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New film showing the impact of aggressive baby milk marketing in the Philippines

Nestlé and Netmums

Baby Milk Action public statement 11 May 2007

(Updated 17 May 2007 in acknowledgement that Netmums has posted an agreed edited version of the statement on its website and brought it to attention of members in the same way as a Nestlé statement earlier added to the site).

It is with sadness that we see that “Netmums are delighted to welcome Nescafé” and are promoting Nestlé’s coffee brand to members of their mother support site. This is a great disappointment as we think it is essential that mothers have a source of information that is free from commercial influences. We welcome the fact that Netmums does not accept advertising for baby feeding products and believe that the government should give far greater financial backing to mother-to-mother support organisations so they can maintain their independence from inappropriate commercial organisations.

Nestlé is the target of an international boycott because it breaks the baby food marketing standards adopted by the World Health Assembly more than any other company. The World Health Assembly is part of the United Nations system and the world’s highest health policy setting body. Baby Milk Action is part of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), consisting of over 200 groups in more than 100 countries. IBFAN monitors what companies are doing on the ground and exposes malpractice. From this monitoring we find Nestlé is the worst of the baby food companies, and for this reason it is targeted by the boycott. The principal target of the boycott in the UK is Nescafé coffee.

UNICEF has stated:

"Marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding are potentially hazardous wherever they are pursued: in the developing world, WHO estimates that some 1.5 million children die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. These facts are not in dispute."

Nestlé does dispute the facts and the documentary evidence of its on-going malpractice. Instead of accepting Baby Milk Action’s four-point plan aimed at saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott, Nestlé attempts to undermine support for the boycott and divert criticism by linking to good cause.

However, many organisations refuse to link with Nestlé and the boycott is the best-supported consumer action in the UK. Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet according to an independent survey.

The boycott has forced some changes in Nestlé policies and practices, such as persuading it to stop promoting complementary foods for use from too early an age in some countries. However, Baby Milk Action partners around the world continue to find systematic violations of the marketing standards by Nestlé. They see the impact of this promotion on mothers and on babies in their communities.

Nestlé makes health claims about its products, such as promoting ‘Brain Building Blocks’, so undermining the ‘breast is best’ message required on labels. It is found providing free samples and free supplies to health facilities and mothers. It gives inducements to health workers. It seeks direct contact with mothers, despite an explicit ban on doing so. It runs baby clubs in many countries, targeting mothers before their babies are even born. Documentary evidence is contained in monitoring reports produced by IBFAN and others.

Nestlé is currently refusing to improve the warnings and instructions on formula labels to reduce the risks, despite calls by the World Health Assembly for changes.

Nestlé claims it markets infant formula ‘ethically and responsibly’. Baby Milk Action challenged this claim when Nestlé made it in an anti-boycott advertisement and the UK Advertising Standards Authority upheld all of our complaints about the advertisement after a two-year investigation. Yet Nestlé continues to make similar claims elsewhere, where the ASA has no authority to take action.

Much of Baby Milk Action and IBFAN’s work is aimed at bringing World Health Assembly marketing requirements into legislation. Strong, independently monitored legislation is generally opposed by Nestlé and other companies. However, where legislation has been introduced and enforced, violations are stopped, showing that companies can comply if forced to do so. In countries such as Brazil, breastfeeding rates are now recovering. Without enforced measures, violations remain widespread (see IBFAN case studies report).

Nestlé management have pledged to achieve significant growth in sales in any sector in which the company is involved. So while formula is a legitimate and necessary product, for Nestlé it is not enough to profit from its sale. It has promised shareholders it will increase sales. This puts it into conflict with the best interests of mothers and infants.

Nestlé’s link with the Netmums site undermines the campaign to hold Nestlé to account.

The World Health Assembly has adopted Resolutions calling for care in commercial support for initiatives dealing with infant health because of possible conflicts of interest (e.g. WHA58.32). We encourage Netmums to examine its funding policy and to consider refusing funding from any company that profits from infant feeding decisions, not only in the UK, but anywhere. This would help ensure Netmums status as an independent source of information putting the interests of mothers and infants first, not only at home, but globally.

We encourage Netmums members to investigate the issues for themselves by examining the evidence on the Baby Milk Action and IBFAN websites and our responses to Nestlé’s claims. We encourage members to also investigate monitoring produced separately from us and peer-reviewed studies as well as our analysis of materials Nestlé cites in support of its claims.

We also hope that many Netmums members will support the boycott of Nescafé despite the advertising.

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