Q. Nestlé sets out what staff can and cannot do in its 'Infant Formula Marketing Policy'. Is there anything wrong with this?
A. (1 May 2002) Nestlé's policy does not correctly represent the World Health Assembly marketing requirements. Nestlé breaks these and its own narrower policy in a systematic manner.
Nestlé claims that its marketing malpractice is a thing of the past and that it has now changed its ways (see our response to this claim). It presents its so-called "Charter" or "Infant Formula Marketing Policy for Developing Countries" in an attempt to demonstrate this. There are a number of problems with this strategy.
The title of the "Charter" exposes part of Nestlé's strategy
The "Charter" misrepresents the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly relating to the marketing of baby foods. For example, the "Charter" applies only to infant formula and only to developing countries. The International Code applies to all countries and to all breastmilk substitutes. This point was stressed by UNICEF's Legal Officer at a Public Hearing into Nestlé's baby food marketing malpractice at the European Parliament on 22nd November 2000 (see press release MEPs shocked as Nestlé and Adidas snub Public Hearing on corporate responsibility).
To quote UNICEF:
After numerous attempts to 'influence' the programme of the Public Hearing, Nestlé decided not to attend. However, Nestlé had already been informed of UNICEF's concerns about its interpretation of the marketing requirements at a meeting involving Nestlé Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, and UNICEF Executive Director, Carol Bellamy. In a follow-up letter dated 15th December 1997, Carol Bellamy wrote:
Mr. Brabeck attacked Carol Bellamy for criticising Nestlé at a press conference on 6th May 1999 (see report in Boycott News 25 and "Mr. Nestlé Gets Angry", Independent on Sunday, 9th May 1999).
UNICEF is given a special role under Article 11.1 of the International Code which relates to implementing the Code in legislation and states: "...governments should seek, when necessary, the cooperation of WHO, UNICEF and other agencies of the United Nations system." UNICEF advises governments on how to interprete the International Code, but Mr. Brabeck dismisses UNICEF's advice in favour of a "Charter" of Nestlé's own invention.
Nestlé's "Charter" was discredited before the ASA
Nestlé distributes its "Charter" as a leaflet in an attempt to divert criticism of its activities and claimed in an anti-boycott advertisement in 1996: "The Nestlé Charter concerns Nestlé's commitment to the WHO International Code in developing countries."
As advertisements have to be 'legal, decent, honest and truthful' Baby Milk Action complained to the UK Advertising Standards Authority about this and other claims made in the advertisement. All of our complaints were upheld and Nestlé was warned not to repeat its claims.
The ASA acknowledged that in a literal sense the "Charter" does concern Nestlé's commitment to the Code as it refers to the Code. However, a reader of the advertisement would understand that Nestlé is suggesting its "Charter" is demonstrating a positive commitment to the Code and the evidence of marketing malpractice demonstrates that Nestlé is not committed to abiding by the Code. On the contrary, Nestlé violates the Code in a systematic and institutionalised manner. Baby Milk Action asked Nestlé if it would withdraw its discredited "Charter" following the ruling and it refused to do so.
In the same ruling the ASA upheld our complaint against Nestlé's claim that it markets infant formula "ethically and responsibly."
Unfortunately Nestlé's public relations materials are not subject to the same regulations as advertisements and there is little that Baby Milk Action can do when Nestlé makes untrue claims in them.
Legal analysis of Nestlé's Instructions
The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) commissioned a legal analysis of Nestlé's Code monitoring efforts which includes comments on the more detailed "Instructions" which Nestlé issues to employees. This again demonstrates that these fall far short of the International Code and Resolutions. (See Does Nestlé's Monitoring Report Comply with The International Code?)
Nestlé systematically violates its own "Charter"
In addition to the attempts to misrepresent the International Code and Resolutions, Nestlé does not even abide by its own narrower measures. See IBFAN's international monitoring reports and the 'codewatch' section for examples of violations.
It should also be remembered that internal Nestlé documents provided by whistleblower, Syed Aamar Raza, demonstrate that Nestlé training for Medical Delegates encouraged them to break the "Charter". See the Milking Profits report summary for further information.
Visit the downloads page for a leaflet analysing Nestlé's Charter.
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