Friday, October 03, 2008

Happy Nestlé-Free Week : 4 - 10 October

The 4 October marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of the current boycott of Nestlé over its aggressive marketing of baby foods in the US. So tomorrow has been selected as the start of International Nestlé-Free Week this year. For ideas on how to promote it see:

What is Nestlé-Free Week? It is a week to tell people about the boycott. If you are a boycotter, you will probably know people who say they can't give up one or other Nestlé product. Ask them to do so just for Nestlé-Free Week, this year and every year until Nestlé makes the required changes to its marketing policies and practices. If you don't boycott all Nestlé products yourself (the focus in the UK is on Nescafé coffee) then give it a try during Nestlé-Free Week. You and your friends and colleagues may find alternatives that you will stick with. Fairly traded products are a good way to go as Nestlé is also criticised over its treatment of coffee farmers and for failing to act on child slavery in its cocoa supply chain.

To mark Nestlé-Free Week this year, we planned the launch of a website to serve as a portal to expert information on all aspects of Nestlé business. Because of the boycott people come to us with concerns other than baby food marketing, so this seemed a good way to make different campaigns mutually supportive (and not counter-productive), while giving us an easy resource to direct people too. I've been talking about this new site, which has the theme "Nestlé's Actions speak louder than its words" on this blog for the past couple of months. Nestlé must have been worried as it tried to hi-jack the site by demanding we hand over the Nestlé's Actions domain name by Monday, 29 September. We refused and the launch has gone ahead, with the site now being promoted as the Nestlé Critics website. Find details of the hi-jack attempt on the site itself at:

If Nestlé thought it would manage to intimidate us into taking the site down so people would not have access to the information, then its strategy badly misfired. With our announcement of the hi-jack attempt, we had over 3,000 visitors to the site in the first 48 hours. You can help to make it even more popular by promoting it as a source of independent information on Nestlé. If you have a website or blog, please link to the address:

Recent information there includes Nestlé hiring someone to pass themselves off as a campaigner to infiltrate the Swiss ATTAC campaign group to gather sensitive and confidential information on campaigners. See:

You'll also find the analysis I also posted on this blog yesterday examining Nestlé's claim about its products in China: 'no melamine found'. That wasn't true at the time, as a Nestlé milk product was on the contaminated list in Hong Kong. Nestlé also used the argument that this toxin (which has led to thousands of babies being hospitalized and four deaths due to high levels in the formula of a competitor - Sanlu/Fonterra), is found in most foods at 'safe' levels. In Taiwan the authorities have called for Nestlé to remove products found with melamine, arguing that there are no acceptable levels for toxins. Nestlé says it: "fails to understand temporary delisting request". See:

While there are many concerns raised about Nestlé practices, the boycott we promote concerns its baby food marketing practices. In the past 20 years the boycott has been instrumental in stopping many cases of aggressive marketing designed by the company to persuade mothers to buy the company formula, regardless of the impact on health. The biological norm of breastfeeding provides all a baby needs for the first 6 months of life and continues to provide protection and nutrition alongside other foods beyond this. Infants fed on formula are more likely to suffer short and long-term illness. Around the world 1.5 million infants die every year because they are not adequately breastfed (click here for sources of this statistic).

In the past Nestlé promoted its formula with pictures of chubby babies on labels and by sending marketing staff dressed as nurses into hospitals. Today these practices have changed, thanks to marketing requirements adopted by the World Health Assembly, legislation implementing these measures and our work with our partners in monitoring company behaviour and promoting the boycott. Yet Nestlé's latest practices are only slightly more subtle. It presents its formula as containing 'brain building blocks' and suggests that it 'protects' babies, all the time knowing that infants fed on formula do not develop the same as breastfed infants and miss out on the protection provided by the living anti-bodies and other protective factors in breastmilk. They are more likely to become sick and in conditions of poverty, they are more likely to die.

Global monitoring conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) finds Nestlé to be the worst of the companies. And as market leader it sets trends others follow and so drives down standards. As we have exposed recently, in South Africa not only the Department of Health was critical of its marketing practices, but also its competitors, who filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority - they lost and may feel compelled to resort to push similar promotional tactics through the regulatory loophole Nestlé has created. See:

It is regrettable that the boycott continues to be a necessary tool to put pressure on Nestlé and to raise awareness of its marketing malpractice. But the new Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Paul Bulcke, has, like his predecessor, rejected the plan put to Nestlé for saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott. Instead Nestlé tries to divert criticism with expensive Public Relations initiatives and underhand methods such as those described above. The changes it makes are grudging. More boycott action will help to persuade it. Last year, after denying for years that the boycott had support, Nestlé's Global Public Affairs Manager owned up to Nestlé being 'widely boycotted'. Independent research has found it to be one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet. See:

The parallel strategy to the boycott is bringing in legislation. In the case of South Africa, for example, we ran a campaign of international solidarity earlier this year as it seeks to bring in stronger regulations to stop the type of promotion we have exposed. Over 70 countries have brought in measures, some of which are proving to be very effective and breastfeeding rates are increasing.

Parents who use formula, for whatever reason, also need protecting and we continue to call on Nestlé to make changes, such as improving instructions and stopping promoting powdered whole milk alongside more expensive infant formula in supermarkets and pharmacies. It knows that poor mothers are more likely to use the whole milk because it is much cheaper, but has even greater risks.

So happy Nestlé-Free Week. Have fun spreading the word and seeking out non-Nestlé alternatives for the coming week and, hopefully, beyond.

Although there is no willingness from Nestlé to accept the plan for ending the boycott at present, other companies have come to us because they are willing to change their marketing practices and want advice on how best to comply with the World Health Assembly requirements.

One day Nestlé will realise it is best for its business and for mothers and babies if it accepts it needs to change.

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