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Nestlé money influences panel selection at Hay festival

10 June 2002

The decision of the organisers of the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival to accept sponsorship by Nestlé has prompted a boycott of the event by at least two of its speakers (Germaine Greer and author Jim Crace) and supportive statements from performers such the Afro Celt Sound System. Concerns were also expressed by Helen Fielding (see examples of news coverage - Independent on Sunday 26 May 2002 and 9 June 2002).

However, one disturbing aspect that has not yet been covered is how, through the sponsorship, Nestlé managed to secure a position on the panel for the debate which was held on the final night entitled Good Business: A Moral Maze (Sunday 9th June 6pm). The first question listed for discussion was: "If you want to change the world environmentally or socially, are established multi-national corporations a better bet than any coalition of here-today-and-gone-tomorrow national governments?"

Nestlé's Vice Chairman, Niels Christiansen, joined two other speakers who have either taken funding from, or are employed by corporations: Steve Hilton, (formerly of Saatchi and Saatchi, author of "Good Business" and advisor to businesses) and Nicholas Young, Chair of the British Red Cross (an agency which last year took funding from Nestlé). Maurice Saatchi (PR and advertising guru) listed as a speaker did not appear. The debate was chaired by Peter Florence, the Festival Director who had secured the Nestlé sponsorship. No one on the panel was in a position to give an independent and alternate view and as a consequence, apart from the few short critical questions which were permitted from the floor and some oblique comments by Nicholas Young and Peter Florence, Nestlé was given a free run to present multinational corporations as a positive force in society and leaders in sustainable development. NGOs and the UN were all encouraged to engage in close partnership with them.

Under pressure to be brief, Patti Rundall OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action, the organisation that coordinates the Nestlé Boycott in the UK, asked whether the Nestlé sponsorship had influenced the panel selection and warned of the risks of partnerships between NGOs and corporations.

Baby Milk Action believes that Nestlé uses sponsorship and partnerships to cover up its bad practice, numb critical faculties and restrict freedom of speech. The Hay Smarties Dome, like the Nestlé Box Tops Scheme for schools and its donations to charity are all part of a 'cause-related marketing strategy’ which is being carried out on the specific advice of public relations firms such as Saatchi and Saatchi. Following a run of bad publicity about its baby food business Nestlé was advised to "aggressively advertise its links with charities and good causes" in order to build "a surplus account for the times when you have a crisis." (Marjorie Thompson, Director of Cause Connection, Saatchi & Saatchi's cause-related marketing arm, quoted in Marketing Week, Feb 1999 - see the briefing paper Don't Judge a Book by its Cover for details of the public relations disaster prompting this strategy).

Nestlé is the world's largest food company with a turnover of $49billion, 11 thousand brands and approximately 40% of the $12 billion global baby food market. All over the world Nestlé's $7 billion promotion budget dissuades editors from carrying critical articles while ensuring media saturation of adverts for sugary and fatty processed foods. Nestlé uses its economic power to oppose national governments and all those who try to implement consumer protection and human rights policies which limit commercial freedom (Ref 1). Now, because of the recent coverage, Nestlé is once more claiming that the media is unbalanced (Ref 2).

Nestlé claims that it markets its products responsibly and that the criticisms are years out of date (see out detailed response in the Your Questions Answered section). The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and UNICEF have highlighted that Nestlé’s policy is significantly weaker than World Health Assembly marketing requirements (Ref 3). IBFAN’s monitoring report, Breaking the Rules Stretching the Rules 2001 demonstrates that the company systematically violates these requirements and rates Nestlé as the worst company in terms of compliance following monitoring in 14 countries. The vast majority of the hundreds of complaints that have been submitted to Nestlé in the last year have been dismissed out of hand. Last year Nestlé was excluded from the new FTSE4Good ethical investment lists because of its violations of the marketing requirements (see press release 11 July 2001).

Baby Milk Action does recognise that there is a need for sponsorship, but appeals to organisers to consult the development NGOs and independent monitors who have expertise on these issues before accepting questionable funding. The sad thing in this case is that because the Nestlé sponsorship was kept quiet until the participants had been signed up, everyone, including Hay residents, were placed in an impossible dilemma. Those considering taking Nestlé sponsorship are invited to discuss this first with Baby Milk Action.


Patti Rundall, Baby Milk Action, 23 St Andrew's St, Cambridge, CB2 3AX
Mobile: 07786 523493, Work Tel: 01223 464420, Fax: 01223 464417


  1. In 1995, facing criminal charges over its labelling, Nestlé filed a Writ Petition against the Indian Government challenging the constitutional validity of the strong Indian Act. This Writ Petition still stands. Before the Zimbabwe Government brought in its strong law in 1998, Nestlé made a threat (which turned out to be an idle one) to pull out investment arguing that "it would not be economically viable for the company to continue operating under such regulations."

  2. Nestlé sends in Lawyers as Hay controversy grows - Independent on Sunday 2nd June 2002.

  3. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the subsequent relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions address marketing activities and companies are required to abide by them independently of government action. For a critique of Nestlé's incorrect presentation of the Code and Resolutions see the Your Questions Answered page : Nestlé sets out what staff can and cannot do in its 'Infant Formula Marketing Policy'. Is there anything wrong with this? This links to UNICEF's presentation to the European Parliament Public Hearing into Nestlé in November 2000.

Notes for Editors

  1. According to UNICEF, where water is unsafe a bottle-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea than a breastfed child. UNICEF and WHO estimate that 1.5 million infant lives could be saved each year if the decline in breastfeeding were reversed.

  2. The UK is one of 20 countries where the Nestlé boycott has been launched by national groups. The most recent country to join the boycott is Cameroon, where a national group launched the boycott after finding Nestlé promoting infant formula at health facilities with film shows.

  3. Nestlé Vice-President, Niels Christiansen, is credited within Nestlé for bringing about the suspension of the Nestlé boycott in 1984. The boycott was relaunched in 1989 as monitoring found that Nestlé continued to violate the marketing requirements. Mr. Christiansen was also responsible for responding to the evidence of malpractice provided by Nestlé whistleblower, Syed Aamar Raza (see Update 27). His responses have been inadequate and Baby Milk Action provided a detailed list of concerns, referencing internal company documents provided by Syed Aamar Raza. Nestlé has refused to respond. In another development, Mr. Christiansen is understood to have recently vetoed a public undertaking given by Nestlé (UK) to call for the publication of a government monitoring report in Brazil, which apparently details Nestlé violations, but remains unpublished following a visit to Brazil by Mr. Christiansen (see report in Boycott News 29).

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