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African health campaigners welcome boycott of Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe

15th August 2001

The coordinator of a network of African health campaigners has welcomed the boycott of the Nestlé Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival. Top UK comedy performers and actors are calling for up-and-coming acts to boycott the award in favour of a new corporate-free 'Tap Water Award'. The boycott began spontaneously following a newspaper interview given by Rob Newman last month.

Emma Thompson, Julie Christie and Victoria Wood are amongst those calling for the boycott because Perrier is owned by Nestlé. Nestlé is the world's largest food company and stands accused of contributing to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants because of its marketing of breastmilk substitutes. According to UNICEF reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million infants around the world every year.

African health campaigners have welcomed the boycott call. Pauline Kisanga, Coordinator of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) in Africa, speaking from Swaziland, said:

"Nestlé's Perrier Award is a big publicity for Nestlé and its products and the company uses such public images to establish itself with our governments in the Africa region. News of the Perrier Award boycott has reached us in Africa. I would encourage all our allies to take part in the boycott. The Nestlé boycott is very important for raising awareness among our health workers and women in Africa and putting pressure on Nestlé."

The 20-country Nestlé Boycott is supported in the UK by over 100 church, health and consumer groups, over 90 businesses, 78 student unions, 17 local authorities, 12 trade unions, 74 politicians and political parties and many celebrities.

Oscar winner, Emma Thompson said: "The Perrier Awards should be boycotted by all right-thinking people, because Nestle has got to be stopped."

Julie Christie said:

"I've been supporting the Nestle Boycott for years due to the company's irresponsible marketing of baby food. This has brought about children being deprived of the early natural immunization that breast milk provides. The use of contaminated water is another issue in rural areas and, a final twist is that by using Nestle milk the baby becomes hooked onto something which costs money. Nestle owns many companies and Perrier, unbeknownst to most people, is one of them. I hope that up and coming comedians will think about these issues and consider joining the Nestle Boycott by declining to support the Perrier Awards and would be participants could instead enter for the Tap water awards which will hurt no-one in the process of making them laugh."

Victoria Wood said: "Comedians can manage without the Perrier Award and the world should be able to manage without Perrier. I support the Boycott."

Victoria Wood also raised concerns about the environmental impact of bottling water:

"The idea that the only way to get clean drinking water is to pay for some in a bottle is appalling. No one has the right to corner the world's drinking supply, that's like something from science fiction. I very happily drink tap water most of the time. I'm not comfortable about the waste involved in producing a plastic bottle just so I can drink something I can get from a tap."

When Nestlé launched its 'Pure Life' brand of bottled water in Pakistan its aggressive promotion campaign was criticised for undermining efforts to provide piped drinking water for all (see Update 25).

An alternative 'Tap Water' award has been launched by the Bongo Club in Edinburgh which will host over 100 music and comedy acts, all of which have agreed to boycott Perrier. If financial backing for the Tap Water Award is achieved The Bongo Club intends to set up a fund , which will enable cash-strapped artists to bring shows to the Fringe. Bongo Club coordinator Suzanne Merrell said:

"I'm hoping that we can establish the Tap Water Awards as an alternative, and encourage people to use comedy to raise awareness. We are hoping to take it further and make it an award for all the other comedy festivals around the world . If we can make it global, we can see that really having an effect on Perrier and Nestlé."

Patti Rundall, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action said:

"The boycott of the Perrier Awards started spontanously - with no huge PR budget behind it. But in just these last few days its shown how much can be done with just the simple truth. Before now, many people were unaware that Nestle bought Perrier in 1992 and that it is one of its range of 12,000 products embroiled in disturbing global politics. The Tap Water awards will provide free thinking comedians with an opportunity to say whatever needs to be said - without fear of upsetting sponsors."

A website dedicated to helping people in the United States prevent damage to their communities water supplies by multinational water bottling companies is also calling for a boycott of Nestle and Perrier (Ref. 1). Following an independent study, the World Wildlife Fund is now urging people to drink tap water for the benefit of the environment and their wallets. WWF found that bottled water can be 1000 times more expensive than tap water, yet there are more standards regulating tap water in Europe and the US than those applied to the bottled water industry. According to WWF every year 1.5 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water (Ref. 2).

Nestlé employs a team of staff to counter the international Nestlé boycott, which has been launched by groups in 20 countries (most recently in Cameroon by a national NGO which found Nestlé promoting breastmilk substitutes at health facilities with film shows - see report in Boycott News 29).

In many news reports Nestlé falsely claims that its critics refer to marketing practices it has now stopped. In reality the evidence demonstrates Nestlé malpractice continues in a systemtic and institutionalised manner. An international monitoring report launched at the World Health Assembly in May 2001 shows Nestlé to be responsible for more violations of the marketing standards adopted by the Assembly than any other company (see the IBFAN report Breaking the Rules 2001).

In July Nestlé, along with other manufacturers of breastmilk substitutes violating the Code, was excluded from the FTSE4Good ethical investment index because of its continued violation of the marketing requirements for breastmilk substitutes.

Nestlé rejected a Baby Milk Action four-point plan for saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott in March 2001 (see Boycott News 29).

Ref. 1: The Nestle Corporation is Abusing our Country'sMost Important Natural Resource By Terri Wolfe, President, Save Our Springs, Inc. . Also see
Ref. 2: The real cost of bottled water , World Wildlife Fund Press release, 2 May 2001.

For more information contact Baby Milk Action, 23 St Andrews Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX,
Tel: +44 1223 464420, Fax: +44 1223 464417.

For information on the Tap Water Award contact Suzanne Merrall - 0131 556 5204.

Some reports on the web:

The Scotsman - 24 July 2001: Comic battles to gag milk powder sponsor

BBC - 24 July 2001: Comedian calls for prize boycott

The Independent - 24 July 2001: Comedian calls for a boycott on Perrier Awards and 'corporate power'

BBC - 31 July 2001: Actress joins call for Perrier boycott

Yahoo - 6 August 2001: Campaigners call for Perrier Award boycott

The Telegraph - 6 August 2001: Stars boycott Fringe awards for comedy

Notes for editors:

  1. For news of other celebrity endorsers see Boycott News 29.

  2. Baby Milk Action is a non-profit organisation which aims to save infant lives and to end the avoidable suffering caused by inappropriate infant feeding. Baby Milk Action works within the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) - a coalition of more than 150 citizen and health worker groups in more than 90 countries around the world. IBFAN works for better child health and nutrition through the promotion of breastfeeding and the elimination of irresponsible marketing of infants foods, bottles and teats. Some news reports incorrectly suggest that Baby Milk Action is campaigning for a ban on infant formula marketing. In reality, Baby Milk Action is campaigning for companies to market their baby foods in accordance with the requirements adopted by the World Health Assembly.

  3. The WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981. Subsequent Resolutions have clarified interpretation and addressed changes in marketing practices and scientific knowledge.

  4. The latest IBFAN report - Breaking the Rules 2001 - was launched in May this year at the World Health Assembly to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The report cites Code violations by artificial baby milk companies, including promotion via the Internet. (The report can be purchased from Baby Milk Action's Virtual Shop).

  5. Nestlé's assurances about its marketing practices do not stand up to scrutiny. In May 1999 the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld all of Baby Milk Action's complaints about an anti-boycott advertisement in which Nestlé claimed to market infant formula 'ethically and responsibly'. The two-year investigation was one of the longest in the ASA's history (see report in Boycott News 25).

  6. In November 2000 Nestlé was the first company called to give evidence to the European Parliament Public Hearings on corporate responsibility. Nestlé refused to attend (see report in Boycott News 29).

  7. Baby Milk Action has produced an education pack called Seeing through the Spin, which is designed for teachers and educators to help students recognise and deconstruct public relations messages.
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