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Baby Milk Action's response to Dame Anita Roddick's letter of 24 April 2006

Click here to download Dame Anita's letter.

25 April 2006

Dame Anita Roddick
Anita Roddick Publications
93 East Street
West Sussex
PO19 1HA

Dear Dame Anita,

Nestlé/L'Oreal takeover of Body Shop

Thank you for your letter of 24 April. I understand this to be the statement promised on your website on 23 March 2006 and will bring it to the attention of supporters of the Nestlé boycott unless I hear from you otherwise.

I understand the points you are making which boycott supporters also consider. We have welcomed the ‘values' propounded in the past by Body Shop, such as its support for boycotts and its solidarity with people in poor communities.

However, in your letter you have still not addressed the fundamental issue, which is: if people buy Body Shop products they will be contributing to Nestlé profits. The boycott targets Nestlé because it is the worst of the baby food companies in putting its own profits before infant health. The boycott makes aggressive marketing an issue which costs Nestlé financially and has forced some important changes. Nestlé has a long way to go if it is to bring its policies and practices into line with the World Health Assembly requirements and continued pressure is essential.

What is your message to boycott supporters? Should they not care that shopping at Body Shop boosts the profits of the world's ‘least responsible company'?

To address some of the points you make:

Nestlé and L'Oreal

You say Nestlé has ‘a small stake' in L'Oreal. I am not sure I would describe Nestlé's 26.4% shareholding in L'Oreal as small. I also understand the Nestlé Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, is a member of L'Oreal's board of directors.

You ask why we didn't object when Body Shop was owned by a ‘collection of amoral city financiers, asset-strippers and fund managers'?

No doubt others did object – I note the Ethical Consumer rating for Body Shop was good, though not particularly high. Our issue is protecting infant health from the aggressive marketing of baby foods and so it is entirely appropriate that we focus on developments which affect this issue.

The power of boycotts

In your letter you state: “boycotts rarely work and the people you hurt are primarily the weak and frail.” This is far removed from the Body Shop Values posted, until recently, on the company website, which stated: “ Whether it's signing a petition, using our purchase power to boycott a company, or lobbying governments, we all have the power to effect change.”

Our experience supports your earlier view. Wherever Nestlé raises its head there is the opportunity for campaign supporters to talk about its aggressive marketing of baby foods and the harm this causes. They can discuss the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly. The Code and Resolutions, and the results of our monitoring of them, are discussed from schools to the Houses of Parliament because we target Nescafe coffee with the boycott and list other products from which Nestlé profits.

Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet and the most boycotted in the UK. These facts are often mentioned when Nestlé is reported in the media, not only keeping up the pressure on the company, but alerting policy makers around the world that the company is not to be trusted when it is lobbying for weak implementation of the Code and Resolutions.

The boycott has wrested important changes from Nestlé. For example, in 2003 following a 9-year campaign Nestlé agreed to stop marketing complementary foods for use from too early an age. It made its announcement during a week of demonstrations we held at Nestlé sites around the country. Following a television programme by Mark Thomas, Nestlé gave an undertaking that by 2000 it would label its baby milks in the appropriate language for the country where they are sold - 19 years after this requirement was set out in the Code.

When we mobilise around specific violations, exposing these and asking campaign supporters to write to Mr. Brabeck, we are often able to stop them. Our complementary strategy of working for independently monitored and enforced legislation is the most effective way to stop malpractice and demonstrates that companies can comply with the marketing requirements when forced to do so.

The boycott and Body Shop

The boycott focuses on Nescafe coffee, Nestlé's flagship product. Baby Milk Action lists all products from which Nestlé profits as many boycott supporters do not wish to put any of their money into Nestlé coffers.

We conducted a survey via our website asking supporters whether they would include the Body Shop in their personal boycott and literally 99% said they would. You can read comments submitted with the survey on our website which demonstrates the great sense of betrayal ‘ethical shoppers' feel at the link with Nestlé.

This strength of feeling does not result from anything Baby Milk Action has done, but is a direct result of your decision to link the Body Shop to Nestlé. The fact that you have still not responded on the issue that shopping at Body Shop will enrich Nestlé is fuelling the frustration people feel even further. The way the boycott works is clear and it should have been obvious from the outset that Body Shop would be added to the boycott list. It certainly could not have been news that Nestlé owns a quarter of L'Oreal.

We are preparing materials for supporters to distribute outside the Body Shop when we hold our annual demonstration on 20 May as the outlets now provide an opportunity to raise Nestlé malpractice. We can consider including a suitable quote from you on our leaflet. You said in your letter: “I object to the way Nestlé behaves. I'm all too aware of their track record.”

When we list a product that is not 100% owned by Nestlé, we make it clear the link is partial and will do so with the Body Shop. In the past products such as Tartex vegetarian pates and Libby's juices have eventually left the list by breaking all links with Nestlé.

Ethical investors and Nestlé

You state: “What do you say to ethical investors who buy shares in Nestlé because they believe, as I do, that it can give them leverage in the corporate world?”

There is a good case for saying that boycott supporters have far more influence over Nestlé than shareholders, ethical or otherwise. Last year there was a mass shareholder rebellion over Peter Brabeck becoming Chairman as well as Chief Executive Officer, but they could not muster enough votes to stop the move. In contrast, as set out above, the boycott has forced Mr. Brabeck to make changes to company policies and practices.

No credible ethical investment organisations includes Nestlé in its listing so I am not sure on what basis you suggest that ethical investors have shares. You only need one token share to attend the shareholder meeting to raise questions of the board of directors, as we do.

We work closely with organisations such as the Ethical Investment Research Association, FTSE4Good and others when they are evaluating the baby food industry sector. Ethical investment organisations have leverage with Nestlé because they REFUSE to recommend the company for investment until it changes its behaviour. That is how the ethical investment strategy works.

As far as we are aware there is only one so-called ethical investment listing in the world which includes Nestlé – and this is the only one to which Nestlé refers in its lobbying. This is the Swedish company GES, which refuses to consider independent evidence of company malpractice. We have publicly criticised the flaws in the GES approach and the damage it is doing to the campaign.

Nestlé's use of good causes

Nestlé features L'Oreal and its brands prominently in its management reports, despite having just ‘a small stake' of 26.4%. We can expect the same to happen once Body Shop is taken over.

Nestlé has no qualms about using even token links with good practices to try to improve its image. For example, it has a Fairtrade-marked coffee, involving just 0.1% of the coffee farmers dependent on it. While 99.9% of the farmers struggle to survive as prices paid for coffee are driven downwards by Nestlé's aggressive trading methods, Nestlé uses the Fairtrade coffee prominently in advertising campaigns and reports on “Corporate Social Responsibility” to try to divert criticism and improve its image.

Nestlé is in court in the United States for allegedly failing to act over child slavery on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast supplying the company. Courts in Japan and the Philippines have ruled against it on its treatment of workers. The Food Workers Union in Colombia accuses Nestlé of abuses, including denouncing staff who have then been targeted by paramilitaries.

To try to offset the bad publicity surrounding these activities and avoid making changes to its practices Nestlé is likely to use a link with the Body Shop in the same way it uses its link with Fairtrade. That is the reality shown by past experience.

Future steps

We will continue to highlight the Nestlé link to Body Shop and use it to raise awareness of Nestlé's malpractice.

We will bring your letter to the attention of campaign supporters and consider including a statement from you in relevant materials.

We would welcome public statements from you voicing your objections to Nestlé.

We will gladly meet with you to discuss these issues further and to explain how the boycott is one of a range of strategies that are holding some of the world's most powerful corporations to account and helping to save lives and protect the rights of mothers.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Brady
Campaigns and Networking Coordinator
Baby Milk Action

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