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Big Noise demo gets international media coverage as Nestlé accepts 'least ethical company' title and caves in on complementary food marketing

17th May 2003

Demonstrators gathering at Nestlé (UK) HQ in Croydon on Saturday 17th May to draw attention to Nestlé's unethical and aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes were filmed and interviewed by Swiss television. According to the World Health Organisation a child dies somewhere in the world every 30 seconds because it was not breastfed - 1.5 million per year. Demonstrators beat drums and blew whistles to mark each needless death and added a doll to a pile which grew over the course of the one hour demonstration (11.00 to mid-day). Nestlé ignores this death and suffering as it attempts to increase its baby food sales still further using marketing methods banned by the United Nation's World Health Assembly.

Demonstrations took place elsewhere in the country on 10th May. Nestlé then wrote to Baby Milk Action promising to abide by a 1994 requirement not to promote complementary foods ('weaning' foods) before 6 months of age. This is a small victory for the campaign if Nestlé, proven to mislead, keeps its word (UPDATE 30 MAY 2003 - Nestlé launches promotion of complementary foods for use at 4 months!!). Nestlé still has to make the sweeping changes to its other practices demanded by UNICEF and others.

Click here for a photo gallery of the Croydon demo.

Click here for a QuickTime movie of the Croydon demo.

Swiss TV film the presentation of the 'least ethical company' award at the demonstration at Nestlé (UK) HQ
(Click here for a hi-resolution version for printing).

A survey conducted by Ethical Consumer Magazine found that Nestlé is viewed as the 'least ethical company' for its baby milk marketing malpractice and other activities such as paying coffee growers below cost price for coffee, trade union busting and attempting to extract money from the Ethiopian Government at a time of famine (see press release).

Nestlé refused to attend the Ethical Consumer award ceremony last month to receive the award (right) for being 'least ethical company' and so Baby Milk Action had written to Nestlé CEO Alastair Smith asking him or his representative to accept the 'award' at the demonstration which Swiss TV duly filmed.

Click here for a high-resolution
picture for printing
(Photo credit: Baby Milk Action)

Demonstrations took place at other Nestlé sites around the country on 10th May (see press release - includes photos and QuickTime movie). Following the demonstrations, Baby Milk Action received a letter from Nestlé (UK) Head of Corporate Affairs, Hilary Parsons, with a Nestlé statement in which the company promised to abide by the World Health Assembly requirement that complementary foods should not be promoted for use before 6 months of age. This has been a requirement since the Assembly adopted Resolution WHA 47.5 in 1994 making it clear complementary feeding should be fostered from 6 months of age.

Baby Milk Action has been campaigning for Nestlé to abide by the 1994 Resolution since its adoption, which followed scientific evidence of the danger of introducing complementary foods at too early an age, particularly in conditions of poverty. A further Resolution in 2001, WHA 54.2, re-stated the recommendation of exclusively breastfeeding until 6 months of age. This is a public health recommendation and does not prevent health workers suggesting earlier introduction of complementary foods if there is a medical reason for doing so in specific cases. A letter writing campaign again calling on companies to change their labels was launched at that time (see Campaign for Ethical Marketing April/May 2001).

It remains to be seen if Nestlé keeps its word - in 2001 Nestlé's global Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck Latmathé made a similar promise to Nestlé shareholders, but over a year later Nestlé was still launching media campaigns in Asia promoting its Cerelac complementary food for use from 4 months of age using pictures of young babies (see right). (UPDATE 30 MAY 2003 - Nestlé launches promotion of complementary foods for use at 4 months!!).

Earlier this month India adopted legislation banning such promotion (see BPNI press release 8 May 2003). Nestlé is already in court in India over the labelling of its infant formula and the managing director faces a prison sentence if convicted.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action which organised the demonstrations, said:

"We had a great turn out at the demonstrations and the media coverage has been spectacular. I'd like to thank everyone who took part. Last week we had a head-to-head interview with Nestlé's Head of Corporate Affairs on national radio (Radio 4 Today programme) and regional TV, radio and newspaper coverage. Today we have had international media filming the protest. Our partners around the world will also use news of the demonstrations in their campaigns.

"It is a significant victory for campaigners and the 'big noise' demonstrations if Nestlé really does stop promoting its complementary foods for use from too early an age, which is known to undermine breastfeeding. Unfortunately we have to wait and see as Nestlé's word is worth nothing and we will continue to monitor what happens on the ground carefully. If Nestlé was led by responsible management it would have made this change in 1994 in response to World Health Assembly Resolution 47.5, if not before, but it has taken nearly 10 years of dedicated campaigning to persuade Nestlé to make the change. Campaigners will not give up until Nestlé abides by all the World Health Assembly marketing requirements - this is a matter of life and death.

"Nestlé tells policy makers and consumers that it is 'trusted around the world'. It isn't, it is the target of a boycott in 20 countries and officially the 'least ethical company'. We hope the protests and media coverage will help to wake Nestlé management up to the fact that its malpractice cannot be hidden, it will be exposed and people will demonstrate and boycott Nestlé products until the management change their policies. Nestlé responds to the documentary evidence of malpractice with denials and deception, a strategy which only fuels people's sense of outrage."

Independent monitoring conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) finds Nestlé responsible for more violations of the World Health Assembly's marketing requirements for breastmilk substitutes than any other company. In January 2003 the British Medical Journal published a study further supporting the charge that Nestlé systematically violates these requirements (see press release).

Nestlé launches promotion of complementary foods for use at 4 months of age

After receiving a promise from Nestlé that it would stop promoting complementary foods for use before 6 months of age, Baby Milk Action passed this on to partners around the world. We immediately heard back from partners that Nestlé is still promoting complementary foods for use from 4 months of age.

The advertisement on the right appears in the current issue of Baby magazine in Bulgaria (the cover date for the magazine is June 2003).

It clearly shows the label has an age of use of 4 months. The text in the advertisement reads: "Sinlac Baby Menu is a cereal for dietary uses with plant proteins, without gluten, lactose and milk proteins. For every baby over 4 months".

Below is a pack of Cerelac cereal food purchased in Bulgaria on 2nd June 2003, again labelled for use from 4 months.

Nestlé claims in a glossy folder on its labelling of complementary foods that it is "taking the lead". Nearly ten years after it was required to stop labelling complementary foods for use from before 6 months of age, it is still doing so. You can't trust Nestlé.

Click here for a large version of the advertisement.


Click here for a large version of the pack.


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