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Your questions answered

The Nestlé boycott and Nestlé's Public Relations materials.

Most recent posting: 24 June 2008

Also see the briefing paper Nestlé Public Relations Machine Exposed and Boycott News (archived in the resources section)

Q. What is the substantiation for the claims on your Give Nescafé the boot flier?

Q. Is it true that GES and Bureau Veritas reports on Nestlé mean there are no longer any concerns?

Q. What is the story behind the British Journal of Midwifery article being distributed by Nestlé?

Q. Is it true the Methodist Church has invested in Nestlé as it no longer has concerns about the company's marketing of baby milk?

Q. Why has a company as unethical as Nestlé been given a Fairtrade mark for its Partners Blend coffee?

Q. Is it true that Baby Milk Action no longer has any concerns about Nestlé baby food marketing policies in developing countries, only in industrialised countries?

Q. Nestlé says it has changed its ways. It is it telling the truth?

Q. Can my local Council support the Nestlé boycott?

Q. Nestlé's Sustainability Review shows the company's internal auditors standing in front of a shop display for baby food which includes whole milks. Why do the auditors permit this?

Q. Is it true that Nestlé violations are due to staff members "misbehaving" and that the violations are quickly stopped by Nestlé management?

Q. Nestlé sets out what staff can and cannot do in its 'Infant Formula Marketing Policy'. Is there anything wrong with this?

Q. Is Nestlé involved in Burma/Myanmar, where democracy campaigners have called for companies to withdraw in protest at the military dictatorship?

Q. What is the story behind Nestlé's 'Action Report' on a new WHO infant feeding recommendation?

Q. Nestlé's Senior Policy Advisor is from Sri Lanka and claims that there are no concerns about Nestlé's activities there. Is this true?

Q. In today's Daily Express newspaper, Nestlé says: "Many of the allegations are years out of date and have been rectified." Is this true?

Q. Where does this figure of 1.5 million infant deaths per year come from and why is it being dismissed by Nestle?

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:

Gifts for MMCWA

Yangon, 13 July - Nestle Trading Ltd (Thailand) donated Lactogen-2 milk powder cans to Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association at the corner of Thanthuma and Parami Roads in South Okkalapa Township this afternoon. The donation ceremony was attended by Chairperson of MMCWA Professor Daw Kyu Kyu Swe, Vice-Chairperson Dr Daw Khin Win Shwe and executives and well-wishers. Business Development Manager Khun Suravath Pinsunwanbutr of Nestle Trading Limited Myanmar Representative Office presented 100 cans of Lactogen-2 milk powder worth K 850,000 to MMCWA Vice Chairperson Dr Daw Khin Win Shwe who presented a certificate of honour to the wellwisher. Afterwards, MMCWA Chairperson Professor Daw Kyu Kyu Swe spoke words of thanks.

For further information on the pro-democracy campaign see:

Q. What is the story behind Nestlé's 'Action Report' on a new WHO infant feeding recommendation?

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).

Re-writing history

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.

The baby food industry attempted to stop the World Health Assembly re-stating its '6 month' recommendation for introduction of complementary foods

In parallel with these developments the Brazilian government presented a Resolution to the May 2000 World Health Assembly addressing the appropriate age for complementary feeding and other issues. This was put back to the May 2001 Assembly to await the decision of the expert consultation referred to above.

The industry body, the International Association of Infant Food Manufacturers (IFM), of which Nestle is the founder and principal member, launched a campaign to put the Resolution back even further, to at least May 2002. This was because the Codex Alimentarius Commission is due to decide its labelling standard in 2001 (see below). The industry knew that if it delayed the Resolution it had greater chance of pushing through a '4 month' standard at Codex. (See the British Medical Journal 9th September 2000).

The industry strategy failed and the Brazilian Resolution was adopted in May 2001 as Resolution 54.2 (see IBFAN press release 18th May 2001).

Will companies really change their labels?

In its Code 'Action' report Nestle states that it "will request WHO to review changes to labels and we will simultaneously support governments to translate the WHA Resolution into national measures."

If Nestlé does genuinely make the required changes to its labels, this will be welcomed by Baby Milk Action as better late than never. However, we have heard too many broken promises from Nestlé to congratulate it at this stage.

As noted above and revealed elsewhere (see the Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheets) Nestlé and the industry has worked consistently to undermine government measures implementing the International Code and Resolutions. Indeed, at the May 2001 World Health Assembly the Minister of Health of Pakistan asked WHO to assist governments in countering this pressure from industry (see Update 29).

Why only some countries?

As with the International Code, Nestlé is attempting to limit application of the Resolution to a list of countries of its own invention. Nestlé states: "Nestlé voluntarily applies the International (WHO) Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in all developing countries (more than 150 nations). In these countries we will change labels of complementary foods..." (emphasis added).

The Resolution is addressed to all countries and the recommendation on appropriate age of introduction of complementary foods is global, not only for Nestlé's list of countries. The universal nature of the International Code and Resolutions was one of the points stressed by UNICEF at the European Parliament Public Hearing into Nestlé's activities - 22nd November 2000. (And far from 'applying' the International Code, Nestlé violates it and the subsequent Resolutions in a 'systematic' manner as shown by international monitoring - see the evidence in the report Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2001).

Will the next Codex meeting undermine Resolution 54.2?

It is possible, and perhaps likely, that the industry will continue to push for the '4 month' standard to be adopted when Codex meets at the end of November 2001. Nestle's Code 'Action' report could be part of this strategy. It is extremely difficult for campaigners to find resources to attend Codex meetings to counter industry misinformation and some may believe they do not have to attend following Nestlé's reassuring statements. However, experience shows that Nestlé is quite prepared to make untrue statements to divert attention (see the briefing paper Nestlé's Public Relations Machine Exposed and the Cornerhouse briefing paper, Engineering of Consent).

It is noteworthy that Nestle has not said anything about dropping its opposition to the '6 month' position at the forthcoming Codex meeting. While Nestlé quotes from Resolution 54.2 in the 'Action' report it neglects to include Article 9 which calls on Codex to take World Health Assembly Resolutions into account when developing its standards. Hopefully these omissions are totally innocent and Nestlé will stop attempting to undermine World Health Assembly policies. If so, we hope it will reconsider our four-point plan aimed at saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott, which it rejected in March (see Boycott News 29).

However, at a recent meeting (25th October 2001) Nestlé's Senior Policy Adviser, was asked by Baby Milk Action what its position will be at Codex. Ms. Mirando did not answer, only stating that Nestle will be there through ISDI (International Special Dietary Foods Indutries) which encompases the International Association of Infant Food Manufacturers (IFM) (Nestlé set up IFM and is the principal member). ISDI and IFM have the same Secretary-General, Dr. Andrée Bronner.

IFM's statement of support for Resolution 54.2 highlights "meeting the nutritional needs of each infant and young child..." Individual IFM members are making similar statements stressing that some infants may need to be fed complementary foods before 6 months of age and are using this to justify continuing to label products for use from 4 months of age unless they are forced to do otherwise (see company responses to Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet April/May 2001).This will undermine the global public health policy recommending exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age. The global policy does not prevent health workers from giving different advice on an individual basis.

If industry continues to pressure Codex to adopt a '4 month' labelling standard for complementary foods and finally succeeds, Nestlé could argue that it does not have to deliver on its well-sounding promises. On the contrary, it may argue that it should label complementary foods for use from 4 months of age in all countries to comply with Codex standards. Governments with policies of '6 months' could be challenged before WTO for having unfair barriers to trade. Take action to help stop this happening.

Nestlé in Brazil

It is worth commenting on the interview with José Serra, Minister of Health Brazil, obtained by Nestlé and published in the Code 'Action' Report.

The Brazilian government has taken a strong line in putting forward Resolution 54.2 and has been congratulated by IBFAN and Baby Milk Action for this and other stands it has taken in support of infant health. However, the government is also under immense pressure from the baby food industry. Last year it planned to publish the results of its own monitoring which found violations by companies including Nestlé. Nestlé dispatched its Vice-President, Niels Christiansen, prompting newspaper articles about industry lobbying to suppress the report, followed by claim and counter claim. While it is known that one government department refused to discuss the report with Mr. Christiansen, it has still not been published over a year later (see report in Boycott News 29).

In the interview published by Nestlé, José Serra, Minister of Health Brazil, states: "The Brazilian food industry was an important partner in both the formulation and recent update of the Code [in Brazil]". It should be appreciated that this is a statement from a politician in diplomatic mode. Elsewhere the Brazilian Ministry of Health has written:


"The outcomes of the government policies toward breastfeeding in Brazil have become well-known internationally. Brazil is perhaps the only country in the world to have managed, by implementing integrated strategic actions, to take on the aggressive infant food industry marketing and reverse the disastrous impact of untimely weaning on infant health."

(Ref: Introduction to 'The Brazilian National Milk Banks Network' CD ROM produced by the Ministry of Health Secretariat for Health Policies-Infant Health and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation-Fernandes Figueira Institute, 2001).

IBFAN was also involved in the development of the Brazilian Code and has worked to strengthen it to reflect all WHA Resolutions and received the Order of Merit from José Serra on 18th June 2000 for the actions it has developed to promote breastfeeding.

The updated and strengthened Code has been ready for publication for many months, but, as with the monitoring report, the expected publication dates have come and gone. It remains unpublished.

Take action to support Brazil

You can help support the campaign for the publication of the Brazilian Code by sending a message to Baby Milk Action for us to present to the Ministry of Health. Please indicate that you support the publication of the government's long-awaited monitoring report and the updated Brazilian Code (known as the Norma Brasileira para Comercialização de Alimentos para Lactentes).

Take action to protect infant health at Codex

UPDATE 20 December 2001: We asked supporters to send letters to help protect infant health at Codex. See the response from the UK Government here. The issues have still not been resolved. See a report on the November 2001 Codex meeting in Update 30.

To support the implementation of Resolution 54.2 by the Codex Alimentarius Commission send a letter to:

Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP,
Department of Trade and Industry (UK),
1 Victoria Street,

Fax: 020 72220612

Rt Hon Alan Milburn MP,
Department of Health,
Richmond House,
79 Whitehall,

Fax: 020 7210 5523

Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP,
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Nobel House,
17 Smith Square,

Fax: 020 72386591

Rt Hon Claire Short, MP,
Department for International Development,
94 Victoria St,

Fax: 020 79170016

If you are outside the UK it is better to try contacting your Ministers.

Suggested letter:

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.
For many years there has been a fierce industry lobby against the World Health Assembly recommendation that complementary feeding should be fostered from about 6 months of age (WHA Resolution 47.5 adopted in 1994).
The industry has been pushing to be allowed to label and promote complementary foods for use from 4 months of age.

This year, a WHO expert consultation reviewed over 3,000 research studies
and concluded that reduction of infectious disease morbidity and
reduction in mortality are the most important potential advantages of
exclusive breastfeeding for six months, especially the reduction of
gastrointestinal infections.

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'
recommendation of Resolution 54.2 at the forthcoming Codex meeting and will be opposing any industry lobby attempting to undermine it?


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)


Q. Nestlé's Senior Policy Advisor is from Sri Lanka and claims that there are no concerns about Nestlé's activities there. Is this true?

A. (15 October 2001) No. Sri Lankan campaigners are calling for international help to stop Nestlé malpractice...

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:

  • Aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes
  • The impact of opening the milk market to foreign multinationals which has led to the virtual destruction of the national dairy industry followed by increases in the price of imported milk
  • The cost of whole milk for adults and children and the cost of breastmilk substitutes

Aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes

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).

Impact on the dairy industry and the cost of milk

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):

  1. "Stop Commercial advertising and reduce milk prices. We demand that the Government should take steps to require that all advertising should be stopped and an equivalent lowering of prices be made obligatory.
  2. "Remove all the government taxes on Milk and require that a further reduction equivalent to this reduction in tax be implemented.
  3. "There are only four companies now controlling the entire importation and marketing of MILK foods (this is why we say it is a monopoly). Therefore the Government should intervene, import milk and compete with these companies, by utilizing other marketing channels such as the Cooperative Whole Sale Establishment (CWE) and other cooperatives. Prices can be lowered much further.
  4. "Short-term measures and Policies should be developed to improve the domestic production and distribution of fresh milk. Such production by small farmers at household level had been done quite successfully before the liberalized Market policies were introduced in 1977. In order to improve the ability of rural small-scale farmer families to produce milk, they should be provided better prices."

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.

Email from the Asian Human Rights Commission regarding Nestlé in Sri Lanka


Update on Urgent Appeal 14 September 2001
UP-38-2001 (RE: UA26/01): Nestle, Anchor, Government, IMF denying food to infants SRI LANKA: Mothers' activity to reduce the milk prices; companies and government's response
Dear Friends,

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.

Thank you.

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:

  • How TNCs impact the domestic dairy industry and encourage bottle feeding;

  • Practical grassroots approaches in developing dairies at the rural level;

  • Home gardening and sustainable agriculture for food security;

  • Nutritional education of households and communities;

  • Advocacy on food and nutrition policy.

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:
Fax: +(852) - 26986367
Please contact the Urgent Appeals coordinator if you require more information or wish to report human rights violations. ===========================================================
AHRC Urgent Appeals Programme Asian Human Rights Commission Unit D, 7th Floor, Mongkok Commercial Centre, 16 - 16B Argyle Street, Kowloon, HONGKONG
Tel: +(852) - 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) - 2698-6367
Please contact the AHRC Urgent Appeals Coordinator if you require further information or to make requests for further appeals. ===========================================================


Q. In today's Daily Express newspaper Nestlé says: "Many of the allegations are years out of date and have been rectified." Is this true?

A. (25 September 2001) No. Documentary evidence demonstrates Nestlé continues to violate the Code and Resolutions in an institutionalised and systematic manner...

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.

Q. Where does this figure of 1.5 million infant deaths per year come from and why is it being dismissed by Nestle?

A. (13 August 2007) According to WHO and UNICEF...

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.

In 1995 Baby Milk Action was required to defend the statistic before the Advertising Standards Authority after stating in a Nestle boycott advertisement:

"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."

Nestlé disputes the facts

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.
Click here for more evidence of inappropriate promotion of whole milks


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.

Profits before health

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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