Monday, October 12, 2009

Nestle's comments on baby milk marketing following its Twitter PR disaster

Following its PR disaster on Twitter, Nestlé has responded to questions posed on the PhD in Parenting blog. I have posted an analysis of Nestlé's response there. I've grouped everything together here so its easier to follow and added the links.

This is not everything that can be said to show Nestlé has been misleading or outright dishonest in its answers. Leave comments on any points where further details would be useful.

---Analysis of Nestlé response:

PhD in Parenting question 4. You say that you comply with the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes in all countries that have adopted the code. Canada is a signatory to the Code and the Canadian government actively encourages companies to comply with it. However, despite Canada being a signatory to the Code, you do not comply with the code in Canada. When you say “adopted” is it fair to assume then that you mean “legislated” and that you will not comply with a developed country’s will unless it puts regulations in place to force you to?

Nestlé response to question 4. The WHO Code was adopted by the WHO Member States as a recommendation to governments, which are required to implement the Code as appropriate to their social end legislative framework. Nestlé universally follows all countries’ implementation of the WHO Code.

In addition, Nestlé decided over two decades ago to voluntarily and unilaterally apply the WHO Code in all developing countries, whether or not they have implemented it in their own legislative framework. If the local legislation is stricter than the Code, we apply local legislation.

Baby Milk Action analysis on question 4. Read Article 11.3 of the Code: “Independently of any other measures taken for implementation of this Code, manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of this Code should regard themselves as responsible for monitoring their marketing practices according to the principles and aim of this Code, and for taking steps to ensure that their conduct at every level conforms to them.”

PhD in Parenting question 5. You mention that “The WHO Code will only truly succeed if governments enforce it and monitor its compliance“. When a country is considering changing its legislation to include provisions contained in the WHO Code does Nestle lobby against those changes through formal or informal consultation processes?

Nestlé response to question 5. No, it is not in Nestlé’s interest to have weak national codes in place; we apply the WHO Code and the Nestlé instructions if the national code is less strict than the WHO Code itself.

A strong national legislation, that includes monitoring procedures, provides clarity and an even playing field for all infant formula manufacturers. Therefore, Nestlé encourages governments to implement monitoring mechanisms. The Code itself also recommends this.

Baby Milk Action analysis on question 5. When the Philippines was defending stronger legislation in 2007, Nestle USA was part of a campaign against the UNICEF and WHO country heads for speaking up in favour of the regulations. In Zimbabwe, it tried to ‘economically blackmail’ the government by threatening to pull out if regulations went ahead. And so on.

PhD in Parenting question 6. You say that you do not market formula in developing countries. and you also say that you have unilaterally applied the WHO Code in all developing countries and regions. Please:

Provide a list of developing countries where you sell infant formula (i.e. the countries where you do sell, but do not market your formula).

Nestlé response to question 6. This is the list of countries that we define as developing countries when it relates to the implementation of the WHO Code. All countries in Central Asia, and all countries or territories of Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean nations and the Pacific nations except Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The categorisation of a country as developing or developed is subject to objective criteria, such as infant mortality rate, adult literacy rate, Gross National Income per capita, percentage of infants with low birth weight, percentage of population using improved water sources and percentage of population urbanised.

Baby Milk Action analysis on question 6. The Code was adopted under World Health Assembly Resolution 34.22. The second line states: “Recalling that breastfeeding is the only natural method of infant feeding and that it must be actively protected and promoted in all countries” and “All member states” are called on ” to translate the International Codeinto national legislation, regulations or other suitable measures”. In other words, it is not restricted to countries of Nestlé’s choosing. Nestlé does not follow the Code even where it claims to. A survey published in 1997 by the Interagency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring (IGBM) called Cracking the Code, produced independently of Baby Milk Action and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) found systematic violations by Nestlé and other companies. UNICEF said IBFAN’s monitoring was ‘vindicated’. IGBM continues to monitor. Member Save the Children said recently the results since its first report give no reason to change that opinion.

PhD in Parenting question 6b. Provide a definition of “marketing”. Does your definition of “marketing” align with the definition in the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. Or is this description of the variances between the WHO Code and your implementation of it accurate? If this description is inaccurate, please explain how it is inaccurate.

Nestlé response to question 6b. Our definition of “marketing” is the same as the one given in the WHO Code (art. 3). By “marketing we mean: product promotion, distribution, selling, advertising, product public relations, and information services.”

Baby Milk Action analysis on question 6b. Nestlé has clearly confused itself. According to the question Nestlé said it does "not market formula in developing countries". Is Nestlé really wanting to say it does not even sell formula in developing countries?

PhD in Parenting question 7. Does any Nestle formula packaging in any nation make claims that the formula offers protection or protects the baby against diarrhea or any other ailment?

Nestlé response to question 7. There is no question about breast milk being the best start a baby can have in life. But when mothers are not able to breastfeed, it is critically important that a safe, effective, high-quality alternative be made available.

Nestlé makes significant investments in R&D and technology to deliver innovative products with scientifically proven nutritional benefits. While our infant nutrition products meet the needs of non-breastfed babies during the first critical months of life, the functional benefits that are referred to on our products are scientifically substantiated – the result of many years of intensive research on how best to improve the formula composition. However, we never claim in any manner that infant formula is superior to breast milk. All our infant formula labels contain the following text: “Important notice: Breast milk is best for babies. Before you decide to use an infant formula, consult your doctor or clinic for advice.”

Baby Milk Action analysis on question 7. In April 2009 Nestlé unveiled its new marketing strategy for infant formula and other breastmilk substitutes – logos on labels claiming it ‘protects’, which undermines required 'breast is best' messages. View an example from Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries with under-5 mortality of 140 per 1,000 live births. Not the place to be telling mothers that infant formula protects. Click on the image for a larger version.


PhD in Parenting question 8. You maintain that “Nestle does not provide mothers in the developing world with free samples of your infant formula products – in fact Nestle has no contact at all with mothers with regards to these“. Are samples provided to doctors? Is information about the “benefits” of your formula provided to doctors or other health professionals?

Nestlé response to question 8. Nestlé does not provide mothers in the developing world with free samples of products. Samples of formula may be provided to individual health workers for the exclusive purpose of professional evaluation and in very specific instances (e.g. introduction of a new formula product). In such cases, the health worker may only be given one or two cans of the product and one time only. When in contact with health workers, Nestlé staff emphasises the superiority of breast-feeding and gives objective information on scientific and factual matters pertaining to formula and its correct use.

Baby Milk Action analysis on question 8. As The Guardian’s own investigation found in 2007 in an investigation in Bangladesh, Nestlé distributes pads for doctors to tear off and give to mothers promoting infant formula. This and other practices, including free samples etc. are given in the Breaking the Rules reports.

PhD in Parenting question 9. You indicate that you have regular audits on a worldwide basis of your marketing practices relating to infant formula. Do you have any public audit reports and/or statistics that you can share?

Nestlé response to question 9. Nestlé has implemented a thorough monitoring system to ensure compliance with the WHO Code. This includes an internal WHO Code Ombudsman System that allows Nestlé employees to alert the Company on potential non-compliance with the WHO Code, regular internal audits of the Company’s subsidiaries’ formula marketing practices as well as independent external audits in case of multiple, broad scale allegations about non-compliance with the WHO Code by Nestlé. The latest Independent Assurance Statements of Nestlé’s subsidiaries’ compliance with the Code can be found at:

Baby Milk Action analysis on question 9. Nestlé’s ‘independent audits’ are conducted by Bureau Veritas, paid by Nestlé to audit against Nestle’s own instructions, not the Code. It has embarrassed itself with some of the things it has missed. See the details here.

PhD in Parenting question 11. You indicate that “Nestle complementary foods are not marketed or presented as breast-milk substitutes” and that you support the May 2001 WHA Resolution that changed the recommended duration of exclusive breastfeeding from 4-6 months to 6 months. Given your support in this regard does this mean that you do not market any food/drink products at all for the use by infants under 6 months of age in any country and that none of your labels for cereal or baby food indicates that it can be used starting at 4 months?

Nestlé response to question 11. Nestlé fully supports the May 2001 WHA Resolution 54.2 which changed the recommended duration of exclusive breastfeeding from 4 – 6 month to 6 months, thereafter introducing complementary foods while recommending continued breast feeding for as long as possible. Thus we implement this resolution in the same way as we implement the WHO Code and we have completed label changes on complementary foods to follow the 6-months recommendation. In addition, in developing countries Nestlé applies the WHO Code not only to starter formula (0-6 months of age) but also to follow-on formula (6-12 months). It is the only major manufacturer to do so.

Baby Milk Action analysis on question 11. The World Health Assembly first addressed this 6 months issue in a Resolution in 1994. It took 9 years of campaigning to force Nestlé to change – which it announced during a week of demonstrations in the UK that gained international media coverage. A great victory for the boycott, though Nestlé foods labelled from 4 months have been reported since.

PhD in Parenting question 12. In discussions with the bloggers, your CEO mentioned that children died in the 1970s as a result of the misuse (wrong quantity, mixed with dirty water) of formula samples. Do you believe that deaths from the misuse of formula samples ended in the 1970s?

Nestlé response to question 12. The WHO Code was adopted in 1981 to contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants, by protecting and promoting breast-feeding, and by ensuring the proper use of breast-milk substitutes, when these are necessary.

Unfortunately, lack of clean water is still a reality in many developing countries. In these countries, mothers are advised not to use infant formula unless it is AFASS – acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe.

However, if a baby is not breastfed for whatever reason, he or she needs a breast-milk substitute, whether or not clean water is available. Until all people have a safe water supply, the only solution is to teach mothers the importance of boiling water and how to prepare infant formula correctly.

All of Nestlé’s Infant Formula Labels contain the following text in the local language: “Warning: Unboiled water, unboiled bottles or incorrect dilution can make your baby ill. Only prepare one bottle at a time. Feed immediately. Do not keep unfinished bottle. Follow instructions exactly.”

In addition, the WHO Code states that it is the responsibility of health workers to advise mothers on infant feeding – first and foremost by encouraging and protecting breastfeeding, secondly to inform the mother about appropriate alternatives (advantages and disadvantages) which include instructions on how to prepare infant formula in a correct way.

It must also be underlined that the vast majority of women in developing countries breastfeed, and at the same time give their baby additional traditional foods, or just plain water. However, many poor mothers who need to use a breast-milk substitute cannot afford infant formula and therefore have to feed their babies with a potentially harmful substitute plain (including cornstarch water or other traditional food mixtures). The challenge is to educate mothers about appropriate breast-milk substitutes and complementary food that can be given to babies as well as to find a way to make appropriate substitutes available to those babies who really need it.

Baby Milk Action analysis on question 12. See Nestlé’s labels telling mother that formula ‘protects’. Etc.

PhD in Parenting question 13. Why did your CEO tell bloggers at the Nestle Family event that the boycott ended in 1986? The boycott in fact ended in 1984, but was reinstated in 1988 because Nestle did not live up to the promises it made. The boycott is is still active today. Please explain why you would attempt to mislead the bloggers about the status of the boycott.

Nestlé response to question 13. In 1977, the first Nestlé boycott was lead by US-based INFACT and ended in 1984. At the end of 1988, an attempt was made to relaunch the Nestlé boycott but received little attention in the U.S.

Baby Milk Action analysis on question 13. Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet according to an independent survey.

1 comment:

Mike Brady said...

Nestlé has run away from those posting questions and comments to its #nestlefamily Twitter hashtag, with this message:

"NestleFamily Letting everyone know we won't stay on Twitter as #nestlefamily. It's our last week. For Nestle info, use @nestlecsv & ."
about 9 hours ago from web