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British Red Cross reported to Charity Commission for undermining the campaign to protect infant health from the aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes

13th February 2001

With great reluctance Baby Milk Action is today writing to the Charity Commission, asking it to take action against the British Red Cross for defending Nestlé's baby food marketing activities while refusing to meet with health campaigners who monitor the baby food industry. Nestlé is the target of an international boycott, focusing on Nescafé coffee, because of its systematic violation of the marketing requirements for breastmilk substitutes. The British Red Cross has been defending Nestlé's activities in statements to the public and the media after receiving a donation of £250,000 towards its Linking Lives project in October 1999 (see press release). The British Red Cross is also promoting Nescafé for Nestlé.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator, Baby Milk Action said:

"We have been calling on the British Red Cross to meet with us for the past 18 months, without success. The Trustees reviewed their relationship with Nestlé on 28th November 2000 and we were blocked from presenting the evidence we wished to submit. We greatly value the work of the British Red Cross, but we are now spending so much time responding to calls from the public about the position it has taken we are being distracted from our other work. We have had no choice but to take this action. In this instance the British Red Cross appears to be working contrary to its fundamental principle of alleviating human suffering."

Baby Milk Action is also concerned because the British Red Cross incorrectly told a journalist (Big Issue January 24-30 2000) that the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirms that Nestlé is complying with the marketing requirements. WHO has provided a written statement making it clear that it has given no such confirmation and that it is against its policy to comment on company activities. Mike Brady said: "We have written to the British Red Cross repeatedly asking it to issue a correction and are still waiting to hear that it has done so."

In May 1999, after a two-year investigation, the 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." In Marketing Week Saatchi and Saatchi advised Nestlé: "to go on the offensive by using advertising showing the benefits of Nestlé's financial contributions to charities."

Baby Milk Action is the UK member of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) which consists of over 150 groups in more than 90 countries which provide first-hand evidence of company malpractice. Nestlé is found to violate the marketing requirements more than any other company. The group Cameroon Link recently launched the boycott in its home country, bringing the total number of boycott countries to 20. Save the Children has recently released a report on monitoring it conducted in Brazil, which also found Nestlé violations.

Contact: Mike Brady, Campaigns Coordinator, Baby Milk Action, 23 St. Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX, UK. Tel: 01223 464420

Notes for editors

  1. For further details and for pictures for publication visit See the "codewatch" and "resources" sections. For information on the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) visit

  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. 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. The cost of formula can lead to parents overdiluting formula, leading to malnutrition.

  3. Cameroon brings the total of boycott countries to 20: Australia, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UK and USA. Nestlé is targeted because monitoring finds it to be responsible for more violations of the International Code and Resolutions than any other company and because it takes the lead in attempting to undermine government implementation of these measures.

  4. In May 1999 the 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." In 1995 Baby Milk Action was called on to defend claims made in a boycott advertisement. The ASA found in favour of Baby Milk Action. The claims were: "Over 4,000 babies die every day in poor countries because they're not breastfed. That's not conjecture, it's UNICEF fact" and "They [Nestlé] aggressively promote their baby milks, breaking a World Health Organisation code of marketing."

  5. NCH (formerly National Children's Homes) is one of the charities to refuse Nestlé money. Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council turned down £300,000 after Nestlé refused to answer questions on its baby food marketing activities in September 2000. Lichfield District Council is currently considering accepting Nestlé sponsorship for a £1 million theatre development. Baby Milk Action has invited Nestlé to present its case at a public meeting, but has had no response from the company.

  6. On 22nd November 2000 the European Parliament Development and Cooperation Committee held a Public Hearing into the baby food industry. IBFAN and UNICEF made presentations. MEPs were shocked and outraged when Nestlé refused its invitation to make a presentation on the monitoring process it claims to have put in place to ensure compliance with the marketing requirements. For further information contact Richard Howitt MEP, who arranged the Hearing, on + 32 2 284 5477. Adidas was investigated at the same Hearing and also refused to attend. On the Mark Thomas Product on Channel 4 Television this week (25th January), David Husselbee, Global Director of Social and Environmental Affairs, Adidas, said: "With hindsight we accept that we should have been at the meeting in November". So far Nestlé has made no such admission.

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