Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Australia to Manchester and back again

In amongst today's activities the campaign in Australia came up on the Nestlé boycott email group. You can join the email group via the boycott section of http://www.babymilkaction.org/

The boycott in Australia was coordinated by the Australian Oxfam organisation, Community Aid Abroad. In recent years it has been less active and now links through to a campaign website run by boycott supporter Danny Yee. See

Interestingly Australia is one of the countries where independent polling finds Nestlé has a particularly bad reputation (see The Times). In the past Australian television has conducted its own investigation of Nestlé in the past, producing powerful and distressing images of the impact of aggressive marketing.

Although we count 20 countries as having groups that have launched the boycott, there are active boycotters in many more countries, some of whom are in contact with Baby Milk Action through the website and other means. You can hear interviews with some of those who attended the European meeting of the International Baby Food Action Network earlier this year. Click here.

But having a group to act as a contact point greatly strengthens a national campaign. Baby Milk Action can provide materials, such as the files and logos for printing leaflets and posters, and regular information updates. Contact me if you are interested in promoting the boycott in your country.

One of the tasks today was briefing a major UK campaigning organisation on the strategies we have used to promote the boycott and other aspects of the campaign.

Fundamental to a successful campaign is having accurate information. Nestlé is the target of a boycott because monitoring shows it to be responsible for more violations of the marketing requirements than any other company. To single it out for action and to make these allegations, we have to be sure of the facts. If Nestlé had grounds to take legal action to stop us accusing it of systematic and institutionalised malpractice then it surely would do so. Nestlé is a most litigious company, taking legal action against competitors and governments and fighting in the courts for years when challenged over illegal activities (such as its baby food labelling in India and water extraction in Brazil).

Nestlé has never taken legal action against Baby Milk Action.

On the other hand, Baby Milk Action did report Nestlé to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over an anti-boycott advertisement in which it claimed it markets infant formula ethically and responsibly and after a two-year investigation we won, in 1999, on all counts. However, Nestlé continues to make similar claims in its public relations materials and statements, which are not covered by the ASA.

So it proved at the Nestlé-sponsored fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference tonight, according to the first reports. In the end it was my colleague who made the trek up to Manchester. Participants received leaflets from boycott supporters as they arrived. Apparently many questioned Nestlés presence at the meeting and Culture Minister, David Lammy, pointed out his participation should not be taken as an endorsement of Nestlé. It remains to be seen if Nestlés reception is reported more widely.

The danger to the campaign and the need for our response can be seen by this report on the partnership between Nestlé and the Christian Socialist Movement, which appeared on the website of Premier Christian Radio (click here):

Christian Socialists make friends with Nestle

The Christian Socialist Movement have defended their move to allow Nestle to sponsor them at this year's Labour party conference.

CSM say they feel it's time to engage with the food giant.

In the past religious groups have boycotted Nestle, saying their policy of promoting babymilk over breastmilk in developing countries was unethical.


So even though it may not have been the organisers intention, in this report at least the message is they are now friends with Nestlé. The boycott and unethical behaviour is presented as in the past.

Fortunately the damage limitation exercise we were compelled to take has had some impact, at least in cyber space, with the controversy being highlighted in reports such as this in Australia (click here) which linked to the full news agency article I mentioned yesterday:

The Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) has defended its controversial decision to allow Nestle UK to sponsor one of its events at this year's Labour party conference.

The event which will be attended by Minister for Culture David Lammy MP is set to examine what governments, business and civil society are doing about forced labour.

Its sponsorship by Nestle UK however has drawn fire from campaigners Baby Milk Action.

"Nestle is keen to link with reputable organisations in its attempts to counter its reputation as the world's 'least responsible company'"Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action told Ekklesia.


So by targeting Nestlé in Manchester, the controversy over Nestlé gains publicity once more in Australia and elsewhere. The full report gives the details of why. The inclusion of our name brings new people to our website. If we had done nothing, Australians could also have been reading "Christian Socialists make friends with Nestle".

This exposure may not be noticed by Members of Parliament and delegates at the Labour Party Conference, of course. Unless it becomes a talking point at Conference, all they will see is the promotion for the event. See the CSM advertisement on our website to see what Nestlé linking its name with reputable organisations looks like (click here).

Work more directly impacting on the realities faced by people in developing countries goes on, of course, today including investigating a Nestlé promotion in Brunei, where Nestlé is giving away 5,000 free tins of Neslac formula, a milk for babies of one year of age. click here. More on this in the near future.

It is the same company, of course. On the one hand devising promotions to increase sales. On the other hand investing in events at the Labour Party Conference to improve its image and undermine the campaign to hold it to account.

Nestlé has a joined up strategy.

To be effective, campaigners must be aware of the big picture and understand when and where to focus their resources.

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