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UNHCR uses ‘due diligence’ and abandons
US$ 5 million deal with Nestlé

Press release 23 November 2009

Baby Milk Action, colleagues in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and thousands of health campaigners around the world are sighing with relief as a partnership deal, worth about US$ 5 million, between the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Nestlé has been abandoned at the last minute. Learning about the planned partnership, IBFAN and ally NGOs have over a number of months provided UNHCR with evidence of Nestlé’s poor practice in child nutrition and in the water sector.

UNHCR abandoned its initial idea of Nestle funding for its nutrition programmes, but was still pursuing a partnership on water, sanitation and livelihood development. On Monday 16th November, Patti Rundall OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action, telephoned Olivier de la Rue, Head of Corporate Partnerships at UNHCR and followed through with a letter on behalf of the 20-country International Nestlé Boycott Committee on Thursday 19th November. She questioned whether UNHCR was using ‘due diligence’ in relation to the proposed agreement and whether it had taken sufficient account of the independent evidence supplied to it. This shows that although Nestlé has made some changes to its baby food marketing tactics, mainly in response to legal constraints and public action, it continues to be the worst company in terms of violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions. Nestlé is one of the most boycotted brands on the planet and would undoubtedly use a link to UNHCR in an attempt to gain influence over policy and to improve its poor ethical image, instead of addressing fundamental failings in its practices (note 1).

International Code violations have been recognized as violations of the child’s right to the highest attainable standard of health. It follows that taking money from a Code violator undermines any work UNHCR or the UN system as a whole strives to do in the area of infant and young child survival. Indeed UNICEF has said:

Marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding are potentially hazardous wherever they are pursued: in the developing world, WHO estimates that some 1.5 million children die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. These facts are not in dispute.

Nestlé’s instructions to its staff which had been presented to UNHCR as evidence of the company’s good practice and its ability to rectify any problems, use a weak and misleading interpretation of the International Code and Resolutions which differs substantially from that of UNICEF and WHO on key areas. Nestlé’s strategy is to admit to some wrong-doing, but dismiss the large majority of violations reported to it – each one placing children’s lives at risk.

Baby Milk Action also highlighted evidence (which it has reported to the UN Global Compact Office – a voluntary corporate social responsibility initiative) of Nestlé’s violation of human rights in respect of workers’ rights, child labour and slavery in its cocoa supply chain; its exploitation of farmers, particularly in the dairy and coffee sectors, and its environmental degradation, particularly of water resources.

This multi-million dollar offer to the UNHCR came as Baby Milk Action and other civil society groups are calling for Nestlé to be investigated by the UN Global Compact Office under its ‘Integrity Measures‘.

Global Compact cover up cover

On the evening of Friday 20th November, Sybella Wilkes, UNHCR, Senior Communications Officer, responded saying:

Dear Ms Rundall, I am writing to let you know that there is currently no plan for an agreement with Nestlé but we do not rule out the possibility in the future.

When asked for confirmation that the planned announcement would not go ahead on the 25th November, Sybella Wilkes sent a second email saying:

I can confirm that there is no agreement and no planned agreement.

IBFAN and Baby Milk Action value their long and close collaboration with UNCHR, which has done so much to improve policies and practices in relation to infant and young child feeding in emergency situation (note 3).

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:

At first sight it may seem that any money going into UNHCR initiatives must be good news, but Nestlé has stated in the past that it only pursues charitable endeavours if these will benefit shareholders. In a case like this we might see Nestlé seeking to increase income by influencing UN policy and gaining routes to market for its products and using the link to try to divert attention from efforts to hold it to account in the many areas of its business where there are concerns.

It is surely no coincidence that Nestlé is throwing its money at the UN as we call on the UN Global Compact Office to investigate how Nestlé is breaking the principles it claims to support and brings thisvoluntary corporate social responsibility initiative into disrepute by submitting misleading reports which the UN publicises.

It is welcome the UN is not taking the money. Now we hope it will take the next step and conduct the review called for under the Global Compact Integrity Measures and exclude Nestlé from the Global Compact until it changes its policies and practices.

UPDATE: Question tabled in the House of Lords by Lord Avebury, (Lib Dem Peer) 30th November 2009

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will discuss with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees the desirability of entering into a new partnership agreement with Nestlé, with reference to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions. [HL378]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead):

We fully support the principles of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly and are committed to the promotion and encouragement of breastfeeding for infants. We have spoken with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and understand that they are in the process of considering their position. 6 Jan 2010 : Column WA99

For more information contact:

Patti Rundall (Baby Milk Action): +44 (0) 7786 523493
Mike Brady (Baby Milk Action): +44 20 3239 9222
Lida lhotska (IBFAN/GIFA in Geneva) : +41 22 798 9164

Notes for editors

1. According to an independent survey Nestlé is one of the most boycotted brands on the planet and the most boycotted brand in the UK. See The Guardian (1 September 2005) http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/businessinsight/archives/2005/09/01/branded.html The Nestlé Boycott has been launched by national groups in: Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Cameroon, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UK and the USA) . The boycott will continue until Nestlé abides by the International Code and subsequent World Health Assembly Resolutions in policy and practice.

2. See Inner City Press: UNHCR Poised to “Bluewash” Nestle on Child Labor, Water and Infant Formula Abuse By Matthew Russell Lee UNITED NATIONS, November 15.

http://www.innercitypress.com/unhcr1nestle111509.html
See also: http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2009/11/well-fed-brabeck.html

3. http://www.ibfan.org/breastfeeding_week.html

4. Further information on Nestlé practices can be found on the Nestlé Critics website: http://www.nestlecritics.org/

The UN Global Compact states it: “is not now and does not aspire to become a compliance based initiative. Nevertheless, safeguarding the reputation, integrity and good efforts of the Global Compact and its participants requires transparent means to handle credible allegations of systematic or egregious abuse of the Global Compact’s overall aims and principles.” Its integrity measures state that if: “the continued listing of the participating company on the Global Compact website is considered to be detrimental to the reputation and integrity of the Global Compact, the Global Compact Office reserves the right to remove that company from the list of participants and to so indicate on the Global Compact website.”

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