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Advertising Standards Authority warns Nestlé about ethical claims.

Press Release: 12th May 1999

Nestlé has failed to overturn a highly embarassing ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which will send shock waves right to the boardroom of Nestlé in Vevey, Switzerland. The ASA rejected Nestlé's appeal and is upholding all complaints brought by Baby Milk Action against an anti-boycott advertisement placed by Nestlé in the Oxford Independent newspaper in 1996. Commenting before the result of the appeal hearing was known Marketing Week magazine described the ruling as (11th February): "a damning verdict on Nestlé, which effectively brands the global corporation a liar, insofar as it claimed to have marketed infant formula products ethically." The attached ruling will be published in the ASA Monthly Report on 12th May. Baby Milk Action is offering access to documents and information on this and a number of connected stories for journalists wishing to prepare a feature article for this date.

The ASA considered evidence from Baby Milk Action and Nestlé for nearly two years, making this one of the longest investigations in its history. Nestlé claimed in its advertisement that it markets infant formula ethically and responsibly and did so even before the World Health Organisation (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was introduced in 1981. Nestlé further claimed that its employees do not give free supplies of infant formula to hospitals for use with healthy infants. The use of free supplies has been significant in encouraging health workers and mothers to favour artificial infant feeding over breastfeeding. Nestlé also suggested that its "Charter" - also published in 1996 - demonstrates its "commitment to the WHO International Code in developing countries."

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action said, "Nestlé attempts to convince people that its baby food marketing malpractice ended in the 1970s, but closer inspection reveals that this is untrue. Nestlé continues to violate the marketing code in a systematic manner."

Mike Brady continues: "Fortunately something has changed in the last twenty years - there are an increasing number of countries with laws implementing the marketing code. Our quiet, but determined work with our partners overseas has helped to bring this about. Nestlé finally changed its baby milk labels in India after a court summons. The Managing Director of Nestlé India faces a prison sentence if convicted in the on-going court case. Where people are not protected by government measures, the Nestlé boycott puts pressure on the company and has brought about changes."

WHO estimates that 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed.

Notes for editors

  1. For further information contact Mike Brady or Patti Rundall at: Baby Milk Action, 23 St. Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX. Tel: (01223) 464420. Fax: (01223) 464417. E-mail:
  2. Baby Milk Action can provide photos and video footage relating to Nestlé marketing malpractice and boycott demonstrations. We can offer exclusive access to documents and information on a number of connected stories.
  3. Evidence of Nestlé's marketing malpractice can be viewed on Baby Milk Action's web-site: Campaign for Ethical Marketing
  4. A draft recommendation was received from the ASA in August 1997. Nestlé's challenges prevented a recommendation going forward to the ASA Council until December 1998. Publication of the adjudication on 10th February 1999 was blocked by Nestlé's appeal. Baby Milk Action launched a legal fund to help it respond to Nestlé's appeal and to bring other cases against those who break the marketing code.
  5. Questions for ASA can be directed to Chris Reed (Tel: 0171 436 1698) or Steve Ballinger (Tel: 0171 580 1339).
  6. In 1995 Baby Milk Action was called on to defend claims made in a boycott advertisement. The ASA found in favour of Baby Milk Action. The claims were: "Over 4,000 babies die every day in poor countries because they're not breastfed. That's not conjecture, it's UNICEF fact" and "They [Nestlé] aggressively promote their baby milks, breaking a World Health Organisation code of marketing."
  7. Marketing Week magazine asked Marjorie Thompson of Saatchi & Saatchi how Nestlé should respond to the bad publicity surrounding the ASA ruling and reported (11th February 1999): "She suggests the way to counteract the bad publicity is to go on the offensive by using advertising showing the benefits of Nestlé's financial contributions to charities, such as Kids Club Network which provides after-school care for children."
  8. The Nestlé boycott first began in 1977 and today is active in 18 countries. It is the UK's most popular consumer boycott according to a survey by Ethical Consumer Magazine (December 1997). The Liberal Democrats adopted a motion supporting the boycott and the marketing code at their Edinburgh Conference this year. The International Nestlé Boycott Committee has a standing agreement to meet with Nestlé should the company having something meaningful to put forward to demonstrate a change in its policy and practice.
  9. Nestlé is the target of boycott action because it controls about 40% of the baby milk market and is the largest single source of violations of the International Code and Resolutions. Nestlé also takes the lead in attempting to undermine government implementation of these measures.
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