Briefing on Nestlé for participants in the Methodist Conference 2006
Updated 6 June 2006 (additional information added 20 June) .
The Methodist Joint Advisory Committe on the Ethics of Investment (JACEI) has prepared a briefing on the baby food marketing activities of Nestlé for consideration by the forthcoming Conference (click here to download the briefing - see section 4.2 page 24).
The Conference takes place in Edinburgh from 22-29 June (click here for details).
We believe the briefing will be presented on 26 June.
Click here to download our message to members of the Methodist Church.
"I cannot believe the Methodist Conference will choose to profit from the suffering of infants and young children. We have valued the support of the Methodist Church for our work and in calling Nestlé to account in the past and hope we can do so in the future."
Mike Brady, Baby Milk Action (full quote)
"I find it extremely disturbing that an advisory body within my own church, the Methodist church, does not find such marketing processes deeply objectionable and even supports investment in such practices"
Professor Andrew Tomkins (full quote)
Baby Milk Action has already made known its concerns that the full JACEI report is inaccurate and harmful to the campaign to protect infant health from the aggressive marketing of baby foods and has greater concerns still about the briefing. See our press release of 24 November 2005.
Should this issue be discussed at conference, Baby Milk Action recommends that representatives:
Reject the JACEI report as fundamentally flawed in its execution and findings and oppose investment in Nestlé until independent monitoring shows it has stopped its aggressive baby food marketing practices and other unethical behaviour.
Call for Nestlé to attend an independent expert tribunal where evidence of malpractice and Nestlé's response can be examined in depth (JACEI gave each side only 30 minutes to present evidence in its consultation). Click here for details of the proposed tribunal.
Call on Nestlé and all baby food companies to bring their practices into line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions.
Continue to encourage members of the Methodist Church to investigate the issue for themselves.
Give encouragement to groups monitoring the Code and Resolutions and working for their implementation in independently monitored and enforced legislation.
Support the International Nestlé Boycott, which focuses on Nescafé coffee.
If you would like to discuss this further please contact us.
If you would like to comment on the briefing paper, please contact Anthea Cox, secretary for Public Life and Social Justice (PLSJ) at the Methodist Church (sending a copy to email@example.com if you wish).
Baby Milk Action is in communication with JACEI and PLSJ and has repeatedly offered to attend the Conference to present its concerns about Nestlé and to debate with Nestlé before representatives.
As this offer has not been taken up, we are providing the following information.
You can hear both sides by listening to interviews with Nestlé and Baby Milk Action conducted in November 2005 by the University of East Anglia student radio. Click here. For a written report on a debate, click here.
Information, including some of our concerns about the JACEI report and the briefing prepared by JACEI for the Conference:
Undue prominence given to Nestlé denials
The JACEI briefing gives prominence to Nestlé's response to the monitoring report Baby Milk Action produces with partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). It does not give the same prominence to Baby Milk Action's evidence of violations and response to Nestlé's denials.
The full report concluded: "there are still areas of ethical concern relating to marketing and promotion of breastmilk substitutes".
This is not acknowledged in the briefing paper prepared for Conference.
The briefing states: "There is sufficient recent evidence of responsiveness from Nestlé to campaign pressure and investor dialogue to make engagement an appropriate approach for the CFB."
Baby Milk Action rejects this assessment of Nestlé's response to campaign pressure. Changes that have been achieved have been through concerted pressure, resisted at every stage by Nestlé. In some countries Nestlé has stopped violations, but this is because independently monitored and enforced legislation gives it no choice. In neighbouring countries without legislation, it is business as usual.
Failure to acknowledge Nestlé misled the Committee
|Baby Milk Action's response to Nestlé's assurances to the Committee can be downloaded here. Amongst the supporting information is a scan of a leaflet that Nestlé assured the Committee did not exist. The leaflet, from Botswana, promotes Pelargon formula as conteracting diarrhoea.
According to the JACEI minutes Nestlé said it: "has never marketed Perlargon on the basis that it combats diarrhoea. Some governments have publicised the fact that Pelargon's infant formula is better than some other infant feeds."
This and other evidence demonstrates that Nestlé's assurances cannot be accepted at face value.
Failure to consider documentary evidence of malpractice
The briefing states: "The Committee accepted that it was difficult for a third party to assess accurately allegations made about Nestlé's actions in countries like Thailand and Azerbaijan".
Baby Milk Action is able to assess the situation through our partners in IBFAN who are on the ground monitoring the baby food industry.
For example, the tissues shown here were distributed to health workers in Thailand to promote Nestlé Nan infant formula. They are a clear violation of the Code's provisions prohibiting promotion in the health care system and of giving gifts to health workers to promote products within the scope of the Code.
It is unfortunate that JACEI did not accept our offer to discuss with our partners on the ground the type of aggressive marketing they face. You can hear an interview with some of our partners (including from Azerbaijan) in the broadcasts section of our website by clicking here.
IBFAN monitoring finds Nestlé to be responsible for more violations than any other company, which is why it is the target of the international boycott. Much of the evidence of malpractice consists of materials produced by Nestlé (such as the leaflet described above, which Nestlé claimed did not exist). See reports in the codewatch section of this website for examples, including a September 2005 update on Nestlé, showing how the company 'brands' babies in China, with the Nestlé logo on hospital wristbands and cot identification tags with the Nestlé Nan and Lactogen infant formula slogan.
In the JACEI consultation
the Chair of the Committee concluded after the 30-minute presentations by Baby Milk Action and Nestlé that : “this was a complex and difficult issue… highly technical… it would be possible to continue the discussion ad nauseam… the Committee did not have the resources to do so, nor was it desirable for it to devote its attention exclusively to the subject of infant formula to the exclusion of other ethical issues.”
We are aware that other organisations informed JACEI of their view that violations by Nestlé are common, but this is not acknowledged in any of the reports (see further details below).
As a result the report produced by JACEI is fundamentally flawed and damaging to the campaign.
Failure to consider UNICEF's legal opinions
Nestlé attempts to cause confusion by claiming violations come down to matters of interpretation. In general the provisions of the World Health Assembly are clear. Where there are questions of interpretation Baby Milk Action consults the Legal Officer of UNICEF. Nestlé refuses to accept the decisions of the Legal Officer. JACEI appears to find this acceptable.
As an example, Article 5.5 of the International Code prohibits companies marketing breastmilk substitutes from seeking direct or indirect contact with pregnant women and mothers of young children (upto 3 years old). UNICEF has made it clear that the prohibition is absolute and it cannot be argued that contact is for promoting another product such as a follow-on milk or complementary food. Nestlé carries out such practices routinely. Recently we have exposed Nestlé's Nutrition Corners in China which specifically target pregnant and lactating women.
JACEI appears not to consider these practices as violations.
Click here for Article 5.5 of the Code and click here for UNICEF's letter.
Failure to seek input from the Interagency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring (IGBM)
The JACEI briefing says it would "continue the existing contact with the International Group on Breast Milk Marketing (IGBM) [sic] whose survey of four African countries was due to be released."
The Interagency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring (IGBM) was set up specifically to conduct monitoring independently of Baby Milk Action and IBFAN to verify whether IBFAN's monitoring could be trusted. Its first report Cracking the Code, published in January 1997, found 'systematic' violations by Nestlé and its competitors and UNICEF commented that IBFAN's monitoring was 'vindicated'.
We have no reason to believe that IGBM's latest monitoring will conflict with IBFAN's findings and question why JACEI did not request input from IGBM when preparing its report.
Meetings with Nestlé
JACEI proposed that meetings be held between the Central Finance Board and Nestlé's Chief Executive Officer. On seeing this in the full report in November 2005, Baby Milk Action offered to provide a briefing prior to meetings. It was felt this was particularly important given that the Chair of JACEI acknowledged the Committee found the issue complex.
This offer was not accepted and the Central Finance Board met with Nestlé in December 2005. The results of the meeting have not been communicated to Baby Milk Action.
The briefing states: "it was rare for the CFB to have an exclusive meeting with the chief executive of such a large company." The CFB is wrong to be flattered by this attention. It is not indicative of 'ethical' behaviour on Nestlé's part, but its concern over support for the boycott and its wish to use the Methodist Church to undermine it. Nestlé is one of the most boycotted companies in the world, the most boycotted in the UK and was voted to be the world's 'least responsible company' in a global internet vote in January 2005. Nestlé is desparate to improve its image.
Baby Milk Action communicates regularly with the Chief Executive of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe - it is not necessary to be an investor to do so. He refuses to bring company policies into line with World Health Assembly measures and has rejected Baby Milk Action's four-point plan aimed at saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott.
Mr Brabeck claims to investigate any hint of a violation, but Baby Milk Action either does not receive responses to reports or they are inadequate. Mr. Brabeck has himself launched violations of the Code and Resolutions, such as targeting pregnant women and mothers in China (see Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet December 2005).
Mr. Brabeck attacked UNICEF after it called on him to bring company practices into line (click here). He has invested in public relations initiatives in an attempt to divert criticism, though this has often backfired (see, for example, Mr. Brabeck's book of letters from governments, which became a PR disaster for the company).
Any assurances given by Mr. Brabeck have to be weighed very carefully against the evidence of malpractice.
Investing in Nestlé
JACEI concludes: "there are presently insufficient reasons to avoid investment in Nestlé on ethical grounds".
This is an extremely damaging conclusion and is already being used by Nestlé in its efforts to divert criticism of its marketing practices. It is also in conflict with the position taken by all credible ethical investment organisations, such as FTSE4Good, which exclude Nestlé. It is not necessary to invest in the company to have meetings with senior executives. Baby Milk Action briefs several ethical investment organisations that raise concerns with Nestlé. These have influence because they refuse to list Nestlé while it violates the marketing requirements.
As far as we are aware there is only one ethical investment organisation on earth that includes Nestlé, GES from Sweden. As withe JACEI report, this forms part of Nestlé's PR strategy to undermine support for the campaign to hold the company to account. GES refuses to consider independent monitoring, looking instead to company reports. Click here for details.
The independent expert tribunal into Nestlé
Throughout this process Baby Milk Action has warned JACEI that the 30 minutes allowed for the presentations was insufficient and asked JACEI to support calls for Nestlé to attend an independent, expert tribunal into the company's baby food marketing practices. JACEI has refused to do so.
Nestlé has rejected the proposed tribunal outright. Baby Milk Action invited Nestlé to set out the terms and conditions necessary for it to attend and it refuses to even discuss these. In November 2005 under pressure in a radio interview, Nestlé did say it would consider taking part, but afterwards backtracked (click here for details). It is essential to keep up the pressure.
Unless Nestlé is prepared to put its claims to scrutiny it should stop making them.
Concerns with the JACEI process
Baby Milk Action has voiced its concerns about the process followed by JACEI. We were given just 30 minutes to present evidence, followed by questions. The minutes produced required extensive correction as they did not reflect our oral or written presentation.
We had provided corrections to the initial JACEI Briefing Paper on the Ethical Issues Concerning the Marketing of Breast - Milk Substitutes, and Other Ethical Issues Relating to Nestlé. As JACEI is now making this paper public, we are making our corrected version public as well (click here to download). We also made a written submission at the November 2004 consultation, responding to questions set by JACEI (click here to download).
We were concerned that the so-called independent expert JACEI had invited onto the committee has worked as a consultant to the baby food industry.
Baby Milk Action is further concerned that the briefing to be presented to Conference suggests our concerns were addressed, stating:
"At the November 2005 meeting of the Committee the final version of the Policy Statement on Nestlé was approved. This contained significant revisions to an earlier draft in the light of comments from BMA."
A draft statement on Nestlé was sent to us several days before the meeting and we were asked to comment. The statement simply ignored the evidence, claiming for example that "the evidence suggests that breaches of the Code by Nestle are now rare". This demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of what the Committee admitted to finding "a complex and difficult issue". We responded immediately referring the Committee back to the evidence presented to it and indicated we would have to consult with partners as the statement would undermine their work as well as our own. We asked partner organisations to send their comments to the person indicated to us by JACEI for this purpose.
We are aware that prior to its meeting the Committee was presented with expert opinions and independent evidence that violations by Nestlé are not 'rare' but 'common' (see, for example, the quote below). The Committee deleted its erronious claim that violations are rare, but its 'significant revisions' did not include acknowledging that violations are common. Instead the statement claims that Nestlé was 'responsive' to criticism - again something disputed by those who are monitoring the industry and calling on Nestlé and its competitors to make changes.
Given the Committee had its original conclusion about the evidence was wrong it is surprising that only minor changes were made to the Policy Statement. In particular the Committee did not change its recommendation about investing. Knowing that violations are 'common' it continues to suggest "there are presently insufficient reasons to avoid investment in Nestlé on ethical grounds."
The Policy Statement includes the phrase: "All participating parties agreed a minute of the meeting." However, we disagreed with the claim that Nestlé is responsive and wanted JACEI to at least to mention the evidence of systematic and institutionalised violations presented to it by ourselves and other. We asked JACEI to add:
"Baby Milk Action has condemned the content of this present briefing paper in the strongest possible terms as inaccurate and not reflecting the evidence presented."
JACEI refused to do so, necessitating that we take action to ensure participants in the Conference are well aware of our views. Long before the Conference we offered to attend to make a presentation or to debate with Nestlé, but JACEI did not take up this offer. It is extremely frustrating that we are having to divert time and resources from supporting our partners in developing countries to ensure participants receive the information excluded from the JACEI reports.
In its press release about its final report the secretary for Public Life and Social Justice stated: "Baby Milk Action and other groups have performed a great service in researching Nestlé’s activities and keeping this issue in the public eye."
While Baby Milk Action appreciates this endorsement of our work, it is regrettable that JACEI appears to value the denials of Nestlé above our evidence and that of our partners and is pursuing a course that is damaging to the campaign and the cause of protecting infant health.
Other areas of Nestlé malpractice
While Nestlé's baby food marketing malpractice receives most publicity (thanks to the boycott campaign) there are other concerns, including.
Quote for journalists
Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:
"It is highly regrettable that instead of making a positive contribution to
the campaign, the Committee report is a gift to Nestlé as it tries to divert
attention from its baby food marketing malpractice. In advance of Conference
we are having to spend time and resources providing materials to redress the
imbalance in the paper to be discussed. Our offer to debate with Nestlé at
the Conference has not been accepted and so we will have to mobilise
activists to ensure participants receive information exposing what Nestlé is
really doing. We hope Conference throws this Committee's damaging briefing
out. I cannot
believe that the Methodist Conference will choose to profit from the
suffering of infants and young children. We have valued the support of the Methodist Church for our work
and in calling Nestlé to account in the past and hope we can do so in the
Professor Andrew Tomkins, Centre for International Child Health, Institute of Child Health, London, said on reading the final JACEI report:
"I write as a member of Harpenden Methodist Church and as a doctor having lived in Africa for many years and having been deeply involved in child health research, teaching and care in developing countries for over 30 years. Poor mothers in less developed countries are still being put under pressure from companies to formula feed their infants rather than give them breast milk which provides protection against infection and reduces child mortality. I was sent a draft version of a report outlining the Methodist Church Response in relation to Ethical Investments and Nestle. I was profoundly disturbed by the conclusion and wrote to the Committee. I find it extremely disturbing that an advisory body within my own church, the Methodist church, does not find such marketing processes deeply objectionable and even supports investment in such practices"