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

Nestle malpractice raised at shareholder meeting and annual demonstration -

World Health Assembly called to act on baby food pushing

Press release 22 May 2009

Critics of Nestlé raised questions at its shareholder meeting last month about its pushing of baby food and other issues and protested on the doorstep of Nestlé (UK) HQ last weekend.

Now this week the World Health Assembly, which has introduced marketing requirements which are flouted in many countries, is meeting and being called to take action.

UNICEF has stated: "Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year."

(Right: image from the protest at Nestlé (UK) HQ on 16 May 2009 - more on flickr).

1.5 million babies die from unsafe bottle feeding every year

Massive posters and a theme proclaiming Nestle to be "The world’s leading Nutrition, Health and Wellness Company" were prominent at the shareholder meeting on 23 April.

However, shareholders heard nothing about obesity or the need to control marketing of junk foods to children.

(Right: Image from shareholder meeting in Lausanne - more on flickr).

Nestle - Nutrition, Health and Wellness company

Instead there were presentations on how to capitalise on airport sales of sweets and use Disney images to market chocolates and sweets to children and discussions about the massive financial remunerations to the Board, led by former CEO and now Chairman, Peter Brabeck (earning aprox 16 million SF per year) and current CEO, Paul Bulcke. Nestlé issued a new 'shared value' report to be used in PR campaigns in the coming year portraying its impact in glowing terms.

Patti Rundall, OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action, has for many years attended the meeting and this year reminded the Shareholders that Nestle continues to be 'widely boycotted' because of its baby food marketing and is one of the most boycotted companies on the planet.

She appealed to them to understand her dilemma and put themselves in her shoes for just a few moments.

Patti Rundall OBE

Should she trust Nestle's glossy brochures and the auditors (paid by Nestle and working to Nestlé’s criteria) who claim that the company is genuinely changing its profile to be more responsible and that there are now very few violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981) - or should she check and double check everything that is said:

"If I choose to trust the Nestle auditors I am letting down mothers and infants and young children all over the world. If I trust the reports coming in from the field and from IBFAN’s global monitoring - the last report was from 67 countries - I have to come here and brave your hostility and your irritation at not getting your food.... I hope that the financial catastrophe now upon us all amply demonstrates the need for independent, objective, external auditors, independent of ANY company involvement and the need for extreme caution when using the word ‘Trust.’ The same applies to my organization and to any other public interest NGO or any public body. The public has the right to expect transparent disclosure and assessment."

She gave just a few examples:

In 2002 Peter Brabeck promised the shareholder's assembly that by the end of that year all labels, throughout the world, would conform to the WHO requirements regarding age of use. She showed examples of labels, especially in emerging markets such as Kazakstan, or Ukraine, which are still recommending too early an age.

In South Africa, Nestlé's competitors filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority accusing Nestlé of breaking the rules and the Department of Health has raised concerns over labels claiming that formula 'protects', when they are more likely to become sick and, in conditions of poverty, to die. In the exhibition hall after the meeting, similar labels were proudly on display.

(Right: On display at the shareholder meeting -Nestlé claims its formula protects - click here for a larger image).

Nestle claims its formula 'protects'

And in the Philippines, Nestlé's labelling is even worse than competitors' - its products carry deceptive and non-permitted health claims and mislead parents about how to make up formula safely (note 1).

She made 4 simple demands. Nestlé should:

  • rewrite its Annual Report, taking into account independent monitoring reports (clearly meaning those from IBFAN and others not paid by Nestle);

  • not oppose the adoption of strict legislation in all countries on all baby foods and children’s foods;

  • stop using health and nutrition claims;

  • accept the International Nestle Boycott Committee's Four Point Plan for universal compliance with the International Code and subsequent WHA Resolutions.

Peter Brabeck asked Richard Laube, responsible for Nestle Nutrition to answer, saying that he recognised that his credibility was not so high with her. Richard Laube refuted the allegations that Nestle is the worst of the companies and claimed that Nestlé's internal auditors work to strict instrictions on Code violations and that the Bureau Veritas audits - which Nestle paid for, is the independent evidence she was asking for. He claimed that all of IBFAN's accusations are scrutinised, but only a few isolated ones have merit are these are, in any case, acted upon immediately.

He then went on to say: that they are seeing a trend to less “violations of the code” - an admission, not backed up by any figures, that whatever the current level of violations, it has been greater in the recent past, and that "The legislation in the Philippines is new and the companies are trying to comply but because of the confusion we have tried to do to the best of our ability…. to try to do more."

Then with a bizarre twist he pretended that Nestle had nothing to fear from the Code, implying that all over the world Nestle is upholding it:

"Now I would like to add that I think the shareholders of Nestlé do owe you a vote of thanks – and it may be unusual that I say something like this. Because we have found that when the Code is the strictest, and the most strictly enforced at the national level, Nestlé’s market share in business is the healthiest. And inadvertently the Code has acted in Nestle’s favour. So we have every interest to uphold it and maintain it and we have absolutely no interest in undermining the code in any of our behaviours."

After the meeting was over, one of the Board Members told Patti that the issue of marketing to children had not come up on the board as yet - a surprising admission given the high profile given to Nestlé’s claim to be a health and nutrition company and its persistence in sponsoring consumer education programmes on healthy eating.


Patti Rundall: Tel: +44 7786 523493 or

Mike Brady: Tel: +44 20 3239 9222


Notes for editors

1. This refers to the problem of Enterobacter Sakazakii, a harmful bacteria which are present is 14% of powdered formula tins. This is a concern because it can cause meningitis, permanent brain damage and even death. WHO is EXPLCIT that powdered formula should be mixed with boiled water, and cooled to no less than 70 degrees centigrade and then cooled to feed the baby but Nestle is failing to give this guidance.

Nestle spy case:

ACTARES, a group of campaigning shareholders, raised the case of Nestlé employing a spy to infiltrate the group ATTAC Switzerland, while outside there was a small demonstration organised by Multiwatch members wearing masks and T-shirts with the logo “Nespion” which some shareholders thought was a new product brand! Nestlé Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé responded that if the court found that spying had taken place then this would be contrary to Nestlé policies and would not be tolerated.

But he then went on to accuse ATTAC of being a violent organisation brandishing bars and throwing bricks.

Nestle spy protest

Journalist and shareholder, Robert James Parsons, refuted Brabeck’s claim that ATTAC is aggressive and quoted the police report from the Canton of Vaud, which didn’t mention ATTAC.

Brabeck answered that he had seen an ATTAC banner at the demonstration, proving, in his opinion that ATTAC had organized the demonstration.

2. The documents in the court case brought by ATTAC Switzerland reveal that the spy, employed through SECURITAS, reported to a former MI6 officer, John Hedley, Nestlé's head of security. Details have been posted on the Nestlé Critics site. Last week, an appeal court ruling overturned an earlier court's decision to throw out a legal action against Nestlé's espionage. See: Activists win court round against Nestlé.

In light of the fact that the Chairman's speech to shareholders missed much out about the companies practices, Mike Brady, Campaign coordinator of Baby Milk Action made an alternative Chairman's speech on the doorstep of Nestlé (UK) HQ on Saturday 16th May as part of the annual demonstration.

The event was supported by hundreds of people around the world on facebook and brought breastfeeding to Nestlé's doorstep and media attention.

Nestle demo 09

For reports on the spying case in the Swiss press this week in French see:

  • A new briefing shows how Nestlé has misled George Clooney on the position of the Methodist Church and 'British midwives', untrue claims that Mr. Clooney's office has relayed to those questioning his willingness to work with Nestlé by appearing in Nespresso advertisements.

  • Nestlé spied on Attac Switzerland while it was preparing a book on Nestlé's activities. Susan George, who wrote the preface commented:

"From the time I began following Nestlé’s activities in the 1970s, I have known it as a corporation that does not take criticism and will go to any length to force its point of view and, whenever possible, cover up unfavourable findings.... As the writer of the preface to Attac Vaud’s book Attac Contre L’Empire Nestlé, I imagine I was spied on just like my colleagues. Consequently, I ask to be to associated with any judicial and/or other action that Attac Vaud and Attac Switzerland may decide to undertake against Nestlé, and I express my full solidarity with them at this difficult time, as well as with the Temps Présent team. I am also certain that the Swiss people will judge the abject behaviour of Nestlé appropriately."

  • For other pictures see 

  • Nestlé is the target of the boycott as independent monitoring finds it is responsible for more violations the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions than any other company.

  • Baby Milk Action is a not-for-profit organisation and the UK member of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). It is funded by membership fees, merchandise sales and donations, along with grants from development organisations and charitable trusts.

  • The boycott of Nestlé focuses on Nescafé, its flagship product, but Baby Milk Action lists the brands from which Nestlé profits so boycott supporters can avoid them all. Guardian reported on 1 September 2005:

"What do Nike, Coca Cola, McDonald's and Nestlé have in common? Apart from being among the world's most well-known brands, they happen to be the most boycotted brands on the planet. That finding came from this week's global GMIPoll, an online opinion poll that surveyed 15,500 consumers in 17 countries. Nestlé emerges as the most the most boycotted brand in the UK because of what respondents consider its "unethical use and promotion of formula feed for babies in third world countries."

  • Nestlé won a global internet poll for the world's 'least responsible company' coinciding with the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2005. Nestlé received 29% of the votes. This was more than twice that of joint second Monsanto and Dow Chemicals (of Bhopal infamy), each on 14% ( click here for details ).

  • For information on baby food marketing malpractice see the codewatch and boycott sections of this website. The Corporate Watch website has a detailed report on Nestlé.

  • According to the World Health Organisation, 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed. See the Your Questions Answered section.

  • Nestlé is found to be responsible for on-going systematic violations of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements in the report Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2007.

press index