The Other Davos meeting – NGOs expose Nestlé baby food pushing, trade union busting and spying
Baby Milk Action asks George Clooney to reconsider his defence of Nestlé (click here for Baby Milk Action's presentation - click here for its exposé of Nestlé's false claims)
Press release 30 January 2009
While political and business leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum campaigning Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) gathered in Zurich to expose malpractice by Swiss food giant, Nestlé.
Patti Rundall OBE, of Baby Milk Action, which promotes the boycott over the company’s aggressive marketing of baby foods, participated in a public meeting on 30 January at the Kongresshaus in Zurich (www.kongresshaus.ch) at 18:00 alongside other experts. Nestlé’s Global Public Affairs Manager has described the company as ‘widely boycotted’.
Fredy Alberto Sepulveda Pineda, a Member of the National Board of Colombia's union for food workers, Sinaltrainal, gave a disturbing account of the intimidation of Nestle's workers in Colombia, and the difficult situation union leaders face. Death threats against the trade union, signed by the paramilitary group Aguilas Negras, had been found in the toilets inside a Nestlé factory in Colombia. Sepulveda also told of the use of out of date ingredients in Nestle milk products.
Beatrice Schmid spoke about her experiences in Neste's spying of the group, ATTAC and the legal action they are taking. The spy was hired through the private security company, Securitas, and relayed information to Nestlé. The spy included information gathered on the baby milk campaign and Columbia. Beatrice talked about the delay in progress on this matter and the reluctance and lack of political and judicial will on the part of authorities to find out exactly what went on or to pursue the matter. A key problem is that several people involved in this matter wear many hats.
Patti Rundall OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action, said:
“We have no choice but to continue boycotting Nestle, because the international monitoring we conduct with our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) continues to shows it to be the worst of the baby food companies. The boycott and our work for legislation has had some success in stopping malpractice, but Nestlé still refuses to make the sweeping changes required to bring its policies and practices into line with the international marketing standards adopted by the World Health Assembly. Instead, Nestlé uses its involvement in the UN Global Compact and ‘partnerships’ in areas related to health and nutrition in an attempt to divert criticism and present an ethical, responsible image. In this way it has recruited celebrities, such as George Clooney who seem unaware of the depths of dishonesty of Nestlé’s claims.”
Baby Milk Action launched an exposé of claims made in a Nestlé briefing provided by George Clooney’s office to those who question why the actor, known for his humanitarian campaigning, is willing to appear in Nestlé Nespresso advertisements. Mr. Clooney expressed irritation when this issue was raised at the Venice Film Festival in 2007. Baby Milk Action is appealing to Mr. Clooney to consider the evidence it has provided to him.
Patti Rundall also raised concerns about the rise in Public Private Partnerships and UN Business partnerships such as the UN Global Compact (UNGC) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), which is sponsored by the Gates Foundation. Membership of these bodies gives companies such as Nestle and Danone (now the world's second biggest baby food producer after Nestlé) undeserved credibility on the basis of their own statements. Nestle refers to its patron sponsorship of a meeting of the UNGC Leaders Summit in Geneva in July 2007 as evidence of its support for the UNGC's core principles of "fairness, honesty and respect for people and the environment."
By joining the UNGC, companies benefit from the image transfer from UN and other partners and can also gain influence over health policy making. Baby Milk Action and IBFAN are calling on the UN to ensure that all its international and national partners comply with UN standards and are independently monitored and held accountable for their actions. There also need to be clear definitions of what constitutes a conflict of interest, and mechanisms for minimising and adequately dealing with those that cannot be avoided.
In addition to concerns about trade union busting and spying, there are concerns over Nestlé’s failure to address child slavery in its cocoa supply chain, its treatment of coffee and dairy farmers (and the use of a token Fair Trade coffee brand to try to divert criticism) and its breaking of environmental and other laws in Brazil in its water bottling operations.
Campaigners launched a new Nestlé Critics website serving as a portal for concerns on various aspects of Nestlé malpractice at the start of International Nestlé-Free Week in October 2008. See www.nestlecritics.org
Patti Rundall: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +44 7786 523493 or
Mike Brady: email@example.com Tel: +44 20 3239 9222
Notes for editors
The 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."
"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.