Mr. Chairman, Directors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am Mike Brady from the campaigning group Baby Milk Action and GIFA.
I would like to speak about the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and other baby foods. As part of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), I am raising the concerns of people monitoring Nestlé’s practices around the world.
I will keep this brief. Those of you who collected a leaflet on the way in will be able to follow the website link indicated for supporting information. [Click here for the leaflet. This links to an isite, intended for viewing on a smartphone, but can be viewed online: http://www.babymilkaction.org/isite/nestleagm.html]
It is well known that Nestlé markets baby foods with practices that violate the requirements adopted by the World Health Assembly.
This is why Nestlé is the target of a boycott. As Nestlé’s own Public Affairs manager once acknowledged, citing GMIPoll, Nestlé is widely boycotted [isite: Widely boycotted]. It is also much criticised in social media, having a positivity rating of just 12 out of 100, PR Week reported in 2010.
Last year, the newest member of the board, Ann Veneman, told the press that she would work from within Nestlé to try to stop these violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly [isite: AGM 2011]. Unfortunately, so far there is no sign of this working as executives continue the same strategies.
Rather than dwelling on the ongoing malpractice, however, I would like to highlight a case where executives did the right thing. Thousands of people emailed Nestlé about a promotional leaflet that claimed Nestlé’s formula is “The new ‘Gold Standard’ in infant nutrition”. This idealises formula, undermines breastfeeding and is prohibited by the marketing requirements [isite: Gold Standard flier].
Executives eventually discontinued this leaflet. This is welcome, but it shouldn’t have taken an email campaign. I appeal to you today to take action over the other violations reported. Executives agreed to act on just four violations out of 130 in the last global monitoring report from December 2010. That is just 3% and includes the leaflet I have just referred to.
Mr. Chairman, there needs to be systemic change, not just in response to email campaigns. Long ago, we put a four-point plan to executives for bringing policies and practices into line with the marketing standards and that would ultimately lead to the end of the boycott. But executives have repeatedly rejected this proposal.
Of course, it is not just Baby Milk Action that is critical. UNICEF responded to the news that Nestlé had been admitted to the FTSE4Good ethical investment index by saying it finds Nestlé to “routinely” violate the marketing requirements.
The Indian Department of Health confirmed in March this year that the company’s targeting of health workers is against the law: “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. [isite: India].
Nestlé continues other prohibited practices, such as promoting products with health and nutrition claims. We note that on its website, Nestlé dismisses concerns about the ‘protect’ logos used on formula labels. To promote formula around the world claiming it will ‘protect’ babies is the height of irresponsibility when it is well known that babies who are fed on formula rather than breastfed are more likely to become sick than breastfed babies and, in conditions of poverty, more likely to die. [isite: The protect logo].
In the Creating Shared Value report, Nestlé claims there were only 19 concerns about non-compliance with the WHO Code raised in 2011 and even less in 2010 and corrective action was taken in all cases. Clearly the cases raised by IBFAN are not included in this total. Nor are concerns that have been raised by others, such as the thirteen development agencies in Laos who cited Nestlé’s violations as the reason they will not support its Creating Shared Value initiative. [isite: Creating Shared Value].
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I recall your address in Boston some years ago stating that companies should not feel obligated to ‘give back’ to the community and any initiatives should be pursued with an underlying intention of making money for investors. This was a refreshing admission.
While some here may welcome this position, I ask the boards and I ask shareholders to respect that some of the areas Nestlé is entering into are not where you should be trying to boost your profits. For example, it is not Nestlé’s role to provide education on mother and infant and young child nutrition either in its own name or by trying to forge partnerships with others. The company presents this as beneficial, but it is harmful for a company with an underlying interest in selling baby food to be in this area and is 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.
Nestlé’s responsibilities in this area are clearly set out in the World Health Assembly’s Global Strategy and are limited to marketing its products in accordance with the international standards.
Thank you for the opportunity to raise these issues. The four-point plan remains on the table if Nestlé is prepared to meet its responsibilities. [isite: Four-point plan].
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. [APPLAUSE FROM SOME SHAREHOLDERS].
I ask executives to reconsider the plan and board members such as Ann Veneman to encourage them to do so, with the backing of shareholders.