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Issue 40: November 2007


Nestlé boycott news

International Nestlé-Free Week 2007

It was 30 years ago that campaigners in the US launched a boycott of Nestlé over its aggressive marketing of baby foods, choosing American Independence Day to do so, 4 July 1977.

The first boycott, which spread to ten countries, led to a Senate Hearing and to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981. In 1984 Nestlé agreed to abide by the Code and the boycott was suspended. It was relaunched in 1988/89 as monitoring found Nestlé continued to break the Code as it pushed its formula to undermine breastfeeding.

Thirty years on from the first boycott the world is different in some ways. Further Resolutions from the World Health Assembly have addressed changes in marketing practices and scientific knowledge and questions of interpretation.

The Code and Resolutions form part of the World Health Assembly’s Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is increasingly pressing governments on the action they have taken.

Over 70 countries have introduced the Code and Resolutions in legislation to some degree. Where companies are given no choice, they can comply. In countries such as Brazil, where protection and promotion of breastfeeding go hand in hand, breastfeeding rates have increased markedly.

But where legislation is not enforced or does not exist, it is monitoring and campaigning by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and partners which acts as a check on the industry. As IBFAN monitoring finds Nestlé to be responsible for more violations than any other company it is the target of a boycott, launched by groups in 20 countries since 1988. In 2007 several members of the International Nestlé Boycott Committee decided to mark the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first boycott by declaring the 1-8th July as Nestlé-Free Week.

In the UK and Canada campaigners encouraged members of the public to call the company customer services to register their support for the boycott. This action was picked up by Korean television and broadcast on the national morning news and the internet, showing how the boycott raises global awareness of Nestlé malpractice.

KBS screen shot

Click here to view the film.

Boycott groups in Cameroon, the Philippines and Sweden promoted the event in their media work. Italian campaigners organised stalls and public meetings.

In Ireland Mary Lou McDonald, who represents Dublin for Sinn Féin in the European Parliament backed the campaign, telling the media: “Sinn Féin calls on the Irish people to support Nestlé-Free week by boycotting all its products.”

Nestlé-Free Week 2008

The provisional date for 2008 is the week of 13 - 19 May.

UK boycott endorsers are invited to join a National Nestlé Boycott Committee.

Contact Baby Milk Action for details.

Nestlé Chief wins award

The German Foundation for Ethics and Economics has issued an award to Nestlé Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, for his company leadership, but it is nothing to be proud of. The Foundation’s press release explains:

“This year’s counter-award “The Black Planet Award 2007” goes to Peter Brabeck-Letmathé (chairman of the board of directors) and to Liliane de Bettencourt, (multi-shareholder) of the NESTLÉ Corporation. This award is to pillory the Swiss multi-national for the irresponsible marketing of baby food contaminated by genetically manipulated nutrition, their tolerance of child labour and monopolisation of water resources.”

Public Affairs Manager admits Nestlé is widely boycotted

While Mr. Brabeck tries to play down the support for the boycott, Global Public Affairs Manager, Dr. Gayle Crozier Willi, admitted in a letter in April that Nestlé is ‘widely boycotted’, referring to a survey by GMIPoll that found Nestlé to be one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet.

“The most boycotted were generally the largest companies with the greatest visibility of which Nestlé is one,” said Dr. Willi attempting to explain the company’s bad image. See:

Mr Paul Bulcke to be new CEO

Former head of Nestlé’s American operation is Chief Executive Officer designate, though he won’t officially take up post until the shareholder meeting on 10 April 2008.

As region head he delivered strong growth in the infant nutrition sector in Latin America and says China and India will present ‘unparalleled growth opportunities’.

Nestlé pays for platform to speak at Labour party conference

Nestlé tried to divert criticism of its junk food and bottled water businesses by sponsoring events at the Labour Party Conference in September. One meeting, with the New Statesman magazine, was on obesity and saw the Public Health Minister share a platform with a company that, according to UBS Warburg, has 46% of its turnover at risk if policies tackling obesity are enforced (The Guardian, 27 December 2002).

Nestlé also sponsored the Foreign Policy Centre fringe meeting: “Water: how can we better manage our most precious resource?” Responding to criticisms about the infant feeding issue it claimed these were all in the past. It also glossed over the concerns about bottled water (click here for documentary evidence of Nestlé’s breach of Brazilian law).

Dame Anita Roddick passes away

The founder of Body Shop died in September before realising her plan of transforming L’Oreal, the cosmetic giant part-owned by Nestlé.

She sold her company to L’Oreal in 2006. See our press release:
I object to Nestlé’s behaviour, Dame Anita Roddick claims in advance of demonstrations at Body Shop

Dame Anita contacted Baby Milk Action a few months before she died for a briefing on Nestlé as she was to meet the head of the company. We never heard anything back. Body Shop remains on the list of products from which Nestlé profits, though there have been rumours in the media that Nestlé is considering selling its 28.8% share.

George Clooney questioned over Nescafé adverts

George Clooney was questioned about his appearance in Nescafé advertisements at the Venice Film Festival in September when promoting his new movie, Michael Clayton, in which he plays a lawyer who challenges an unethical company.

The boycott is particularly strong in Italy and a reporter asked: “Do you think your real life and your fictional one are in some terms colliding because of this role you played?”

Taken by surprise, Mr. Clooney started to answer, saying he supports boycotts, but then expressed irritation at the question and quickly changed the subject.

You can find video clips of the press conference and advertisement on our Campaigns Coordinator's blog at:

Guardian investigation in Bangladesh

The UK newspaper, The Guardian (15 May), posed the question Is Nestlé still pushing formula milk on the developing world?

It cited a report from Save the Children called A generation on: baby milk marketing still putting children’s lives at risk.

G2 cover

The journalist, Joanna Moorhead, also travelled to Bangladesh to investigate for herself. She visited a hospital where infant admissions had once been virtually unknown, but now make up 70% of admissions. Dr. Iqbal Kabir is quoted as explaining:

“Because bottlefed babies get diarrhoea, since their formula is mixed with dirty water and since their bottles are not sterile. Do you know how many breastfed babies are admitted here with diarrhoea? The number is almost zero.”

So how are mothers persuaded to use formula? Another doctor, Dr. Khaliq Zaman explained part of the company strategy to Joanna:

“On Zaman’s desk, lots of small pads lie scattered: each contains sheets with information about formula milk, plus pictures of the relevant tin. The idea, he says, is that when a mother comes to him to ask for help with feeding, he will tear a page out of the pad and give it to her. The mother - who may be illiterate - will then take the piece of paper (which seems to all intents and purposes a flyer for the product concerned) to her local shop or pharmacy, and ask for that particular product either by pointing the picture out to the pharmacist or shopkeeper, or by simply searching the shelves for a tin identical to the one in the picture on their piece of paper.”

One of the formulas promoted was Nestlé’s Lactogen.

Nestlé misrepresents the Code

In the article and a subsequent follow-up letter to the paper, Nestlé claimed that the leaflets were “essentially a safety measure to ensure the right product is bought for the child - to make clear to women whether they need Lactogen 1 (for younger babies) or Lactogen 2 (for older ones)” and said they are permitted by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. This is a clear admission not only that follow-on milks are confused with infant formulas and likely to be fed to very young babies, but also that the labelling is inadequate. If a mother needs to see a picture because she cannot read the name of the product how can she be expected to read all the instructions and make up the products safely?

Nestlé’s justification of this promotion is a clear breach of the Code is a perfect illustration of its arrogance and deliberate misinterpretation of the Code. We encouraged people to write to Nestlé on our Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet, pointing out that Article 7.2 of the Code states:

"7.2 Information provided by manufacturers and distributors to health professionals regarding products within the scope of this Code should be restricted to scientific and factual matters, and such information should not imply or create a belief that bottle feeding is equivalent or superior to breastfeeding."

So scientific and factual information may be provided to health workers, but the Code is clear that this should not be passed to mothers. Article 6.2 states:

"6.2 No facility of a health care system should be used for the purpose of promoting infant formula or other products within the scope of this Code. This Code does not, however, preclude the dissemination of information to health professionals as provided in Article 7.2."

If that is not clear enough, this is Article 6.3:

"6.3 Facilities of health care systems should not be used for the display of products within the scope of this Code, for placards or posters concerning such products, or for the distribution of material provided by a manufacturer or distributor other than that specified in Article 4."

Nestlé has admitted its fliers are for mothers: a clear breach. Even if they were education materials permitted under the Code, Article 4 is abundantly clear:

"...Such equipment or materials may bear the donating company’s name or logo, but should not refer to a proprietary product that is within the scope of this Code, and should be distributed only through the health care system."

In other words, fliers for handing on to mothers cannot have information about Lactogen infant formula. This is a clear breach however you look at it. Nestlé claims can not be taken on trust.

Why not call on Nestlé to participate in our proposed independent, expert tribunal, or try to set up your own debate? Contact us for further information.

Aamir Raza reunited with family after 7 years

Nestlé whistleblower, Syed Aamir Raza (right), little suspected when he left Pakistan in 1999 to publicise his report Milking Profits about Nestlé’s aggressive marketing practices that he would never return.

The report was based on a legal notice Aamir had sent to Nestlé calling for it to stop pushing formula. Aamir said he was visited by his boss and an executive after sending the notice and was threatened.

Syed Aamir Raza 2007

His situation became more dangerous after Stern magazine ran an article on his experiences, having visited Pakistan prior to Aamir’s departure. The German-language article was somehow brought to the attention of doctors in Pakistan implicated in taking Nestlé bribes and Aamir’s family received threatening messages.

Shortly before Aamir was to present evidence to a public meeting at the House of Commons in the UK, shots were fired at his home in Pakistan. Rather than call for restraint, Nestlé instead claimed the shots never happened and accused Aamir of attempting to blackmail the company. See:

Lord Nazir Ahmed, who Aamir had asked for help, publicly sided with Nestlé. It later emerged that a fact-finding trip he made to Pakistan was organised and funded by the company and was followed by him being given a contract as a Nestlé consultant. See our press release and listen to a head-to-head interview with Lord Ahmed and Baby Milk Action's Mike Brady, at:

While in Canada, Aamir took advice that it was too dangerous to return and sought asylum. Seven years later he has been reunited with his wife and two children after being given humanitarian leave to remain.

Aamir sends his thanks to everyone who has helped him during this time. Sadly both his parents passed away during this time.


Round up

Boycott Nestlé shopping bags

Reusable boycott bags

These Fairtrade-cotton, reusable shopping bags are a great way to promote the boycott while reducing waste. Available in our on-line Virtual Shop.

If you are a retailer and would like to place a bulk order for your shop, please do let us know.

Infant Feeding in Emergencies

The IFE Working Group formed by the Emergency Nutrition Network and involving our colleagues at the Geneva Infant Feeding Association has launched a guide for members of the public on how they can help when emergencies strike, such as earthquakes, floods and conflict.

The danger of sending formula, that will likely be labelled in the wrong language and distributed without adequate targeting or training, is a key message.


IBFAN calendar 2008

Calendar cover

12 full-colour A4 pictures from around the world.

Discount for orders of 10 or more. Order in our on-line Virtual Shop.

Leaving a legacy

Baby Milk Action was able to continue operating during the past year thanks largely to a legacy we received.

If you are interested in remembering Baby Milk Action in your will see the donations section of our Virtual Shop, or contact us.

Membership news

Baby Milk Action subscription rates have not changed since 1996 and we feel an increase is long overdue. Membership income is fundamental to our survival and we have kept the increase to just a few pounds.

The new annual rates are:

  • Waged:£18;
  • Family:£25;
  • Organisation:£50.
  • Unwaged (unchanged) £7.

If you pay £1.50 a month, or £18 a year or more by standing order, you can claim a shopping bag, magnet or a pack of postcards as a free gift (subject to change).

See our membership section to join and for details of the current offer.

Update 40 - contents