Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How does Nestlé investigate reports of violations?

I've just posted Nestlé's response to a recent Campaign for Ethical Marketing case on our website and our analysis of it.

In India last year Nestlé sponsored cultural and sporting events for medical students, arranged symposia for doctors and a representative was found distributing leaflets to parents in a clinic. Violations of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements and also covered by Indian legislation.

I wrote to Nestlé Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, who has stated that he personally investigates any hint of a violation. The response came from the anti-boycott team based at Nestlé (UK) in Croydon, from Beverley Mirando who has just reversed Nestlé's policy on debating with its critics in fact. The response shows why Nestlé is so fearful of responding to critics in a public forum and why it has lost all past debates.

Firstly Nestlé does not appear to know the law, referring to 1992 legislation, rather than the 2003 amendment that introduced a prohibition on sponsoring events for health workers.

Nestlé admits to organising the symposia for health workers, but claims they are not illegal. It does not refer to the music night and other events for medical students at all.

It claims it has investigated and leaflets were not distributed to mothers at the clinic as reported by a doctor. We went back to our partners with Nestlé's letter who contacted the doctor who has confirmed how he confiscated hundreds of leaflets from Nestlé's medical representative, who is named, and explained how he found him distributing leaflets and free samples of Cerelac cereal food for infants to parents in the vaccination clinic after he had been to see him to promote his products.

Nestlé's claims this never happened, effectively calling the doctor a liar. It claims the leaflets were not given to parents and they were for medical personal only. This is not the first time it has used this argument when we have found it producing leaflets in large quantities and distributing them direct to parents. We have highlighted past cases on the Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet. Some years ago former Nestlé employee Syed Aamir Raza documented how this was part of his training in Pakistan. See the report Milking Profits.

Nestlé claimed it investigated Aamir's allegations and found them false. In past debates Beverley has even referred to an external audit which she has claimed shows this. I then quote from the audit report where the auditors state they did not investigate Aamir's claims, they only investigated the situation they found when they visited Pakistan, which we know was a month after senior Nestlé staff went to Pakistan to prepare the way. The auditors also admitted at the launch of their report that they were forbidden from contacting Aamir, Baby Milk Action, our partners in Pakistan and any other Non Governmental Organisations. Our offer to Nestlé to provide information to the auditors when we learned the audit was planned was not passed on. The auditors could only interview doctors and distributors from a list provided by Nestlé.

It is depressing that so little has changed since then. The same type of promotion is exposed in India and Nestlé simply denies the evidence, claiming to have conducted an investigation. The doctor who made the report says he has seen no-one from Nestlé since the representative was distributing leaflets.

What type of investigations does Nestlé conduct? Ones that do not stand up to the most basic scrutiny, but which they hope will persuade those who want to believe the best of Nestlé - perhaps because they want to take its money or invest in it - that it does no wrong.

Nestlé loses debates because it does not tell the truth about its activities. It is great shame that instead of changing its practices it has decided to stop attending debates. This may save its staff embarassment of being caught out in public, but brings the company into disrepute and does nothing to help infants.

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