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Bulgarian Nestle boycott group aims to stem flood of baby milk promotion

30th June 2000

Yesterday the President of a Bulgarian Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Dr. Roumjana Modeva, briefed a representative from Baby Milk Action on the aggressive marketing strategies used by companies from the European Union in Bulgaria. The NGO, Women and Mothers Against Violence, launched the Nestlé boycott in Bulgaria in August last year to target the global market leader and raise awarenes of infant feeding issues. Companies are using methods in Bulgaria which have been effectively stopped in many countries.

At the meeting in Sofia, Dr. Modeva gave examples of malpractice, including an advertisement for Nestlé's Nan 1 infant formula in the current issue of the parenting magazine 9 months, headlined "Is there a substitute for mother's milk?" which suggested Nan 1 is equivalent. Advertising of breastmilk substitutes is banned by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981, which Nestlé claims to follow.

Nestlé has also launched a parents' club called "Mother's Caress" aimed at pregnant women and mothers of infants up to one year of age. Seeking direct contact with mothers in this way is banned by the International Code. There are also concerns about labels and provision of free supplies.

Dr. Modeva said: "Nestlé and other baby food companies operating in Bulgaria are very aggressive and we need a law to protect our infants and mothers. It is very good for us to know that we are not alone in our struggle to make companies behave responsibly, but have the support of people and groups around the world."

Mike Brady, Campaigns Coordinator at Baby Milk Action said, "The boycott is a very important tool for raising awareness and putting pressure on Nestlé, the global market leader in baby milk. It is sometimes difficult for people in the UK to accept that a household name such as Nestlé is contributing to unnecessary death and suffering around the world, but that is the situation. Nestlé attempts to buy itself a good reputation in the UK with donations to good causes and attempts to divert criticism with outright deception. We know what Nestlé is up to because of the first-hand experiences of our colleagues overseas. Fortunately our work encouraging the introduction of legislation is bearing fruit and cases can be brought before the courts in an increasing number of countries. For example, Nestlé was fined for breaking labelling regulations in Costa Rica at the end of last year."

The Church of England Synod is due to examine the issue of baby milk marketing in July.

For more information contact:

Mike Brady, Baby Milk Action, 23 St Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX, UK.
Tel: +44 (0)1223 464420, Fax: +44 (0)1223 464417.

Dr. Roumjana Modeva or Mariela Todorova, Women and Mothers against Violence, Bulgaria.
Tel: +359 2 326088. E-mail:

Notes for editors:

  1. According to UNICEF, reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million infants around the world every year. 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. Even in the most hygienic of conditions an artificially-fed child is at increased risk of diabetes, respiratory infections and allergies.

  2. 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.

  3. Pictures for articles can be down-loaded. These include violations in Bulgaria, Mike Brady meeting Dr. Modeva in Sofia, the winning entries in a Bulgarian Boycott Nestle drawing competition and a picture of the Bulgarian Parliament. Also see the codewatch and resources sections.

  4. The Managing Director of Nestlé India faces a prison sentence if convicted in a long-running court case over labelling. Nestlé has taken the Indian Government to court and is attempting to have key sections of the law revoked. When Zimbabwe was introducing legislation, Nestlé threatened to close down its factory.

  5. Nestlé includes a letter from Bulgaria in its public relations book, Nestlé implementation of the WHO Code, but the letter does not even refer to the International Code and UNICEF described it as non-committal. It appears that Nestlé has been attempting to convince European governments that they cannot implement the Code, but must follow a weaker European Union Directive. This is not even true for countries within the European Union.

  6. The boycott was launched in 1977, then suspended in 1984 when Nestlé gave an undertaking to abide by the International Code. Monitoring found that Nestlé did not keep its promise and the boycott was re-launched in 1989. Today it is active in 19 countries. (See the History of the Campaign).

  7. Nestlé malpractice in Pakistan has recently been exposed by a former employee (see the summary of Milking Profits). An external audit of Nestlé Pakistan was launched in May (see British Medical Journal article Nestlé violates international marketing code, says audit and Baby Milk Action press release, 24 May 2000).

  8. In May 1999 the UK 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" (see press release 12 May 2000).

  9. The Church of England Synod endorsed the boycott in 1991. It suspended support in 1994, while gathering its own evidence. The report Cracking the Code was published as a result in 1997, and concluded that baby food companies, including Nestlé, are violating the marketing requirements in a "systematicÓ manner. The 1997 Synod affirmed the conclusions of the report and called for companies and governments to take action (See Boycott News 22). In a report for the July 2000 Synod the Church Ethical Investment Action Group comments favourably on Nestlé's business principles and its initiative to obtain "compliance certificates" from governments. Nestlé claims to have received "official verification of compliance" from 54 countries, yet the letters put forward as proof do not substantiate this claim. UNICEF has criticised both Nestlé interpretation of the marketing code and its use of the government letters. Nestlé has admitted to misrepresenting a letter from Denmark and has apologised to the authorities (see Press Release 23 Jan 2000). Other governments have also complained that their letters have been misrepresented. In what is possibly the most bizarre case of misrepresentation, the letter from the Cook Islands states: "I have not noticed any of their products being sold here," yet Nestlé claims it obtained the "verifications of compliance" after a process of dialogue and correction of violations.
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