Baby Milk Action Comment on Nestles Infant Feeding Policy and Sustainability Review
This paper was presented to a hearing into Nestlé conducted by the Women's Group of the Parliamentary Labour Party at the House of Commons on 1st May 2002
Breastfeeding is an essential lifeline for millions of infants, which provides optimal nutrition, confers benefits to women's health, has no adverse effects on the environment and can reduce family poverty, which is a major cause of malnutrition. Breastfeeding saves lives. But breastmilk has to compete in a rapidly growing market for breastmilk substitutes, now worth $10.9 billion. (Euromonitor 2001). The International Code, WHA Resolutions, and any policies which seek to protect breastfeeding and ensure breastmilk substitutes are marketed responsibly, challenge and limit this growth and have been opposed by companies since their inception.
Nestlé, the worlds largest food company, markets over 11,000 brands of processed foods, and controls aprox 40% of the baby food market. Nestlés 2001 Annual Report states, "Infant nutrition is a truly global Nestle business and sales grew vigorously in all regions of the world."
Nestlé exerts a powerful influence on governments and it affects market trends and company behaviour more than any other single company. Nestle has been dogged by criticism of its baby food marketing policy and practice for over two decades, and more recently about its impact on the environment. Because of this Nestle has curbed some of its more blatant malpractice, removing pictures of babies on infant formula tins and stopping some media advertising. However, worldwide independent monitoring consistently shows that the company systematically violates the International Code and Resolutions, promoting its products in many ways which harm infant health and at the same time lobbying for weak legislation and trading standards. The few incidences where Nestle has changed promotional practices are to be welcomed and encouraged. However, this is not in any way an adequate response to the problem.
Nestlés new Sustainability Review, which is being widely distributed, is a welcome move in some respects. But does it stand up to close scrutiny? Does it indicate any real change of policy? If one takes the infant feeding issue as an indicator, the review clearly presents a distorted picture and is an attempt to deflect criticism and present the company in a positive light as responsible company and even a leader in sustainable development and environmental protection. The summary below is not exhaustive, but highlights some key points.
Nestlés Infant feeding Policy:
The Sustainability Review frequently refers to Nestles compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. It fails to mention that Nestlés policy, against which all staff behaviour is measured, is substantially weaker than the International Code and the subsequent relevant WHA Resolutions on a number of counts. This was made clear at a Public Hearing at the European Parliament in November 2000 by UNICEF´s Legal Officer (UNICEF has responsibility under article 11.1 of the Code to advise on its interpretation) as well as in writing to Nestle. Nestle refused to attend the public hearing after numerous attempts to ´influence´ the programme.
The International Code (passed in 1981) is much more stringent in approach, coverage and universal reach. For example:
The Ombudsman and Audits
The fact that Nestle is instituting what it calls an ombudsman could be sign that is it recognising that it has a problem. But it will mean nothing unless the terms of reference are clear. An internal ombudsman paid by the company - is totally different than one paid by a Government. There are continuing concerns about the unanswered allegations of Syed Aamir Raza (the whistleblower from Pakistan) who was threatened by the company in 1997 when he challenged the company.
Unless the Ombudsman system is accompanied by a complete change of policy on Nestles part employees will continue to be placed under intense pressure to maximise sales, as Mr Raza was, and at the same time expected to pay lip service to the Code. To protect someone like Mr Raza an Ombudsman would need to have greater power than the CEO Mr Brabeck, who is the driving force behind the company.
Nestle has refused to provide information about the audits referred to in the review and readers must accept on trust that only 4 problems were uncovered. EME, the Auditors called in to investigate in Pakistan in 2000 were specifically instructed not to look at the evidence of Syed Aamir Raza and were limited to interviewing doctors from a list provided by Nestle.
Water environmental concerns
Nestle is the largest manufacturer of bottled water in the world and is facing growing criticism from NGOs, (and its shareholders) about the way that it is damaging local eco-systems. There are additional concerns about the way that the promotion of bottled water can mislead consumers and policy makers, and undermine confidence in, and commitment to, the provision of piped water. Water is also used to feed babies and it is vital that claims about purity (or names such as "Pure Life') do not undermine essential safety messages about routine boiling of water for babies. Bottled water is not sterile and can also contain high levels of salt.
Nestle is facing criticisms from unions about the decision to use PET and plastic bottles (often supplied by Coca-Cola) instead of glass. Unions have expressed concerns about job losses, quality and transport costs (Note 2). Across its whole range Nestle seems to be moving over to plastic packaging yet at the same time it makes claims in the Sustainability Review and in materials for school children about being a leader in environmental protection (Note 3). The Sustainability Review minimises the impact of Nestles water business on the environment, and diverts attention to agriculture. Nestle proposes genetic modification of crops as the answer to this problem. The Review compares Nestles massive consumption of water with the worlds total fresh water consumption.
PR April 2002