Baby Milk Action's letter to the Advertising Standards Authority about Nestle's advertisement feature for its Fairtrade product
See Pess Release 7 December 2005
7 December 2005
Advertising Standards Authority
Mid City Place
71 High Holborn
Dishonest nature of Nestlé Partners' Blend advertisement
in the Radio Times 3-9 December 2005
Baby Milk Action wishes to register three complaints about the above advertisement, appearing in the Radio Times 3-9 December 2005, pages 45 and 46 (attached).
The advertisement is for Nestlé Nescafé Partners' Blend coffee, but addresses Nestlé's activities in the coffee industry more generally in El Salvador and globally.
It is dishonest and misleading in several respects, three of which we highlight below and request the ASA investigate and rule upon these.
1. Nestlé portrayal of its involvement in coffee in El Salvador is dishonest and misleading
The advertisement is headed with the prominent text:
“Coffee is one of El Salvador's most important exports – but if international prices fall, whole communities suffer the consequences. Now a partnership initiative is helping ensure young and old alike can benefit from this precious commodity.”
The advertisement contains a box headed ‘Directional thinking in El Salvador' which refers to the ‘population of 6.4 million people' being in ‘constant upheaval' due to the civil war and affected by Hurricane Mitch and over a million made homeless due to earthquakes. It ends:
“Traditionally El Salvador's economy has been dependent on coffee, the world's second most widely traded commodity. The country's finances fluctuate according to the changes in the price of coffee – and when the market turns downwards, it is the country's poorest who are hit hardest.”
The advertisement then gives the example of one farmer benefiting from the Nescafé Partners' Blend project and states: “When you purchase this product it will make a direct and positive difference to the lives of farmers like those of Adan and Maria's”.
The advertisement does not reveal how many farmers are involved in the Partners' Blend product in El Salvador and how many farmers will benefit if people purchase it. There is an implication it will have a widespread positive impact, offsetting the difficulties referred to in the advertisement.
For further information, people are referred to the website www.growmorethancoffee.co.uk
Again, the website does not reveal how many farmers will benefit from purchases of the Partners' Blend coffee. It has a page specifically about farmers benefiting in El Salvador (ref: http://www.growmorethancoffee.co.uk/communities/elsalvador.htm) headed:
“Our work in El Salvador. Helping farmers overcome their problems.”
On the website there is no statement of how many farmers are involved in the product. It does state in large text:
“Coffee is El Salvador's number one export, with the industry supporting close to 135,000 jobs.”
Again, this gives the impression that that such numbers are benefiting from Nestlé's product.
The truth is there are 200 smallholder farmers in El Salvador supplying coffee for Partners' Blend (ref: Nestlé press release at http://www.Nestlé.co.uk/PressOffice/MediaKit/PressReleases/
It is dishonest and misleading that this information is not given in the advertisement nor on the website, particularly as the product is put in the context of the entire coffee industry and population of the country.
The example farmers given in the advertisement are set in the context of the problems faced by El Salvador as a whole and its coffee industry on which 135,000 depend. The reader will assume the examples are typical of many benefiting from Nestlé's activities, when the vast majority in El Salvador are outside its scheme.
2. Nestlé's portrayal of its involvement in the coffee industry more generally is dishonest and misleading
Nestlé refers more generally to its involvement in coffee and ‘sustainable business' in the ‘Working together' box in the advertisement. For example, it states:
“Nestlé has stated its commitment to sustainability and in 2002 they co-founded the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative, a group that works closely with farmers to develop sustainable approaches to coffee growing… Nescafé first started providing technical assistance over 30 years ago… A great example of this is in El Salvador…”
The serious omissions about Nestlé's wider involvement in the coffee industry from the advertisement render the statements dishonest and misleading.
As stated above, the number of farmers benefiting from Partners' Blend in El Salvador is 200 . This is an insignificant number given that over 3 million coffee farmers globally are dependent on Nestlé. Many of these farmers have been suffering great hardships for reasons that are, in part, due to Nestlé's business practices. We understand just 0.02% of Nestlé's global coffee purchase is within the Fairtrade system.
The Oxfam report, Mugged, states (see overview at http://www.maketradefair.com/en/index.php?
file=16092002164814.htm where the full report can be obtained):
“There is a crisis destroying the livelihoods of 25 million coffee producers around the world. The price of coffee has fallen by almost 50 per cent in the past three years to a 30-year low. Long-term prospects are grim… Farmers sell at a heavy loss while branded coffee sells at a hefty profit… Profit margins are high - Nestlé has made an estimated 26 per cent profit margin on instant coffee. Sara Lee's coffee profits are estimated to be nearly 17 per cent - a very high figure compared with other food and drink brands. If everyone in the supply chain were benefiting this would not matter. As it is, with farmers getting a price that is below the costs of production, the companies' booming business is being paid for by some of the poorest people in the world.”
It is, therefore, dishonest and misleading for Nestlé to portray itself as benefiting farmers, without being honest about the very limited scale of the impact of its Partners' Blend coffee or setting this in the context of its impact on virtually 100% of its suppliers who remain outside the Fairtrade system.
In addition, coffee farmers have been forced off the land due to Nestlé's policies. Baby Milk Action interviewed a researcher from the Colombian Union of Food Workers who claims 150,000 families have lost their livelihoods due to Nestlé's involvement in the coffee industry there.
3. Use of the Fairtrade mark is dishonest and misleading
Nestlé's the use of the Fairtrade mark on an advertisement with the above failings is dishonest and misleading. The Fairtrade mark features prominently, with the text ‘Guarantees a better deal for Third World Producers'. Yet the number of producers who have a ‘better deal' in El Salvador is 200, which has not been made clear. The same concern arises over use of the mark on the website cited above.
In its ‘Q&A' about Partners' Blend on its website, the Fairtrade Foundation (see http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/qa071005.htm) states:
“The FAIRTRADE Mark is only given to individual products and not to companies. The Mark indicates that the product Partners' Blend has complied with the internationally agreed standards for Fairtrade certification. It does not refer to any other product marketed by the company. This product has undergone exactly the same certification process as all other Fairtrade products whether marketed by multinationals or smaller companies (see Q8 for further details). The FAIRTRADE Mark guarantees consumers that those producers have received a fair and stable price for their product. The Mark is not an endorsement of any company or its activities.”
Use of the mark on an advertisement referring more generally about Nestlé's coffee activities is, therefore, misusing the mark.
The concern about the use of the mark is exacerbated by the way in which the advertisement is written. It refers to Nestlé in the third person (e.g. “Nestlé has stated its commitment to sustainability and in 2002 they co-founded…” emphasis added) and a reader seeing the mark could assume the advertisement is from the Fairtrade Foundation or from Nestlé in partnership with the Fairtrade Foundation. Use of the mark implies the wider comments made about Nestlé's coffee business are covered by the mark's ‘guarantee'. It is also significant that the advertisement does not include the Nestlé logo, only the Fairtrade logo. This is misleading.
We believe that the Fairtrade Foundation does on occasion place its own advertisements. There is no way for a reader to distinguish whether this advertisement was placed by Nestlé or by the Fairtrade Foundation.
This may be an issue to raise with the Fairtrade Foundation as well as Nestlé.
This advertisement has been placed in a mass-circulation publication. Not only is it attempting to sell a product with a dishonest and misleading presentation, it is attempting to portray Nestlé's involvement in coffee in a positive way, so undermining the work of those trying to improve the lives of 25 million coffee farmers who are suffering poverty in part because of predatory business practices by Nestlé and other coffee processors.
It is imperative that the ASA investigate and publish its ruling quickly so that Nestlé does not continue to mislead consumers about its role in the coffee industry in El Salvador and more widely.
Campaigns and Networking Coordinator
Baby Milk Action