Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Nestlé book prize a lack lustre event apparently

Nestlé book prize a lack lustre event apparently

Imagine the situation. You have opened the cheque book to sponsor something as innocent and worthy as a prize for children's literature. It's a great scheme where the winners are chosen by children whose schools have received copies of the short-listed books.

And then on the day of the awards, despite trying to keep the time under wraps and the media away, those Baby Milk Action people turn up and tell tales on you. Hand out leaflets explaining how your company is abusing children's rights. How your aggressive marketing of baby foods is contributing to the needless death and suffering of infants around the world. How your company has failed to act on reports of child slavery on the farms which provide you with cocoa for the confectionery you want these school kids to gobble up.

A bit embarassing perhaps. At least several of the people who attended the Nestlé Children's Book Prize told us afterwards they thought the event lack lustre and the atmosphere strange as top Nestlé people mingled with participants holding information exposing company behaviour.

Quite right too. Nestlé should be haunted by the suffering it causes, don't you think?

Interesting side point is that the Nestlé community relations manager who was spokesperson for Nestlé on the book prize is better known to us as a former coordinator of the anti-boycott team based at Nestlé's Croydon HQ. This is, of course, logical as Nestlé's support of good causes is intrinsic to its attempts to undermine the boycott and improve its image. The Chief Executive himself has said that giving to charity can only be excused if it will benefit shareholders, so nobody should have illusions as to where Nestlé is coming from. That was his message to business leaders in Boston last year, as reported in the Boston Herald.

"Companies shouldn't feel obligated to 'give back' to the community, because they haven't taken anything away, the Austrian-born chief of the world's largest food company told local executives yesterday. In a stunning broadside to corporate citizenship as Bostonians have come to know it, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe - head of Nestle S.A. - said companies should only pursue charitable endeavors with an underlying intention of making money for investors."

You now need to pay for the full report on that website, so also see

Whether the Booktrust wishes to continue to add to Nestlé shareholder value remains to be seen. It took several years before the Perrier Award organisers found another sponsor. Hopefully at least those attending this year's event have greater awareness of how Nestlé is using their good name to try to improve its image and to divert attention from its malpractice. If our leafleting made people uncomfortable then I suggest it is not Baby Milk Action's fault for raising these issues, but Nestlé's for being guilty of putting its pursuit of profit above human rights and infant health.

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