Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nestlé family Twitters

Suddenly we are receiving lots of traffic from Twitter that brought my attention to an event Nestlé has organised in California for bloggers. Apparently 20 influential bloggers have been invited to a jolly in the sun to learn more about Nestlé.

Being bloggers, they are tweeting their experiences. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of activity on Twitter as others raise concerns about various aspects of Nestlé malpractice, some of it linking to our sites which alerted me. You can follow the conversation at:

There's a description of the event on this site from a blogger who is definitely not a follower of the Nestlé boycott:

Someone at the event tweeted that Nestlé USA CEO said they do not have many complaints. Strange then that Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet because it breaks international marketing standards for baby foods, undermining breastfeeding and endangering babies fed on formula.

Strange too that Nestlé has an anti-boycott team and invest heavily in trying to divert criticism, as well as other tactics, such as infiltrating campaign groups. Nestlé employs a former MI6 Officer (where the fictional James Bond worked) to run Nestlé's spy operation.

Nestlé does have a history of these all-expenses-paid events as part of its attempts to divert criticism. It has attempted to entice journalists to Switzerland, using invitations sent round by a Midwife who has written a factually incorrect article encouraging midwives to accept Nestlé sponsorship. The article defends Nestlé's record with regard marketing of baby foods and purports to be a research-based study, but misquotes the primary reference so badly it raises questions over whether it was peer reviewed - questions which have not been answered. Baby Milk Action was given a substantial right to reply published in a subsequent issue of the journal, but Nestlé distributes the article without this. This is one of the issues addressed in my recent analysis of Nestlé's claims about its activities. See:

There is something curious that sometimes happens when people accept Nestlé hospitality: having eaten Nestlé's food, people are understandably unwilling to speak - or think - ill of their host. Accepting the company's largesse may cloud the critical faculties. It will be interesting to see how much Nestlé's claims will be investigated before being relayed by the bloggers attending this event. Nestlé is a master of two-step communication, having its message relayed by third parties, giving the impression of impartiality, and that is surely part of its goal with this event.

Even if these bloggers were unaware of Nestlé malpractice in the past, how they will respond now they are aware of it from the tweets people have been posting. Will they take an objective look at the evidence - such as the labels which claims formula 'protects' babies when in reality they are more likely to become sick than breastfed babies?

Or will they rationalise defending their hosts so as not to feel a little bit nauseous at all the Nestlé products they've chowed down? I don't wish to suggest that chocolate is enough to sway people of integrity, but in the past I've seen the critical blindness that can result when people try to defend accepting Nestlé sponsorship. See:

My hope is the bloggers will investigate and report both the evidence and how Nestlé tried to mislead them.

For example, this tin was found last month in Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries, where under-5 mortality is 140 per 1,000 live births. It is certainly not a place to be telling parents that formula 'protects'.

We are running a campaign calling on Nestlé to remove these 'protect' logos, which are appearing around the world, including at Nestlé's shareholder meeting this year showing the policy comes right from the top of the company. In a similar campaign in the past we persuaded Nestlé to include warnings and instructions in Chichewa, the national language, on the labels in Malawi - prior to that it had argued the market was so small 'cost restraints' prevented it from translating the labels. So campaigning does work. See:

There have been some comments on Twitter from some bloggers about Nestlé USA executives and how open they say they are to discussing the issues around formula marketing. "It's been worth us coming", someone tweeted. Please wake up and smell the Nescafé they are plying you with. Not so long ago those nice people at Nestlé USA were attacking the heads of WHO and UNICEF Philippines for defending breastfeeding and supporting better regulation of formula. See the report in the Asia Times:

Nestlé now refuses to speak on its baby milk marketing if Baby Milk Action is in the room, having lost a series of debates between 2001 and 2004. In 2000 it refused to attend a public hearing called by the European Parliament. It is currently refusing to accept our invitation to set out its terms and conditions for taking part in an independent expert tribunal investigating claim and counter claim in depth. But it will spend time pitching its claims to the bloggers.

For the time being I prefer to think that the 20 bloggers were unaware of Nestlé's practices and to hope they will investigate further. If they support this campaign they could help to save lives around the world and their trip to California can have a happy ending.

I have to much to do supporting our partners around the world to keep tracking this, so if you spot any blogs arising from this event, please do post links below.

UPDATE 1 October

Eventually a Nestlé representative, Scott Remy (initially mis-typed as Scot Remy), came on to Twitter offering to answer questions. I posted the following. None of them have been answered a day later.

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Hi Scot Remy, will Nestle stop claiming its formula 'protects'? http://tinyurl.com/ybynzwa #nestlefamily
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Hi Scot Remy, will Nestle bring policies into line with the WHO Code? http://tinyurl.com/ybynzwa #nestlefamily
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Hi Scot Remy, will Nestle accept the 4-point plan for ending the boycott? http://tinyurl.com/yav69zl #nestlefamily
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Hi Scot Remy will Nestle drop its objection to debating with Baby Milk Action? @nestlefamily
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Final thought, Scot Remy, how about a Tweet debate with Baby Milk Action tomorrow? #nestlefamily
---

Let us see if Nestlé's refusal to speak if Baby Milk Action is in the room, extends to ignoring us on Twitter.

I have also posted corrections to some of the untrue statements relayed in some tweets. You can see these and sign up to follow me on Twitter by going to:

It is the nature of the immediacy of Twitter that postings by bloggers are not subject to the journalist standards of fact checking we would expect elsewhere. This has led to the situation where some posters have been scathing of some comments being relayed uncritically - which has led to some heated feelings with some bloggers feeling they are being attacked unfairly. It is difficult to tell how many bloggers have been involved in tweeting from the event, so it is also dangerous to assume that everyone at the event is going to relay Nestlé's line. It is also wrong for bloggers to take a few over the top posts as representative of those with genuine concerns about Nestlé.

Boycott supporters need to learn from this because it is counter productive to attack those caught in the middle. One result has been that it shifts the focus onto the etiquette of who said what and should they have done so and away from the Nestlé's practices.

One blogger has already reported: "I’m not going to touch on the complaints, some of them valid, that are being brought up by the #nestlefamily critics. That’s a different post, and frankly one I have no interest in writing."

I can understand why people at the event don't want to face up to the uncomfortable fact that the nice executives who have told them they are happy to engage (see analysis of this above) in truth are trying to use them in the company's PR strategy; the executives are fully aware of Nestlé's business practices and the cynical and dishonest way in which Nestlé tries to divert criticism. I have debated in public with Nestlé executives and have seen first hand how they are expert at making reassuring statements they and I know are untrue.

Anyone wanting to have a positive impact on these sorts of events should reflect on how some bloggers have felt attacked, because attacks provide an excuse to avoid the real issues.

It has been great to have a lot of traffic thanks to links in tweets and undoubtedly many, many more people are aware of the boycott and concerns because of it. So I am pleased that the community of boycotters spontaneously was on the case and raising awareness. Hopefully at least some of the bloggers will be prepared to investigate and report the evidence and how they were misled by Nestlé. But I quite understand any blogger new to this issue wanting to keep their head down - and it is better if they don't comment at all if they are not prepared to check the facts.

In the UK we often hear of events sponsored by Nestlé and try to contact those involved and sometimes hold a demonstration outside to provide leaflets to those entering. We are often thanked for doing so afterwards; those that decide to go in can put questions to executives, though it can be a more powerful statement to refuse to take part.

I advocate that spirit of providing information.

7 comments:

Pop Discourse said...

Hi Mike - I know a few of the women at the meeting and they are extremely smart; as I said in my post, they know how to separate wheat from chaff. I'm looking forward to their reports following the event -- I believe @MomTalkRadio has taped interview material to broadcast on MomTV. -Christine

Rebekka said...

Certainly from their responses on twitter it seems like their judgement may be clouded. It's kind of like the trope in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where Edmund can't think straight any more after he eats the witch's turkish delight...

Mike Brady said...

In response to Rebekka, there are indeed some bloggers jumping to Nestlé's defence and relaying its comments without investigation. Some of the harsher comments also seem to be driving some to side with Nestlé, which polarises things even more.

I don't know how many of those present have been tweeting, but just as the bloggers shouldn't attack those raising concerns because some comments may have been over the top, we shouldn't assume all present have been taken in just because some tweets seem to suggest that.

The immediacy of Twitter in situations like this seems to be a problem. If bloggers had gone, heard from Nestlé and then done some research before reporting to their readers - which would inevitably have brought up the evidence of Nestlé malpractice - things may have been very different.

Lessons need to be learned, though I think the simplest is to remember basic good manners and journalistic integrity.

Karen said...

Bloggers aren't necessarily journalists. If their blog/expertise isn't centered around some form of activism, personal interest in the issue, or a journalistic style, it's unfair to expect them to "report" on Nestle's practices. It is also unfair to judge them if they don't.

Those bloggers went to the event with a certain purpose. They got caught up in something completely unexpected and all of the sudden everyone who wants Nestle to change is now expecting those bloggers to adopt this as their cause and run with it.

The post at http://mommysnacks.net/2009/09/nestle-family-happy-healthy-gathering/ could have been written and posted before any of this hoopla started - or before the writer knew about it. It's unfair to spotlight that individual blogger as a Nestle supporter without first knowing whether they will respond, how or if not, why.

As I've mentioned on other blog posts about this issue, the aggressive stance that some in the anti-Nestle camp are taking have been a real turn off to me and I'm not sure how much I'd be willing to do to support such a negative campaign beyond attempting to avoid purchasing Nestle products.

Give the bloggers a chance to digest this situation - I found out about it yesterday, too and though I am appalled, the criticism of the bloggers is premature and unwarranted in my view.

Even if a (or some) of the bloggers knew about these issues, perhaps they went to try to open the lines of communication for themselves. If they didn't know, then let them decide individually how to handle it. We don't all have to be vocal activists in this.

expateek said...

Great post! I agree with you about the dangers in the "immediacy" of Twitter. Something similar happened at BlogHer '09 -- over a much, much smaller issue. In any event, the "discourse" seems to ratchet up to a scree-tweeting level far too quickly, obscuring the real issues.

Still, I'm glad this happened, because otherwise I never would have found your blog. As someone who breastfed all my kids in the early 80's, I do find it hard to believe that people could "not know" about any of this. Does no one read a newspaper anymore?

Oops. Answered my own question, there. Anyway, kudos for your excellent, clear-headed explanation of the issues.

Mike Brady said...

In response to Karen - I wasn't intending to attack the poster of the information about the event. I simply said she was definitely not a Nestlé boycotter - the Nestlé products cited on the blog made me draw that conclusion.

As I said: "For the time being I prefer to think that the 20 bloggers were unaware of Nestlé's practices and to hope they will investigate further. If they support this campaign they could help to save lives around the world and their trip to California can have a happy ending."

I will have to disagree with your comment: "all of the sudden everyone who wants Nestle to change is now expecting those bloggers to adopt this as their cause and run with it."

As I said above: "I quite understand any blogger new to this issue wanting to keep their head down - and it is better if they don't comment at all if they are not prepared to check the facts."

I have also commented on the negative comments from some who support the boycott. They don't help. It is disappointing how they are indeed diverting attention from what Nestlé is doing and what those who want to can do to hold it to account.

Mike Brady said...

This blog provides insight into Nestlé's investment in this event:
http://mommysnacks.net/2009/10/nestle-family-recap-of-the-happy-healthy-gathering/

This is a good round up of various blogs on Nestlé's PR disaster:
http://www.bestforbabes.org/2009/10/nestle-twitter-firestorm-list-of-blogs-and-twitter-name/