Friday, March 30, 2007

International impact of UK campaign – plus Brazil asks for help

The news of the UK crackdown on illegal health claims used to promote formula has spread to other countries. We have had reports from Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Here is a picture of the Sri Lanka article.

You can download a pdf with the full article on the page by clicking here.

It is significant that the companies have said they will change their infant formula labels in the UK. In the Philippines the government has been taken to court by baby food companies attempting to block regulations there.

However, as I reported earlier this week, in the UK companies appear to have stepped up promotion of the illegal health claims on follow-on formula, hoping they will escape through a loophole in the UK law, which treats infant formula and follow-on formula differently. Meanwhile Tesco continues with illegal promotion of infant formula. See:

We look with envy at Brazil where advertising of all breastmilk substitutes is prohibited. The idealizing images of teddy bears and other animals are banned from labels and ‘Ministry of Health warnings’ are required, as shown below on a tin of Nestlé Nido whole milk.

Nestlé Nido warning

Baby food companies are prohibited from producing or sponsoring educational material. Breastfeeding rates, which collapsed following the entry of Nestlé then other companies a century ago, are recovering significantly. Violations found in neighbouring countries are stopped in Brazil. It all goes to show companies can comply if forced.

But Brazilian partners are still asking for help. Their law is under attack. The dairy industry has already succeeded in having the ‘Ministry of Health warning’ for whole milks struck down by Congress. This now passes for the Senate. You can send a message to the Minister of Health and Senators calling for the warnings to stand. You can find full details in our Campaign for Ethical Marketing. See:

The warnings are important because poor mothers tend to use cheaper whole milks rather than formula. Nestlé promotes its whole milk in the infant feeding sections of pharmacies and supermarkets, a practice it has refused to stop. Here is a typical example I photographed on a past visit to Brazil.

Ninho promoted next to infant formula

It is telling that our partners are not faced with the formula promotion experienced by too many other countries. It is also telling that the dairy industry is prepared to try to gain sales by weakening the warnings on the labels of whole milks.

The changes to the baby milk law were sneaked through – in the face of opposition from our partners – in amendments to another law. That law was about making it easier for businesses to increase turnover to boost the economy.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

New Baby Milk Action t-shirts - competition

As promised, here are Baby Milk Action’s new t-shirts.

Yours for just £15 adult sizes. £11 children’s sizes. Including UK postage and packing. Add £2 for delivery outside the UK.

Available in white or grey (more pics on our website). Here's a close up:

Magnet tshirt detail

See the shop for a larger picture.

The t-shirts feature our popular pregnant and breastfeeding fridge magnets.

The magnets were designed by my wife, Sonia, and are produced in Brazil.

All make great presents for friends, family or yourself. Buy now in our on-line Virtual Shop.

You can also enter our competition. We've been calling the new t-shirts 'the fridge magnet t-shirts'.

Now we are looking for a better name.

In the shop I've posted them as 'Mothers united'. Do you have a better idea? If so, leave your suggestion in the comments.

If we decide to use your suggestion, we'll send you a free t-shirt from our range of your choosing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Companies show contempt for Philippines regulations

I've just posted company responses to our campaign in support of the Philippines.

These companies are opposing baby food marketing regulations introduced by the Department of Health. In the next few weeks the Supreme Court will have to decide whether to put company interests first, or those of infants and their families. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has said he is appalled at company tactics in opposing the regulations. According to the World Health Organisation 16,000 babies die in the Philippines every year because of inappropriate feeding.

Abbott says it supports breastfeeding and the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, but it is party to the legal action that has blocked the government regulations implementing the Code and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly. It is also violating the Code with idealizing claims on its labels, such as its boast its infant formula is an 'IQ nutrition system'.

Similac Philippines 2006

Such claims - and idealizing images - have been prohibited since the Code was introduced in 1981, but companies continue these aggressive strategies unless stopped by independently monitored and enforced regulations.

Nestlé is not party to the legal action and in a letter to Baby Milk Action, copied to influential policy makers, it portrays itself as supporting the regulations and the marketing requirements.

In doing so it falsely claims that Baby Milk Action only refers to examples of marketing malpractice from the 1990s - for Nestlé malpractice is always in the past, even when it denied it at the time. In any case, Nestlé's claim is untrue. We referred to recent and current activities, such as giving gifts to health workers, targeting mothers in the community and labelling its formula as containing 'Brain Building Blocks', an idealizing claim it references to 'experts'. Nestlé is referring to Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids - an independent, expert review of research by the Cochrane Library found the claims are not substantiated.

Nestlé Nestogen formula 2006

As so often in the past, Nestlé's attempt at scoring public relations points has backfired as we have responded with a letter exposing its dishonesty and have sent copies to those on Nestlé's distribution list.

Nestlé claims to support the regulations, but in reality has opposed key provisions, such as the scope, which covers foods for children up to two years of age. Nestlé wants to limit it to infants up to one year.

Novartis, owner of Gerber, is particularly disappointing in its response. It is boasting in its public relations materials of being accepted into the FTSE4Good ethical investment listing. This was on the understanding that it would make changes to its practices to bring them into line with the World Health Assembly marketing requirements.

The President and Chief Executive of Gerber, Kurt Schmidt, responded to Baby Milk Action's letter which welcomed the commitment Novartis had given and spelt out some of the violations we had seen which require changing if it is to deliver on that commitment. The response addresses none of them. For example, instead of agreeing to stop idealizing promotion of feeding bottles and teats on its website, Mr. Schmidt holds up the website as an example of how it provides information to mothers.

I've just checked now and all the violations we highlighted continue on the Gerber website, such as its advice to introduce feeding bottles with the claim:

Many dads, grandparents and other caregivers can bond with baby by taking part in the feeding process. They can help by giving a bottle of expressed milk or formula in the early evening or in the middle of the night. This gives mom a chance to rest and gives other special caregivers an opportunity to feed baby and form emotional bonds.

Infant feeding experts recommend that expressed milk is given with cups. Introducing bottles or supplementing with formula interferes with lactation. But Gerber tries to recruit fathers in its efforts to iundermine breastfeeding, with images such as this:
Gerber dad image
Regarding the Philippines, Novartis was asked to distance itself from the attack on the regulations by its partners in the Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines (PHAP) and failed to do so. It suggested that the regulations relate only to 'Infant Milk Formula', when in reality they cover products for infants up to two years of age, so including products in Gerber's portfolio.

Wyeth (manufacturer of SMA) was more straightforward in some respects, openly admitting it was opposed to the regulations. It claimed that this was in the interests of infants as mothers require information. Mothers do indeed require information, but free from commercial interest, which is why the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was introduced 25 years ago. The Code gives responsibility for advising parents to health workers and limits companies to providing scientific and factual information to health workers.

Wyeth, which has a criminal conviction in the UK for a 'cynical and deliberate breach' of the ban on advertising of infant formula is party, through the PHAP, to an advertisement in the Philippines arguing that mothers need information. The claims made in the advertisement in itself undermines breastfeeding as I wrote about recently. See:

It is in the best interests of infants and mothers that companies are regulated. Where the International Code and Resolutions, which are minimum standards, have been implemented in independently monitored and enforced regulations aggressive marketing such as that shown above is stopped. In some countries breastfeeding rates are increasing markedly, partly as a result (promotion of breastfeeding is also important) and this reduces infant mortality and morbidity.

It is hoped the Supreme Court will put infants first and defend the Department of Health regulations.

For the full text of the letters from companies see:

Journalists interested in reporting on the industry attack on the regulations can contact us for additional information.

Please do keep up the pressure on companies by writing to them.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Infant feeding information in the Philippines

I wrote recently about the way the pharmaceutical industry in the Philippines was backing its legal challenge on the government’s baby food marketing regulations with a media campaign. Its advertisements in themselves undermine breastfeeding, while arguing that mothers require information. See:

UNICEF, WHO and our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) from Canada (INFACT Canada) have just run an advertisement giving information on infant feeding.

This references scientific studies to highlight the health impact of infant feeding methods. As I wrote recently, there needs to be sensitivity in speaking of the health risks of formula feeding because for some there would have been no choice but to formula feed and a reminder of the health effects can be distressing. For others, formula-feeding may have seemed little more than a lifestyle choice as companies boast of the properties of their formula, claiming they are ‘close to breastmilk’. In the Philippines Nestlé claims its formula contains ‘Brain Building Blocks’ giving the impression formula-feeding improves intelligence. Such claims are prohibited by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly. They have been illegal in the UK for over a decade and the UK authorities have recently given companies notice that such claims are prohibited. We hope the Philippines court will similarly take strong action in standing up to corporate malpractice and will defend the government’s implementation of the World Health Assembly measures. See:

The advertisement run by UNICEF, WHO and INFACT Canada, which appeared in the Philippines Daily Inquirer yesterday (26 March 2007) is shown below.

When companies claim their formula is ‘close to breastmilk’ this gives a misleading impression. In the UK, a Department of Health survey published in 2005 found that 34% of mothers incorrectly believe infant formula is the same or similar to breastfeeding.

UNICEF, WHO and INFACT Canada declare in their advertisement: “Every woman has the right to know the evidence”.

Points highlighted, with reference to key studies, are as follows:

Diarrhoea and pneumonia

Formula-fed babies are sick 3 time longer and twice as often as breastfed babies in the first 6 months of life.

Formula-fed Filipino children have a five-fold increased risk of diarrhoea.

Exclusive breastfeeding prevents at least 33% of diarrhoea cases.

Studies conducted in several countries show that formula-fed children have up to a 16.7-fold increased risk of pneumonia than breastfed children.


Formula-fed infants have 40-50% higher risk of developing asthma and wheeze than infants who were breastfed for nine months or longer.

Food allergy

Children breastfed the longest had the lowest incidence of atopy, eczema, food allergy and respiratory allergy.

Reduced intelligence

Formula-fed children have IQ 3-5 points fewer than breastfeed children. The difference increases with longer breastfeeding.

Infection from contaminated formula

According to the International Food Safety Authorities Network, “It seems not to be possible, using current technology, to produce commercially sterile powders or completely eliminate the potential of contamination.” Courts have noted that pathogenic or disease-producing germs may be introduced into the body through food. The greatest danger of disease from such a source is milk or milk products.

Chronic diseases

Children who were never breastfed were 2.7 times more likely to be overweight than those who were breastfed.

Infant who were not breastfed upon birth had 33% higher risk of developing diabetes than those who were breastfed.

Exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding protect the child against diabetes.

Children who were not breastfed were at least 25% more likely to get leukaemia than those who were breastfed.

The UK Childhood Cancer Study found that breastfeeding tended to reduce cancer.

Breastfeeding saves lives

Globally, breastfeeding can prevent 1.3 million deaths. Over 30 studies from around the world, in the developing and developed countries alike, have shown that breastfeeding dramatically reduces the risk of dying.

A study revealed that infants who were exclusively breastfed during the first hour, were 9 times less likely to die than those who were initiated to mixed formula and breastmilk after 72 hours from birth.

Global evidence shows that exclusive breastfeeding prevents at least 75% of death from diarrhoea and 70% of deaths due to pneumonia.

The pdf version of the advertisement can be downloaded by clicking here and gives the references for the above statements.

It is important to remember that most of these statements are about risks. Not every child that is formula fed will become sick and not every child that is breastfed will avoid sickness. However, when groups of infants are considered, formula-fed infants are more likely to suffer short and long-term illness.

If the above is a surprise or a shock, it is because of the success of the baby food industry in suggesting its formula is ‘close to breastmilk’, the failure of authorities to hold them to account and the failure of health authorities to provide adequate information.

The World Health Assembly marketing requirements and the Philippines government's implementation of them are intended to ensure mothers receive accurate information free from commercial pressure.

While formula is intrinsically inferior to breastfeeding, some action can be taken to reduce risks, particularly risk due to intrinsic contamination with pathogens such as Enterobacter Sakazakii, which is worryingly common.

For information on how to reduce the risks of formula feeding and for information on dealing with breastfeeding problems, see the leaflets produced by UNICEF and contact your health worker. In the UK, mothers can contact mother-support groups. Click here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Nestlé, the dairy industry, winners and losers

The thing with promoting a boycott is people can get the idea you are anti-business. And what I am about to say regarding Nestlé’s new business ventures in Pakistan and Brazil may be misinterpreted. So first let me say I am not anti-business. I rejoice at the inventive capacity of human beings, even if I do believe there needs to be a new social contract better defining the responsibilities and checks on power of the organisations people form to exploit their ideas, particularly of those organisations whose power now rivals that of governments.

But that does not make me anti-business. Baby Milk Action tries to be good at business as a way to bring in some money to fund the campaign. While we appeal to people to support our work by becoming members, making donations and buying merchandise, it is actually necessary to provide products that people want. A new innovation is t-shirts with a cool image of the breastfeeding and pregnant fridge magnets which have proved so popular. These were launched at a conference last Saturday and sold extremely well. We’ll be launching them in our on-line Virtual Shop shortly. All profits go to the campaign.

The boycott has very clear aims: to compel Nestlé to abide by the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods so breastfeeding is protected and all mothers receive accurate information free from commercial pressure. Nestlé, the worst company in terms of violations of the marketing requirements, is so far rejecting our four-point plan aimed at saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott.

The boycott keeps Nestlé malpractice in the public eye, in the UK and globally.

An article about Nestlé in Pakistan today states: "The company remains one of the most boycotted in the world, mainly due to allegations regarding infant formula marketing tactics in developing countries. "

The article was prompted by Nestlé opening a factory for processing milk in Pakistan. As reported elsewhere, this is a US$70 million investment, opened by the President of Pakistan, General Musharraf who said to Nestlé's Chief Executive Officer at the ceremony: “You are assisting the poor of Pakistan and this helps us fight the root cause of extremism and terrorism."

Wow! It is difficult to argue with such an endorsement and I won’t, but would like to raise a few questions. Having tracked Nestlé’s use of public relations in trying to divert criticism and to promote its own agenda, sometimes things do not ring true. When it comes to Nestlé’s impact on dairy farmers, there are, country after country, concerns raised by those affected.

In pakistan Nestlé claims it collects milk from 140,000 dairy farmers and the new milk factory is the largest in Asia and the largest milk collection centre in the world. So how is this centralisation of the milk industry and position as a dominant buyer of milk going to affect farmers?

I first came across these isses when contacted by the Movement for Land Reform in Sri Lanka.

According to Sarath Fernando who I interviewed by telephone, Nestlé campaigned for the end of the Sri Lankan National Milk Board, which had in the past collected milk from smallholder farmers. With the monopoly broken, Nestlé and other transnational corporations began importing milk and selling it in powdered form, under cutting Sri Lankan farmers who, over a period of time, went out of business. Nestlé then began increasing the price of its milk. At the time of the Boxing Day tsunami in 2005 it was lobbying the government to have the price cap on milk lifted, so it could raise prices still further, prompting further mass demonstrations. You can hear the interview I recorded in 2002 in our broadcasts section.

For campaign details from the Asian Human Rights Commission from that time see:

They explained:

---Quote begins
Just two decades ago, Sri Lanka was a country where fresh milk was freely available and very cheap. In 1981, under the policy of liberalisation and privatisation, the government took a decision to close the National Milk Board and signed an agreement with Nestle to develop the dairy industry. After 20 years, there is no fresh milk available in the market, and the entire milk foods sector is in the hands of just two or three large companies, such as Nestle, Anchor and Maliban, which market only milk powders imported from the West.
---quote ends

The situation in Pakistan, however, seems more akin to that in Latin America and does not bode well for the farmers that President Musharraf is encouraging to provide their milk to Nestlé’s new factory rather than selling it in their communities or through existing collecting networks.

The situation in Brazil serves as two case studies. One is in the UK Food Group report Food Inc. Corporate Concentration from Farm to Consumer. This states:

---Quote begins
Before the 1990s, most of the main dairy processing firms were central cooperatives. Deregulation of the dairy market between 1989 and 1993 saw almost all of these cooperatives sold to multinationals. Nestlé, Parmalat and Fleischmann Royal control around 60% of the Brazilian diary market. The top three dairy processing companies in Brazil – Nestlé, Parmalat and Brazilian-owned Vigor – had 53% of the market in 1996. By 2000, eight of the 10 largest food companies in Brazil were multinationals, with Nestlé the biggest.

As a result of higher price competition, dairy companies have consolidated their supply bases to reduce transaction costs. The number of farmers delivering milk to the top 12 companies, for example, decreased by 35% between 1997 and 2000, and the average size of those farm suppliers has increased by 55%. Nestlé alone shed 26,000 farmers from its supply list in the same period – a drop of 75%.

Stronger competition rather than concentration has compelled the adoption and diffusion of new technology and quality standards. Use of production contracts (already common in pork and poultry) has expanded to milk. Private standards instituted by leading processors require the adoption of refrigeration tanks at farm level, which in turn demands a minimum scale of operation. Half of Brazilian milk producers immediately found themselves out of the supply system of the leading companies, though processors have encouraged collective tanks in regions dominated by small dairy farms. However, processors report a diminishing number of these collective tanks because of the higher transaction costs of managing these systems.
---quote ends

The Brazilian dairy industry also appears as a case study in Nestlé’s publication ‘Nestlé’s vision of Corporate Social Responsibility as practised in Latin America’. There its impact on the diary industry is dressed up as beneficial. Nestlé gives a case study of a dairy farmer who has done well out of the arrangement and has seen his milk yields expand markedly thanks to new farming techniques. No doubt there are winners as farms consolidate. Those who can’t compete lose their livelihoods. In Brazil it is estimated 26,000 farmers lost their livelihoods due to Nestlé trading practices. Colombian trade unionists told me 100,000 families dependent on diary farming lost their livelihoods due to Nestlé. You can hear an interview with a Colombian trade unionist by clicking here.

How much this is undesirable and how much it is an inevitability of moving to a modern, industrialised economy is open to debate. For the President of Pakistan it is much desired investment and a sign of progress. For the farmers who don’t survive it is the end of a way of life that has gone on for generations. For those that buy up their neighbours' farms so they can succeed in making a profit under Nestlé contract conditions, it is a new way of doing business. Links with their local communities are lost, replaced by the mass transport and distribution system introduced by Nestlé. It is perhaps viewed as the modern, western way, because the same business model has been rolled out here too. As the Food Inc. report records, in the UK dairy farmers are also finding it hard to make a living.

An inevitability or not, Nestlé is particularly ruthless in pursuing its business model. In Colombia it effectively starved farmers into submission when they refused to sell milk to its distribution network, by importing milk. Trade unionists reported to a tribunal held in Switzerland in 2005 that expired milk from Uruguary, Argentina and New Zealand was even repackaged. The authorities confiscated expired milk from Nestlé on 6 separate occasions.

Investment also serves strategic purposes for Nestlé. No doubt it is interested in making money out of milk in Pakistan, but this is also a country where its image has suffered because of exposure of its aggressive baby food marketing. In the 1990s a former employee, Syed Aamir Raza, blew the whistle on practices such as the bribing of doctors to promote formula to mothers. He said he was threatened by senior staff and after leaving the country to publicise his documentary evidence was unable to return after threats from doctors implicated in the malpractice and shots fired at his house. While an anti-corruption body set up by President Musharraf soon after seizing power in a bloodless coup, investigated and said it would protect Aamir’s family, the President’s office welcomed Nestlé’s investment and Nestlé obtained a police report alleging the shooting never took place. Nestlé also went on the offensive suggesting Aamir had tried to blackmail the company, but refused to offer substantiation despite repeated requests from Baby Milk Action and Aamir, who said he would respond in detail to any evidence presented. This story received significant publicity in Pakistan and elsewhere and led to legislation being introduced, regulating the market of baby foods, though not to the degree called for by the World Health Assembly.

Nestlé’s investment in Brazil has similarly been used strategically. When the monopolies commission blocked the company’s takeover of the Garoto chocolate company, Nestlé said it felt 'uncomfortable' about making further investment in Brazil (article in Portuguese). However, a planned Nescafé factory went ahead and was opened subsequently by Brazil’s President Lula. A court has this month over turned the monopoly commission's decision on a technical point.

When I participated in a public debate with the Fairtrade Foundation last year, it was admitted that Nestlé was sourcing coffee for its one Fairtrade product, a coffee, from El Salvador and Ethiopia for political reasons. In El Salvador it had been much criticised for the way it had closed down a factory and in Ethiopia it had caused outrage by demanding a compensation payment from the government at a time of famine for a business nationalised 27 years before.

More recently, Nestlé opened a factory in Brazil to produce processed foods for poor people. It describes them as Popularly Positioned Products aimed a people with an income of less than US$10 per day. Again, President Lula joined Nestlé Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, for the opening ceremony (click here for article). While it could be argued it is undemocratic to suggest the poor should not have access to processed foods, there is another side to the story.

I have sat on the beach in Brazil on many occasions while vendors have walked backwards and forwards. Often they have ice boxes with ice creams, either from Nestlé or Unilever (known as Kibon in Brazil, Wall’s in many other countries). Or from companies that are still Brazilian enterprises. Some are running their own small business, carrying white cheese on sticks, which is roasted over a small charcoal fire they carry. Or prawns, or peanuts. Or empada – small pies with very light pastry containing chicken, prawns or palmito (heart of palm). Delicious.

Which is an important point to remember. Nestlé is not filling a vacuum, it is competing with locally produced foods from small, often family, businesses.

But Nestlé has marketing clout that most hawking their wares on the beach do not have. Such as a plane flying back and forth with a banner. Here is a picture from January 2007.

The banner, which you can read the hi-resolution version, says : “Join in the summer promotion of good”. People on the beach were handing out promotional leaflets, with details of how to win prizes by buying Nestlé products.

The promotion will be a boost for those working as Nestlé vendors, but is perhaps bad news for the self-employed vendors and those working for small or not-so-small Brazilian businesses who cannot compete on the same terms.

My point is, Nestlé portrays itself as a force for good in developing countries, but there are losers as well as winners. Not only in terms of people's livelihoods, but the environmental impact of centralising collection and processing, the health impacts of processed foods and the growth in power of corporations that gain the ear of Presidents and succeed in overturning public-interest rulings that impact on their profits.

Why laud Nestlé as if it is leading the fight against poverty, when in all its activities it puts its own growth and profits before others? It is not anti-business to view businesses with clarity - organisations to make profit within the regulatory framework society puts upon them.

What we need to debate honestly is how that framework can best serve people and the planet.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Companies thumb their noses at UK authorities

So this is how it is going to be, is it? Continued flouting of the law on baby food marketing in the UK desite the crackdown called by the enforcement authorities.

As the New Year was beginning, Trading Standards and the Food Standards Authority informed supermarkets and baby food companies in the UK that they had to abide by the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995. They spelt out that promotion of infant formula in retail outlets is illegal and that claims cannot be made on infant formula labels or advertising, unless specifically allowed in the legislation. See:

Baby food companies said they would change their labels and according to media reports, these should appear in April. Old products can work their way through the distribution system it appears. Yet the change to advertising campaigns - which do not have a shelf life like formula - should be immediate. Similarly supermarkets could immediately pull their promotions.

So it is disappointing to receive yet more reports of illegal promotion of infant formula by Tesco. We have received reports of double club card points being offered on Hipp infant formula at Tesco stores in various parts of the country. As in the picture below.

Checking my local Tesco today I was amazed at the new shelf talkers that have appeared. The Food Standards Agency has explicitely told companies that the claim that the claim that "Prebiotics supporting baby’s natural defences" is not on the permitted list. The industry self-regulatory body, the Advertising Standards Authority, has also warned Cow & Gate (a NUMICO brand) not to make this blanket claim after it could not substantiate it. See:

While the companies claimed they would comply, I queried whether they would limit their action to infant formula and continue to make the same claims on follow-on milk and other breastmilk substitutes. So it is proving. The new shelf talkers I have photographed today in my local Tesco boast of the immunity protection offered by Cow & Gate formulas, using an umbrella labelled 'immunity'. As you see from the pictures, although the shelf talkers refer to the follow-on milk, so companies can argue they are not promoting infant formula and escape through a loophole in the UK law, they appear next to the infant formula.

Click here for a hi-resolution version. Cow & Gate 2 is an infant formula for use from birth. As it does not appear on the shelf talker, which pictures formulas with the same name and style, companies will argue it is not covered by the ban on promotion and idealizing claims.

Along the same shelves was another shelf talker, also from Cow & Gate, as below.

Click here for a hi-resolution version.

It appears supermarkets will ignore the warnings, perhaps until they are prosecuted.

It seems the baby food companies will become even more aggressive with the health claims they make about follow-on milks, to make up for the change they have to make on infant formula labels. This shows very clearly why the UK law needs to be brought into line with the World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and prohibit the promotion of all breastmilk substitutes, not just infant formula. Remember, the Code has been in place since 1981 and Article 11.3 calls on companies to abide by its provisions independently of government action.

The companies are thumbing their noses at UK authorities. Will they get away with it?

To be continued...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Faith groups can bring a lot to the campaign

The campaign in support of the Philippines has gained further support in Australia. A coalition of Australian church, medical specialist and breastfeeding organisations is urging transnational corporations to drop their attempts at overturning the Philippines’ governments baby food marketing regulations. International support is helping to generate national and international coverage of the issue. See:

It is great to see church groups in Australia amongst the supporters of the campaign. Faith groups have played and continue to play an important role in raising awareness of the baby food marketing scandal.

As well as raising awareness and supporting campaigns, faith organisations sometimes give financial support. Baby Milk Action receives a grant from the United Reformed Church for our work and, in the past, from the Methodist Relief and Development Fund.

As it says on the URC website:

---Quote begins
The Church and Society committee and the Commitment for Life sub-committee of the URC, both continue to monitor the situation and support the work of Baby Milk Action and the Inter-Agency Group on Breastmilk Monitoring. URC General Assembly passed a resolution in 1992 encouraging churches to boycott Nescafe and other Nestle products because of the way Nestle markets breast milk substitutes in the developing world.
---Quote ends

The Interagency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring (IGBM) consists of 27 church, academic and development organisations and was set up after Nestlé lobbied the Church of England when its Synod was considering disinvesting from Nestlé. The Church of England suspended its support for the Nestlé boycott while conducting its own investigation independently of Baby Milk Action and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) through IGBM, which was convened for the purpose.

IGBM's investigation found ‘systematic’ violations by Nestlé and other companies. Though the report was accepted by the Synod in 1997, it accepted a proposal from the Church Commissioners to use its investment to try to exert pressure on Nestlé, rather than re-instate is support for the boycott. To date we have seen no success from this strategy and the Church of England is now quiet on the issue. This is unsurprising as Nestlé is notoriously immune to investor pressure. See:

The Methodist Church has long encouraged member churches to investigate the baby milk issue and take appropriate action. This was reiterated at its 2006 Conference, where text was adopted setting out the following points in response to various motions (known as ‘Memorials’) and a report from the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment (JACEI):

---Quotes begin
1. "The Conference shares with the [Oxford] Circuit the substantial concerns regarding the promotion of breast milk substitutes..."

2. "JACEI acknowledges the continuing concern with regard to some aspects of Nestlé's interpretation of the International Code, the implementation of company guidelines and the transparency of the procedures for monitoring compliance. These concerns may cause some through conscience to maintain a consumer boycott of Nestlé products."

3. "The Joint Advisory Committee for Ethics in Investment (JACEI) has discussed with Nestlé ethical concerns across a range of issues.... there is scope to influence change through engagement...."

4. "Many would consider that these two strategies [the boycott and engagement] have complementary objectives."
---Quotes end

You can well imagine that Nestlé and those pushing its agenda misrepresent the position taken by the Conference, which sets Methodist Church policy.

While the Conference suggests the boycott and engagement are complementary strategies, Nestlé implies that the Church no longer has concerns about the company and sees no objection to investing. A statement to this effect was made on the Nestlé website. While this has since been removed – I believe at the request of the Methodist Church - this does not stop Nestlé repeating its misrepresentation of what happened elsewhere.

On investment the Conference acknowledged that the Central Finance Board (CFB) made its decisions independently, but said that a monitoring system should be established to evaluate Nestlé's ethical performance and a report made to Conference on the outcome of meetings "in the event of the CFB deciding to invest in Nestlé."

We understand the CFB has been meeting with Nestlé, but it has not accepted Baby Milk Action’s offer of a briefing on current concerns before doing so or our views on any claims Nestlé may have made.

Such divisions within organisations are exploited by Nestlé and have wider repercussions. I understand that the misrepresentation of the Methodist Church position was a key factor in persuading the Christian Socialist Movement to accept Nestlé funding for an event at the Labour Party Conference last year, where Nestlé was given a platform to speak of its action on child slavery. We had to kick up a bit of a stink about this to ensure that Nestlé’s abuse of child rights through its aggressive baby food marketing was remembered, while also pointing out that Nestlé is subject to legal action in the US for failing to act on child slavery in its cocoa supply chain. See:

So Nestlé’s strategy is to exploit whatever cracks it can find in the alliance of those campaigning to protect infant health. Those within organisations who are responsible for finances are often the weak point. Any shift in position, or even ambiguous words, are used as a lever to try to break off more support. As ever, it is necessary to look beyond the surface of Nestlé’s claims to see what lies behind. For full documentation on the Methodist Church position and investigation see:

The Chair of the Committee convened by the Methodist Church Central Finance Board to investigate concluded by saying: “this was a complex and difficult issue… highly technical… it would be possible to continue the discussion ad nauseam… the Committee did not have the resources to do so, nor was it desirable for it to devote its attention exclusively to the subject of infant formula to the exclusion of other ethical issues…”

Which shows the danger of an organisation conducting an investigation without the necessary technical expertise or resources. Our advice to those in this position is to support our call for an independent, expert tribunal. Nestlé is so far refusing to even set out its terms and conditions. See:

Church and other faith groups are essential partners in defending infant health and mothers’ rights. We are very grateful for the continued support we receive, both officially and from individual churches and church members.

Faith organisations are, of course, also welcome to support our campaings, such as that in solidarity with the Philippines, to endorse the Nestlé boycott and to help us financially.

We are happy to come along and debate with Nestlé at faith organisations, as one church tried to arrange during Fairtrade Fortnight. While we accepted, Nestlé refused, having lost a series of debates in recent years. But keep on asking, Nestlé should not be allowed to hide from its appalling record.

Those wishing to bring the issue into their meetings themselves can count on Baby Milk Action for support. We can provide leaflets, advice on articles for newsletters and draft presentations (which are referenced and legally bomb proof). There are plenty of resources on the Baby Milk Action website and feel free to contact us for help.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Protest whirlwind rattles Ethical Corporation conference


This morning I stood in the cold for an hour outside the Ethical Corporation conference on partnerships between corporations, non-governmental organisations and government organisations, to raise awareness of Nestlé malpractice. Seems to have worked. Ethical Corporation has described me as a 'one man protest whirlwind'.

Nestlé is to speak at the event so it seemed a good opportunity to remind participants that Nestlé is not an ethical corporation. See:

I distributed our 'Ten Facts' leaflet (click here for details), while dressed up as a tin of Nestlé formula. Yup. Tough job, but somebody has to do it, even at 8 am on a freezing day.

Within a matter of minutes, Ethical Corporation editor, Tony Webb, had posted a blog entry about me entitled: "One man protest show at London Partnerships Conference".

He linked to my blog and takes issue with my concern that promoting corporations as ethical is a "greenwash" strategy, used to undermine political will for independently monitored and enforced regulations in favour of voluntary codes.

Here is a link to Tony's blog, where he invites you to view Ethical Corporation websites to make up your own minds.

Don't get me wrong, I think it is great when corporate leaders decide voluntarily not to abuse human rights and the environment. But that should never be an alternative to proper regulation. Too often, voluntary initiatives have little impact and serve as a diversion from necessary measures.

The so-called Corporate Social Responsibility reports from Nestlé are worse than useless - the portrayal of their activities is dishonest and the intention is to divert attention from them.

'Partnerships' are more complex, largely because the the word covers a wide range of different relationships between corporations and others. For some of the issue relating to support for good causes see:

I didn't get to take a picture of the whirlwind in action outside the Hilton Hotel (which was not very photogenic in any case). So here is a re-enactment in the office:

Should you want a hi-resolution story - perhaps for Ethical Corporation magazine (?) - click here.

And should you ever doubt whether it is worth getting out of bed in the morning to do a bit of protesting about corporate malpractice, remember even one person can make an impact!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ten facts Nestlé does not want you to know

I've flagged up our 'Ten Facts' leaflet before. It's something we run off quickly on the photocopier, tailored to specific events.

I'm off to London tonight to be able to pop along to the Ethical Corporation conference tomorrow, where Nestlé will be talking about its involvement in coffee. For my thoughts on that see yesterday's blog at:

Nestlé brings Corporate Social Responsibility into disrepute and my suggestion to Ethical Corporation was: "If there is genuine interest in changing corporate practices for the better, Nestlé misuse of CSR and its appalling record in so many areas needs to be addressed and I hope you will consider doing so."

Here are ten facts it is well worth knowing before deciding to give Nestlé a platform - unless the purpose of the event is to examine its unethical business practices.

1. Nestlé violates the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes more than any other company. The Code and other Resolutions were adopted by the World Health Assembly to ensure that mothers are not discouraged from breastfeeding and to ensure breastmilk substitutes are used safely if they are needed. UNICEF says: "Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year." (State of the World’s Children 2001).

2. The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) launched its Breaking the Rules monitoring report with documented examples of violations from 69 countries in May 2004. The report contains many examples of Nestlé’s aggressive promotion of formula and inappropriate marketing of baby foods.

3. Nestlé is not allowed to make direct or indirect contact with mothers, but does just that. For example, advertising visits of its ‘Baby-Care Friends’ in South Africa. At the end of 2005 Nestlé’s Chief Executive launched an initiative setting up ‘Nutrition Corners’ in stores in China to target pregnant and lacting women suggesting they need expensive supplements to breastfeed.

4. Nestlé has been successfully prosecuted for breaking national laws. For example, in Costa Rica it was fined after repeatedly ignoring calls from the authorities to change its labels.

5. A former employee in Pakistan, Syed Aamar Raza, has exposed corrupt practices, including bribing of doctors, implicating staff at the highest level of the company. Aamar says he was threatened when he raised this with managers.

6. At a European Parliament Public Hearing into Nestlé malpractice in Pakistan in November 2000 UNICEF’s Legal Officer commented that Nestlé’s Instructions are weaker than the Code and Resolutions. UNICEF has called on it to change them.

7. Nestlé (UK) leads the company’s public relations offensive on the baby milk issue. But it fails to convince, losing public debates with Baby Milk Action. Nestlé was voted the world’s ‘least responsible company’ in a global vote coinciding with the World Economic Forum in January 2005. Baby Milk Action has invited Nestlé to participate in a public tribunal with an in-depth examination and the chance to call expert witnesses. Nestlé has refused.

8. In May 1999 a ruling was published against Nestlé by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Nestlé claimed in an anti-boycott advertisement that it markets infant formula "ethically and responsibly". The ASA found that Nestlé could not support this nor other claims in the face of evidence provided by Baby Milk Action.

9. Nestlé attempts to divert criticism with reference to its Fairtrade coffee, the only one of its 8,500 products with the mark. But Nestlé continues to force down market prices for coffee and legal action has been brought against it in the US over child labour in its cocoa supply chain. Its Partners Blend coffee is such a token gesture that virtually 100% of its coffee suppliers remain outside the Fairtrade system.

10. Nestlé is the target of a boycott in 20 countries because of its unethical and irresponsible marketing of baby foods.

Nestlé makes a profit while others count the cost.

Click here to download the leaflet.

I haven't done a lot to publicise this leafleting - which is early morning - so it could just be me there tomorrow - but that can be enough to make an impact and expose Nestlé malpractice.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Nestlé is not an ethical corporation

There is a magazine called Ethical Corporation. The company that produces it also runs conferences under the same name.

I was approached by them some time ago to write an article on how we campaign. Although subscriptions to the monthly magazine cost £295, no fee was offered. With or without a fee, we have to evaluate whether the interests of infant health are best served by putting time to preparing an article rather than the one hundred and one other activities we could be doing.

A look at Ethical Corporation quickly convinced me it is what is known as ‘greenwash’. More about how to appear ethical than to change to be 'ethical'. More about the industry tactic of approach voluntary codes of conduct than accepting independently monitored and enforced regulation.

It seemed to me the NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) column in the magazine was more about intelligence gathering for corporate leaders than persuading them to change, though some NGOs had written for the column because they either take a different view or have been flattered by the offer. I refused and got on with something much more likely to achieve change.

We do, of course, ‘engage’ with corporations. I am often writing to Nestlé and other companies. Until Nestlé put a block on it, we participated in debates with the company and we are calling for Nestlé to participate in an independent, expert tribunal to go through the evidence and claims in depth – Nestlé refuses to even discuss its terms and conditions for participating. See:

I recently wrote to the Chief Executive of Novartis over its entry into the FTSE4Good ethical investment listing, which is conditional on it rolling out changes to its baby food marketing practices. While we welcomed the commitment, from the response, it appears no changes are planned, rather on-going malpractice is defended (more on this soon).

Nestlé claims to be responsible, accountable and transparent. But you only have to scratch the surface of its claims for the stink that lies beneath to escape. See, for example, its portrayal of its ranking in the recent Global Accountability Report 2006 and what the report actually says. See:

So it struck me as ironic when I received an email alert saying: “Join E.ON, BP, Nestle, TNT Worldwide and many more already attending the largest CR event of 2007!” This was publicising the Responsible Business Summit, being organised by Ethical Corporation for May 2007. CR stands for Corporate Responsibility. I responded:

I am not sure why you include Nestlé in the subject of a message about 'responsible business' - particularly as you are not highlighting its role as the world's 'least responsible company' and one of the most boycotted on the planet.

Nestlé uses 'Corporate Social Responsibility' to try to divert criticism of its aggressive baby food marketing, abuse of workers rights, failure to act on child slavery in its cocoa supply chain, environmental damage of its water bottling and so on, bringing the approach as a whole into disrepute. Perhaps Ethical Corporation views such PR strategies as 'success stories' to be shared with other 'ethically challenged' corporations. I would hope not.

If there is genuine interest in changing corporate practices for the better, Nestlé misuse of CSR and its appalling record in so many areas needs to be addressed and I hope you will consider doing so.

That would be an interesting event – unpicking one of Nestlé’s booklets for example, such as its recent “Nestlé vision of Corporate Social Responsibility as practised in Latin America”, a book so flawed and dishonest a whole conference could be spent examining its various themes. Nestlé would be unlikely to attend, of course. It not only refuses our invitation to an independent, expert tribunal, it refused a request to attend a public hearing organised by the European Parliament!

The response I received was ingenious. They are neither speakers at the conference on responsible business, nor invited. They are simply one of many attendees and “will hopefully learn something of benefit”.

If that is supposed to mean benefit to the wider world rather than just Nestlé, let us hope it will learn to accept criticism and abide by globally agreed standards instead of spending a fortune on trying to divert criticism so it can carry on with business as usual.

Nestlé is a guest speaker, however, at the next Ethical Corporation this week, 21 March, where a few boycott supporters intend turning out to deliver leaflets to participants to raise awareness that Nestlé is not an ethical corporation. Registration is from 8:00 am if you would like to come along. Click here for details.

The event is called Business-NGO-Government Partnerships. And it states: “How to build partnerships that strengthen your position...create opportunities...and help you achieve your long-term goals.”

It is our old friend and member of the anti-boycott team, Hilary Parsons, now going under the title of “Head of Corporate Responsibility”, who will be speaking on Nestlé and coffee. No doubt the token Nestlé Fairtrade product, Partners’ Blend, will be much to the fore. Remember this involves just 0.1% of the coffee farmers dependent on Nestlé. Over 3 million are outside the scheme and suffer from Nestlé’s trading practices and the way it encourages more farmers to enter into coffee production, so exacerbating the problem of over-supply. See:

There is a great deal that Nestlé could be doing if it was seriously concerned about business ethics. It could, for example, accept our four-point plan on the baby milk issue to save infant lives and ultimately end the boycott. It has not even got past step one: accepting the validity of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods. See:

If Ethical Corporation wants to put Nestlé’s CSR claims on trial then there may be value in participating in one of these events. But while it is giving a platform for Nestlé to divert criticism of its malpractice, we are better placed using the event to expose Nestlé and the failing of the CSR movement as a whole to address institutionalised and systematic malpractice of such corporations.

We should perhaps not expect too much of the CSR movement, as it was largely an invention of Nestlé consultant, Raphael Pagan, as he developed strategies to undermine the first phase of the boycott in the 1970s. For an in-depth analysis of that see the book ‘Holding Corporations Accountable’ by Judith Richter (Zed Books) or the shorter Cornerhouse briefing paper:

Friday, March 16, 2007

Philippines Health Secretary's message of thanks

The following message of thanks appeared in an article in the Manila Bulletin on 13 March. I quoted other parts of the article in my blog yesterday. See:

This is Health Secretary, Francisco Duque III, interviewed about the Supreme Court continuing to block implementation of government baby food marketing requirements (RIRR) while hearing the case brought by the baby food industry. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 16,000 babies die in the Philippines every year due to inappropriate feeing.

---Quote begins
"Each day of delay in the implementation of the revised Implementing Rules translates to a day where mothers get more half truths or even whole lies in the guise of informed choice. We believe that more teeth to the code, through the RIRR, will save lives," Duque said.

"We respect the decision of the Supreme Court and will await the copy of the resolution. Yet, we will keep on doing our job and continue this arduouos fight in the interest of better health for Filipinos, especially for the poor. To this end, we would like to thank all those who have been supportive and behind us in this fight to save precious lives of Filipino mothers and babies," he said.

To date, there have been hundreds of signatures received from several individuals, celebrities and organizations worldwide applauding the country's fight against the misleading marketing tactics of milk companies.

Among the supporters are actress and Oscar winner Emma Thompson, WHO, UNICEF, IBFAN Europe, Baby Milk Action of UK, INFACT Canada, IBFAN Italy, Italian Nestlé' Boycott Network, Nordic Work Group for International Breastfeeding Issues, National Childbirth Trust of UK, Breastfeeding Network of UK, Australian Lactation Consultants Association, Infant Feeding Association of New Zealand, Peoples Health Movement of USA, Philippine Solidarity Group Netherlands, and others.
---quote ends

I add my thanks once again. For further information on the importance of international support see:

To download a scan of the article, click here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

UK health claims action example to the Philippines and the world

I have been looking at some of the discussion boards where people are commenting on the action by UK authorities to enforce the UK baby milk marketing regulations. See our press release from Monday:

For many this is great news. It has taken 12 years of campaigning to prompt this action since the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations were adopted in 1995. See:

Some, however, see it as an attack on mothers who feed their infants with formula or an attack on the validity of infant formula for infant feeding. It should not be seen that way.

Infant formula manufactured in accordance with Codex standards is a valid alternative to breastmilk and comes, in the ideal scheme of things, after breastfeeding, feeding with expressed mother's milk and donor milk.

We have never called for formula to be banned, we call for it to be marketing appropriately, which means in accordance with World Health Assembly marketing requirements. These require that idealizing claims are not made, that companies do not seek direct or indirect contact with mothers and that information provided to health workers is scientific and factual.

The reason action is being taken in the UK is very simple: companies were breaking the law partially implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions.

The Code and Resolutions are intended to protect breastfeeding AND to ensure that breastmilk substitutes are used safely if needed. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child calls for governments to implement the Code to help ensure a mother’s right to receive independent and correct information on infant feeding. The Committee called on the UK government to implement the Code in its last report in 2002 and the government will revise legislation this year.

One of the things required is an end to idealizing text and images on labels and a ban on all promotion. Health and nutrition claims for ingredients in breastmilk substitutes are invariably promotional. The UK legislation allows claims about ingredients to be made, in terms of the contents of the formula. For example, low sodium, sucrose free etc. Only specified claims are allowed and only in the terms set out in the annex to the law.

Claims such as ‘Omega 3 LCPs for development’ are not allowed. Firstly, Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LCPs or LCPUFAs) are not on the current list (though they are likely to be added following revision of the EU Directive from which the law derives). Secondly, the claim goes beyond saying the formula contains LCPs.

These are the ingredients that Nestlé describes as ‘Brain Building Blocks’ on its formula labels in the Philippines (see below). Yet, as previously discussed in this blog, the Cochrane Library review of research found: “At present there is little evidence from randomised trials of LCPUFA supplementation to support the hypothesis that LCPUFA supplementation confers a benefit for visual or general development of term infant”. The European Union's expert Scientific Committee is allowing companies to add LCPs to formula, as there is no evidence they are unsafe, but is not making it a requirement, as there is insufficient evidence of any benefit. As investment experts said when LCPs were first synthesized with the brand name Formulaid by Martek for inclusion in formula : “Even if Formulaid had no benefit we think that it would be widely incorporated into most formulas as a marketing tool and to allow companies to promote their formula as 'closest to human milk.’”

This is exactly what has happened. See:

One of the illegal claims that the authorities are cracking down on, is that formula is ‘closer than ever to breastmilk’.

Where there is scientific evidence for benefits from ingredients, these are invariably based on company-sponsored research which is often not independently and systematically reviewed before products are placed on the market. The studies carried out by companies often don't have an exclusively-breastfed control so the results only compare one product over another.

When the results of these studies are translated into a claim it is invariably promotional and conveys the impression that the product is actually better, the same or almost the same as breastfeeding.

Even the industry self-regulatory body, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), has stepped in and instructed one of the companies to stop overstating the claim about the prebiotics it was adding to formula. Of course, if the ASA was doing its job properly, it would have said, as the authorities have just done, that any claim about prebiotics was in breach of the law because they are not on the permitted list. This is what the ASA did say:

“Because they had not sent evidence to show a direct link between an infant taking their formula and it helping to build defences against a number of everyday illnesses or conditions to which they were susceptible, we considered that Cow & Gate had not substantiated the claim. We told Cow & Gate to amend the ad to make clear that the product could help build "some" and not "all" natural defences."


The point I am trying to make is that companies will overstate or misrepresent the properties of their formula. Mothers need accurate information and companies with a vested interest in increasing sales, do not in practice provide it. That is why the principle that information is independent is so important.

The properties of breastmilk are still being discovered and technology can only synthesize a limited number of ingredients similar to those known to be in breastmilk. Ingredients do not necessarily function in the same way in a processed formula as they do in living breastmilk.

Our view is that only the highest quality substitutes should be placed on the market. So if an ingredient has been proven – through independently funded and reviewed research - to be safe and essential for infant health it should be a requirement for all formulas.

Breastfeeding is best for infants. The companies say they accept that. The health benefits of breastfeeding, or, put another way, the negative impact of formula feeding, are well known. I won’t go through them here, but here are some rounded up on the IBFAN website.

The problem with an open and honest discussion of the advantages of breastfeeding and disadvantages of formula feeding, is that it is sometimes seen as an attack on mothers who formula feed. Or it is depressing to mothers who fed formula in the belief that ‘close to breastmilk’ meant virtually the same.

So it is a discussion that has to be had as sensitively as possible. I imagine that most mothers who have formula-fed did so either because they believed it to be for the best for their child given their circumstances (for example, they had been unable to overcome breastfeeding problems) or because they were misled into believing formula feeding was the same or almost the same (according to the Department of Health, that is the view of 34% of women) and so really just a lifestyle choice. I don't believe these mothers should feel guilty for their decision. Angry at the failure of support systems and at companies who promote their products with idealising claims and the authorities who have failed to stop them, perhaps.

A mother can only make an informed decision about how she will feed her baby if she has sufficient accurate and independent information and misinformation is stopped. That is the aim of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements and the crackdown on illegal health and nutrition claims in the UK.

In the UK formula-fed infants are at increased risk of short and long-term sickness than breastfed infants, but they are unlikely to die because there is access to health care. Without the same access to health care, however, infants are more likely to die if not breastfed and 1.5 million die around the world every year. The need to stop misleading information is the same in these countries. The crackdown in the UK is an example to other countries.

In the Philippines 16,000 infants die every year because of inappropriate infant feeding. There the government has introduced regulations to try to stop idealizing promotion. Unlike in the UK, where companies immediately agreed to comply when contacted by the regulatory authorities, in the Philippines the companies took the government to court and succeeded in blocking the regulations. See:

I have written previously how mothers who have now become aware they were misled by health and nutrition claims have demonstrated at the Supreme Court and are looking at suing the companies. See:

On Tuesday I received a copy of a news report from the Philippines, which appeared in the Manila Bulletin. You can download a scan by clicking here.

It is headlined ‘Department of Health sad over decision on milk code regulations’ and in it the Health Secretary comments on why they introduced the regulations:

----Quotes begin
In a crusade to improve the health of mothers and children, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that “the facts remain that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that 16,000 Filipino children unnecessarily die each year because they are not breastfed”

“They are not breastfed because many milk companies engage in aggressive, profit-oriented marketing of expensive milk substitutes and infant formula that adversely affect breastfeeding behavour of mothers,” he said.

“Each day of delay in the implementation of the revised Implementing Rules translates to a day where mothers get more half truths or even whole lies in the guise of informed choice. We believe that more teeth to the code, through the RIRR, will save lives,” Duque said.

“True, informed choice highlights the benefits of breast milk over infant formula and other milk substitutes and tells mothers that they can breastfeed despite working, despite having breast or nipple problems, despite illnesses for both mother and child, and many other issues raised,” Duque said.
---quotes end.

Of course, information is not enough in itself. The mothers most distressed when the advantages of breastfeeding and risks of formula feeding are highlighted as in the recent coverage are those who knew this already, but had difficulties with breastfeeding and were unable to overcome them. They should not feel guilty about this, but angry that the health care system fails too many mothers.

In the UK Infant Feeding Surveys it is found that in the early weeks when breastfeeding rates fall rapidly, very few mothers who stopped (around 1%) said they wanted to stop. They stopped because they experienced problems with breastfeeding. In countries where there is support, few women stop because of problems – problems are overcome.

Why the health system fails is, in part, due to the influence of baby food companies. We have highlighted this in our pamphlet ‘Hard Sell Formula’. See:

We have also exposed how Nestlé is trying to break into the UK market by recruiting midwives to act as their cheerleaders and leaders of a campaign for Nestlé-sponsored materials. Their efforts to reverse the negative image of Nestlé amongst UK health workers are shockingly dishonest. It would be a disaster if they get their way. See:

We want to see World Health Assembly marketing requirements implemented and enforced. We want to see a health care system that promotes and supports breastfeeding, while providing support to mothers who formula feed (and we recommend the leaflets produced by UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative to this end).

The enforcement of the UK law is a small step in the right direction. Let us hope the Supreme Court in the Philippines will support the authorities there in protecting their mothers and infants.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Nestle generosity to good causes demands payback

I while back I promised to write a blog about 'partnerships' sought by Nestlé with good causes. See:

I am prompted to address some of the issues now by two things going on (amongst the many others) at the moment.

Firstly, we are informed that Oona King, former MP and campaigner against poverty, has been on the radio apparently praising Nestlé! Why? Because Nestlé is sponsoring a charity known as Make Space, which provides support to after school clubs and other initiatives for young people.

We have been contacted in the past by people running clubs who have joined the Make Space network and then been upset to find their club linked to Nestlé. For example there was a deal where Nestlé provided PR services for Make Space groups, meaning it issued a press release on behalf of the club. In doing so they took the opportunity to add a Nestlé logo and a quote from the Chief Executive, giving the impression that their involvement in the club was far greater than just sending out the press release.

The intiative Oona King is involved in is apparently a Make Space Youth Review. Which may well be a great thing, but becomes an issue for us when it Nestlé gains kudos for supporting children, while continuing with business as usual. Nestlé features prominently on the website operated by 4children (which used to be known as Kids' Club Network).

It is, of course, kudos Nestlé’s wishes to buy. 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

There is a clear link between Nestlé’s support for good causes and the boycott. Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the UK and one of the four most boycotted on the planet. See

It tries desperate measures to reverse that situation, employing an anti-boycott team, producing many expensive but dishonest publications and even running an anti-boycott advertisement. The anti-boycott team now runs away from debates with Baby Milk Action having lost so many. We expose the dishonesty of its publications and claims. See:

And we challenged its anti-boycott advertisement before the UK Advertising Standards Authority. See:

In 1999 the ASA upheld all of our complaints. As the marketing press reported at the time Nestlé was effectively ‘branded a liar’ for claiming to market infant formula ‘ethically and responsibly’. One magazine, Marketing Week, asked Marjorie Thompson of Saatchi and Saatchi what Nestlé should do. It reported, that, in part:

"She suggests the way to counteract the bad publicity is to go on the offensive by using advertising showing the benefits of Nestlé's financial contributions to charities, such as Kids Club Network which provides after-school care for children."

Shortly afterwards, Nestlé announced £1 million of support for four charities. One of them was Kids Club Network. In other words, its windfall came as a direct result of Nestlé wanting to divert attention from the fact its claims on the baby milk issue were untrue and proven to be untrue through one of the longest ever investigations conducted by the ASA. See our press release from the time:

Let me just pause here as it is probably necessary to say that I am not anti-business, I am simply asking for other organisations to show solidarity with mothers and infants around the world in refusing to be part of Nestlé’s Public Relations (PR) campaign.

My background is in engineering and in industry. One of the things I did when working in the car industry was to go into local schools to talk about being an engineer and my employer gave me time off to do so. While my employer gained a bit of kudos and attention to its name - and teachers should always consider the implications of this - it is also a fact that businesses are made up of people and people are part of their community.

I also have friends who own or run businesses. If you want to do something to help your community then it is understandable if you want to use your business to also further that end. But you also need to respect there are times when it is more appropriate to do things in an individual capacity than a business capacity.

Now to the second event that prompted me to think of the relationships between businesses and good causes today. Friday is Red Nose Day, which is something peculiarly British. The basic idea is you wear a red nose like a clown and do something stupid to raise money for charity. Many workplaces - including where I have worked - will have employees coming in fancy dress, accepting a bit of messing about can be accommodated in the year of making money. If you haven’t thought of doing something already, take a quick look at the site and come up with something! Your workplace is part of your community. Businesses are made up of people. Sticking on a red nose when you are at work is a good way to remind ourselves of this (as is campaigning to have non-Nestlé products in vending machines and cafeteria).

Various retailers sell the red noses and other stuff that helps to raise funds for the work of the charity in Africa. (Incidently, the business 'partners' gain publicity on the website, ‘cos there is still the bottom line to think of, right?)

On a more local scale, I’ve just been to the local community college to pick up some information on evening classes. The brochure is full of advertising from local businesses. Partly because they want to reach local people, but also because many of those in control of the cheque book want to support something local. Great. I wanted the information in the brochure and much of the advertising I see is useful. I do buy things! You can also bet that if there was something inappropriate, illegal or unethical in an advertisement, then I would be doing something about it. A desire for funding - and a free brochure - should never blind is to other considerations.

There needs to be clarity when charities or other non-profit organisations receive funding from a company. What is the relationship? Is it helping out good causes, with little fanfare, or is someone like Mr. Brabeck there calculating how it serves his investors and builds up a reservoir of good will for the next time corporate malpractice is in the media spotlight?

When Nestlé launched its PR offensive after the ASA ruling against its claims on baby milk marketing, it was not donations given to the charities, but contracts to promote Nescafé coffee. Nescafé is the principal target of the boycott.

The choice of charities was illuminating too. Nestlé was exposed over its impact on infants, particularly in developing countries. So as well as covering the children aspect through Kids Club Network, Nestlé covered the developing world aspect with a donation to the British Red Cross.

This became highly controversial. We know that some who had fundraised for the Red Cross became so disgusted at the link they stopped doing so.

We became even more concerned when we found the British Red Cross had defended the financial link by suggesting that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had cleared Nestlé of any wrong doing. We contacted WHO and they provided us with a written statement saying they never commented on company compliance with the baby food marketing requirements. The Red Cross had made a demonstrably untrue statement after taking Nestlé money which, at the very least, did not look good. With such an auspicious organisation undermining our work – and refusing to issue a correction even after we shared the WHO statement provided to us – we had no choice but to act.

We reported the British Red Cross to the Charity Commissioners for investigation. See:

I felt sick doing so, and still do thinking back. It was not done lightly – we agonised with our board of directors. This was the Red Cross! An organisation we had worked with on the issue of infant feeding in emergency situations. It should have been an ally in holding Nestlé to account.

Our issue is one of life and death and Nestlé exploits its links ruthlessly to try to improve its image, including using its links with the Red Cross. We had to take a stand. The Commissioners investigated and while they did not censure the Red Cross, they did revise their guidance to charities. The Red Cross conducted its own investigation, which concluded in so many words that the damage caused through association with Nestlé was hardly worth the £250,000 received.

Sadly we continue to see similar stories from the Red Cross in other parts of the world. For example, Nestlé quotes a national Red Cross as endorsing its baby food marketing activities in its book on its ‘Commitment to Africa’.

Our advice to charities is to steer clear of Nestlé and not be party to its strategy of diverting criticism from its baby food marketing malpractice. A clear message that its money is untouchable until it brings its policies and practices into line with World Health Assembly marketing requirements, made as publicly as possible, will do far more good to the sum of human well being.

When there is a link we have to speak out and assist our supporters in using opportunities to raise awareness of Nestlé malpractice. This is sometimes as distressing for our supporters as it is for us.

Macmillan Cancer Relief was one of the charities to benefit from Nestlé’s PR disaster with the ASA. The deal involved promoting Nescafé at fundraising coffee mornings. Some of our supporters also wanted to support Macmillan, and may well have had strong reasons for doing so, having been touched by cancer in some way. We suggested they take along their own coffee to the event and some leaflets on the boycott, while registering their objection with the organisers. Nestlé is not on the list of Macmillan's current corporate sponsors.

Other organisations have broken or not renewed a link with Nestlé following public concern. For example, the Perrier Award for Comedy was boycotted by celebrities, attracted demonstrations and provoked an alternative award. In 2006 a new sponsor was announced. The baby milk issue and Nestlé malpractice gained significant media coverage as a result of the controversy over several years. See:

Nestlé's sponsorship of a children's book prize is now attracting similar attention. Nestlé not only links with schools to try to improve its image and undermine the boycott, but as a means to promote its processed foods, many of which are unhealthy. Again it comes down to Mr. Brabeck's payback for investors. See:

For many charities the idea of taking Nestlé money or linking in other ways is abhorrent. Breakthrough Breast Cancer turned down a million pounds from Nestlé. See:

Nelson Mandela’s Children Fund turned down £250,000 – see:

It said in a statement to the media that it had already turned down Nestlé money:

"However given the Nestle debacle in relation to HIV/Aids infected mothers and their campaign on promoting formula milk as opposed to breast milk and the disadvantages they put out publicly regarding breast feeding, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund declined the donation."

A clear funding policy can make things simpler. UNICEF, for example, does not accept funding from companies involved in arms, tobacco or baby milk.

We well understand the difficulties of fundraising. We often have to make difficult choices about the work we can afford to do and what we have to leave for another time. Staff hours are cut to keep the budget balanced.

Going for corporate money may solve financial difficulties and enable good work to be done – the arguments used by those who take the Nestlé shilling – but ultimately it would compromise our ability to speak out over the need for independence and care over conflicts of interest. We would rather cut back on activities. Instead of going for corporate money, we appeal to supporters to take out membership, send donations and buy merchandise. While we also spend as much time as we can spare applying for grants from appropriate charitable trusts.

Some will decide corporate funding is appropriate in their field. We have partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) who take corporate funding and guidelines have been developed to avoid conflicts of interest, including an outright ban on funding from any company profiting from infant feeding.

Other organisations have different standards. But some companies should be untouchable.

Nestlé, the world’s least responsible company and the one responsible for most violations of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements, is surely near the top of the list.

Funding, whether it is sponsorship or contracts to promote products, is just one aspect of what goes under the broader title of ‘partnerships’. I’ll explore some of the others another time, because we should really call these things by their true name. For a great discussion of the issues, see the Cornerhouse briefing paper by Judith Richter:

Codes in Context: TNC Regulation in an Era of Dialogues and Partnerships