Monday, September 07, 2009

A close look at Nestle's letter in the RCSLT Bulletin shows the dishonesty used to protect this company's unethical practices

The September 2009 issue of The Bulletin of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) contains a letter from Zelda Wilson of Nestlé defending the company's baby milk marketing practices.

I am going to reproduce Zelda's letter in its entirety below. Why would I do Nestlé the favour of freely publicising its claims, you may ask? For the simple reason that sunlight is the best disinfectant and by showing how deliberately misleading Nestlé is - and the reasons behind such dishonesty - all will better understand the strategies of this most unethical of companies.

Here is the letter as published:

---Letter from Nestlé published in the RCSLT Bulletin September 2009

Nestlé firmly believes that breast-feeding is the best way to feed a baby and we are strongly committed to the protection and promotion of breast-feeding [Note 1].

However, when mothers cannot, or choose not to breastfeed, infant formula is the only product recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a suitable alternative [Note 2].

All Nestlé infant formula labels contain the "breast is best" message, together with other important reminders to mothers recommended by the WHO Code [Note 3].

In the UK Nestlé funded a DVD in 2004 for healthcare professionals to use to encourage teenagers to breastfeed. Although funded by Nestlé, the project was overseen by an independent midwife and reviewed professionally by senior healthcare professionals [Note 4].

In 1981, Nestlé took part in devising the World Health Organisation Code, which recommends to companies how they are allowed to market infant formula [Note 5]. The essence of the Code is that infant formula can only be marketed through healthcare professional and only by sharing scientific information [Note 6].

Nestlé has a robust internal system in place to make sure our employees abide by this Code and we also make sure our marketing practices are audited by independent, specialist professional service firms on a regular basis. Any violations are reported and addressed immediately [Note 7].

Nestlé was rated 'Best in Class' for compliance and third party verification relating to the WHO Code, as well as for reporting and transparency by GES Investment Services, Northern Europe's leading analysis house for socially responsible investment [Note 8].

You might want to look on: to get further information [Note 9].

Zelda Wilson
---Quote ends

There is an Editor's Note that follows the letter in the RCSLT Bulletin, which states: "Nestlé provided resources to support their current position and are keen to respond to any issues that RCSLT members raise. If you would like to read the resources or correspond with Zelda, please write to"

The details below will help anyone members of RCSLT wishing to do so. If you find it too daunting to unpick Nestlé’s blunt, but untrue, assurances, it is worth recalling that Baby Milk Action has invited Nestlé to participate in an independent expert tribunal to examine claim and counter claim in detail, but Nestlé refuses to even set out its terms and conditions for doing so.

For a short period Nestlé did participate in debates, mainly at universities, with Baby Milk Action, but lost them all and has now reverted to its position of refusing to attend if we are present. We have a recording of a debate from a school available at:

Perhaps before the RCSLT accepts any funding from Nestlé in future, it would like to consider inviting a debate at its conference?

It is also worth remembering that the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) spent two years examining similar claims made by Nestlé in an anti-boycott advertisement. Though it ruled in Baby Milk Action’s favour in 1999 on all our complaints Nestlé continues to repeat similar claims where the ASA has no power to investigate – such as in the letter to the RCSLT. See:

Untrue and misleading claims in the Nestlé letter.

Note 1: Evidence gathered by people on the ground around the world shows that Nestlé systematically undermines breastfeeding in the way it promotes its breastmilk substitutes. The example below is Nestlé's Nan infant formula purchased in Malawi in August 2009 - Malawi is one of the world's poorest countries with under-5 mortality at 140 per 1,000 live births. Yet Nestlé promotes its formula with a logo claiming it 'protects'. The logo detracts from the legally-required 'breastmilk is best for babies' message, a message that Nestlé refused to translate into the national language of the country until Baby Milk Action campaigned on this issue, bringing it to the attention of Mark Thomas who exposed the practice on national UK television, prompting Nestlé to back down. Baby Milk Action is currently running a campaign calling on Nestlé to remove its 'protect' logo from Malawi and all other countries - this is a global strategy - the labels were on proud display at Nestlé's shareholder meeting in Switzerland in April 2009.
You can take action over this and other some other current examples of Nestlé malpractice at:

Note 2. Pasteurised donor breastmilk is used in many countries when mothers cannot breastfeed, for example if their baby is premature.

While Nestlé claims that infant formula is the only 'suitable alternative' it also promotes its whole milk in the infant feeding sections of pharmacies and supermarkets around the world and in materials such as this calendar from the Dominican Republic.

Many poor mothers who use powdered milk to feed their infants use unsuitable powdered whole milk rather than formula, which is typically three times the price.

Again this practice is driven from the top of Nestlé - the picture below is from one of Nestlé's own 'social responsibility' reports and shows Nestlé auditors next to Nido whole milk alongside formula in the baby food section of a pharmacy. Baby Milk Action raised this with Nestlé and called on it to keep whole milk away from infant formula in retail outlets, but it refuses to do so, arguing that as whole milk is not a bona fide breastmilk substitute, no marketing regulations apply to it! It may be totally immoral not to stop this practice, but it is all money in the bank for Nestlé.


Earlier this year a study published in the British Medical Journal exposed coffee creamer being promoted with a logo showing a bear with a baby in the breastfeeding position, which led to it being used in feeding bottles. The exposure of an issue that had been raised for years did prompt Nestlé to remove the logo. See:

Note 3. As the label from Malawi shows, Nestlé undermines the required 'Breast is Best' message. The WHO Code prohibits idealizing text and images from labels, so it is dishonest of Nestlé to imply it complies with the Code's requirements when it has 'protect' logos and other claims on labels.

In addition, Nestlé refuses to tell those parents and carers who do use formula how to prepare it to reduce risks of possible intrinsic contamination. Powdered formula is not sterile and babies have died as a result of Enterobacter Sakazakii contamination in Nestlé formula in the past. Companies have been called on to make those who use formula aware of the risks and to revise their instructions so these can be reduced. Nestlé refuses to do this. See:

Note 4. It is staggering that Nestlé is boasting about a DVD in the letter when this was distributed in breach of UK law, which requires that such materials receive prior authorisation from the responsible government department. Baby Milk Action has campaigned on this and finally it was taken up by Croydon Trading Standards which has informed us that it has "“written to the company stating that they need to obtain approval from the Department of Health.” In other words, the video had been distributed in breach of the Regulations since its launch. As far as I am aware permission has still not been granted - I have forwarded Nestlé's letter to Trading Standards.

So why is Nestlé boasting to RCSLT of a film distributed in breach of the law? Because it thinks it can get away with people not knowing the background.

The history of the film is more illuminating still. It was launched at the Royal College of Midwives Conference in 2004 by Chris Sidgwick, resumably the midwife that Zelda is referring to as 'independent'. At the launch Chris made an appeal for midwives to drop their support for the Nestlé boycott so as to make use of the video. We raised at the time that the video could only be distributed if the Department of Health had given permission, but Nestlé went ahead regardless.

Zelda Wilson then took Chris and some others on an all-expenses-paid trip to Nestlé HQ in Switzerland to prepare an article on the baby milk issue. The resulting article was published in the British Journal of Midwifery, but was so misleading and flawed that Baby Milk Action was given a substantial right to reply in a subsequent issue. Nestlé continues to distribute the article without our right to reply. The article really was very badly done, with references misused, quotes misapplied and other types of factual errors which led us to question - without satisfactory answers - whether it had gone through peer review. (The British Journal of Midwifery is itself known for breaching the baby food marketing requirements, advertising Aptamil on a free-gift calendar in a past issue for example). A full analysis with links to original documents can be found at:

We then discovered that Nestlé was sponsoring study days run by an organisation called HCP Study Events - proprietor Chris Sidgwick. Communications from Chris about one event highlighted the expert speaker “Zelda Wilson a State Registered Dietician specialising in human interaction and behaviour", but failed to mention that Zelda Wilson works for Nestlé.

The HCP Study Events website does admit, however, that the organization is supported by a grant from the Nestlé Nutrtion Institute (see bottom of the page)– so much for Zelda’s claim of ‘independence’. See:

As well as these financial links, Chris and Zelda formed part of a five-person contingent that lobbied students at Sheffield University to drop their support for the boycott in a visit on 31 January 2008 - fortunately students consulted Baby Milk Action, UNICEF and Save the Children and the report countered some, though not all, of the dishonest claims made. Save the Children recalled studies had found "violations by Nestlé are systematic. We have no reason to believe that this has changed." Students voted to retain the boycott when it came to a cross-campus referendum. See:

Earlier in 2009 we exposed that Chris was trying to recruit others to go on trips to Switzerland at Nestlé's expense to write articles. See:

Note 5. Nestlé's claim about taking part in devising the WHO Code is so shameless it is laughable. UNICEF and WHO convened meetings to discuss developing a Code in 1979 following a long campaign, including a Senate hearing called by the Senator Edward Kennedy, who passed away this week. You can see a clip of this at:

It is true that industry was involved in these discussions alongside campaigning organisations, including representatives of the Baby Milk Action Coalition as we were known at that stage. Throughout Nestlé attempted to weaken the Code and its Vice President, Ernest Saunders, opposed the final version when it came before the World Health Assembly, calling it 'irrelevant' and 'unworkable' and ‘bereft of support from the world industry’.

But reading Zelda's re-writing of history, you would think Nestlé was behind the Code from the start! You can download a copy of Nestlé's letter and other documents from the time at:

Note 6. The statement that "infant formula can only be marketed through healthcare professional and only by sharing scientific information" is nonsensical and does not reflect the provisions of the Code. Marketing includes the process of selling and formula can be sold through retail outlets, though some countries have attempted to limit sales to pharmacies.

What the Code restricts is PROMOTION. There should be no promotion of any type.

Companies are limited to providing scientific and factual information to health workers and it is for health workers to advise parents - not to market infant formula to them on behalf of Nestlé, but to provide them with objective information, including on the benefits of breastfeeding and the difficulty of reversing a decision to introduce infant formula.

The Code also prohibits companies giving gifts to health workers and seeking direct and indirect contact with parents - which Nestlé breaches systematically. Subsequent Resolutions also address the issue of conflicts of interest and call for special care when it comes to accepting sponsorship for health workers or programmes involved in infant feeding.

As the RCSLT is all too aware, Nestlé is very keen on sponsoring health workers.

Note 7. The claim that Nestlé's marketing is independently audited and violations addressed is untrue. Nestlé does pay a firm called Bureau Veritas to conduct audits – meaning it is not independent. Bureau Veritas audits are carried out not against the International Code, but Nestlé's own Instructions. As well as auditing against these weaker provisions, Bureau Veritas misses the violations documented by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) or excuses them.

When violations are reported to Nestlé directly it is similarly dismissive unless pressure from adverse publicity and the boycott prompts it to act, as in the case of refusing to label products in Malawi in Chichewa, the national language, as described above.

Nestlé similarly paid Bureau Veritas to audit its water bottling activities in the town of São Lourenço, Brazil, when the company was under fire for destroying an historic water park in the spa town. Nestlé claimed Bureau Veritas cleared it of any wrong-doing and found it was fully compliant with the legislation. When questioned by Baby Milk Action, Bureau Veritas, which had visited Brazil, admitted it was unaware that the Public Prosecutor in the town had taken Nestlé to court - Nestlé eventually agreed to stop pumping and to compensate the town under the threat of daily fines until it did so.

Questioned by Baby Milk Action as to why it had failed to mention these and other key facts showing Nestlé was breaking the law, Bureau Veritas admitted: "our work did not constitute a legal audit as such, nor did it include a review of the on-going civil action" (even this was incorrect as at that time Nestlé had agreed to the Prosecutor's demands). None of these facts has stopped Nestlé from claiming regarding this case: "a third party audit by Bureau Veritas confirms that we have acted in accordance with Brazilian legislation",


Note 8. Far from being 'Europe's leading analysis house for socially responsible investment' GES Investment Services is perhaps unique in the so-called ethical investment sector as it looks only to company reports on their activities rather than independent monitoring reports. IBFAN has asked GES to accept its monitoring reports as evidence of Nestlé malpractice and it refuses to do so, saying its analysis model does not allow this. Reputable organisations such as FTSE4Good exclude Nestlé from their ethical investment lists because the company's policies and practices to not meet their criteria. See:

Note 9. Nestlé's 'Code Action' website has a curious history. It was launched amongst much fanfare as the online depository for monthly 'Code Action' reports. These reports were to showcase Nestlé's claim that it complies with the Code, but they very quickly became an embarrassment to Nestlé. One issue carried a substantial right to reply from Baby Milk Action after the company had denied our claim that it was hiring health workers to promote formula in rural areas of the Philippines. Other reports carried apologies to governments which Nestlé had falsely claimed had verified it was complying with the Code. The monthly reports became more and more infrequent and there hasn't been a new issue for some years. See:

Why is Nestlé targeting the RCSLT?

Nestlé attempts to forge links with health workers around the world, particularly those connected with infant feeding. In part this is as a route to target parents, for example by providing free gifts bearing the Nestlé name and styling of its formula. Zelda Wilson is on the record from one of her anti-boycott presentations as admitting the purpose of such gifts is: "to keep the company name and products in people's mind." When the gifts are for maternity wards then clearly the relevant product is infant formula. See:

Speech therapists have a role to play in infant feeding – indeed in Brazil it is common practice for milk banks to have a speech therapist as part of the team to help with positioning and because infant feeding methods can have a profound effect on development of the mouth and teeth. In countries such as Brazil Nestlé also attempts to woo speech therapists with financial support.

A related goal is that Nestlé can then use its links to try to improve its image. In part this may be by boasting of its financial support to the organization. It is also because an organization accepting Nestlé funding is inevitably drawn into defending the company in excusing its decision. So in The Bulletin the Editor suggests that the documents provided by Nestlé support its position, whereas objective analysis of these and source documents such as those I reference would expose how Nestlé has attempted to mislead.

If you question whether Nestlé could really be so dishonest in the assurances it has given in its letter, let me simply say you need to wake up and smell the non-Nescafé coffee.

That is the least of its sins. This is a company that puts its own profits before the health and well-being of infants. As well as using deception to divert criticism of its practices, there are other clues as to its nature, such as the fact it employed a former MI6 officer to hire a spy to infiltrate a campaign organisation in Switzerland. Many other concerns have been raised by campaigners and employees regarding other aspects of Nestlé's business. See:

I have contacted the Editor of The Bulletin asking that an objective assessment of Nestlé's claims is published after considering the source documents and other evidence. Failing that, I can provide a response to Nestlé. In the meantime, please do direct people to this analysis of Nestlé's claims to subject them to a little sunlight.

1 comment:

Rob A said...

I see Nestlé has a full page advert on the inside cover of the Bulletins for July, August and September 09.