Q. (17 August 2006) Is it true that GES and Bureau Veritas reports on Nestlé mean there are no longer any concerns?
A. No. Although Nestlé is citing reports from these organisations in its PR campaign they are not the vindication Nestlé claims.
Nestlé is contacting policy makers and members of the public claiming that its baby food marketing activities have been certified as complying with World Health Assembly marketing requirements by GES and Bureau Veritas. It is a well documented fact that Nestlé continues to violate these measures in a systematic way (see the Breaking the Rules monitoring reports produced by the International Baby Food Action Network – www.ibfan.org).
Global Ethical Standard (GES) is the only so-called ethical investment listing on planet Earth known to include Nestlé. Reputable listings such as FTSE4Good exclude Nestlé for failing to have policies and practices that comply with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly.
Notwithstanding the unique nature of GES listing Nestlé, the company is publicising a GES report on The Infant Food Industry and the WHO Code which Nestlé claims concludes that “…the largest and most criticised company, Nestlé has the most elaborated policies and mechanisms to address the Code, distinctly ahead of its peers.”
Baby Milk Action asked GES on what basis it had made this judgement and bizarrely we were directed to statements on Nestlé’s website. Nestlé’s claims to comply with the marketing requirements are demonstrably untrue and its statements are part of a PR campaign to divert criticism. We have pointed out to GES that Nestlé’s policies are not in line with the International Code and Resolutions, as set out in writing by UNICEF and others (UNICEF has a Legal Officer who advises governments on interpretation of the requirements).
We have also encouraged GES to consider the results of monitoring conducted by IBFAN and other groups such as the Interagency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring (IGBM), but GES refuses to do so.
We have raised with GES the way Nestlé is using its report to undermine the campaign to protect infant health and asked to discuss this further. GES has refused to do so.
Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:
We suggest those concerned about ethical investment search the internet for one of the companies that use objective research methodologies.
Baby Milk Action first came across Bureau Veritas in 2005 when Nestlé referred to an audit conducted in Africa for its Commitment to Africa report. According to Nestlé, Bureau Veritas found “no systematic shortfalls in terms of Nestlé implementation of its Instruction on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.”
As experts on this issue are well aware, Nestlé’s Instructions fall short of the provisions set out in the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly. UNICEF has put some of these failings in writing to Nestlé CEO, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé (click here for UNICEF's letter).
The failing of Bureau Veritas to evaluate Nestlé against the Code and Resolutions is evidenced by the fact they refer repeatedly in the summary presented by Nestlé to ‘infant formula’ rather than breastmilk substitutes. Assertions by Bureau Veritas that Nestlé was not conducting certain promotional practices need to be read in the light of documentary evidence that Nestlé does carry out such practices. As far as we are aware Bureau Veritas made no effort to contact our partners or authorities in developing countries who are recording such violations.
It is interesting to note that Bureau Veritas records ‘efforts were made by Nestlé to encourage governments to develop national codes where they did not exist.’ The Code is to be implemented as a ‘minimum’ requirement in national measures and Nestlé does indeed push for voluntary codes in place of independently monitored and enforced legislation. In one of the countries surveyed, South Africa, Nestlé has opposed government efforts to introduce legislation.
Baby Milk Action has written to Nestlé CEO, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, proposing an independent expert tribunal be held so that Nestlé’s audits and the documentary evidence of malpractice can be examined in depth, with experts being called as required. Mr. Brabeck was asked to set out his terms and conditions for such a tribunal and suggestions for the panel. The response received from Nestlé rejected the proposal out of hand, demonstrating that Nestlé is well aware that its claims do not stand up to scrutiny (also see A tape recording reveals how senior Nestlé executive misled students in failed attempt to overturn boycott).
Bureau Veritas came to our attention again in March 2006 when we were participating in a seminar examining the damaging environmental impact of Nestlé’s water pumping and bottling activities in São Lourenço, Brazil. Nestlé made a statement claiming that:
These claims are demonstrably untrue. Baby Milk Action has official government documents including a legal opinion commissioned by the Federal Government setting out illegalities and recommended the ‘paralysation’ of Nestlé’s pumping operation, which was ordered in March 2004 (click here for details, including source documents).
Nestlé finally agreed to stop pumping in a March 2006 agreement with the Public Prosecutor of São Lourenço, who had brought a Civil Public Action against the company. When we discussed this with Bureau Veritas they were unaware of this and commented:
Mike Brady said: “How can Nestlé claim the audit confirms they act in accordance with Brazilian legislation when the auditors say it is not a legal audit and admit they did not even consider a legal action brought against Nestlé? Nestlé is misrepresenting the audit.”