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Issue 41: November 2008


Nestle boycott news

New Nestlé boss rejects plan for ending the boycott

Baby Milk Action wrote to Mr. Paul Bulcke in April to welcome him to the post of Nestlé Chief Executive Officer and request that he break with the strategy of his predecessor, Mr. Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, who continues as Chairman.

Mr. Brabeck’s way of dealing with critics of the company’s baby food marketing was through denials and deception, only making changes when forced to do so by the campaign or legislation. He spent large sums on an antiboycott team and PR disasters, such as a big book of letters purporting to be from governments ‘verifying’ the company complies with the baby food marketing requirements. But he ended up having to apologise for misrepresentation and using letters without permission.

We asked Mr. Bulcke to accept the four-point plan rejected by Mr. Brabeck and he has refused.

We invited him to set out his terms and conditions for participating in an independent expert tribunal investigating the claims and counter-claims and he refused. He has suggested we meet at WHO, knowing that when we explored this possibility under Mr. Brabeck’s regime it got nowhere because he refused to accept WHO marketing requirements as a starting point - just as Mr. Bulcke has done.

Mr. Bulcke presided over growing the infant nutrition market in Latin America prior to becoming CEO and judging from continued aggressive marketing strategies and the recent attempt to hi-jack the Nestlé critics website (see below) the new boss is the same as the old boss.

Nestlé tries to hi-jack Nestlé-Free Week

Avid readers of our Campaign Coordinator’s daily blog - which surely includes Nestlé - will have learned at the beginning of August of the plan to launch a new website with the theme “Nestlé’s Actions speak louder than its words” during Nestlé-Free Week, which began on 4 October, the 20th anniversary of the launch of the current boycott.

The website is a portal for information on different aspects of Nestlé’s business, with contributions from experts from around the world providing overviews and links to sources of additional information. With plans well developed for its launch, Baby Milk Action received a letter from Nestlé’s lawyers demanding that we transfer the domain name to Nestlé by 29 September - that is, a few days before the start of Nestlé-Free Week.

Nestlé justification was that people visiting the site might believe it to be an official site and accused us of “passing off” as Nestlé. This is inconceivable given the clear explanation of the purpose of the site and a link to Nestlé’s own.

We refused to hand over the domain name, judging that Nestlé’s aim might be to undermine Nestlé-Free Week by putting its own content on the site and “passing off” this as independent analysis of the company. As the original domain name had not yet been widely publicised we launched the site with a new domain name to deflate Nestlé’s “passing off” claim.

Cross-promotional campaigning

The Nestlé Critics website arises from networking Baby Milk Action has done with other campaigners at the European Social Forum, at the Multiwatch tribunal in Switzerland into Nestlé in Colombia, with water campaigners and others. It covers concerns over trade union busting, child slavery in the cocoa supply chain, treatment of coffee and dairy farmers and much more in addition to the baby food campaign. Link to whenever you mention Nestlé.

Nestlé ‘most criticized’

Nestlé is one of the top ten most environmentally and socially criticized companies, according to analysis conducted by the company ECOFACT

This is how ECOFACT describes itself:

ECOFACT is a consulting boutique specialized in the management of environmental, social and reputational risks, mainly in the financial sector. ECOFACT is based in Zurich and leverages a global network of sector and issue specialists.

So it is coming from an industry perspective of how a company’s image and, hence, value, is harmed by criticism. This shows the importance of campaigning, because company executives and investors take notice when a financial cost is put on their malpractice enabling us to force some changes. 

However, Nestlé’s preferred response to date is to use a range of Public Relations and more underhand tactics to try to undermine and silence critics and divert criticism.

Nestlé spy infiltrated Swiss ATTAC group

While trying to hi-jack the Nestlé Critics website with the claim it was “passing off” as Nestlé, Nestlé itself was in court in Switzerland where it admitted hiring a secret agent to “pass off” as an activist to join the Swiss ATTAC group. The agent was employed by SECURITAS and run by a former MI6 officer working for Nestlé.

She joined the editorial board producing a book with content similar to that on the Nestlé Critics website, which was launched at a conference in 2004 where Baby Milk Action was also speaking - meaning our correspondence with ATTAC would probably have been sent straight to Nestlé by the spy. ATTAC Nestle Book

ATTAC has taken legal action over breach of privacy and expressed concern that trade unionists in Colombia and others who have been targeted by paramilitaries after organising at Nestlé sites may have been put in danger. 

The story has been massive in Switzerland. The media interest in Switzerland also helps to explain why Nestlé was desperate to take the Nestlé Critics website off the air days before it’s official launch.

Find a report on the Nestlé Critics site.

Nestlé ‘Shared Value’ report

In March Nestlé launched a new Public Relations booklet called ‘Creating Shared Value’. The launch took place jointly with the Global Compact Office, a United Nations initiative set up by Kofi Anan when Secretary General as an alternative to pursuing an international system of enforceable regulations for transnational corporations. Nestlé Chairman, Peter Brabeck, said of the company’s business model:

This enables us to deliver five to six per cent organic growth while at the same time improving our environmental and social performance, thereby having a positive impact on millions of people across the world.

The business-orientated Ethicsworld website commented: 

Nestle’s accomplishments in its key CSR areas are detailed in the report, but the text falls short when it comes to admitting problems and difficulties in meeting goals.

Nestlé once again employed Bureau Veritas to provide a comment on some aspects of its business, including its baby food marketing. Once again violations were ignored, such as the evidence in the Breaking the Rules reports and more recent practices such as the labelling and promotion described below from South Africa. 

Baby Milk Action joined with partners in issuing a press release providing some of the information missing from the report. See:

UK Methodist Finance Board gives Nestlé Public Relations coup

Nestlé is using the decision by the UK Methodist Church Central Finance Board (CFB) to buy Nestlé shares to undermine the campaign.The investment comes after an investigation by the Church’s Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics in Investment (JACEI). The CFB states, regarding the investment:

JACEI acknowledges and respects the work of organisations such as Baby Milk Action in highlighting the scandal of inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes. The way in which the CFB responds to such activities is to engage with company managements and seek change from within. These approaches should be seen as complementary strategies working to achieve a common aim.

Receiving the JACEI report in 2006 the Methodist Conference adopted text noting concerns about Nestlé practices and stated:

These concerns may cause some through conscience to maintain a consumer boycott of Nestlé products.

Baby Milk Action warned the CFB that ‘engagement’ does not require investment and that Nestlé would misrepresent the decision. We were ignored, but have been proved right.

George Clooney link to Nestlé

We joined a coalition of groups that wrote to actor, George Clooney about his appearance in Nestlé Nespresso ads (Update 40). 

Nestlé provided him with a briefing which misrepresents the Methodist Church investment (see above) as having cleared the company. 

Long-time supporter, actress and Oscar winner, Emma Thompson, also wrote to George Clooney.

(See The Observer 3.8.08).

Observer article
  • Former Olympic athlete, Daley Thomspon, was questioned in The Times (2.08.08) about his links to Nestlé and handed the question to the company’s PR minder: “She explains that the baby-milk arm of Nestlé is a “separate corporate entity” from the food part of Nestlé”.

At least it wasn’t the usual dishonest claims about respecting the marketing requirements!

Scottish Parliament ‘No to Nestlé’

Member of Scottish Parliament, Elaine Smith, highlighted Nestlé’s baby food marketing in questioning contracts awarded by local authorities to Nestlé for bottled water. 

One of the five authorities has switched suppliers and a second is in the process of doing so (Sunday Express, 18 May 08).

Nestlé book prize ends

The Smarties Children’s Book Prize, launched in 1985 was rebranded the Nestlé Children’s Book Prize when Nestlé bought Rowntrees (the owner of Smarties) in a hostile takeover in1988.

Authors began to protest, and winners, Richard Platt (2002) and Sean Taylor (2007), refused to keep the prizes. The organisers, the Book Trust, had to hold the award ceremonies in secret locations until the end was announced in November 07 with Nestlé saying it would direct its sponsorship to: “nutrition, health and wellness issues.” Plans for the Nestlé Teenage Book Prize were abandoned in 2003 after Philip Pullman and Philippa Pearce and other leading authors protested. See: Independent on Sunday, 23.2.03.

We wish the Book Trust well as it continues to promote Children’s Book Week 6 - 12 Oct. and the Teenage Book Award without sponsors that violate child rights. 

  • The Nestlé Perrier Award ended after 25 years in 2006 but continues with a new sponsor.

The Queen’s dog food

The Food Magazine (issue 81) has highlighted that the British Royal Family have awarded their coats of arms to some questionable companies, including Nestlé Purina, which makes pet food.

The Telegraph (3.6.08) reported a Buckingham Palace spokesman saying: 

Royal Warrants are a mark of recognition that a trade organisation has supplied the Royal household to its satisfaction. It doesn’t necessarily mean that that particular product [bearing the coat of arms] has been used by the Queen.

So we still don’t know what the Corgis are eating. (Purina dog food contaminated with Melamine was recalled in the USA in 2007.)

The Queen presented the Order of the British Empire to Baby Milk Action’s Policy Director, Patti Rundall, on the recommendation of the Government. Royal Warrants are awarded by the Lord Chamberlain to the Royal Household, not the Queen herself. You can send a message to the Lord Chamberlain suggesting they may like to try non-Nestlé products at:

Nestlé fails to act on child slavery

A new report from the International Labor Rights Fund shows that Nestlé and other confectionery companies have failed to meet their commitments to a US Senate plan, called the Harkin-Engel Protocol, on ending child slavery. ILRF Executive Director, Bama Athreya, said:

The major chocolate companies are not able to prove the elimination of exploited child labor in their cocoa supply, nor show concrete improvements in West African farmers’ lives. Consumers cannot be assured today that their favorite chocolate candies are made without abusive child labor.

Tim Newman of ILRF’s Campaigns Department stated:

Consumers should reward companies with ethical integrity in their supply chains and continue to demand that world’s largest chocolate companies answer the question of how consumers can be assured their chocolate is not produced using exploited child labor.

Backsliding on 6-months

It took 9 years to persuade Nestlé to respect the 1994 WHA Resolution recommending 6 months as the appropriate age for introducing complementary foods. Nestlé’s loud declaration in 2003 that it would ‘lead the way’ by complying with this policy is at odds with its planned launch of a new range of baby milks and foods called NutriNes: “aimed at infants over the age of four months.” 

A report in Marketing (27.8.08) says Nestlé is also planning the global roll-out of an infant formula brand containing probiotics next year. The brand will contain the probiotic strain Lactobillus Reuteri and will launch “in all global markets except Japan and Korea. The line is backed by a £2.5m investment.” 

Several countries have refused to allow the addition of Probiotics to formulae and their use has not been approved in the EU.

Nestlé’s strategy for a UK launch

Nestlé is attempting to break into the UK mass formula market by targetting health workers. Chris Sidgwick, the midwife who launched Nestlé’s video without the required clearance from the Department of Health is currently promoting Nestlé study days with Zelda Wilson as main speaker. 

Zelda heads the Nestlé (UK) anti-boycott team, though her employment with Nestlé was not mentioned in publicity. Zelda and Chris Sidgwick have lobbied students to drop their support for the boycott. 

TV celebrity and author, Dr. Miriam Stoppard, has also been recruited to invite health journalists on an allexpenses-paid trip to Switzerland to meet Nestlé.

Nestlé driving down standards in South Africa - and co-opting UK Parliamentarians

MPs on jolly to South Africa

Nestlé took several members of the UK Parliament to South Africa on an all-expenses-paid week long trip in February to show off its work there. One was Rosie Cooper, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Health Minister, Ben Bradshaw. The Independent on Sunday (11 May) revealed that she was being sponsored by Nestlé for a yearlong Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship!

Another MP was Tom Levitt, who represents Buxton where Nestlé bottles water and has a sometimes fractious relationship with those wishing to develop its spa baths.

Mr. Levitt wrote glowing articles about Nestlé on his return, criticising those who continued to boycott it for actions from ‘30 or 40 years ago’. We wrote to Mr. Levitt pointing out that if he had conducted an independent investigation in South Africa he may have seen examples of on-going malpractice such as the supermarket promotion mentioned below. 

We have repeatedly requested to meet Mr. Levitt but have had no response.

Nestlé claims it formula ‘protects’ 

One example of Nestlé’s aggressive marketing in South Africa is its promotion of its Nan infant formula with claims that it ‘protects’ and its use of edge-of-shelf advertising (known as ‘shelf-talkers).

Shelf talker

The labels breach the existing South African regulations according to the Department of Health, which informed us:

Therefore, statements such as “optimal physical and mental development”, “activate your baby’s immune defences” and “strengthen your baby’s natural defences” as indicated on the labels are just some examples of prohibited statements on NAN 1 and 2.

Nestlé - and Tom Levitt MP - refuse to accept that such advertising is prohibited by the International Code, South African measures and Nestlé’s own Instructions, and claim that the shelf takers are merely information which has been cleared by the South African Advertising Standards Authority. Nestlé only provided us with the ASA ruling after we had made three requests. It was clear why they were reluctant: the complaint was brought by the Infant Feeding Association - the industry body which argued that the promotion:

contravenes both the World Health Organisation (WHO) Code and the Code of Advertising Practice, which [prohibits] practices used to induce sales directly to the consumer at retail level.

The ASA, a self-regulatory body funded by advertisers (with Nestlé one of the biggest) found in Nestlé’s favour. The Department of Health says it is normally consulted in such cases, but wasn’t with this one. The danger now is that Nestlé’s competitors, having failed to stop this, will feel compelled to follow Nestlé’s strategy.

  • South Africa’s proposed new law is urgently needed to put an end to all this promotion. Our April Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet enabled supporters from around the world to send messages to the Government’s consultation, urging them to take the right action. The draft law is strong and bans health and nutrition claims reflecting changes we achieved in the Codex Infant Formula Standard (see UD39). 

Why is coffee creamer used for infant feeding?

A survey of 1098 consumers and 26 paediatricians in Laos, published in the British Medical Journal in September, reaffirmed the harmful impact of Nestlé’s Brear Brand logo, which is used on many Nestlé formulae and was exposed by INFACT Canada in 2006.

The idealised mother bear holding a baby bear (along with the Vitamin claim) conveys a far more powerful message than the warnings:

The Bear Brand coffee creamer is used as a breast milk substitute in Laos. The cartoon logo influences people’s perception of the product that belies the written warning “This product is not to be used as a breast milk substitute.” Use of this logo on coffee creamer is misleading to the local population and places the health of infants at risk.

24 of the 26 paediatricians said mothers often or sometimes fed the product to babies. Malnutrition was also reported in babies fed exclusively on this totally unsuitable product.

When we raised similar concerns about Nestlé promoting whole milk in the infant feeding sections of supermarkets and pharmacies, Nestlé denied this placement promoted it as a breastmilk substitute, stating:

Why would the company want to promote other non-suitable products to feed infants in competition with its own products?

But why does Nestle insist on continuing this dangerous promotional method, if it is not to gain extra sales from poor mothers who might not otherwise feed their babies powdered milk?

And why does Nestlé refuse to stop putting this logo on coffee creamer when it is well aware of the misuse of these products. Laos is one of the poorest countries in South East Asia with extreme levels of malnutrition and a high level of illiteracy in rural areas.

Bear Brand logo

REF: Misperceptions and misuse of Bear Brand coffee creamer as infant food: national cross sectional survey of consumers and paediatricians in Laos

Nestlé in Vietnam Rent-a-dazzle

ICDC's Legal Update August 2008 explains how Nestlé breaks the prohibition on special displays in retail outlets in Vietnam by renting prime display space, dictating the placement (at eye level) and the minimum quantity of formula products to be displayed. 

All the products come under the scope of the Vietnamese Decree and four display options are given: diamond (124 tins; rental value US$43), platinum (64 tins; rental value US$19), gold (34 tins; rental value US$9) and silver (24 tins; rental value US$6).