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The Nestlé Boycott is the best supported consumer boycott in the UK, according to an independent survey.

The Nestlé boycott is at the top of ethical consumers’ boycott lists in the UK, according to a survey in the 50th issue of Ethical Consumer magazine, published on 9th December 1997. The survey asked readers if they were taking boycott action against any companies. Nestlé was the most popular target, being boycotted by 78% of readers who expressed a preference (see note). Baby Milk Action, based in Cambridge, coordinates the international boycott which is active in 18 countries.

Nestlé is subject to a boycott of its products, such as Nescafé coffee, because of its aggressive promotion of artificial infant feeding. It has been calculated that reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save 1.5 million infant lives around the world every year. That is, one unnecessary death occurs every 30 seconds. In areas with unsafe water a bottle-fed child is 25 times more likely to die from diarrhoea than a breastfed child, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The Nestlé boycott was launched in 1977 and led to the adoption of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes by the World Health Assembly in 1981. The International Code has been successful in stopping some of the most blatant examples of marketing malpractice, such as sending sales reps dressed as nurses into hospitals.

Nestlé is the target of the boycott because it has the largest share of the baby milk market and because, with its size and the extent of its coffee, cocoa and food trading, it exerts a powerful influence on governments and influences market trends and company behaviour more than any other single food company.

The boycott plays an important role in ending violations of the International Code. For example, Nestlé recently agreed to label its products in Malawi in the national language of the country following a four year campaign. Nestlé had ignored a government request to do so and only changed its mind when the case was publicised to encourage consumer action and raised at its shareholder AGM. Other violations, such as encouraging artificial infant feeding by donating free supplies to hospitals and giving gifts to health workers to promote artificial feeding, are also targeted.

In November 1997 the Baptist Union of Scotland Assembly joined the list of boycott endorsers when it adopted a Resolution urging that “all Scottish Baptists seriously consider a boycott of all products produced by Nestlé until such time as it demonstrates convincingly that it conforms to the Code.” Out of approximately 450 delegates only two voted against the motion. In May 1997 a 34,000 name petition was handed in to Nestlé (UK) Headquarters in Croydon by boycott supporters.


Notes to Editors

Ethical Consumer issued a press release on 9th December 1997 entitled “Survey of Ethical Consumers’ Buying Habits.” 93% of readers who replied to the survey said that they were boycotting something (and 80% went on to say what). Of these, a staggering 78% were supporting a boycott of Nestlé products. Ethical Consumer told us that the second most popular boycott was that of McDonalds, named by 34% of respondents who cited their choices.

Ethical Consumer can be contacted on +44 (0)161 226 2929 Fax: +44 (0)161 226 6277


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