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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 November.

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 presentation).

Tracey Wagner-Rizvi, 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 23 November 2000.

Notes for editors

  1. 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:

  2. 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

  3. For further details and for pictures for publication visit the "codewatch" and "resources" sections. The Network and Baby Milk Action are both members of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN).

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 September 2000).

  7. 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.
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