Q. Is Nestlé involved in Burma/Myanmar, where democracy campaigners have called for companies to withdraw in protest at the military dictatorship?
A. Nestlé has rejected the calls and has provided free supplies of breastmilk substitutes to the national women's movement.
There is a campaign calling for transnational companies to pull out of Burma (Myanmar) because of the military rulers refusal to accept the outcome of a free election. Burma's pro-democracy movement, led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has called on foreign companies to disinvest, to cut the lifeline that sustains military rule. The Burma Campaign reported in February 2002 that clothing company Triumph is pulling out following a boycott campaign.
Nestle is also involved in
Burma/Myanmar. According to the company it has just a few representatives
in the country, but imports products to market there - see Nestle response
to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions campaign at
Nestle is not only tacitly supporting the military regime, it is forging links with national women's organisations to distribute free supplies of breastmilk substitutes. The following report is reproduced from the website: http://www.myanmar.com/Women/News/News.html
For further information on the pro-democracy campaign see: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/
A. (30 October 2001) Nestlé has lost a 7-year battle against a previous recommendation and is re-writing history. Both recommendations may be threatened by the WTO due to industry pressure. (You can take action).
After a break of more than a year, Nestlé's Code 'Action' Report has appeared on the scene again and been distributed to health campaigners and policy makers around the world. Nestlé welcomes one aspect of Resolution 54.2 adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2001. This relates to the appropriate age for introducing complementary foods.
However, this is just one issue addressed by the Resolution. Nestlé ignores other aspects, probably because it is already violating provisions enshrining a mother's right to information free from commercial influence. For example, Nestlé recently launched an infant formula promotion campaign in southern Africa which violates the sections relating to HIV and infant feeding (see Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet September/October 2001).
In the 'Action' Report Nestlé's Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, states:
"I can publicly assure you that Nestlé is in favour of the new recommendation as it aims at removing the ambiguity on the recommendation which prevailed up to now, and hopefully will end the long-standing debate over the optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding."
Mr. Brabeck's statement misrepresents the Resolutions adopted in the past by the World Health Assembly and attempts to excuse 7-years of inaction by Nestlé.
WHA policy on complementary feeding
The facts are as follows:
When the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted in 1981 it defined infant formula as a breastmilk substitute formulated "to satisfy the normal nutritional requirements of infants up to between four and six months of age."
The Code defines a complementary food as any food "suitable as a complement to breastmilk or to infant formula when either becomes insufficient to satisfy the nutritional requirements of the infant."
In 1994, in response to scientific evidence, the World Health Assembly adopted Resolution 47.5 calling for promotion of sound infant and young child nutrition by "fostering appropriate complementary feeding practices from the age of about 6 months, emphasising continued breastfeeding."
At the European Parliament Public Hearing into Nestlé's activities, which took place on 22nd November 2000, UNICEF's Legal Officer explained that the International Code was adopted in 1981 and: "Since then the Assembly has adopted eight subsequent Resolutions clarifying the Code and attempting to close loopholes in the original text. Since the Code itself was adopted as a resolution, these subsequent resolutions have the same legal status as the Code itself and should be read along with it." (See the full text of UNICEF's presentation).
The industry, however, has attempted to argue that the WHA recommendations are 'ambiguous'. This is disingenuous. To claim that Resolution 47.5 from 1994 contradicts the International Code from 1981 is nonsensical - Resolution 47.5 was adopted in to reflect the latest scientific knowledge and its age of use recommendation refers specifically to complementary feeding. This was spelt out to Nestlé Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, by UNICEF's Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, at a meeting in 1997 and in a subsequent letter (see Update 22). Nestlé has since questioned UNICEF's authority to comment on Code interpretation, ignoring the fact that Article 11.1 specifically names UNICEF as an agency to assist governments in implementing the Code in national measures and that UNICEF has appointed a Legal Officer to provide this support.
In the meantime, governments around the world have been implementing Resolution 47.5 by adopting policies promoting the introduction of complementary foods at 6 months of age. This is the policy today in over 60 countries. As labelling complementary foods for use before 6 months of age undermines the policy, many countries explicitly ban such labels and are working for an international labelling standard to be adopted at the United Nations Codex Alimentarius Commission. The baby food industry and Nestlé in particular have opposed the adoption of such policies by governments and have sent large lobbying forces to Codex to push for the standard to allow labelling of complementary foods from 4 months of age.
If the '4 month' standard is adopted by Codex it could be used in a trade dispute before the World Trade Organisation to condemn government policies implementing the 1994 WHA Resolution as unfair barriers to trade.
It is estimated that if complementary foods are labelled and promoted for use from 6 months of age rather than 4 months of age the industry will lose US$1 billion a year. The industry has already gained an extra 7-years profit by ignoring Resolution 47.5 at the expense of infant health.
In March 2001 an expert consultation reviewed all existing research on the appropriate age for introducing complementary foods and came out in favour of the WHA 1994 position, that is that complementary foods should be introduced at '6 months'. It should be noted that this does not prevent health workers from advising parents to introduce complementary foods at an earlier age if this is necessary.
food industry attempted to stop the World Health Assembly re-stating
its '6 month' recommendation for introduction of complementary foods
Rt Hon Patricia
Fax: 020 72220612
Rt Hon Alan Milburn
Fax: 020 7210 5523
Rt Hon Margaret
Fax: 020 72386591
Rt Hon Claire Short,
Fax: 020 79170016
If you are outside the UK it is better to try contacting your Ministers.
I am writing with an urgent request regarding the forthcoming Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (Berlin, 26th-30th November).
One of the issues
to be discussed is the labelling of complementary foods.
This year, a
WHO expert consultation reviewed over 3,000 research studies
A few months
later a landmark World Health Assembly Resolution 54.2 was
adopted by consensus which called for the protection of
exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
The World Health Assembly recognised that some mothers may wish or be well-advised to use complementary foods before 6 months of age but decided that a global public health policy of '6 months' would not prevent health workers from advising mothers on an case by case basis to introduce foods earlier.
Already over 60 countries have policies which promote exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months. These policies might well be threatened if a global labelling standard of 4 months were to be adopted at Codex.
As the pressure to expand the baby food market continues, it is vital that the sovereign right of Governments to implement the WHA Resolutions is protected, and that trade rules do not undermine health.
Can you confirm
that the Government will be supporting the '6 month'
Please copy your letters and any response to Baby Milk Action.
Baby Milk Action,
23 St. Andrew's Street,
CB2 3AX, UK.
Fax: 01223 464417 or +44 1223 464417 (international)
It should be remembered that Nestlé employs a team who are paid to counter the boycott and their tactics show little respect for the truth (see Nestlé's Public Relations Machine Exposed). In October 1999 Nestlé launched a Public Relations (PR) offensive against the baby milk campaign in response to a damning ruling against it by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). All of Baby Milk Action's complaints were upheld against a Nestlé anti-boycott advertisement in which the company claimed to market infant formula 'ethically and responsibly.' (See the briefing paper Don't Judge a Book by its Cover for further information on the ASA ruling and Nestlé's response).
Part of the PR strategy was to add a Nestlé employee from Sri Lanka to the Nestlé (UK) anti-boycott team which works out of Croydon in close consultation with Nestlé global headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland. A number of campaigners have received letters from Nestlé's new 'Senior Policy Advisor' which includes the claim: "I am myself a parent of two daughters aged 16 and 13, and am presently working for Nestlé in the UK since October 1999, having moved over after working for 10 years with Nestlé in Sri Lanka as Chief Legal Officer. What surprises me is that the baby milk issue is not an issue in Sri Lanka."
Nestlé attempts to divert criticism using tactics of denial and deception. For this reason it is essential to look closely at all statements it makes and to seek information directly from people on the ground affected by Nestlé's malpractice. We informed a contact in Sri Lanka of Nestlé's claim and asked for clarification of the situation there. We received the following response:
"The situation here is indeed critical as far as milk is concerned. It is definitely wrong to say that nobody in Sri Lanka is bothered about Nestlé's activities - I forward a report of a recent activity that I was part of (in case you haven't seen it already) and one must remember that these activities are in the midst of the war situation and the political instability that is going on........with all these problems, will we bother to campaign against milk powder multinationals unless it's critical?" [Note: see the report from the Asia Human Rights Commission below]
There are several concerns raised by campaigners in Sri Lanka:
Nestlé aggressively promotes breastmilk substitutes in Sri Lanka as in other countries and in 1997 lobbied to weaken the Sri Lankan Code. In its letter to the authorities, Nestlé (amongst other complaints) questioned the requirement for labelling products in Sri Lanka in three languages, despite the fact it labels products in its home country of Switzerland in three languages. Baby Milk Action launched a letter-writing campaign and, fortunately, Nestlé's attempt to undermine the Code failed (see the Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet February 1998).
Sri Lanka was not one of the countries included in IBFAN's recent 14-country monitoring exercise (see Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2001). However, Nestlé's activities in Sri Lanka were specifically raised at the Church of England Synod meeting in July 1997 when the Synod accepted the independent monitoring report Cracking the Code, which found "systematic" violations by Nestlé and other companies in Bangladesh, Poland, South Africa and Thailand (see report in Update 20).
Nestlé is currently the target of a campaign by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Sri Lanka for its role in virtually destroying the national dairy industry. The milk market is now dominated by imported milk (whole milk for adults and children) sold by Nestlé and three other large companies at far greater prices than local milk was previously available.
Campaigning groups in Sri Lanka are calling for international help in support of their milk pricing campaign. They are asking for the following (see the campaign website of the Movement for National Land and Agriculture Reform - MONLAR. MONLAR is a Christian Aid partner organisation):
They have received a positive response from the government, but Nestlé's response was to raise prices still further.
The campaign addresses the price of whole milk for adults and children. While campaigners stress the importance of breastfeeding, they also note the expense of Nestlé's infant formula. If mothers are persuaded not to breastfeed, the expense of formula can cause mothers to over-dilute it to make it last longer once their own lactation has been interrupted, or to use cheaper alternatives such as Nido powdered milk or animal milks (see response 14 August 2001).
Nestlé is aware of this campaign and is being dishonest when it claims that there are no concerns about its activities in Sri Lanka. Its strategy relies on people in other countries not checking the situation for themselves.
UPDATE ON URGENT APPEAL UPDATE ON URGENT APPEAL UPDATE ON URGENT APPEAL
ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS
COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM
Regarding our earlier urgent appeal (30-07-2001) on the unbearable increase of milk prices in Sri Lanka, we are sending the latest activity by the Movement of Mothers to Combat Malnutrition (MMCM) to draw your attention and support for this issue and the response of the milk companies and Sri Lankan government.
Urgent Appeals Desk Asian Human Rights Commission =============================
Mothers' Appeal in Colombo on Aug. 31: "We will not allow our children to die hungry."
On Aug. 31, more than 350 mothers gathered in front of the Fort Railway Station at 7:00 a.m. from all parts of the country to make an appeal to the citizens of Sri Lanka and the government.
This event was organised based on a very old tradition in the villages of Sri Lanka, for there is a traditional ceremony of giving alms to the "milk mothers" when the children have some illness or any other evil or misfortune facing them. People believe that these will be overcome by inviting a group of elderly mothers to visit their home in the early morning before the sun rises. They will bless the children, sing traditional songs and verses and invite the gods to bless the children and protect them. They walk in line, dressed in white and chant their blessings. The family then offers them food.
It is believed that the mothers, by virtue of the fact that they have breast-fed children, have protected them until they were strong enough to look after themselves, have special powers to invite blessings on children.
People who live in justice, love and kindness are believed to have these special powers.
On Aug. 31, mothers from all over the country gathered. Some of them travelled from as far as the drought-affected district of Hambantota, and others came from the war-affected areas of Polonnaruwa and Welikanda. Some came from the plantation hill country. There were singers who sang songs of love and the eternal love of mothers towards their children while the mothers sat in a line. As expected, there were about 1,000 or more people gathered. After about three hours of the "Satyakriya" (Act of Truth), they then moved in line to a meeting hall to which citizens' groups, the media and political and religious leaders were invited.
The mothers presented their stories, made their pleas and also discussed ways of working to protect their children from this tragic situation. Among those who related their stories and gave their messages were young and elderly mothers from Negombo, Chilaw, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Welikanda, Hambantota, Kegalla and Kurunegala. Another 10,000 leaflets with the signatures of 350 organisations in Sinhala and Tamil were distributed on this day in the city, on trains and also in out-station areas.
The whole activity was organised under the theme of "WE WILL NOT ALLOW OUR CHILDREN (of more than 2 million families) TO DIE HUNGRY." There was very wide media coverage. Subsequently, some of the mainstream media, including the radio and electronic media, carried articles and conducted debates on this issue.
Other Educational Work
We do not believe that dependence on imported milk powder sold by large companies will ever solve the problem. Therefore, with the organisations that join this campaign, there will be a continuous programme of education by sending them educational material and by conducting regional educational programmes on the value of breast-feeding and about the operations of large milk transnational corporations (TNCs), such as Nestle. This educational programme will include:
These will be planned in the medium and long term. Special efforts will be made to reach the most insecure areas for food, such as the war-affected areas, the plantations and the drought-affected areas in the South and North.
Similar programmes are being planned in Kurunegala, Galle, Hatton (in the plantation area) and possibly in Polonnaruwa in the upcoming months. Several organisations, such as the Women and Media Collective, the Savisthri Women's Programme, the Women's Development Foundation, NAFSO in Negombo, "Shramaabhimani" in Negombo, Janawabhodaya in Negombo, Satyodaya in Kandy and others contributed by bringing groups at their expense. Many other organisations contributed by their participation and by holding activities in their respective areas.
The Response of the Companies and the Sri Lankan Government
The milk companies responded by saying that the government has not announced any tax reduction on milk. Therefore, it is not possible to reduce milk prices, the companies claim. Moreover, they said that they were not willing to reduce their expenses for advertising, saying that it would not be a meaningful reduction. They also said that they would not reduce their packaging costs since that would affect the quality of the milk and its safety.
The government stated, however, that the tax would be removed, and thus, the price would be reduced by 10 to 13 rupees (US$.13 to US$.17) for a 400-gram packet. This has still not happened though.
It is clear that both the government as well as the companies will continue to adhere to their earlier policy of allowing the so-called "free market" to decide prices without any intervention. Consequently, they will not consider the plight of the children of the poor as an emergency which needs their immediate intervention.
*** Please send a
copy of your letter to AHRC Urgent Appeals:
The Daily Express reported on 25th September 2001 that Ricky Tomlinson, star of the TV programme The Royle Family, recently refused "a massive cash offer" to appear in a Nestlé advertisement for chocolate biscuits. The Express quotes Mr. Tomlinson: "Until they sort out this baby milk problem in the Third World I won't do anything for them". Mr. Tomlinson joins a growing list of celebrities speaking out against Nestlé's activities (see Tap Water Awards take off - Video clips: Emma Thompson and Steve Coogan support the Nestlé/Perrier boycott). The Express continues: "Nestlé said protesters' arguments are no longer relevant. A spokesman said: 'Many of the allegations are years out of date and have been rectified'".
Nestlé makes many reassuring but untrue claims about its baby food marketing activities (see, for example, Advertising Standards Authority warns Nestlé about ethical claims). Newspaper editors are under pressure to publish Nestlé's statements otherwise they risk being accused of presenting only one side of the story.
The fact is that Nestlé continues to violate the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly in an institutionalised and systematic manner. This is happening right now. The recent report Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2001 documents evidence following monitoring in 14 countries. The Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheets also highlight specific examples of current malpractice.
When exactly Nestlé claims to have stopped its malpractice changes with time. For example, before the International Code was introduced in 1981 Nestlé claimed to be doing nothing wrong. Today it claims its malpractice was in the '70s and '80s, but has now stopped. Perhaps in a few years time Nestlé will be claiming the malpractice stopped in 2001!
There has been concern about Nestlé's aggressive marketing since at least 1939 (see History of the Campaign). Some of the past activities, such as the strategy in the 1930s of promoting sweetened condensed milk as the 'premier food for delicate infants', belong to history. Nestlé is also constantly changing its marketing strategies. So the specific violations described in Breaking the Rules 2001 are different from those in Breaking the Rules 1998, for example. No company runs the same advertisements and promotions year after year.
However, Nestlé rarely stops a practice because it is 'rectifying' a violation. Nestlé is extremely obstructive when violations are reported to it and it takes supporters sending letters and embarrassing publicity to bring about real change. For example, Nestlé removed advertisements for infant formula from the vans of distributors in Armenia and in parenting magazines in Bulgaria following Baby Milk Action campaigns.
Nestlé claims that many violations reported to it are not violations at all. This is because its interpretation of the International Code and Resolutions is at odds with WHO policy (as set by the World Health Assembly) and organisations such as UNICEF. UNICEF set out in a 1997 letter to Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck, where Nestlé's interpretation is incorrect, but Nestlé still refuses to bring its policies into line. UNICEF also presented evidence at the European Parliament Public Hearing into Nestlé's activities which took place on 22nd November 2000. Nestlé refused to attend the Hearing, as did Adidas, whose activities were also being scrutinised. Richard Howitt MEP, Special Rapporteur on Corporate Responsibility, who organised the Hearings, states: "After numerous attempts to 'influence' the programme, both companies chose to boycott the hearings." Adidas has since made a public apology. Nestlé, which was forewarned of the meeting in July 2000, continues to claim none of its 230,000 employees was able to attend due to 'scheduling conflicts'. Nestlé knows its claims do not stand up to scrutiny.
You can help to save infant lives and to end the avoidable suffering caused by inappropriate infant feeding by writing to the companies responsible for baby food marketing malpractice. See the Campaign for Ethical Marketing actions sheets and sign up to receive email alerts when new information is posted on this website.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed. This figure has been stated in this and other forms by WHO and UNICEF many times over the years.
The UNICEF website states (on 13 August 2007):
"It has been estimated that improved breastfeeding practices could save some 1.5 million children a year. Yet few of the 129 million babies born each year receive optimal breastfeeding and some are not breastfed at all. Early cessation of breastfeeding in favour of commercial breastmilk substitutes, needless supplementation, and poorly timed complementary practices are still too common. Professional and commercial influences combine to discourage breastfeeding, as do continued gaps in maternity legislation."
For example, see UNICEF's publication State of the World's Children 2001 which states:
"Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial
feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year."
In a 1997 press release (14th January 1997), in response to the monitoring report Cracking the Code, UNICEF 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."
A 2003 study in the Lancet examined the question “How many child deaths can we prevent this year?” and concluded that promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding is potentially a more effective health intervention than provision of save water, sanitation and vaccination. Improved breastfeeding rates could prevent 13% of under-5 deaths in the 42 countries where most occur, amounting to 1.3 million. Appropriate introduction of complementary foods could prevent 6% of deaths.
"Every day, more than 4,000 babies die because they're
not breastfed. That's not conjecture, it's UNICEF fact."
We did so successfully and, as the ASA report notes, this was with the support of WHO.
At the World Health Assembly in May 2001 WHO presented its Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding (download as a pdf file for reading with Acrobat Reader from the WHO site). This report opens:
"Some 1.5 million children still die every year because they are inappropriately fed, less than 35% of infants worldwide are exclusively breastfed for the first four months of life, and complementary feeding practices are frequently inappropriate and unsafe."
On its website Nestlé is attempting to dismiss this death and suffering. It selectively quotes from a WHO letter from November 1992 which criticised the way the statistic had been interpreted in materials produced by a boycott group in the United States.
WHO objected to the statement: "The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 1.5 million babies die each year of bottle baby disease resulting from the use of infant formula." WHO stated in its letter that the term "bottle baby disease" is imprecise and that its figure of infant deaths relates to infants not breastfed.
This is because the estimate does not specifically state that the infants were fed infant formula. They may have been fed follow-on formula, whole milks, cereals or unprocessed animal milks. Research demonstrates that introducing any of these substances where water supplies are unsafe increases risk of death from diarrhoea and malnutrition. Risk increases as more substances are introduced and breastfeeding is reduced. An artificially-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea than a breastfed child.
Unsafe bottle feeding may, therefore, involve substances other than infant formula. This is why the Code calls for warning labels on products which are not suitable for use from birth (Article 9.3).
World Health Assembly Resolution WHA 49.15 extends this to other baby foods by stating there should be measures: "to ensure that complementary foods are not marketed or used in ways that undermine exclusive and sustained breastfeeding."
Unfortunately companies have ignored this and other Resolutions by promoting complementary foods for use from too early an age and continuing to put pictures of young infants on labels. There is concern that illiterate mothers use inappropriate milks or cereal products from birth because of the picture of the healthy baby on the label and some countries now ban such pictures.
Baby Milk Action has also highlighted cases of whole milks which have not included warnings stating that the product should not be used for infant feeding (see the case of Nestlé Nido in Armenia, for example).
Pharmacy, Riberão Preto, Brazil, December 2001 - Nestlé wholemilk displayed in the baby care section alongside infant formula. This practice is repeated across Brazil, undermining the warnings Nestlé is legally obliged to put on the labels.
Nestlé blames mothers for using the substantially cheaper whole milk instead of infant formula.
Nestlé does not address these issues, but mis-uses the WHO letter of November 1992 in an attempt to suggest that any infant that dies from unsafe bottle feeding was being fed unprocessed animal milk.
Nestlé also refuses to acknowledge the role the baby food industry has played in changing breastfeeding cultures into bottle-feeding cultures. Breastfeeding rates declined rapidly during the 1960's as baby food companies expanded their activities into developing countries.
For example, in Singapore in 1951 over 80% of 3-month-old babies were breastfed, by 1971 it was only 5%. Explaining the expansion at the time, Nestlé's Norris Willat said: "The high birth rates permit a rapid expansion in the domain of infant nutrition"
The decline in breastfeeding is at the root of the problem we are addressing. UNICEF stated in State of the World's Children 1991 (page 24):
"Reversing the decline of breastfeeding in the developing
world could save the lives of an estimated 1.5 million lives every year."
Yet, Nestlé continues in its attempts to increase sales. It states in its third-quarter statement on 20th October 2000:
"Milks and nutrition saw good progress, mainly as a result
of infant nutrition sales in Asia and of the powdered milk business."
The baby food industry sees a massive market to be tapped in many developing countries where breastfeeding is still common. Instead of reversing the decline in breastfeeding, breastfeeding will decline further if the baby food industry is not stopped from its aggressive practices. Not all will be buying infant formula, which can cost half a families income in a poor country. A mother who aspires to the 'modern way' or who experiences problems breastfeeding after her confidence is destroyed may well seek cheaper alternatives.
UNICEF warned of the impact of this in State of the World's Children 1991:
"In the industrialized world, after a steep decline, there is today a pronounced trend back towards breastfeeding. A similar decline in the developing world, where bottle feeding entails much greater risks, would lead to millions of infant deaths."
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