Q. (31 May 2007) Is it true that the Church of England ended its support the boycott of Nestlé years ago because it found it had changed its ways?
A. No. This is a typical distortion of history. The Church suspended its boycott while arranging its own research. This found evidence of 'systematic' violations.
Nestlé attempts to undermine the boycott by targeting endorsers. For example, it lobbied the Church of England hard in 1994 and as a result the Church decided to suspend its support for the boycott while conducting its own investigation. The Interagency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring (IGBM) was formed, consisting of a total of 27 church, development and academic organisations.
Research was conducted in Bangladesh, Poland, South Africa and Thailand and published as the report Cracking the Code in 1997 (See summary in Update 20). The report concluded that companies are systematically violating the International Code and Resolutions. UNICEF stated that "the findings of IBFAN are clearly vindicated by this report."
Click here to download a pdf of UNICEF's full 1997 statement.
Nestlé and the industry went to great lengths to discredit this research (See briefing paper How the baby food industry is orchestrating the attack on Cracking the Code). However, it has been peer reviewed and was published by the British Medical Journal in 1998 (Ref: British Medical Journal Volume 316, 11 April 1998.)
When the Church of England Synod met in York in 1997 it affirmed the conclusions of Cracking the Code. Nestlé was concerned that the Church would resume its support for the boycott and issued a public statement supporting the motion debated by Synod which included a call for companies to abide by the International Code and relevant, subsequent Resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly. The subsequent Resolutions are important because they clarify interpretation of the International Code and address new marketing strategies and changes in scientific knowledge. Nestlé had attacked Cracking the Code on the grounds that it referred to the subsequent Resolutions. Its statement at Synod was the first time that Nestlé had indicated that it would abide by the subsequent Resolutions and some delegates may have decided against reinstating the Church's boycott because of this. Nestlé statement was an empty Public Relations tactic, however. Nestlé continues to disregard and violate these and the International Code.
It was suggested at Synod that, instead of applying pressure through the boycott, the Church would use its investments in Nestlé to enter into "dialogue" with the company to encourage it to change its ways. We continue to provide the Church of England's Board of Social Responsibility with evidence of Nestlé's malpractice, but have yet to be informed of any progress emerging from the Church's strategy of engaging Nestlé in "dialogue".
Click here to download the Church of England press release from 1997. Note that this states:
In a disturbing move the York Council of Churches announced some months after the Synod meeting that it had accepted a donation of 100,000 pounds from Nestlé (ref: Church Times 27 March 1998.)
Both UNICEF and the Church of England called for manufacturers to adhere fully with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly.
IGBM held meetings with the industry association, the Infant Formula Manufacturers. A year after the publication of Cracking the Code, it concluded that further discussion with IFM, of which Nestlé is a leading member, was futile. The industry refused to accept its own responsibility to ensure its practices were in compliance with the marketing requirements.
Click here to download IGBM's statement announcing the end of discussions.
UNICEF also met with Nestlé and was similarly unimpressed by the company's claim to abide by the marketing requirements. You can download UNICEF's follow-up letter by clicking here. UNICEF concluded:
The 1997 Conference of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) responded to Cracking the Code by adopting a motion noting the "widespread abuses" and suggesting that the RCM Council "reconsider its hypocritical position of boycotting Nestlé whilst continuing to accept sponsorship from other infant feeding manufacturers."
Many midwives expected the RCM Council to stop taking money from the companies named in the report. Instead the Council opted to drop the Nestlé boycott, continue to accept funds and to work from "the inside".
Again Nestlé has falsely suggested this decision was based on Nestlé havig been cleared.
The boycott belongs to the people and is a living and dynamic movement. While the Church of England and RCM have dropped their boycotts, neither did so because they believed Nestlé had changed its marketing practices. And while some organisations drop the boycott and take money from Nestlé or work more closely with the industry, others wake up to the facts and join the boycott. A list of boycott endorsers is available from Baby Milk Action.
For additional reflections on this topic from Baby Milk Action's Campaigns and Networking Coordinator, click here.