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£300,000 town centre deal collapses as Nestlé refuses to answer questions on baby milk marketing malpractice

1st September 2000

Stockton Borough Council has announced today that its prestige town centre marketing and promotional initiative is seeking new funders after a £300,000 deal with Nestlé collapsed after the company refused to attend a meeting on the baby milk issue. The Council invited Baby Milk Action to present evidence to support its claim that Nestlé aggressively markets breastmilk substitutes, violating international marketing standards and contributing to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants. According to UNICEF reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million infants around the world every year. Where water is unsafe an artificially-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea than a breastfed child. Nestlé was invited to follow Baby Milk Action to put its case.

Nestlé has now decided not to attend the meeting. This could be linked to its public embarrassment in Bristol where it is a sponsor of the @t-Bristol harbour-side development. A demonstration at the opening in July brought its baby milk marketing activities to the fore in the local media. A lobby group involving churches, trade unions and development organisations is now calling for @t-Bristol to extract itself from the deal with Nestlé as soon as possible.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, who was to present evidence to Stockton Borough Council at the meeting on 11th September, said:

"Baby Milk Action appreciates that Stockton Borough Council was prepared to give both sides an opportunity to put their cases. We are part of the International Baby Food Action Network and the monitoring conducted by our partners overseas provides hard evidence of malpractice by Nestlé and other baby food companies. Clearly Nestlé is afraid of the embarrassment it will suffer from having its record scrutinised."

Mike Brady was informed by Stockton Borough Council: "Although Nestlé are still prepared to look favourably on investing in the sponsorship initiative in a partnership based on mutual trust and co-operation, this could not be done without going through the formal democratic process of hearing both sides of the argument.... The Town Centre Management Executive and town centre partners will now be asked to assist in developing guidelines and criteria for future sponsorship approaches for the Town Centre Marketing Initiative."

Under the forthcoming Local Government Act, council deals are to be based on "Best Value." It is possible that ethical issues could be included in the criteria.

For further information contact:

Mike Brady, Baby Milk Action, 23 St. Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX, UK.

Tel +44 (0)1223 464420

Fax: +44 (0)1223 464417

Notes for editors:

  1. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 as a "minimum requirement" to be implemented by Member States "in its entirety." Subsequent Resolutions have addressed questions of interpretation and changes in marketing practices and scientific knowledge.

  2. For information on events in Bristol contact Mike Sansom of African Initiatives, which is coordinating local action (tel: 0117 915 0001). Local churches, trade unions and development organisations have formed Nestlé@Bristol.con to lobby for an end to Nestlé's involvement and met with @t-Bristol staff on 30th August 2000 to present their concerns. Nestlé Corporate Affairs attended the meeting at the invitation of @t-Bristol. Baby Milk Action agreed to attend the meeting to present information to @t-Bristol and respond to Nestlé's comments on the condition that it was not presented as a meeting for ending differences with Nestlé. The International Nestlé Boycott Committee has a standing agreement to meet with Nestlé if it is prepared to put forward proposals to bring its activities into line with the marketing requirements of the World Health Assembly - Nestlé has still not accepted this invitation.

  3. Marketing Week magazine reported last year (2nd December 1999): "Nestlé launches PR offensive over baby milk." This included a 180-page book containing letters from governments which Nestlé represents as "official responses that verify Nestlé compliance with the International Code" obtained after a process of consultation with the authors. Yet the letter from the Cook Islands states: "I have not noticed any of their products being sold here." The letter from Oman is only thanking Nestlé for attending a meeting. The letter from Denmark only states how the Code has been implemented in legislation. Many more of the 54 letters are not the verifications Nestlé claims, prompting UNICEF to send a letter to Nestlé on 31st December 1999 citing examples of problems with 21 of them. (See the briefing paper Don't Judge a Book by its Cover). Mike Brady says: "This book is a public relations disaster for Nestlé. It would be far better if Nestlé brought its marketing practices into line with the requirements."

  4. According to UNICEF, reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million infants around the world every year. Where water is unsafe an artificially-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea than a breastfed child. Even in the most hygienic of conditions an artificially-fed child is at increased risk of diabetes, respiratory infections and allergies.

  5. Pictures for articles can be down-loaded from the "codewatch" and "resources" sections.

  6. The Managing Director of Nestlé India faces a prison sentence if convicted in a long-running court case over labelling. Nestlé has taken the Indian Government to court and is attempting to have key sections of the law revoked. When Zimbabwe was introducing legislation, Nestlé threatened to close down its factory and pull out of the country.

  7. The Nestlé boycott is the most popular consumer boycott in the UK, according to a survey by Ethical Consumer Magazine (December 1997). The boycott was launched in 1977, then suspended in 1984 when Nestlé gave an undertaking to abide by the International Code. Monitoring found that Nestlé did not keep its promise and the boycott was re-launched in 1989. Today it is active in 19 countries. Bulgaria was the most recent country to join the boycott in August last year.

  8. In May 1999 the UK Advertising Standards Authority upheld all of Baby Milk Action's complaints against a Nestlé anti-boycott advertisement in which the company claimed to market infant formula "ethically and responsibly".

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