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Q. Can my local Council support the Nestlé boycott?

A. (14 October 2003) Yes, if the procurement team abides by ‘best value’ regulations.

Several councils support the Nescafé and wider Nestlé boycott (see the Endorsers List in the downloads section).

The issue of water coolers has recently become a hot issue, with staff refusing to drink AquaCool water or other Nestlé owned brands. This has prompted council procurement teams to become involved in seeking alternative suppliers. While this is not intended as a definitive legal position, Baby Milk Action is aware that procurement managers have been able to switch suppliers within the terms of the ‘best value’ regulations because they have been able to negotiate agreements with alternative suppliers which provide better value and/or quality products.

The issue of Nestlé vending machines has also been controversial. It is possible to use alternative suppliers within the ‘best value’ criteria. As an alternative strategy, procurement managers have provided alternative products in vending machines to give those who support the boycott an option.

A Council can adopt a Resolution supporting the baby milk campaign in general and Baby Milk Action’s four-point plan, aimed at saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott. See the draft Resolution in the boycott section. Baby Milk Action can arrange to make a presentation on the campaign and will gladly debate with Nestlé before the Council (we will have to ask for our costs to be covered). Alternatively we can provide a video of a past debate (contact us for details).

Opposing the aggressive promotion of artificial feeding and working for safeguards to protect mothers and infants is related to sustainable development. There can be no more locally produced and non-polluting food product than breastmilk. It is actually UK Government policy for local authorities to support sustainability. The following is taken from the Oxfam paper Global Partners Fairtrade and local authorities How to support Global Sustainable Development in your locality, available on the Fairtrade Foundation website (click here):

[page 35] "‘Best value’ was placed into statute by the Local Government Act 1999, replacing Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) in April 2000. It places a duty on all local authorities except some smaller town or parish councils to make arrangements to continuously improve services. It will offer major new opportunities to local authorities in their support of sustainable development. Local Agenda 21 is not a separate initiative that can be implemented in isolation from other local government policies. Best value can deliver a policy framework through which councils can exercise requirements, qualities, values and practice. Sustainable development will only be achieved if it is woven into the heart of local government policy and crucially into Best Value.

Best Value encompasses a duty to deliver services to clear standards, covering both cost and quality. Achieving best value is therefore not just about economy and efficiency, but also about effectiveness and the quality of local services. It will also help councils to address the cross-cutting issues facing their citizens and communities, such as community safety or sustainable development, which are beyond the reach of a single service or service provider. ‘Sustainable development touches on all aspects of a local authority’s activities. It is not just about environmental issues but is, in essence, about ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. It encompasses social, economic and environmental goals.’ (Source: ‘Best value and sustainable development’, preliminary guidance main report, LGMB, 1998.)

[page 37] ‘The Government should actively promote sustainable development policies through its procurement policies and practices and require other public bodies to do likewise… that the Government should join with other countries in the EU and the OECD to promote initiatives on green procurement.’ (Source, "The third annual report of the Government's panel on sustainable development", January 1997.)

European Union (EU) procurement rules form the basis of the current regulatory framework. The resultant guidelines set out in conjunction with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Procurement Policy Division of HM Treasury specify procedures that apply when public authorities acquire goods or services when contracts exceed certain threshold monetary values. However, all procurement contracts are subject to the treaties of the European Union. Contract rules state that equality of treatment must ensure no discrimination on national origin and that transparent criteria be used in the selection of tenderers. In general these state that procurement decisions should be based on value for money through competition via open or restricted (when only selected persons can tender) award procedures.

Objective criteria standards (like Fairtrade marking [**Baby Milk Action note: or evaluation of a company’s baby food marketing practices against the international standards adopted by the World Health Assembly as achieved by the monitoring conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network**]) applied to contracts must therefore be internationally applicable or at least EU-based rather then just discriminating in favour of UK goods. Under EC procedures, local authorities are not bound to accept the lowest priced bid. Value for money (the economically most advantageous tender) is the optimum combination of whole life costs and quality (or fitness for purpose) to meet the users’ requirements. The users’ requirements on quality or standard of service should be specified by reference to recognised standards. The reference to ' quality' to meet the customers requirements enables authorities to specify what they need to meet their own operational and policy objectives while contributing to local, national, european, and international objectives on sustainable development.

Therefore, if a local authority were to adopt specific policies based on the adoption of a core value of Sustainable Development or a fair trade motion [**Baby Milk Action comment: and the requirement that suppliers are not violating the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolution of th eWorld Health Assembly according to the monitoring conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network (similar to the criteria used by ethical investment funds)**], this would enable the formulation of a precise specification on what is required in contracts placed by that local authority. It is then the task of the procurement officer to obtain the best value for money in meeting that particular requirement.

The Prime Minister, when speaking at the UN in July 1997 (quoted by R Caborn) said, ‘Environmental considerations must be integrated into all our decisions regardless of the sector. They must be in at the start, not bolted on later.’

If you are a Councillor or Council officer and would like to share your experiences, please contact Mike Brady.

If you are campaigning for support for the Nestlé boycott, you may also be interested in the campaign for ‘Fair Trade Towns’, promoted by the Fairtrade Foundation. See the website for further details.

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