Q. Is it true that Nestlé violations are due to staff members "misbehaving" and that the violations are quickly stopped by Nestlé management?
A. (7 May 2002) No. Nestlé violations are institutionalised and systematic and senior management generally attempts to excuse the violations reported to them
An article in The Guardian 'notebook' (29th March 2002) suggested that the Nestlé boycott should be called off stating: "Baby Milk Action can rattle off half a dozen instances of recent violations by Nestlé. The campaign has spotted ads for infant formula on the vans of distributors in Armenia and in parenting magazines in Bulgaria. Nestlé points out that in a workforce of 230,000 some staff are bound to misbehave."
The reference to "half a dozen" violations, disregards the systematic violations found during monitoring in 14 countries which are documented in the report Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2001.
Nestlé generally dismisses reports of violations by claiming that the Code and Resolutions have been interpreted incorrectly. This is dishonest. Nestlé has been informed by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which advises governments on interpreting these measures, that it is its own interpretation which is incorrect (see the response to the question "Nestlé sets out what staff can and cannot do in its 'Infant Formula Marketing Policy'. Is there anything wrong with this?"). In addition, the monitoring evidence demonstrates that Nestlé breaks its own narrower measures.
For example, Nestlé claims that it does not advertise infant formula (though closer reading of Nestlé's "Charter" shows that this undertaking only applies in a list of countries of Nestlé's choosing, rather than in all countries as required by the World Health Assembly measures). One of the examples referred to in the 'notebook' article relates to an infant formula advertisement in Bulgaria. This was featured on Baby Milk Action's Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet. See the July/August 2000 action sheet for further details and a scan of the advertisement.
As Nestlé Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Brabeck, claims to investigate any hint of a violation, Baby Milk Action reports violations directly to him. We have not always received responses. In this case there was an answer from a staff member. This did not claim that local staff were "misbehaving" as the 'notebook' article suggests, but attempted to argue that the advertisement was a "scientific article" with a positive public health message.
The "scientific article" preys on a mother's fears. It states in the opening section:
Milk production increases with suckling and a mother experiencing problems needs to be supported in breastfeeding, not immediately directed to a substitute.
The advertisement then asks "Is there a satisfactory equivalent of mother's milk" and suggests that Nestlé Nan infant formula is "identical to mother's milk in biological respects" . Nestlé Nan is specifically named and promoted in the advertisement. While other company products are mentioned, the article, which was headed "Is there a substitute for mothers milk?" stresses the quality of Nestlé products and its over 130 years of experience.
The full text of the attempt to excuse the advertisement, sent by Nestlé Vice-President, Christina Drotz-Jonasson (dated 19 September 2000), is as follows:
It is for health workers to advise parents on infant feeding issues, not Nestlé.
Nestlé HQ sent an official translation of its advertisement, so confident was it that it could defend it as a "scientific article". This shows how in amongst the 'breast is best' type statements, the "eminent paediatrician" is used to idealise and endorse artificial feeding in general and Nestlé infant formula in particular:
This "scientific article", paid for by Nestlé and written by Nestlé's nutrition expert, violates Article 5.1 of the International Code which states:
We continued to campaign (and were also campaigning about NUMICO advertisements in the same magazine) and wrote again to Mr. Brabeck pointing out how absurd Nestlé's argument is. We received the following rather disingenuous response on 27th October 2000:
We reported on Nestlé's about turn in Boycott News 28. However, despite finally agreeing to stop this promotional practice a report from partners in Bulgaria prompted by the 'notebook' article shows that Nestlé is violating the Code and Resolutions there in other ways today.
This is one example among many, but provides a flavour of what is involved in attempting to stop Nestlé malpractice.
The boycott will continue until Nestlé makes the necessary changes to its baby food marketing policies and practices to bring them into line with the World Health Assembly requirements.
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