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Church conferences reject Nestlé apologists

11th July 2000

The Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group came under fire at the Synod meeting in York yesterday (10th July) for suggesting that Nestlé can be trusted to market baby milk ethically and responsibly. The previous week the Conference of the Methodist Church, which endorses the Nestlé boycott, rejected a move to neutrality proposed by the Coordinating Secretary for Church and Society.

Patti Rundall, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action, who was recently made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for "services to infant nutrition" said:

"Reports favourable to Nestlé have been put before the Methodist Conference and Church of England Synod, but were factually inaccurate and had been prepared without consulting Baby Milk Action, Oxfam, Save the Children or others with long experience of Nestlé baby milk marketing malpractice. We are pleased that there were people at both meetings who were able to challenge the inaccuracies."

The Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) implied that Nestlé was developing partnerships on the baby milk issue with Oxfam and Save the Children, but admitted at Synod that it had not contacted either organisation to confirm this, due to "lack of time." Speaking in the debate on the EIAG report, Rev. Christopher Hall, Coordinator of Christian Concern for One World, said that he had telephoned the responsible people at the organisations who confirmed it was against their policies to enter into partnership with Nestlé on this issue.

The EIAG report also claimed Nestlé had obtained endorsements of its baby milk marketing activities from governments despite the fact that a number have complained that their letters have been misrepresented by Nestlé. A letter from UNICEF to Nestlé which gives examples of problems with 21 of the letters put forward by the company as endorsements was circulated to Synod members with a cover note from Baby Milk Action (see the briefing paper Don't Judge a Book by its Cover for further information on how Nestlé has misrepresented the letters).

A report presented to the Methodist Conference was similarly complimentary of Nestlé whilst being factually inaccurate, prompting Baby Milk Action to make an official complaint to the author. For example, the report incorrectly stated that Nestlé had responded positively to a call for meetings at the World Health Organisation while Non-Governmental Organisations had not. In reality, Baby Milk Action and partners met with WHO soon after the call was made and have had several meetings since, most recently in January 2000 (a report on the January meeting appears in Update 27).

Patti Rundall said:

"The original 1992 Methodist Conference Resolution encouraging members to boycott Nestlé still stands and continues to give support to our partners overseas who know from their first-hand experiences that Nestlé's assurances cannot be trusted. We are very pleased that the move to neutrality was opposed by the Conference and defeated."

Resolutions calling on the Methodist Church to go beyond endorsing the boycott to members were not passed. There were moves to adopt the Nestlé boycott as Church policy and to take action against all companies which break the marketing requirements.

For more information contact: Patti Rundall, Baby Milk Action, 23 St Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX, Tel: 01223 464420, Email:

Notes for editors

  1. According to UNICEF, reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million infants around the world every year. Where water is unsafe an artificially-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea than a breastfed child. Even in the most hygienic of conditions an artificially-fed child is at increased risk of diabetes, respiratory infections and allergies.

  2. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 as a "minimum requirement" to be implemented by Member States "in its entirety." Subsequent Resolutions have addressed questions of interpretation and changes in marketing practices and scientific knowledge.

  3. Pictures for articles can be down-loaded from this website. These include violations in Bulgaria, Hungary, the Philippines and Gabon. See the "codewatch" and "resources" sections.

  4. The Managing Director of Nestlé India faces a prison sentence if convicted in a long-running court case over labelling. Nestlé has taken the Indian Government to court and is attempting to have key sections of the law revoked. When Zimbabwe was introducing legislation, Nestlé threatened to close down its factory and pull out of the country.

  5. The current issue of the British Medical Journal (1st July 2000) contains an article Nestlé violates international marketing code, says audit concerning Nestlé's activities in Pakistan.

  6. The boycott was launched in 1977, then suspended in 1984 when Nestlé gave an undertaking to abide by the International Code. Monitoring found that Nestlé did not keep its promise and the boycott was re-launched in 1989. Today it is active in 19 countries. 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".

  7. The Church of England Synod endorsed the boycott in 1991. It suspended support in 1994, while gathering its own evidence. The report Cracking the Code was published as a result in 1997, and concluded that baby food companies, including Nestlé, are violating the marketing requirements in a "systematic" manner. The 1997 Synod affirmed the conclusions of the report and called for companies and governments to take action. In a report for the July 2000 Synod the Church Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) comments favourably on Nestlé's business principles and its initiative to obtain "compliance certificates" from governments. Nestlé claims to have received "official verification of compliance" from 54 countries, yet the letters put forward as proof do not substantiate this claim. UNICEF has criticised both Nestlé interpretation of the marketing code and its use of the government letters. Nestlé has admitted to misrepresenting a letter from Denmark and has apologised to the authorities. Other governments have also complained that their letters have been misrepresented. Baby Milk Action, which was not contacted about the report, is concerned that the EIAG has accepted Nestlé's assurances without being aware of these facts.
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