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Senior Nestlé executive misleads students in failed attempt to undermine boycott

Posted 16 February 2006

In November 2005 the University of East Anglia (UEA) Student Union held a cross-campus referendum on renewing its long-running support for the international Nestlé boycott. Prior to the vote Livewire student radio interviewed Nestlé Senior Policy Advisor, Beverley Mirando, and Baby Milk Action's Campaigns and Networking Coordinator, Mike Brady, broadcast on 23 November.

Back-tracking on the proposed tribunal

During his interview Mike was not surprised to hear Nestlé had claimed its malpractice was a thing of the past - it is the company's standard line. What was surprising was the news that Nestlé had indicated it would consider taking part in an independent public tribunal into its baby food marketing, proposed by Baby Milk Action, if the conditions were right. Baby Milk Action welcomed this news, while commenting Nestlé may have only signalled this shift in policy in an attempt to undermine support for the boycott in the forthcoming referendum.

Baby Milk Action wrote to Nestlé Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck Letmathé, welcoming the apparent fact that Nestlé had dropped its outright opposition to the tribunal and asked him to set out the terms and conditions he wished to put on it. Baby Milk Action offered to take these to the International Nestlé Boycott Committee and the International Baby Food Action Network. We believe that Nestlé's claims fall apart when time is taken to examine the evidence properly.

No reply was received from Mr. Brabeck, but on 14 February Beverley Mirando wrote:

"I would like to clarify the question relating to an independent public Nestlé "tribunal" that was brought up at the radio interview by the University of East Anglia Students’ Union with me on Monday, November 21, 2005 and raised by you in a letter to Mr. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe dated December 8, 2005.

"Following the University's Christmas vacation, the transcript we asked for was received by us from the Union last week and, indeed, the transcript fully supports my memory.

"It is clear that I have said we believe in constructive dialogue and constructive engagement, but if it is part of a political agenda we would say no.

"As you will note, our position that we would not attend remains unchanged.

"Our decision not to participate in such a "tribunal" remains unaltered."

So were students and Baby Milk Action misled in the broadcast? It had gone out across Norwich from the University and fortunately Baby Milk Action has been able to obtain a tape of it.

Click here to listen to Beverley's comments on the tribunal, immediately followed by Nestlé's new position being put to Mike (you can listen to the full unedited interview below). You need Realplayer to listen.

Dave Bradshaw


"Baby Milk Action claims to have challenged Nestlé to participate in an independent public tribunal in this country to determine, after testimony from relevant experts, whether or not Nestlé acts ethically in developing countries. Have you refused this invitation and, if so, why?"



"Well we do believe in constructive dialogue, in constructive engagement, and if this sort of public hearing will lead to that constructive dialogue we are willing to do so. We have done it, we have debated this with Baby Milk Action, not only in student universities, but in a number of other places. But otherwise if it is more a politically different agenda, then I'm sorry, it doesn't serve any purpose and on that basis we would say no."



"But what I am saying is if there was an independently organised tribunal, not organised by Baby Milk Action, but organised by an independent arbitrator who you both agreed to, you would agree to go along with that, would you?"



"We'd like to know. We'd have to look because we have to check how independent are these names and what the arbitration panel is. We'd have to look at it at that stage."



"But hypothetically it is something you would be happy to do under the correct circumstances?"


Nestlé: "Yes, under the correct circumstances, if the panel is independent we may consider it."

But when asked about what the 'correct circumstances' for Nestlé would be and who they would like to be on the panel Nestlé responded, as quoted above:

"Our position that we would not attend remains unchanged. Our decision not to participate in such a "tribunal" remains unaltered."

Having already lost the referendum, Nestlé apparently believes it is no longer necessary to keep up the pretence and perhaps hoped Baby Milk Action would be unable to obtain a recording of what had been said.

Send a message to Nestlé to keep up the pressure for the tribunal. If Nestle believes it can prove it is doing nothing wrong and that our monitoring evidence is false, then why does it refuse to even discuss terms for a tribunal?

Violations of the Code and Resolutions

In the interview Nestlé listed the marketing activities it claims it does not do and claimed to abide by the World Health Assembly marketing requirements.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Realplayer.

When Nestlé disputes the figure of 1.5 million deaths remember that UNICEF has stated:

"Marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding are potentially hazardous wherever they are pursued: in the developing world, WHO estimates that some 1.5 million children die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. These facts are not in dispute."

See the Your Questions Answered section for further information.

When Nestlé claims malpractice stopped in the 1970s browse through the Nestlé sections of the Breaking the Rules reports.

When Nestlé claims it has been cleared by external audits, see our briefing Nestlé's Public Relations Machine exposed.

When Nestlé claims to accept the subsequent Resolutions of the World Health Assembly look back over our past Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheets to see how we fought for 9 years to get Nestlé to accept that it should not promote complementary foods for use before 6 months of age.

When Nestlé claims it does not make direct contact with mothers read the comments made by the same Beverley Mirando less than three months later, admitting to such practices and attempting to justify them (full comments below). We exposed how Nestlé Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck Letmathé, was placing health workers in retail outlets to relaunch the company's range of Neslac milks after these were withdrawn following a contamination scare and asked campaign supporters to write to Mr. Brabeck (click here). Beverley denied that the company makes direct contact with mothers, but wrote to our campaign supporters on 16 February 2006:

"The programme apparently referred to in the allegation consisted of a Nutrition Corner... This program was staffed by health professionals, some of whom had medical degrees."

She says Nestlé was promoting baby foods for use from 6 months and milks for use from one year of age, which are outside the scope of the Code. In our report we anticipated Nestlé may use this argument. While claiming that infant formula was not promoted, she admits that pregnant and lactating women were targetted with 'nutritional supplements'. Promoting the idea that to breastfeed a mother requires expensive supplements is one of the ways Nestlé undermines breastfeeding. Whether the company representatives referred to infant formula or not when promoting Nestlé products to pregnant and lactating women, the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes is unequivocal. Article 5.5 states:

"Marketing personnel, in their business capacity, should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with others of infants and young children."

UNICEF, which is mandated under the Code to advise on interpretation, has clarified (click here to download a letter from UNICEF's Legal Officer):

“Any form of contact with mothers of children under the age of three years is prohibited, irrespective of the motivation behind the contact. It is no excue to argue, for example, that contact is being sought in relation to a product that is not within the scope of the Code, such as complementary foods. The prohibition is absolute.”

This is what Nestlé's Beverley Mirando is now saying about the direct contact she denied took place in the broadcast. Note how pregnant and lactating women were specifically targetted, suggesting they need a 'supplement':

Nestlé's comments on China violation 16 February 2006

Enhancing the knowledge about iron-fortified infant cereals for children over six months and vitamin and mineral-enriched powdered milk for children aged one year and older was part of our communication in 2005. The programme apparently referred to in the allegation consisted of a Nutrition Corner where the following products were displayed in addition to the infant cereals and children's milks: vitamin-enriched UHT milk, milk enriched with Omega 3 lipids, adult cereals, family breakfast cereals, bottled water and a nutritional supplement for pregnant and lactating mothers. No infant formula or follow-on formula was displayed.

This program was staffed by health professionals, some of whom had medical degrees. These people have no relation whatsoever to the marketing of our breast-milk substitute products (infant formula, follow-on formula). In fact they had to sign a statement that they would not promote infant formula to those with whom they came into contact.

The WHO Code clearly distinguishes between breast-milk substitutes and complementary foods and makes clear that the Code only applies to products marketed as breast-milk substitutes. The Chinese regulations do likewise. Neither iron-fortified infant cereals nor milks for children aged one and over are formulated to be, nor marketed as, breast-milk substitutes.

In addition, the milks for children one year and above show children drinking from a feeding cup, a normal cup or a glass. The name of the product label design and label colour are completely different from that of our formula products so that confusion with breast- milk substitutes is virtually impossible.

I trust this demonstrates that the products promoted in China were not breast-milk substitutes but products essential to better health for children aged one year and over using staff knowledgeably qualified and subject to professional codes of conduct in addition to our own strict rules.