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Nestlé faces a grilling at TUC fringe meeting

Advance notice: 10 September 2003, 5.30 - 7.00 pm.
Meeting Room 3/Skyline Restaurant, The Brighton Centre.

The decision of the TUC General Council to refuse Nestlé a stand at the
TUC's Brighton Conference this week has prompted the world's largest food
company to back down on its earlier refusal to debate issues of concern with company critics at a fringe meeting. A fringe meeting will be held on Wednesday 10 September, hosted by trade unions which represent workers in Nestlé.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, will
be on the panel to call for Nestlé to abide by international standards for
the marketing of breastmilk substitutes. According to the World Health
Organisation, 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because
they are not breastfed. Mike said:

"The unions representing Nestlé staff are concerned about the impact of the Nestlé boycott, the UK's best supported consumer boycott. I will explain that our campaign is against the unethical and irresponsible practices institutionalised by Nestlé management and that staff and the unions can help to call management to account. I will explain the dishonest ways in which Nestlé attempts to divert criticism, for example, by calling for 'dialogue' instead of making the changes required by the World Health Assembly."

Nestlé Head of Corporate Affairs, Hilary Parsons, will be on the panel. Ms.
Parsons has the job of countering the boycott and led the attack in the UK on former Nestlé Pakistan employee and whistle blower, Syed Aamar Raza. Aamar remains in hiding and has been unable to return to his wife and two young children in Pakistan for four years since publicising internal company documents implicating executives in practices including the bribing of doctors. The Government in Pakistan has recently brought in legislation aimed at curbing company malpractice.

Brian Revell, T&G, National Organiser, Food and Agriculture, is expected to
argue that 'engagement' is the way forward. The meeting will be chaired by
Sir Tony Young, Trade Union Liaison Officer to the Ethical Trading
Initiative. While trade unions representing Nestlé workers have supported
Nestlé being invited to join ETI, NGOs with experience of the company's
malpractice have voiced their concern and Nestlé has not made an application for membership (see Boycott News 27).

A similar fringe meeting was organised by the SE Region TUC Women's
Committee in 1997, the main difference being that Nestlé refused to attend,
despite being present with a stand at the conference (see Boycott News 22). Nestlé said then: "It is not our policy to participate in public meetings with campaigning groups such as Baby Milk Action since this is unlikely to be helpful in resolving the conflict."

Preparing for the debate, Mike Brady said:

"It remains to be seen whether this meeting will be helpful. We are looking for some movement from Nestlé on the case of Syed Aamar Raza and on the company's refusal to accept the validity of World Health Assembly Resolutions. I am grateful to the TUC General Council for taking a tough stand, so helping to prompt this meeting. Whether they will allow Nestlé back into the conference centre in future years remains to be seen."

A series of debates have taken place at universities over the past two years. Nestlé similarly refused to even speak at public meetings at universities if Baby Milk Action was present, but backed down after students targetted Nestlé graduate recruitment events. The debates have served to strengthen support for the boycott amongst students (see Boycott News 33). At these debates Ms Parsons has been questioned on Nestlé's trade union busting activities in countries such as Colombia (see Boycott News 32) and, while refusing to be drawn on this issue, has used Nestlé's presence at the TUC Conference to claim the company has good relations with trade unions.

For further information contact Mike Brady by email at (not on the 10th) or on 07986 736179.

Notes for editors:

  1. Hilary Parsons has previously accused whistleblower Syed Aamar Raza of attempting to blackmail Nestlé and claims the company has a tape recording of a telephone conversation proving this. Aamar says the tape implicates Nestlé executives in attempting to bribe him. For four years, Nestlé has refused to substantiate its allegation and refuses to provide a copy of the tape to enable Aamar to defend himself. Nestle Pakistan has no trade union representation. See Update 27 for an overview of Aamar's evidence.
  2. The Nestlé boycott has been launched in 20 countries and is the UK's
    best supported consumer boycott. Earlier this year readers of Ethical
    magazine voted Nestlé the 'least ethical company'. Nestlé is targetted as monitoring conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), consisting of more than 200 groups in over 100 countries, finds Nestlé to be responsible for more violations of the World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions than any other company. In January 2003, the British Medical Journal published a study exposing Nestlé marketing malpractice in Togo and Burkina Faso (see press release).
  3. In May 1999 the UK Advertising Standards Authority upheld all of Baby
    Milk Action's complaints against a Nestlé anti-boycott advertisement in
    which the company claimed to market infant formula 'ethically and
    responsibly'. Although Nestlé cannot repeat its discredited claims in
    advertisements, it does so in publications and public pronouncements.
    Following the ruling, Saatchi and Saatchi advised Nestlé to go on the
    offensive, making donations to charities, particularly those linked to
    children, to divert criticism. Nestlé is doing just this. (see the
    'sponsorship' section).
  4. The European Parliament conducted a Public Hearing into Nestlé practices in Pakistan in November 2000. Nestlé boycotted the hearing, objecting to the presence of IBFAN and UNICEF. Nestlé claimed afterwards that none of its 230,000 staff was available (see press release).
  5. Nestlé has said that no member of staff has lost their job as a result
    of the boycott, but attempts to use this possibility to gain support from
    trade unions. For years Nestlé employees have been laid off because of restructing and other economies and just now, since taking over in 1997
    Nestlé Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, has been pursuing an
    efficiency drive to increase profits. Over US$2.8 billion has been saved by factory closures (Time, 3 February 2003). Former employees in Fulton, New York State, whose families have worked for Nestlé for generations, are said on the International Union of Foodworkers website to have lost their jobs because this was cheaper than honouring pension commitments (click here). Nestlé is currently locking workers out of its factories and offices in South Korea in a dispute over contracting out of sales staff. Nestlé is threatening to shift production to China in response to a strike (see report Nestlé may pull out of South Korea over strikes).

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