This week Nestlé launched a new website on its baby food marketing activities, claiming it wishes to be more open.
Nestlé claims that it has instigated a new "monitoring" strategy, but suggests that its marketing activities are acceptable in all countries surveyed (with the possible exception of one, which it does not name). Nestlé makes these statements even though hundreds of cases of malpractice from around the world have been reported to Nestlé by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). Nestlé has also received requests for changes to its marketing practices from a number of governments. Will infant health be any better for Nestlé's new "monitoring" approach or is this just another in a long line of Public Relations strategies aimed at improving Nestlé's image?
Baby Milk Action welcomes Nestlé's intention to be more open, but is disappointed with the selective way in which it has posted information on the website.
In May 1999 Nestlé claimed to have endorsements of its marketing activities from 70+ countries, but refused to share this information with Baby Milk Action. Some of this information has now been posted on the Internet and distributed in a report. Baby Milk Action has not received a copy of the report from Nestlé and has had to write to Nestlé for a copy. Consequently, we have not yet had time to conduct a thorough analysis of Nestlé's claims. An initial survey reveals, however, that Nestlé has not been as open as some may think.
Here, we present examples of violations from 31 countries where Nestlé appears to have been unable to obtain endorsements of its activities.
We also present evidence of violations in 15 countries where Nestlé claims its activities have been verified by the government.
In those countries where independent monitoring has not recently been conducted we will endeavour to look closely at the statements Nestlé has obtained and confirm their accuracy. It will be necessary to examine whether the endorsements truly give a clean bill of health as Nestlé implies and whether the government representatives making them have conducted widespread monitoring or are only basing their comments on Nestlé's presentations. If Nestlé truly is behaving well in some countries, this is to be welcomed.
Contact Baby Milk Action to request the latest information.
Table of Contents
The strange case of the disappearing endorsements
It is unfortunate that Nestlé appears to have had this information since at least May 1999, but has been keeping it to itself. Baby Milk Action wonders if Nestlé would still have been hoarding this information until the forthcoming European Parliamentary hearings if it had not been for the recent adverse publicity it has received in the UK (e.g. Advertising Standards Authority ruling against Nestlé, Mark Thomas television programme - Naughty Nestlé - on 5th October).
In May 1999 the Corporate Affairs Manager of Nestlé (UK) stated: "Whilst discussion of Code interpretation is currently underway in about 3 countries, the 70+ member states of WHO where we have operations have told us they are satisfied with our policies related to WHO recommendations."
Baby Milk Action requested evidence to support this claim and Nestlé (UK) refused to provide it.
On the new website Nestlé's Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Peter Brabeck is quoted as saying: "We now have 54 countries verifying our compliance, with only 1 government writing to say that we don't follow the Code, and we hope to resolve that shortly."
Baby Milk Action has written to the Nestlé Chairman, Mr. Helmut Maucher, asking him to investigate which of the above Nestlé statements is true, if any.
To obtain these endorsements it appears that Nestlé has presented selected information to government representatives and asked if the information conforms to certain requirements. Pointedly it does not appear as if Nestlé has asked if the materials presented conform to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes> and all subsequent, relevant Resolution of the World Health Assembly. Nestlé, like all companies, is called on to abide by these measures independently of government measures.
For example, in South Africa Nestlé asked government employees to sign certificates such as the following:
"Nestlé have presented current marketing practices for the breast-milk substitutes they market in (South Africa) to the responsible officials at the Ministry of Health, on ......
The official confirms that the practices presented are in line with the 'Code of Ethics of the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes'."
In those countries where Nestlé has obtained certificates and Baby Milk Action has independent evidence of malpractice, we can only presume that Nestlé has been selective in the information it has presented to the person signing the certificate.
Independent monitoring conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) in 39 countries was published as the international report Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 1998, which was sent to Nestlé. This monitoring found widespread Nestlé violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly. Instead of acting on this report, Nestlé dismissed it as "biased and misconceived." Nestlé has not posted government responses from the majority of countries surveyed in this monitoring exercises, presumably because the governments concerned were well informed of Nestlé's malpractice and refused to sign (see section below: Countries not listed - violations ignored)
An independent report commissioned by the Interagency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring (IGBM), called Cracking the Code, found "systematic" violations by Nestlé and other companies in Bangladesh, Poland, Thailand and South Africa. Nestlé does not publish endorsements from the first three countries where this research was conducted and has been selective in its presentation of the information it was sent by health authorities in South Africa. Nestlé took a lead role in attempting to discredit the Cracking the Code research using under-hand means (see briefing paper: How the baby food industry is orchestrating the attack on Cracking the Code). However, the research has been peer reviewed and published in the British Medical Journal.
Nestlé's selective presentation of information
Baby Milk Action will prepare a fuller response to the information Nestlé has posted on its website in due course.
We note, however, that Nestlé has been selective in what it has posted. For example, in the tables on Code Compliance in Africa it selectively quotes from a letter from the Department of Health, giving the impression that Nestlé's activities are acceptable. This is not the case. The letter (which, to Nestlé's credit, has been posted in full) states:
"The present interpretation of the South African Code of Ethics for the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, especially with respect to the announcement of price and availability and the interpretation of infant foods advertised as suitable for babies in the age group of four to six months have given rise to intensive criticism by defenders of breastfeeding. These individuals feel that the stipulations of the International Code and the subsequent resolutions should be firmly honoured."
The need for Nestlé to honour the International Code and subsequent resolutions is not only the view of individuals. The Department of Health, Cape Town, responded to Nestlé's request for an endorsement of its activities by stating that this was not possible and that Nestlé's activities violate the marketing requirements. Nestlé has not posted or referred to this letter on its website, although it has posted certificates from three other regions. Why not? (For further details see Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet June 1999, South African Department of Health calls on Nestlé to end violations).
Countries not listed - violations ignored
Nestlé's Chief Executive Officer claims only one country was critical of Nestlé's activities. (See also the section The strange case of the disappearing endorsements).
Significant omissions from Nestlé's list of approving countries are given below with links to background information. BTR refers to the Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 1998 report (a summary is on the website - paper copies are available from Baby Milk Action).
This list is not yet complete. The title of the article or a brief description is given. Follow the link for further information and, in some cases, pictures.
- Argentina (Nestlé and free supplies of infant formula in Argentina).
- Armenia (Nestlé arrives in Armenia - new market - old methods).
- Bangladesh (Labels breaking the EU Export Directive found)
- Benin (Point of sale promotion reported in BTR)
- Brazil (Nestlé's PR booklet exposed - No. 2: Violations in Brazil)
- Costa Rica (Violating information for health workers reported in BTR)
- Cote d'Ivoire (Free samples and supplies of infant formula reported in BTR)
- Croatia (Nestlé targets Croatia)
- Gabon (Nestlé denies Gabon evidence)
- Guatemala (Gifts to health workers reported in BTR)
- India (Nestlé Managing Director faces a prison sentence if convicted in on-going court case regarding Nestlé labelling - follow link to case study in the UK Food Group report Hungry for Power)
- Indonesia (Free samples and free supplies of infant formula reported in BTR)
- Korea (Complementary foods labelled for too early use - reported in BTR)
- Malawi (Government asked Nestlé to change labels in 1994 - Nestlé Chief Executive told shareholders in 1997 that it would be done - labels still not changed in 1999 - see also The Mark Thomas Product).
- Mauritius (Infant formula labels in an inappropriate language - report in BTR)
- Nicaragua (Free samples and supplies of infant formula reported in BTR)
- Niger (Free samples to mothers reported in BTR)
- Pakistan (Widespread violations - Nestlé has attempted to undermine the draft law. See also details of Pakistan monitoring report Feeding Fiasco)
- Poland (The Cracking
the Code research, commissioned by the Interagency Group
on Breastfeeding Monitoring, found significant Nestlé
- Samoa (Government refused to sign Nestlé certificates and informed Nestlé of violations)
- Saudi Arabia (Nestlé Cerelac labels violate Resolution 47.5)
- Senegal (Free samples of infant formula and gifts given to health workers - report in BTR)
- South Africa (Department of Health, Cape Town, refused to sign Nestlé certificates and informed Nestlé of violations. See also Cracking the Code)
- Spain (Free supplies of infant formula reported in BTR)
- Tanzania (Point-of-sale promotion of infant formula reported in BTR)
- Thailand (Nestlé free supplies found in health centres)
- Turkmenistan (Nestlé Cerelac labels violate Resolution 47.5)
- UK (Nestlé is direct marketing its baby foods to parents in violation of Article 5.5 of the International Code).
- Ukraine (Nestlé's PR Booklet Exposed - No. 4: 'instructions' not implemented).
- Uruguay (Violating information given to health workers - report in BTR)
- USA (Nestlé advertises infant formula and other breastmilk substitutes widely)
Even in some of the countries where Nestlé claims to have endorsements from government representatives violations have been found. The following examples of malpractice are documented in Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 1998 and in the Campaign for Ethical Marketing on this website.
Baby Milk Action will work with IBFAN partners to investigate Nestlé's Certificates to find out why endorsements have been given in those countries where violations have been reported. Unfortunately Nestlé refused to release this information to us when requested in May 1999, so this has not yet been possible.
- Bolivia (Nestlé PR booklet exposed - No. 3: violations in Bolivia)
- Colombia (Nestlé's latest PR booklet exposed - No. 1: Violations in Colombia)
- Dominican Republic (Free samples of infant formula to mothers and healthworkers - report in BTR)
- Germany (Free supplies of infant formula recorded in BTR)
- Kenya (Point-of-sale promotion of infant formula recorded in BTR)
- Malaysia (Free supplies of infant formula recorded in BTR)
- Mexico (Free supplies of infant formula recorded in BTR)
- Middle East Region (Nestlé Cerelac makes baby a star)
- Peru (Free samples of infant formula to mothers and health worker - reported in BTR)
- Philippines (Nestlé denies the evidence in the Philippines - also see below)
- Russia (Nestlé's empty promise? -October 1997 violation continues)
- Singapore (Nestlé advertisement for Nan 2 in Singapore)
- Sri Lanka (Nestlé attempts to weaken Sri Lanka's revised law)
- Venezuela (Posters and displays promoting infant formula in health facilities - reported in BTR)
- Zimbabwe (Nestlé threatens "to pull out investment in Zimbabwe")
For information on Nestlé's response to reports of these violations see the Tip of the Iceberg reports - Volume 1 and Volume 2.
According to the Channel 4 programme, The Mark Thomas Product, the Minsiter of Health, Zimbabwe refused to fully endorse Nestlé's activities and accused Nestlé of attempting to economically blackmail the government when Zimbabwe was introducing its law implementing the marketing requirements.
Audits not done?
Nestlé claims in its booklet Nestlé: Complying with the WHO Code that:
"Nestlé international auditors regularly assess Code compliance in our Companies around the world, reporting any breaches to Nestlé's top management who take swift, appropriate action."
Yet in 1996 Dr. Imelda Ben of the Philippines travelled to Nestlé's shareholder meeting in Switzerland to inform the Board of Directors about Nestlé's marketing malpractice in her country. Baby Milk Action has been helping our partners in the Philippines by exposing Nestlé's "Health Educators", who promote Nestogen infant formula to new mothers in the community. Recently Nestlé S.A. (Swiss headquarters) wrote: "Nestlé Philippines assures us that we do not have such a practice." Baby Milk Action has written back to Nestlé S.A. asking if it arranged for an independent audit of Nestlé Philippines following the report to Directors in 1996, or if it is simply relying on the "assurances" of its subsidiary company. We have asked Nestlé to release its audit report if an audit has been conducted.
The "Health Educators" were brought to the attention of the Ministry of Health in the Philippines in 1997 following a monitoring exercise conducted by the national IBFAN group.
The letter Nestlé has posted on its website from the Philippines comments: "In recent years there were only few violations reported to this office." The violations reported are serious, however, and endanger infant health. As well as the "Health Educators", violations reported to the Ministry of Health in the Philippines by the national IBFAN group include:
- provision of free samples to health workers,
- provision of gifts and other inducements to health workers,
- provision of gifts to mothers.
Where does this get us?
It is probably not a coincidence that where monitoring has recently been conducted by IBFAN, Nestlé does not appear, in the majority of cases, to have been able to extract endorsements of its activities from government representatives. This highlights the importance of IBFAN's monitoring for keeping governments informed of company marketing practices. In those cases where Nestlé has received certificates and we are aware that violations have been reported to the government, we will investigate further.
In those countries where monitoring has not recently been conducted (perhaps because there is no IBFAN group) we will endeavour to look closely at the statements Nestlé has obtained and confirm their accuracy. It will be necessary to examine whether the endorsements truly give a clean bill of health as Nestlé implies and whether those making them have conducted widespread monitoring or are only basing their comments on Nestlé's presentations. If Nestlé truly is behaving well in some countries, this is to be welcomed.
We hope that this does genuinely herald a new openess from Nestlé and that immediate action will be taken to end all violations reported to it, in the past and in the future. We also continue to call on Nestlé to bring its marketing policy into line with the International Code and Resolutions. Nestlé currently refuses to accept the validity of the Resolutions adopted to clarify interpretation of the International Code and to address changes in marketing practices and scientific knowledge. We note that a number of the of the complaints sent by governments to Nestlé refer to the subsequent Resolutions. It does not appear that Nestlé has posted information about these complaints on its website.
The forthcoming European Parliament public hearings into Nestlé's activities will provide an ideal forum for laying all evidence on the table for examination. We support the Parliament's call on the European Commission to set up a permanent, independent Monitoring Platform to investigate cases of company malpractice.
Baby Milk Action is currently fundraising to bring partners from developing countries to present their evidence at the public hearings in person. If you wish to help this work, please send a donation in pounds sterling, dollars or euros to:
Baby Milk Action,
23 St. Andrew's Street,
IBFAN monitoring report
A summary of Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 1998 is on this website. A paper copy is available from Baby Milk Action for £5.00 or US$10.00 or Euros 8.00 plus postage and packing. Contact us to find out how much it will cost to send it to your country).