read the latest newscodewatch: meet the code-breakersread the latest Boycott news, and join the Nestlé boycottjoin Baby Milk Actionvisit the Resource Centresearch our growing databaselinks to breastfeeding resourcescontact Baby Milk Action

Baby Milk Action opening statement to the Nestlé/T&G fringe meeting at the TUC conference

10 September 2003

I am pleased to have been invited to take part in this discussion today.

I appreciate that the decision taken by the TUC General Council to bar Nestlé from the conference itself was controversial, but we can already see this has had an impact, so thank you to those on the Council who supported a tough stand.

Six years ago I attended an almost identical fringe meeting here in Brighton at the TUC Conference, organized then by the SE Region TUC Women’s Committee. The main difference then was that Nestlé declined its invitation to answer our allegations, even though, or I would say, because, it had a stand inside the Conference [see Boycott News 21].

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 current conflict.”

So we have achieved a policy shift. Let us hope that we do resolve some issues today. Incidently we see a similar climb down at universities, where Nestlé used to refuse to even speak in public if we were in the room. There the change was achieved thanks to the strong support for the Nestlé boycott amongst student unions and the targeting of Nestlé graduate recruitment events.

Nestlé is the target of the UK’s best supported consumer boycott because it is responsible for more violations of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods than any other company. Its baby food marketing policies and activities contribute to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants around the world. Reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million infants around the world every year. As UNICEF has stated, the fact violations are going on and a life is lost needlessly every 30 seconds, is not in dispute. Except by the companies guilty of the malpractice [see Your Questions Answered for references to this statistic].

If past experience is anything to go by Hilary will attempt to assure you that Nestlé does nothing wrong. She is not telling the truth. Her statements do not stand up to scrutiny. When similar claims were made by Nestlé in an anti-boycott advertisement, Nestlé was warned by the Advertising Standards Authority not to repeat them. Unfortunately the ASA has no jurisdiction over what Nestlé says or prints unless it is in an advertisement. [see Boycott News 25].

So Nestlé executives use a strategy of denials and deception and carry on with business as usual, putting profits before health. Let me make it clear, our dispute is with the people who run this company. Hilary may try to downplay the importance of Nestlé’s share of the global baby food market, but the company is the biggest player in an industry worth over US$18 billion and describes infant foods as one of its ‘main strategic pillars’.

You can see the evidence of malpractice with your own eyes, by looking at Nestlé publicity materials and packaging found through monitoring around the world by IBFAN [see the codewatch section]. IBFAN, the International Baby Food Action Network consists of over 200 groups in more than 100 countries. Read UNICEF’s letters denouncing Nestlé’s policies. Read the peer reviewed studies published in the British Medical Journal that show institutionalized malpractice. Nestlé breaks the rules in a systematic manner then exacerbates its guilt by denials and deception.

I make these charges in the full knowledge that Nestlé usually has someone from its PR firm, Shandwick, sitting in the hall, taping the meeting and noting down everything I say. If I say anything untrue, Nestlé would no doubt gleefully sue us into bankruptcy. They have never taken legal action against us.

So what can be done to hold Nestlé to account? We work for independent legislation and Nestlé has been successfully prosecuted. In many countries the controls are achieving increases in the breastfeeding rates, which feeds through to reduced infant mortality and morbidity [see Update 26]. Where Nestlé is left to regulate itself, violations are rampant.

We report violations to the Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck, who claims to investigate the merest hint of a violation. Often our reports are unanswered. Otherwise the responses are inadequate. When there has been sufficient public pressure, backed by the boycott, the involvement of MPs and so on, Nestlé has changed. After 9 years of campaigning, Nestlé has finally promised to abide by the requirement that complementary foods are not labeled for use before 6 months of age. It is already breaking that promise, but we have some movement. After refusing to abide by World Health Assembly Resolution 47.5 for 9 years, Nestlé’s PR materials have the nerve to state that it is taking the initiative. [See Update 33].

So despite its claims, Nestlé does not appreciate receiving reports of violations. The case of former Nestlé Pakistan employee and whistle blower, Syed Aamar Raza is particularly troubling. He was a Medical Delegate for Nestlé, with a circuit of 200 doctors, applauded by his managers for ‘crushing the opposition’, trained to run baby shows to promote Nestle baby milks, given cheques signed by senior managers to bribe doctors, earned good bonuses for hitting his sales targets and so on. When an infant died from unsafe bottle feeding at a clinic he was visiting and the doctor blamed baby milk pushers like Aamar, he could stand it no more. He resigned and sent a legal notice to Nestlé calling for an end to the malpractice. [See Update 27].

The response? Aamar says he was threatened and offered a large sum of money to remain quiet. Nestlé claims he attempted to blackmail the company. Hilary has claimed that Nestlé has a tape to prove the allegation of blackmail, but she has refused to release this for 4 years, refused to give Aamar the opportunity to defend himself. Why? Please ask her. Aamar says because it incriminates a senior Nestlé executive in attempting to bribe him. Who would have the courage to denounce malpractice to Nestlé’s much hyped internal ombudsman given this treatment? [See Campaign for Ethical Marketing April-June 2002].

Various actions by Nestlé, some directly involving Hilary [note 1], have made it impossible for Aamar to return to Pakistan and his wife and two young children. For four years. His consolation is that the publicity has prompted the Pakistan Government to bring in some measures to control the marketing of baby foods. It wasn’t easy. The Minister of Health of Pakistan complained to WHO about the pressure against regulations being put on his Government by baby food companies. [See Update 32].

This is par for the course with the people running Nestlé. According to the then Minister of Health, when Zimbabwe was introducing its law, Nestlé threatened to close its factory putting hundreds out of work and causing a negative economic impact on its suppliers. Zimbabwe pressed ahead with its law and Nestlé is still there. It is in Zimbabwe to make a profit from selling goods, not to altruistically employ people. And it will use its employees as pawns if it thinks it will gain something. [See Boycott News 26].

This is an important point, because sometimes the issue of the boycott and its impact on jobs is raised. I think it actually creates jobs. Hilary’s job is to combat the boycott, Beverly Mirando has been brought over from Sri Lanka to work on it and Simon from Shandwick has a contract out of it. And that’s just in the UK. When there is a burst of publicity for the boycott, Nestlé’s advertising spend goes up. Nestlé has said no-one has lost their job because of the boycott. Perhaps Hilary will now tell us differently.

It might also be worth asking why 450 Nestlé employees recently lost their jobs in Fulton, New York State. According to an article on the International Union of Foodworkers website it was because it was cheaper to lay them off than to honour pension commitments – the average age of workers was 52. Generations of the same families had worked at that plant. Mr Brabeck has saved US$ 2.8 billion since he took the reins of Nestlé by closing down factories [Time, 3 February 2003].

As I speak, Nestlé is locking out workers in South Korea and threatening to shift production to China. That is a dispute over contracting out of the sales force. [See report Nestlé may pull out of South Korea over strikes].

I recently attended an Amnesty Interntional fringe where Nestlé’s trade union busting activities in Colombia were cited. [See Boycott News 32].

My point is that if you work for Nestlé your job is at more risk from Mr. Brabeck, than from the boycott. And remember, no-one has a duty to buy Nestlé products. I make a point of buying Branston pickle now that it is no longer Nestlé. In fact it is British-owned now. That decision will benefit some of your members.

Finally, I want to stress that the way to resolve this issue is straightforward. We put a 4-point plan to Nestlé when the first debate took place at Cambridge University in March 2001 aimed at saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott. It was immediately rejected by Hilary, because Nestlé refuses to accept the World Health Assembly position that its marketing requirements are minimum standards for all countries.[See Boycott News 29].

You can help stop such contempt for the world’s highest health policy setting body and for the lives of infants by calling on Hilary and her fellow executives to stop putting profits before health. They have known for over two decades what is required of them. More talk is not the way forward. We need to see action. The trade unions and Nestlé employees themselves have a vital role to play in forcing change.

Response to comments from Brian Revell

Whether Nestlé is admitted into Ethical Trading Initiative or not is a matter for those involved with ETI.

As far as I am aware, no company has yet been admitted into ETI with a record as bad as that of Nestlé. But I don't think it is Nestlé malpractice alone which concerns the NGOs who have questioned the appropriateness of Nestlé being admitted.

Here is what ETI says about its strategy in response to concerns about the way companies are operating:

"Companies have typically responded by adopting a code of practice setting out minimum labour standards that they expect their suppliers to comply with.

"For such companies, however, the challenge is to put good intentions into practice....

"Our specific purpose is for our members - companies, trade unions and non-governmental organisations - to work together to identify and promote good practice in the credible implementation of corporate codes of conduct. This includes identifying robust methods for monitoring and verifying that companies are observing such labour codes."

Nestlé has been required to abide by a code of conduct for the marketing of breastmilk substitutes since 1981. It violates that Code systematically and attempts to divert criticism with denials and deception. I think it is that record of bad faith that concerns critical NGOs. Nestlé makes promises without delivering on them and would likely bring ETI into disrepute. It uses associations with reputable organisations in attempts to divert attention from its malpractice and would likely use membership of ETI in the same way. It opposes independent monitoring of its activities in the area of baby milks, by governments and non-governmental organisation, and, more recently, in the campaign for fair pay for coffee workers. Any claimed support for ETI's 'robust' monitoring should be seen in this light.


Even before Aamar launched the report Milking Profits, presenting internal company documents showing malpractice, such as bribing of doctors, he was being attacked by Nestlé for a statement published in the report Feeding Fiasco. Nestlé accused Aamar of attempting to blackmail the company. This is a serious criminal allegation, for which charges have never been brought. It is intended to undermine Aamar's credibility and make it harder to him to gain support for his case. Baby Milk Action has been writing to Hilary Parsons, Head of Nestlé (UK) Corporate Affairs, since this claim first surfaced from Nestlé (UK) for substantiation. She has refused to provide substantiation or to retract the allegation. When it was later claimed that Nestlé had a tape recording substantiating the allegation, we requested a copy of the tape so we could judge for ourselves and Aamar could have the opprotunity to defend himself. Ms Parsons has refused to provide a copy of the tape.

When Nestlé announced that it would conduct an 'independent' audit to investigate Aamar's allegations, we contacted Ms Parsons offering to provide documents to the auditors. An audit trail would surely show up the cheques used to bribe doctors, for example. The auditors told us after the audit launch that this offer was not passed on. Further, they were instructed not to contact Baby Milk Action, our partner organisation in Pakistan or Aamar. The audit clearly states that Aamar's allegations were not investigated. This has not prevented Nestlé from claiming that the audit proves Aamar's allegations are false. This is again aimed at undermining Aamar's credibility and support.

At the launch of the audit, Ms Parsons revealed that she had travelled with Nestlé global director of Corporate Affairs, Niels Christiansen, to Pakistan in advance of the audit to make arrangements. The auditors were restricted to interviewing doctors from a list provided by Nestlé.

Nestlé and Ms Parsons have presented Lord Nazir Ahmed as someone who has conducted an independent investigation of Nestlé's activities in Pakistan, without revealing that Lord Ahmed's 'fact-finding' trip had been paid for and organised by Nestlé. After Lord Ahmed had been defending Nestlé for some time, a newspaper revealed that Lord Ahmed was in discussions with Nestlé to become a paid advisor. He now has this position [See Boycott News 31].

Nestlé management had the option of organising a thorough investigation of the operation in Pakistan instead of a cover-up. It had the option of welcoming Aamar's report of violations and applauding his brave act on behalf of the infants of Pakistan. Instead it has painted him as a criminal whilst refusing to substantiate its claims. These actions, alongside threats and an attack believed to have come from others implicated in the malpractice, have helped to force Aamar into exile. [See Update 27].


press index