Press release 19 April 2012
Media coverage: Dairy Reporter 20 April 2012
At the company shareholder meeting in Lausanne on 19 April, Nestlé Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, rejected proposals from Baby Milk Action that could ultimately bring to an end the long-running boycott of the company over the way it markets breastmilk substitutes.
Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet according to a past survey by GMI Poll. Baby Milk Action’s Campaigns and Networking Coordinator, Mike Brady, asked the Chairman (third from right on the platform, below), Directors and shareholders to reconsider the four-point plan put to the company repeatedly since 2001, which calls on the company to bring baby food marketing policies and practices into line with World Health Assembly requirements. Mr. Brabeck answered that it was not for Baby Milk Action to tell him what to do.
Mr. Brabeck had prepared a film to show if the baby milk issue was raised (as Baby Milk Action does most years). This highlighted events Nestlé organises for health workers, ostensibly about breastfeeding, including in India where infant food manufacturing companies are prohibited by law from sponsoring or hosting events for health workers. Mr. Brabeck played the film in response to Mr. Brady’s intervention to divert attention from how Nestlé currently markets breastmilk substitutes and attempted to re-write history by claiming that the company helps breastfeeding and this was the reason it was born.
Mike Brady commented afterwards, referring to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly:
“Mr. Brabeck’s response, that it is not Baby Milk Action’s place to tell him what to do, is disingenuous as the marketing requirements are not something we have invented, they have been adopted by the World Health Assembly, the world’s highest health policy setting body.
“I asked Mr. Brabeck specifically why Nestlé’s CEO defended company events targeting health workers in India when the Indian Government has confirmed that this violates their laws. Instead of answering, Mr. Brabeck showed a film boasting about such events, as if the views of the Indian Government are of no consequence. It is harmful for a company with a financial interest in selling baby food to be promoting its name in this way and is also a clear violation of the Code, which prohibits manufacturers and distributors seeking direct or indirect contact with pregnant women and the mothers of infants and young children”
In presenting the year report to shareholders, Mr. Brabeck highlighted Nestlé’s inclusion in the FTSE4Good ethical investment listing in an attempt to pre-empt criticism about its marketing of breastmilk substitutes. FTSE does not require companies to abide by the International Code and Resolutions to be included in the FTSE4Good Index. Mr. Brady raised Nestlé’s failure to act on reports of violations, contrary to claims made in the Creating Shared Value report presented to shareholders (Nestlé acted on just four of 130 violations in the last monitoring report from the International Baby Food Action Network), and called on Nestlé to limit its activities the role given to it in the World Health Assembly’s Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding: to market its products responsibly.
Some shareholders applauded Mr. Brady’s closing comment: “This is not just about Nestlé escaping the boycott and improving its image, it is about the rights of mothers and their families and the survival of babies.”
According to UNICEF: “Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year.”
Although Nestlé has described its infant nutrition business as one of its “main strategic pillars” it did not have any of its baby milk on display in an adjoining exhibition. Instead Nestlé displayed some of its breastfeeding materials, all branded with the Nestlé Infant Nutrition slogan “Nestlé – Start healthy, Stay healthy”, revealing the fundamental conflict of having a company that competes with breastfeeding involved in promoting it. World Health Assembly Resolutions stress the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest in health programmes and support to health workers.
Mr. Brady commented: “Nestlé did not put any of its baby milk products on display in the adjoining exhibition, perhaps suspecting Baby Milk Action would raise concerns about prohibited claims and images being used on labels.”
Mike Brady on +44 7986 736179 and firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes for editors
Mr. Brabeck said in his opening presentation of the company report:
In 2011 we were included, as the first and only infant formula manufacturer, into the responsible investment index of the London Stock Exchange – the so-called FTSE4Good – after having undergone a very rigorous external audit of a whole range of company policies and practices, notably in the areas of supply chain, human rights and breast milk substitutes marketing. Particularly in the very sensitive and historically charged area of infant nutrition, additional external verification in India and Zambia confirmed that Nestle has implemented the most rigorous control mechanisms in the industry.
Mr. Brady pointed out that UNICEF had commented in response to the FTSE4Good listing that it found Nestlé was “routinely” violating the Code (UNICEF confirmed its finding at the time of Nestlé shareholder meeting in 2011 – click here). He also said:
The Indian Department of Health confirmed in March this year that the company’s targeting of health workers is against the law stating: “In our opinion, which has been clearly expressed in our letter dated 17 August 2010, such activities violate [the Indian Law]*.” Yet when FTSE4Good raised similar concerns, Mr. Bulcke wrote back to FTSE defending the practices, not mentioning that the Indian Government has described them as against the law.
*According to the Indian Government, Nestlé’s activities targeting health workers “are violative of Section (9) of the Infant Milk Substitute Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 1992 and Amendment Act 2003”.
The full text of Mr. Brady’s intervention is available by clicking here.
FTSE evaluates companies against their own policies and management systems, rather than the International Code and Resolutions. With regard to assessments on the ground, FTSE rejected IBFAN’s suggestion that it evaluate specific violations generated by these systems, stating: “we will not be asking the assessors to act as a judge with regards to specific allegations, but rather to assess whether the companies practices on the ground are in-line with THEIR stated policies.” [emphasis added].
Left: Nestlé advertises Nan formula on television in Armenia, which it classifies at a high-risk country. Nestlé’s own Instructions prohibited it from advertising formula brands such as Nan as they stated it would not promote follow-on formulas except for those that “have brand/label design which is distinctly different from infant formula”. It weakened its Instructions in 2010 by allowing promotion if the formula packshot shows a number 3 or 4, which it describes as “growing-up milks”. Click here for further information.
Mr. Brady reminded shareholders that even Nestlé’s Public Affairs Manager has acknowledged that Nestlé is “widely boycotted” and that a survey cited by PR Week found Nestlé had an internet “positivity rating” of just 12 out of 100 as it repeatedly runs into criticism on blogs and social media.
Baby Milk Action supporters handed shareholders arriving at the meeting a flier with an OCR code that can be scanned by a smartphone to open an iPod type display of information referred to in Mr. Brady’s intervention. Click here to download the flier. Or load the address:http://archive.babymilkaction.org/isite/nestleagm.html
The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2002 defines the role of the industry clearly in Article 44:
44. Manufacturers and distributors of industrially processed foods intended for infants and young children also have a constructive role to play in achieving the aim of this strategy. They should ensure that processed food products for infants and children, when sold, meet applicable Codex Alimentarius standards and the Codex Code of Hygienic Practice for Foods for Infants and Children. In addition, all manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, including feeding bottles and teats, are responsible for monitoring their marketing practices according to the principles and aim of the Code. They should ensure that their conduct at every level conforms to the Code, subsequent relevant Health Assembly resolutions, and national measures that have been adopted to give effect to both.