Friday, April 13, 2007

Committed to exposing corporate malpractice

Thanks to everyone who has completed our quick questions on how you keep updated on the baby milk campaign. If you haven’t done so yet, please do. It only takes a few minutes. See:

One person who answered was obviously not a fan of our work suggesting we are ‘obsessed’. The Oxford English dictionary says to be obsessed means an issue will: “fill the mind of (someone) continually and disturbingly.”

Mmmm. Could have a point, ‘cos here I am supposed to be on leave and not doing a blog this week and here’s the fourth. But it has been a little exceptional with Wyeth’s new marketing campaign for its SMA milks and Nestlé announcing the takeover of Gerber yesterday.

I prefer to use the word committed though. Which the Oxford English dictionary defines as: “dedicated to a cause, activity, job, etc.”

Ah yes. Committed to exposing and stopping corporate malpractice. Committed to protecting infant health and mothers' rights.

And it is not just me. Groups around the world have launched national boycotts.

Lots of people promote the boycott on their own volition. Doing a quick search on YouTube to see how my animation on Wyeth/SMA is getting on (over 600 views already) I came across this guy, Joel Gore, drinking vinegar in support of Baby Milk Action. Not exactly sure why. We didn’t put him up to it and have to say ‘don’t try this at home, folks (try something else to raise awareness and funds)’.

At the same time, thanks for the dedication, Joel. Looks like there was a good turn out to the stunt and quite a few viewers on YouTube too. It is through such commitment that Nestlé has become the most boycotted company in the UK and one of the four most boycotted on the planet (see The Guardian for details of the GMIPoll from where this finding comes).

If you are not of a nervous disposition, you can view the video here.

There are less nauseous ways to support the campaign, of course.

For example, we are demonstrating outside Nestlé (UK) HQ in Croydon on 19 May from 11:00 till noon. Further details at:

It is Nestlé’s shareholder meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on 19 April. So you could pop along to the ‘Palais de Beaulieu’ before the 2:30 pm start with some suitable leaflets and placards to politely inform shareholders. Being careful not to cause obstruction, trespass etc. etc. If you have a share you can enter and raise questions. Correction. You can enter if you can persuade Nestlé to register the share, which seems to be just about impossible. I’ll write more about this for anyone interested in coming along next year. Mr. Brabeck should be standing down as Chief Executive so deserves a resounding send off.

Mr. Brabeck is exasperated by the boycott. At least that’s what it says in one of the reports on the Nestlé takeover of Gerber where the boycott is mentioned.

The UK Daily Telegraph says today:

---Quote begins

The deal also marks a significant return to Nestlé's roots. The company was selling baby supplements long before KitKats.

However, that occasionally led to controversy, not least when Nestlé was accused of promoting baby formula in Africa at the expense of breast feeding. That led to a boycott, and some people still perceive the company in a bad light, which exasperates Mr Brabeck-Letmathe.

"We are considered today one of the most socially responsible companies in the world," he said. "Yet you have a small group of people in the UK who are still talking about infant formula, which was an issue 30 years ago.”
---quote ends

Two points here. Mr. Brabeck says here it is a small group in the UK. On other occasions he has included other countries, such as Sweden, while his own company’s survey finds Nestlé gets the ‘red card’ in Australia and Italy as well (see The Times). It was an independent survey that found Nestlé to be one of the most boycotted companies on the planet. So basically Mr. Brabeck says whatever he thinks will divert criticism.

Second point is that as Mr. Brabeck keeps this an issue by systematically violating the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods and has had many violations reported to him personally. While Mr. Brabeck claims to personally investigate any hint of a violation, reports are either ignored or he gets a minion to dismisses them. See a recent example of violations in India.

Remember, of course, that Mr. Brabeck could have put an end to the boycott years ago by agreeing to the four-point plan put to him. But he refuses to accept the validity of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements and the need for Nestlé to bring policies and practices into line, the first two points of the plan.

Let us hope his successor is a little more capable when it comes to social responsibility and addressing legitimate concerns. Mr. Brabeck’s approach has served only to demonstrate the company’s contempt for regulations and infant health. Fortunately his public relations initiatives usually backfire, generating headlines such as “Mr. Nestlé gets angry”.

We see the Nestlé takeover of Gerber as bad news. Last year Novartis, then owner of Gerber, was admitted to the FTSE4Good ethical listing after giving undertakings to change policies and practices to bring them into line with the World Health Assembly marketing requirements (undertakings Mr. Brabeck refuses to give to the International Nestlé Boycott Committee). While there had been no sign of changes to practices, we were hopeful, not least because Novartis would have been expelled from the list if it did not deliver.

If Nestlé is the owner of Gerber it does not have to deliver on the Novartis commitment as Nestlé is not on the FTSE4Good list. Nestlé does not meet the FTSE4Good criteria on baby milk marketing. In fact, Nestlé is worse than Gerber in its aggressive marketing from the evidence of past monitoring projects. So what hope is there it will change Gerber's practices when it won't change its own? Not much, without pressure from the boycott and from legislation.

But lets not obsess over Mr. Brabeck. You can read my blog suggesting he should relax more.

While we are committed to exposing Nestlé malpractice, it is not to the exclusion of other companies. As our current campaigns demonstrate, including in support of the Philippines, against illegal promotion in UK supermarkets and exposing Wyeth’s new promotion strategy for SMA formula.

Again, it is not just us. The International Baby Food Action Network consists of over 200 groups in more than 100 countries. And lots of other people support the campaign outside the IBFAN network.

Here is a rather wonder animated image from Tracy on the new SMA logo. You can also see it on her Myspace page.

So call us obsessed. Call us committed. Whatever.

While companies continue to put their own profits before infant health and mothers' rights, we aren’t going away. And there are a lot of us. Some even prepared to drink vinegar if it will help.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your video animation mocking the new SMA ad campaign which was posted on It led me here to your blog to read more about this issue.

I have included links back to both for the readers of my blog here in NY and the US. It is gratifying to know that there is such an eloquent spokesperson for the Nestle Boycott in the UK.

With globalization and very slick add campaigns, such as this one for SMA Gold, yours is not an easy job. It takes so much vigilance to actually implement the boycott in daily life.

Your blog and this article have spurred me on to urge the mothers in my practice to revisit the Nestles Boycott. Many of them are too young to remember when it began over 20 years ago. On both sides of the pond, we need to put these companies on notice!