MEPs shocked as Nestlé
and Adidas snub Public Hearing on corporate responsibility
23rd November 2000
Members of the European
Parliament's Development Committee reacted with a mixture of shock
and outrage as they heard a string of differing excuses offered
by Nestlé to explain its absence from a Public Hearing
on corporate responsibility, which took place in Brussels on 22nd
At the Hearing, The
Network for Consumer Protection in Pakistan, a member of the International
Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), presented damning evidence of
baby food marketing malpractice, including documentary evidence
of bribes paid to doctors and sales targets set for staff (Network
presentation). UNICEF's Legal Officer also commented on Nestlé's
incorrect interpretation of the marketing requirements adopted
by the World Health Assembly (UNICEF
Campaigns Coordinator at The Network, told the Committee how she
had used EU regulations to report violations concerning labels
on Nestlé products exported from the Netherlands, but the
European Commission had taken no action. Richard Howitt MEP, who
organised the Hearing, called for the Commission to review the
procedures to make them effective. The Network also launched Masking
the Truth, a critique of an audit commissioned by Nestlé.
Ms Wagner-Rizvi said: "In short, the audit is a whitewash.
The company should answer these charges and address the real issues.
Why are they not prepared to do so?"
Richard Howitt MEP,
told the Independent
newspaper (23rd November 2000) that Nestlé and Adidas, which also
refused to send a representative to participate in the Hearing
into its activities, had shown: "utter contempt for a properly
constituted public hearing. Not to attend reveals a combination
of arrogance and distance which has set their cause back."
Mr. Sunil Sihna, of
Emerging Market Economics, presented the audit he had prepared
as a consultant for Nestlé and suggested that MEPs might
also like to question Lord Nazir Ahmed, who had been proposed
as an alternative speaker for the Nestlé slot. A consultant
from the Shandwick public relations company, who accompanied Mr.
Sihna, was seen to lobby journalists.
Mike Brady, Campaigns
and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action said: "Last
year Nestlé Chairman, Helmut Maucher, told his shareholders
that he welcomed the hearing and Nestlé has made statements
calling for cooperation 'to further the implementation of the
WHO Code.' By refusing to address the real issues in a transparent
and democratic forum, Nestlé has revealed that these are
hollow statements for public consumption. Meanwhile the marketing
malpractice continues, contributing to the unnecessary death and
suffering of infants around the world."
Also see: The Guardian
Notes for editors
- 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: email@example.com
- The European Parliament
Development and Cooperation Committee report under which the
hearing was 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
- For further details
and for pictures for publication visit the "codewatch"
sections. The Network and Baby Milk Action are both members
of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN).
- 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. European Union
Council Resolution 92/C 172/01 "on the marketing of breastmilk
substitutes in third countries by Community-based manufacturers"
references the International Code.
- The Parliamentary
Hearing aimed to address: "marketing of infant formula in
developing countries according to the WHO rules and European
Council resolution... the operation and effectiveness of companies'
own voluntary code of conduct will also be of interest to Committee
members." Nestlé's decision to boycott the event exposes
the call it made in a letter sent to Baby Milk Action by Nestlé
Vice-President, Niels Christiansen, on 4th October 2000, which
stated: "I realise that it may be difficult for you to envisage
Baby Milk Action and Nestlé working together to further the
implementation of the WHO Code, or that you could have greater
success in reaching your objectives by participating in agreed-upon
processes which allow verification of allegations under the
watchful eye of national governments. Rather than devoting continued
resources in trying to maintain a public confrontation, let's
use them, instead, to work together with WHO and governments,
as the Code calls for, to develop verifiable processes of monitoring."
According to one of the excuses explaining Nestlé's absence,
it objected to the presence of IBFAN and UNICEF at the hearing.
- Stockton Borough
Council invited Baby Milk Action and Nestlé to present
their cases to an special Council meeting on 11th September
2000 after questions arose over the ethics of accepting funding
from Nestlé for a town centre initiative. Nestlé
pulled out of the meeting. The Council stated: "This
was to avoid an open debate which they felt would have led to
controversy, and the potential negative publicity for both themselves
and the town centre. Although Nestlé are still prepared
to look favourably on investing... this could not be done without
going through the formal democratic process of hearing both
sides of the argument." (See press release 1st
- 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.