The following response has been sent by Nestlé to members of the public who have raised concerns about its baby food marketing practices.

Nestlé’s comments are inset and in italics.

Baby Milk Action’s comments are interspersed and clearly marked.

Nestlé’s email dates from July 2014.

Dear Sir/Madam

We welcome the opportunity to send you some general information in response to concerns raised about the company’s marketing of infant formula in developing countries.

Baby Milk Action comment: at the outset Nestlé is limiting the issue to one of infant formula marketing – whereas concerns also relate to how it markets other breastmilk substitutes and baby foods as well. Nestlé also restricts its response to developing countries, whereas concerns are also raised about its operations in industrialised countries. The reasons for this will become clear.

Nestlé firmly believes that breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby and we are strongly committed to its protection and promotion.

Baby Milk Action comment: Nestlé says this, but it is marketing its infant formula (for use from birth) with claims such as it is the ‘natural start’, ‘protects’ babies and is the ‘gentle start’. Nestlé executives at the highest level of the company have refused to stop this process even though they know that babies fed on formula are more likely to become sick than breastfed babies and, in conditions of poverty, more likely to die.

You can see Nestlé’s own labels from selected countries on a Baby Milk Action poster. It is essential to look at what Nestlé actually does no just what it says it does.

Nestle labels

Far from being committed to the protection and promotion of breastfeeding, Nestlé opposes regulations that aim to do this through implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly (for example, in the Philippines).

However, when mothers cannot, or choose not to breastfeed, infant formula offers a safe and nutritious alternate to rice water, cow’s milk or other unsuitable substitutes for breast milk. Infant formula is the only product recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a suitable alternative to breast milk.

Baby Milk Action comment: the marketing requirements do not prevent breastmilk substitutes from being sold. These prohibit the use of idealising claims such as those Nestlé puts on labels and other strategies it uses, such as advertising of brand names, seeking direct and indirect contact with pregnant women and mothers of infants and young children and targeting of health workers.

How Nestlé markets breast-milk substitutes in developing countries

We believe that exclusive breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby in the first six months of life and we therefore fully comply with the WHO Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes as implemented by national governments.

Baby Milk Action comment: Firstly, Nestlé’s comments on breastfeeding are not in line with the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, adopted by the World Health Assembly, which recommends, “exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.” 

Secondly, Nestlé undermines breastfeeding despite its stated support and is confused on the extent to which it says it complies with the WHO Code (see later). Here it says it complies with the Code, ‘as implemented by national governments’. This is the line it takes in on-going written communication with Baby Milk Action. However, only 35 countries have legislation fully implementing the Code – often because Nestlé and the rest of the baby food industry has lobbied against such measures. Even then, Nestlé does not comply in these countries. For example, products were seized in India in October 2012 for failing to abide by labelling requirements, a decision recently upheld by the courts in July 2014, despite an appeal by Nestlé. The Indian authorities have also stated that Nestlé sponsorship of health worker events breaks Indian law.

The latest global monitoring report, Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2014, from the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) International Code Documentation Centre contains 40 pages of examples of Nestlé practices that violate the International Code and Resolutions. Baby Milk Action raised this at the company’s shareholder meeting on 10 April 2014. The executive asked to respond by Mr Brabeck said that 90% of these violations comply with Nestlé’s own policies, demonstrating that these are not in line with the Code and Resolutions.


• In the 152 countries with high infant mortality and malnutrition rates as described by UNICEF, we apply the respective national laws and regulations or the WHO Code, whichever is stricter

Baby Milk Action comment: UNICEF has confirmed many times (including in writing to Nestlé) that the Code and Resolutions apply to all countries.

Earlier in the letter, Nestlé says, ‘we therefore fully comply with the WHO Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes as implemented by national governments’. Yet, here it says is complies with the Code if that is stricter. In reality, Nestlé directs staff to the Nestlé Instructions, which are weaker than the Code and Resolutions.

• In the European Union, we apply the respective EU Directives except in Bulgaria and Romania which are classified as high risk

• Everywhere else, we apply national laws and regulations implementing the WHO Code

Baby Milk Action comment: Article 11.3 of the Code states, ‘11.3 Independently of any other measures taken for implementation of this Code, manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of this Code should regard themselves as responsible for monitoring their marketing practices according to the principles and aim of this Code, and for taking steps to ensure that their conduct at every level conforms to them.’

It is not for Nestlé to pick and choose where it will apply the Code.

This means that in the developing world, Nestlé has no communication with the public whatsoever on baby milks.

Baby Milk Action comment: UNICEF’s Legal Officer confirmed long ago in response to a request for clarification on contact with the public from Baby Milk Action: ‘Article 5.5 of the Code states quite clearly that the marketing personnel of companies manufacturing products within the scope of the Code, in their business capacity, “should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infant and young children.” (emphasis added). Hence, any form of contact with mothers of children under the age of three years is prohibited, irrespective of the motivation behind the contact. It is no excuse to argue, for example, that contact is being sought in relation to a product that is not within the scope of the Code, such as complementary foods. The prohibition is absolute.’

Nestlé’s addition of the words ‘on baby milks’ in its declaration is deliberate. It targets pregnant women with a range of strategies, including using products for pregnant and lactating women, complementary foods, baby clubs, breastfeeding support, milks for use after 6 months of age (from birth in some countries).

In addition to following national Codes, Nestlé voluntarily applies the WHO Code, whether the government does or not.

Baby Milk Action comment: This contradicts the opening statement in the email and other statements given to Baby Milk Action. It also contradicts the Nestlé Instructions, which allow practices prohibited by the Code, such as targeting pregnant women etc.

This includes no incentives to health workers for promoting Nestlé products;

Baby Milk Action comment: We have recently exposed a Nestlé job description from Canada in July 2014 where the company was recruiting to its Nutrition Representatives team. Topping the list of staff major responsibilities is to, ‘Stimulate retail sales through the promotion of infant formulas and cereals to gain Healthcare Professionals recommendations’ and ‘Plan, lead and /or participate in medical education events/conferences.’ Around the world Nestlé targets health workers with its own events, sometimes offers sponsorship for their own events and incentives to attend events. Gifts are also given to health workers, including with Nestlé Nutrition and Start Healthy, Stay Healthy infant food logos. Examples are included in the UNICEF Philippines film ‘Formula for Disaster‘, which can be viewed online.

no pictures of babies on packs; product labels in the relevant local languages which state that breast milk is best for babies; and preparation instructions which are presented graphically.

Baby Milk Action comment: While baby pictures have gone, Nestlé uses other idealising images and claims. In addition, in ongoing written communication with Baby Milk Action, Nestlé continues to refuse to bring warnings and preparation instructions into line with WHO Guidelines for the safe preparation, storage and handling of powdered infant formula. Unless forced to do so by regulations (as in the UK), Nestlé refuses to warn parents that powdered formula is not sterile and the simple steps required to reduce risks. Warning of risks would undermine Nestlé’s strategy of claiming its formula ‘protects’.

Nestlé similarly refused to translate labels where there were ‘cost restraints’ until sufficiently shamed by public exposure. Mark Thomas picked up on Baby Milk Action’s campaigning on this issue to put Nestlé executives on the spot and eventually extracted a promise for change from Peter Brabeck. You can watch his two television shows on our boycott successes page.

Nestlé is the only major infant food company in developing countries which:
– Does not give free supplies of infant formula to hospitals.

Baby Milk Action comments: Nestlé has no grounds for painting itself as better than other companies. There continue to be concerns about free supplies in some countries, though the situation has been much improved thanks to campaigning on this issue. Again, these are changes that had to be dragged from Nestlé. For many years it defended the practice of providing free supplies to hospitals, claiming they were intended to babies who are not breastfed, which meant any child whose mother could be persuaded to bottle feed. Successive Resolutions at the World Health Assembly attempted to clarify this exclusion should only refer to cases of medical need, but as hospitals continued to be flooding, finally said in 1994 there should be no free supplies.

– Refrains from marketing cereals and baby foods for infants younger than 6 months.

Baby Milk Action comments: Nestlé’s change in labelling of complementary foods for use before 6 months of age should apply to all countries as exclusive breastfeeding is recommend for the first six months of life. The changes that it has made in the countries of its own choosing resulted from a 9-year campaign specifically on this issue. The World Health Assembly adopted Resolution 47.5 in 1994 stating the importance of, ‘fostering appropriate complementary feeding practices from the age of about six months, emphasizing continued breast-feeding and frequent feeding with safe and adequate amounts of local foods.’ Nestlé only agreed to stop promoting complementary food before 6 months in 2003, announcing it during a week of demonstrations at Nestlé sites in the UK. See the boycott successes page.

– Does not advertise follow-on formula (for infants under 12 months of age).

Baby Milk Action comments: This is a case of Nestlé actually going backwards; when one strategy is closed down, Nestlé tries some other route to promote its products. In the past it said it would not advertise follow-on formula if it had the same branding as infant formula. However, it weakened this policy in July 2010 to restrict it to products for infant under 12 months of age.  This driving down of standards has been linked to its involvement with FTSE4Good (see below). In this way it excuses advertising infant formula brands such as Nan on television in what it defines as ‘high risk’ countries, such as Armenia.

Nestle Nan 3 formula advertised on Russian TV

In this case the advertising was backed by promotion of the full range in pamphlets distributed to health workers. The cross-promotional nature of the branding is clear from how the Nan branding dominates the labelling. Only two of the products on the pamphlet come within Nestlé’s weakened policy on advertising.

Nestle materials in Armenia - June 2011

We have the industry’s toughest system in place to enforce WHO Code compliance. Indeed, we are the only infant formula manufacturer listed by FTSE4Good, the London Stock Exchange’s Ethical Index.

Baby Milk Action comments: Nestlé was only included in the FTSE4Good Index in March 2011 after the criteria for Breastmilk Substitutes manufacturers were weakened. These look to company policies rather than the Code and Resolutions – and Nestlé weakened its own policies prior to being included, as described above. Organisations including Save the Children and UNICEF Laos have called on FTSE to bring the FTSE4Good criteria into line with the Code and Resolutions. FTSE has asked Nestlé more than once to stop implying that inclusion in FTSE4Good signifies Code compliance. Despite this, Nestlé implies otherwise, a strategy that comes from the Nestlé Chairman himself. See our briefing on FTSE4Good for further details.

More detailed information can be found on

Baby Milk Action comments: It is curious that Nestlé provides this website address as the site has been taken down and the address redirects to a page on its website (confirmed on 28 July 2014).  The website previously contained Nestlé’s Code Action Reports. These were launched with great fanfare by Peter Brabeck-Letmathé in 1999 when he was Chief Executive Officer. However, they quickly became an embarrassment for the company as they provided a route for Nestlé to apologise to policy makers who had been misrepresented as endorsing the company’s practices. One Report even included a right-to-reply from Baby Milk Action after Nestlé accused it of inaccurate allegations.

For more on the Code Action Reports, see this past blog.

To reply to this email or if you would like further information, please click here:

Baby Milk Action comment: This links to a website hosted by Customer Care specialists, Wilke Global.

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Yours sincerely