read the latest newscodewatch: meet the code-breakersread the latest Boycott news, and join the Nestlé boycottjoin Baby Milk Actionvisit the Resource Centresearch our growing databaselinks to breastfeeding resourcescontact Baby Milk Action

Take action to strengthen EU baby milk regulations

Nestlé heads for public relations disaster as Chief Executive launches audits on baby food marketing in Africa

22 March 2005

Click here for post event assessment. Download the leaflet 10 facts Nestlé does not want you to know about its baby food business which was handed to investors as they arrived at the meeting. Click here to view Nestlé's archived webcast of the event (please contact us if this link is dead).

Baby Milk Action's press release prior to the event

Nestlé’s Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, is setting the world’s largest food company up for a public relations disaster reminiscent of his 1999 book of government letters as he claims ‘independent’ audits clear the company of baby food marketing malpractice in 3 African countries.

Leaks about the Africa audits, which are to be launched for Mr. Brabeck by Vice President Michael Garrett at an event for investors on Nestlé’s "Commitment to Africa" on 22 March in London (click here), suggest the auditors Nestlé commissioned used Nestlé’s discredited interpretation of the WHA marketing requirements for baby foods and claim to have found only three minor violations.

Nestlé has refused to attend a public tribunal proposed by Baby Milk Action, where both sides and supporting experts would present their cases before an independent panel.

Marketing Week 1999

Nesté's baby food marketing malpractice and attempts to divert criticism through denials and deception cause serious harm to the company's image. Mr. Brabeck's past interventions (such as in 1999, from when this cover dates) have generated headlines such as 'Mr. Nestlé gets angry'.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action said:

"Mr. Brabeck has a track record of shooting himself in the foot with his aggressive approach to the baby milk issue. We hold a token number of shares in Nestlé to attend events such as the report launch on 22 March, but our registration has been refused. They do not want investors to hear the truth about Nestlé’s systematic and institutionalised violation of the baby food marketing requirements and the damage Mr. Brabeck’s strategy of denials and deception causes the company. But boycott supporters will turn out to politely bring the truth to the attention of investors as they arrive. If Mr. Brabeck really believes that the facts are on his side, why did he refuse to send a company representative to the European Parliament's Public Hearing into Nestlé in 2000 and why has Nestlé rejected our proposal for a public tribunal before an independent panel?"

Until March 2001 Nestlé refused to even speak in public if Baby Milk Action was in the room, but due to pressure from a boycott (the best supported consumer action in the UK, according to Ethical Consumer Magazine) has been attending debates at universities and schools, all of which it has lost (click here). Baby Milk Action has proposed a public tribunal be held where each side could present its case at length to an independent panel which could, with the help of expert witnesses, ascertain who is telling the truth (click here). Nestlé has repeatedly rejected this suggestion at debates. Mr. Brabeck is concerned at the strength of the international boycott and the baby food campaign, which caused him to reverse the company’s policy on labelling of complementary foods two years ago. Nestlé had been refusing to abide by a 1994 World Health Assembly Resolution, which states complementary feeding should be fostered from ‘about 6 months’, and continued to label foods for use from 4 months or, in the case of some infant teas, from 2 weeks of age. UNICEF wrote to Mr. Brabeck in 1997 calling for him to change company policy (click here) and the World Health Assembly adopted a further Resolution in 2001. During national demonstrations in the UK in 2003, Nestlé announced it was ‘taking the initiative’ in changing labels. Monitoring shows this promise is not being kept everywhere.

Nestlé malpractice came under further scrutiny when the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) launched its Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2004 monitoring report at the House of Commons on 13 May 2004, setting out evidence from 69 countries (click here for the report - click here for a DVD of the launch). Nestlé was again the worst of the 16 baby food companies profiled. An Early Day Motion from Lynne Jones MP calling for action was well supported. In a letter to IBFAN, Nestlé head office claimed it was not aware of the systematic malpractice documented in the report and requested information on where its own advertisements had been published, materials distributed and free supplies provided. IBFAN sent detailed information to Nestlé head office last year, but has still not received a reply.

The Nestlé meeting will take place on 22 March 2005 at One Great George Street, Westminster, London, SW1P 3AA. Demonstrators will be gathering at 15:00. The meeting begins at 15:30. See

For further information contact Mike Brady,
Tel: 01223 464420
Mobile: 07986 736179

Notes for Editors

  1. The Nestlé boycott has been launched by national groups in 20 countries on all continents. The Canadian boycott group, Infact Canada, has produced a briefing paper on Nestlé in Africa. Click here to download.

  2. In 1999 Mr. Brabeck sent a hard-bound 183-page book of letters to policy makers and critics around the world claiming it contained ‘official responses from 54 goverments that verify Nestlé compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.’ Many of the letters were clearly not the verifications Mr. Brabeck claimed and Nestlé soon had to issue apologies when some of the authors complained that their letters had been misrepresented and used without permission (click here for details). On this occasion, Mr. Brabeck was reacting to a ruling by the UK Advertisng Standards Authority against a Nestlé anti-boycott advertisement in which the company claimed to market infant formula ‘ethically and responsibly’. After a two-year investigation, the ASA upheld all of Baby Milk Action's complaints about the advertisement (click here for details of the complaints and here for the final ruling and here for the Chief Executive's response).

  3. The company Nestlé pays to conduct audits, Emerging Market Economics, damaged its own reputation with an audit on Pakistan in 2000, in which it found only three minor violations, exactly the same claim as made in the African audits. EME used Nestlé discredited interpretation of the WHA marketing requirements and were forbidden from contacting monitoring organisations or a Nestlé whistle blower who had documentary evidence of malpractice, including the bribing of doctors. Baby Milk Action wrote to Nestlé offering to provide docuemntary evidence to the auditors and this was not passed on. Instead the auditors were limited to interviewing doctors and distributors from a list provided by Nestlé. In November 2000 the European Parliament conducted a Public Hearing into Nestlé’s baby food marketing activities. This was boycotted by Nestlé, who instead sent Mr. Sunil Sinha from EME to present the Pakistan audit. This became embarrassing when UNICEF’s Legal Officer, attending as an expert witness, indicated that Nestlé’s marketing instructions, used as the basis of the audit, were much weaker than the WHA marketing requirements (click here for details).

  4. The Boston Herald reported on Mr. Brabeck’s attitude to corporate social responsibility on 9 March 2005. See

"Companies shouldn't feel obligated to ``give back'' to the community, because they haven't taken anything away, the Austrian-born chief of the world's largest food company told local executives yesterday. In a stunning broadside to corporate citizenship as Bostonians have come to know it, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe - head of Nestle S.A. - said companies should only pursue charitable endeavors with an underlying intention of making money for investors."

Post meeting assessment

Instituional investors attending Nestlé's prestige event in sight of Big Ben received the above press release and the 10 facts leaflet.

The leafleting was referred to by the Chair of the meeting as it opened and prompted a question from Goldman Sachs (see below).

(Click on the pictures for high resolution versions).

Many thanks to supporters who turned up to leaflet and to the media who attended.

Leafleting Nestle institutional investors
Giant Nestle formula tin

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordintor at Baby Milk Action, phoned to register a question on his mobile phone after leafleting investors, having been refused entry, but was held on the line for 20 minutes without being able to do so. Nestlé refused to provide a copy of its report for Baby Milk Action to analyse in detail.

The following is Baby Milk Action's transcript of the question on baby milk, taken from the publicly accessible webcast at (Editors, please check against the webcast).

For evidence disproving Nestlé's claims see above and the leaflet 10 facts Nestlé does not want you to know about its baby food business.

Baby Milk Action Transcript

Mark Lynch, Goldman Sachs: I guess it would be remiss not to ask a question about IMF marketing. What are the restrictions you place upon yourselves and obviously.-.and how has that impacted the development of that business and I guess also is it actually an issue in the markets that you sell IMF in Africa.

Mike Garrett (Nestle): [Asks Penny.]

Penny (Nestle): The marketing of IF is something we are very strict with. I happen to run the nutrition business, so we do have infant formula in all those markets. The way we market it. We do not talk to mothers. We do not advertise on radio or TV, and that applies both to starter and follow on formulae. But we talk directly to the doctors and the health care professionals in terms of providing the scientific information about our products so the doctors can make the right decisions in terms of prescribing when there is a need to use IF.

Mike Garrett:-because our competitors don't work by the same set of rules and guidelines. We basically conformed with the WHO Code from the very, very early days. We recognised there need to be a set of standards they should be the body that established those standards not any independent industry member. But the United States never signed the WHO Code so therefore the companies under the-the American- based companies,none of them comply and many of the European companies turn a blind eye, if they say they comply .

Nestlé advertisement in South Africa inviting mothers to attend sessions on infant feeding in supermarkets. Seeking direct and indirect contact with mothers is banned by the Code. Nestlé argues that as the products pictured in the advertisement are complementary foods, it is not covered. Asked to clarify, UNICEF's Legal Officer has said that the 'prohibition is absolute' and the company should not be seeking contact with pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children (up to 3 years old).

So from a market share point of view, yeah, we've lost market share, there's no doubt about that, but the serious health professionals who recognise the innate qualities of the different products, will then prescribe them as Penny mentioned, according to what is appropriate in the individual case. We've walked away from all of that and there's always criticism, people who say we are breaking the Code -but when we go and investigate its usually someone talking about infant cereals, not IF, which is not under the scope of the code for children over the age of 12 months, over the age of 6 months and so on. So there is still a lot of controversy about it and topics, but we are very serious about this.

Nestlé claims its formula helps prevent diarrhoea

(click here for the full leaflet)
This type of promotion encourages health workers and mothers to use the formula in any case of diarrhoea - yet children fed on the formula are at greater risk of diarrhoea than breastfed infants.
Nestlé has distributed pamphlets for its Pelargon formula, which is being used in HIV interventions in Botswana. One pamphlet (left) suggests the formula helps to prevent diarrhoea.
Click here for an independent expert assessment of Nestlé's health claims for Pelargon formula.

And I think that people like UNICEF who used to think of us as the devil recognise that we are doing our job in trying to do that, and I've sat very many times on discussions with Carol Bellamy and so on and so forth, and we now are able to dialogue and able to discuss and able to have this communication, which was not possible 10 years ago, because we have made a huge effort to conform to the WHO Code.

Penny: I think what is helping is the self-monitoring that we are imposing on ourselves. Because in areas for instance, where the Code doesn't exist, we will use the WHO Code as the standard, or the Nestlé Code which is actually stricter than the WHO Code. We do the self-monitoring, And then we do a dialogue with the Government in order to assist and to ensure that ,as an industry, we make sure the marketing is appropriate.

[Click here for a legal evaluation of Nestlé's monitoring, including an analysis comparing Nestlé's Instructions with the International Code and Resolutions].

Mike Garrett: Its a hugely sensitive area in Africa and any developing country of course, but Africa is particularly difficult and we are extremely strict in the implementation of the WHO Code.

press index