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A tape recording reveals how senior Nestlé executive misled students in failed attempt to overturn boycott

Press release 16 February 2006

Baby Milk Action has obtained a tape recording of an interview given by a senior Nestlé executive to University of East Anglia Livewire student radio which exposes how Nestlé used demonstrably untrue claims about its baby food business when trying to overturn the Student Union's long-running boycott of its products. The programme went out across Norwich from the University.

Nestlé claimed in the interview that it does not make direct contact with mothers, but has today admitted targetting 'pregnant and lactating women' in shops in China with 'nutritional supplements', baby foods and milks for young children, a practice expressly prohibited by World Health Assembly marketing requirements. In the interview, which took place in November 2005 in the build up to a cross-campus referendum on renewing the long-standing Student Union boycott of Nestlé, the company's Senior Policy Advisor also signalled that the company was dropping its outright opposition to a proposed independent expert tribunal into its activities and said it may consider taking part if conditions were right. Baby Milk Action welcomed this and wrote to Nestlé to discuss the conditions Nestlé wished to apply. Instead of setting these out Nestlé replied : "Our decision not to participate in such a "tribunal" remains unaltered."

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, who was also interviewed by David Bradshaw on the Livewire programme, said:

"We are used to hearing Nestlé denying the sort of aggressive baby food marketing practices exposed by the monitoring we conduct with our partners around the world and the tribunal is intended to show its claims do not stand up when properly examined. We accepted Nestlé's comments in the interview in good faith and are amazed that Nestlé is back-tracking on them instead of discussing conditions for the tribunal to go ahead. I imagine Nestlé would have preferred it if its comments in the interview had disappeared into the ether. Clearly they were just trying to impress and I am delighted that UEA students were not taken in and are continuing their boycott. Keeping up the pressure is vital. If Nestlé isn't prepared to have its denials of malpractice scrutinised in depth by an independent, expert tribunal then it should stop making them."

In a cross-campus referendum after the interviews students voted by 2 to 1 to continue the union's long-running support for the international boycott, which has been launched by groups in 20 countries.

In the broadcast Nestlé's Senior Policy Advisor, Beverley Mirando, first said of the proposed tribunal:

"Well we do believe in constructive dialogue, in constructive engagement, and if this sort of public hearing will lead to that constructive dialogue we are willing to do so."

She then raised concerns about the composition of the panel. She was asked: "But hypothetically it is something you would be happy to do under the correct circumstances?" and replied "Yes, under the correct circumstances, if the panel is independent we may consider it."

Listen to the interview in our broadcasts section.

NOTE: At its 1999 shareholder meeting then Nestlé Chairman, Helmut Maucher, welcomed a proposed public hearing into its baby food marketing activities in Pakistan being organised by the European Parliament Development and Cooperation Committee. The event took place in November 2000 but Nestlé refused to attend the event, objecting to the presence of expert witnesses from IBFAN (the International Baby Food Action Network) and UNICEF. Click here for details.

Claim on direct contact with mothers also reversed

In the interview Beverley Mirando claimed Nestlé did not seek direct contact with mothers. In a message to Baby Milk Action supporters who questioned the company on such practices in China, exposed last December, she now admits: "The programme apparently referred to in the allegation consisted of a Nutrition Corner... This program was staffed by health professionals, some of whom had medical degrees." While claiming that infant formula was not promoted, she admits that pregnant and lactating women were targetted with 'nutritional supplements', baby foods and milks for young children. Promoting the idea that to breastfeed a mother requires expensive supplements is one of the ways Nestlé undermines breastfeeding.

The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes is unequivocal on direct contact. Article 5.5 states:

"Marketing personnel, in their business capacity, should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children."

UNICEF, which is mandated under the Code to advise on interpretation, has clarified (click here for a letter from UNICEF's Legal Officer):

“Any form of contact with mothers of children under the age of three years is prohibited, irrespective of the motivation behind the contact. It is no excuse to argue, for example, that contact is being sought in relation to a product that is not within the scope of the Code, such as complementary foods. The prohibition is absolute.”

According to the China Daily (21 May 2004):

"The number of babies in China fed exclusively on breast milk during their first four months of life has declined from around 76% in 1998 to only 64% today."

The recording also reveals how Nestlé denies providing free samples of formulas and other forms of promotion which have been documented in global monitoring reports produced by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN).

You can hear the full interview and find images demonstrating Nestlé's marketing practices in the broadcast section.

For more information contact:

Patti Rundall: 07786 523493 or Mike Brady: 07986 736179.

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