge, CB2 3AX
Work Tel: 01223 464420, Mobile: 07786 523493, Fax: 01223 464417
or Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator.
Mobile: 07986


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