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European Parliament public hearing on Nestlé's baby food marketing activities

22nd November 2000 : 9.00 - 12.30

Room ASP3G2, Altiero de Spinelli Building, Rue Wierz, Brussels

The European Parliament Development and Cooperation Committee has invited Nestlé, IBFAN and UNICEF to present evidence to a public hearing on baby food marketing on 22nd November.

Nestlé, the global market leader, is one of the companies criticised by IBFAN (the International Baby Food Action Network) for contributing to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants by aggressively marketing breastmilk substitutes in ways that violate the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly. 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. According to UNICEF, reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million infants around the world every year.

Presentations will be made by a legal expert from UNICEF's Nutrition Section, which advises governments on interpretation of the International Code and Resolutions, and The Network for Consumer Protection in Pakistan, a member of IBFAN, which monitors the baby feeding industry. Nestlé has been asked to present information on an audit it commissioned earlier this year in response to evidence of malpractice from Syed Aamar Raza, a former employee in Pakistan. An overview of Aamar's documentary evidence, which exposes practices including the bribing of doctors, was published as the report Milking Profits by The Network last year.

IBFAN groups have registered complaints using European Union measures which require European-based enterprises to abide by the International Code in other countries (Nestlé exports from the European Union). It is hoped that the Development and Cooperation Committee will find ways to make the complaint procedures more effective.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action (the UK IBFAN group), welcomed the hearings, arranged by Richard Howitt MEP, and said:

"The Code of Conduct paper adopted by the European Parliament last year, which calls for annual public hearings, has many measures which, if implemented, will mean that companies from any sector can be called to account if they break international standards anywhere in the world."

Notes for editors

  1. To enter the European Parliament Building it is necessary to be invited by an MEP. The baby food issue is first on the programme for the special meeting. The meeting will also look at the textile/sportswear industry. A speaker on the UN Global Compact has also been invited, but, according to the draft programme, no-one has been invited to provide a critique of the initiative, such as a representative of The Alliance for a Corporate-Free UN.

  2. For further information contact Mike Brady or Patti Rundall at Baby Milk Action, 23 St. Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX. Tel: (01223) 464420. Fax: (01223) 464417. E-mail:

  3. The European Parliament Development and Cooperation Committee report under which the hearing has been called is entitled: EU standards for European Enterprises operating in developing countries: towards a European Code of Conduct. It was adopted by the Parliament on 15th January 1999. Richard Howitt MEP, who steered the report through Parliament and has organised the hearings, can be contacted for further information on: + 32 2 284 5477

  4. For further details and for pictures for publication see the "codewatch" and "resources" sections. For information on IBFAN visit For information on the UN Global Compact see Tangled up in Blue at

  5. 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.

  6. According to UNICEF, reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million infants around the world every year. In Pakistan, 26% of the population does not have access to safe water and 53% do not have access to adequate sanitation.

  7. Nestlé is the target of a boycott in 19 countries because of its unethical and irresponsible baby food marketing practices. In May 1999 the 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." In 1995 Baby Milk Action was called on to defend claims made in a boycott advertisement. The ASA found in favour of Baby Milk Action. The claims were: "Over 4,000 babies die every day in poor countries because they're not breastfed. That's not conjecture, it's UNICEF fact" and "They [Nestlé] aggressively promote their baby milks, breaking a World Health Organisation code of marketing."

  8. Marketing Week magazine asked Marjorie Thompson of Saatchi & Saatchi how Nestlé should respond to the bad publicity surrounding its baby food marketing activities and reported (11th February 1999): "She suggests the way to counteract the bad publicity is to go on the offensive by using advertising showing the benefits of Nestlé's financial contributions to charities..." (See Boycott News 27).
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