Member of Scottish Parliament launches 'No to Nestlé' campaign and campaigners demonstrate over aggressive baby milk marketing
Politicians call for transparency over company lobbying
Demonstration : 11:00 – 12:00, 17 May 2008, Nestle, St. George’s House, Park Lane, Croydon.
As campaigners prepare for the annual demonstration at Nestlé (UK) HQ in Croydon and leafleting at Body Shop outlets (Nestlé is part owner of the chain), politicians in the UK and Scottish Parliament are calling for distance from Nestlé and the European Union is considering greater transparency over industry lobbying. The demonstrations come as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, Elaine Smith MSP, has launched her own 'No to Nestlé' campaign calling for local authorities to re-think where they source bottled water. In other developments, documents obtained by Baby Milk Action reveal the way that self-regulation is being exploited by Nestlé in an attempt to excuse advertising of infant formula in South Africa and open loopholes as the Department of Health there attempts to strengthen binding regulations.
Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:
“We are very grateful to the efforts of supporters of the boycott to keep Nestlé malpractice in the public eye. It makes a real difference to our work and that of our partners around the world, particularly when Nestlé is using its cheque book and connections to try to undermine the marketing standards introduced to regulate baby food marketing practices and protect infant health. The boycott encourages policy makers and the media to look a little more closely at Nestlé practices and the financial pressure on Nestlé has forced some changes. People can also help by sending a message of solidarity to the South African government and, if in Scotland, encouraging their MSP to sign Elaine Smith's 'No to Nestlé' motion.”
Monitoring by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) finds Nestlé to be responsible for more violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions than any other company, prompting the call for boycott action. According to Nestlé’s Global Public Affairs Manager the company is ‘widely boycotted’ - an independent poll found it to be one of the four most boycotted on the planet. UNICEF has stated: “Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year."
The leafleting is taking place at the end of National Breastfeeding Awareness Week in the UK. In the Scottish Parliament Elaine Smith MSP has tabled a motion describing a decision to award a contract to Nestlé to supply bottled water as ‘misguided’ and calling for ‘an obligation to be placed on local authorities to thoroughly research companies to ensure that a positive ethical choice is made when spending taxpayers’ money’. Elaine Smith MSP said in a statement (download here):
I consider this decision by a number of local authorities to be, at the very least, misguided given Nestlé's previous involvement in a number of aggressive marketing campaigns to promote formula milk. I acknowledge that Councils have a duty to be prudent with public funds but I feel that greater consideration must be given to the ethical background of the companies they invest in.
Cost efficiency cannot be the sole driving force in decision making.
We must consider the broader issues here and I believe we have a duty to exercise our social conscience and ensure that the local authorities of Scotland are not investing in violators of the WHO International Codes who indiscriminately put profit before people.’
[See Baby Milk Action's briefing on 'best value' and local authority procurement].
Concern about Nestlé lobbying over policy makers is being raised in the UK and European Union. In the EU the Parliament has voted for a voluntary register of lobbyists with details of client fees. According to PR Week: The President of the EC will decide by 31 May whether to go even further. In particular, a decision will be made on whether ‘expert committees and EU officials' will have to log meetings with lobbyists, including ‘off the record' encounters. The involvement of Nestlé in lobbying has been raised as a particular concern by campaigners.
It was revealed on Sunday that Nestlé took a UK government Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Department of Health, Rosie Cooper MP, on an all-expenses-paid trip to South Africa in February. The trip was not declared in the Parliamentary register of members interest, though a Nestlé ‘fellowship’ awarded to the MP has been declared to the Electoral Commission. The need for distance from Nestlé was mentioned by other MPs. Another MP from the ruling Labour Party on the trip, Tom Levitt MP, has since launched a campaign claiming the company voluntarily complies with the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods and has defended advertising and labelling practices in South Africa, despite these being criticised by the South African Department of Health and being illegal in the UK.
Advertising of breastmilk substitutes is prohibited by the International Code and is against Nestlé’s own Infant Formula Policy for Developing Countries. However, Nestlé has referred to a ruling from the self-regulatory South African Advertising Standards Authority in defending shelf talkers, which promote its Nan range of formulas in South Africa, but only provided this to Baby Milk Action last week after three written requests for a copy, starting in March. The ruling reveals that Nestlé withdraw the shelf talkers, but would not give an undertaking not to repeat the promotion. The self-regulatory body accepted Nestlé’s argument that the shelf talkers were providing information and not promotional, opening a massive loophole in the regulatory framework just as the Department of Health is calling for stronger regulations. The Department of Health has already informed Nestlé it views shelf talkers as a violation of the International Code. It is normally consulted by the ASA, but says it had no knowledge of this ruling and points to Article G 1.3.2 of the Advertising Code which states: “There must be no point-of-sale advertising...”
The Department of Health has also raised concerns about health claims on Nestlé labels. While Mr. Levitt MP is repeating Nestlé’s assertion that claims fully comply with South African regulations, the Department of Health has informed Nestlé that:
“statements such as "optimal physical and mental development", "activate your baby's immune defences" and "strengthen your baby's natural defences" as indicated on the labels are just some examples of prohibited statements on NAN 1 and 2".
Infants fed on formula are denied the protective affects of breastmilk and more likely to become sick. In conditions of poverty, they are more likely to die.
For further information contact
Mike Brady on: 020 3239 9222
Or Patti Rundall on: 07786 523493
Notes for editors:
For pictures see http://www.flickr.com/babymilkaction/
For details of the demonstrations see http://archive.babymilkaction.org/action/demo08.html
Scottish Motion http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/
*S3M-1883 Elaine Smith: No to Nestlé—That the Parliament notes with concern the decision to award the contract for Scotland’s local authorities’ bottled water to Nestlé; considers this decision to be, at the very least, misguided given Nestlé’s previous involvement in a number of aggressive marketing campaigns to promote formula milk; notes that Nestlé utilises marketing practices which appear to be in direct violation of the WHO/UNICEF International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes; further notes Nestlé’s powerful influence over market trends, governments and other companies, culminating in the adoption of questionable marketing practices which could weaken legislation designed to protect infant health; views with interest report findings published by International Baby Food Action Network which shows Nestlé to be the largest single source of violation of the marketing code worldwide, and calls for an obligation to be placed on local authorities to thoroughly research companies to ensure that a positive ethical choice is made when spending taxpayers’ money.
European Union may act over corporate lobbying. See: http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2008/05/nestle-lobbying-eu.html
Nestlé links to UK Department of Health. See: http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2008/05/nestle-uk-government.html
Nestlé in South Africa. See:
http://archive.babymilkaction.org/CEM/cemapril08.html and ASA website: The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) is an independent body set up and paid for by the marketing communications industry to regulate advertising in the public interest through a system of self-regulation.
- Campaigners in the United States are claiming a victory as Nestlé has been forced to scale back on its bottled water activities. Around the world campaigners are concerned about the adverse environmental affect of Nestlé's water bottling.