Friday, January 30, 2009

How Nestlé misled - and recruited - George Clooney

Today Baby Milk Action joined other campaigning organisations in Zurich, Switzerland, at 'The Other Davos meeting'. While business and political leaders were together at the World Economic Forum, the organisations were shining the spotlight on aspects of Nestlé's malpractice, such as trade union busting activities in Colombia, spying on campaigners in Switzerland and aggressive marketing of baby foods.

You can find out more about the event here:

One of the things we raised, is the way Nestlé has misled George Clooney about its baby food marketing activities and recruited the actor, known for his humanitarian work, to defend the company using Nestlé's dishonest claims. You can download a new report on this from the link given above.

In a Nestlé briefing that Mr. Clooney's office has provided to those questioning his appearing in Nestlé Nespresso advertisements, there are various claims, which we expose in a new briefing, launched today. We have appealed to Mr. Clooney to reconsider his defence of Nestlé and review the information we have already sent to him.

One example shows the depths of Nestlé's dishonesty. In the briefing Mr. Clooney has been persuaded to distribute, it claims:

---Extract from Nestlé's George Clooney briefing

In June 2006 the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment (JACEI) of the Methodist Church stated that there is “no compelling justifi cation” against investment in Nestlé on the basis of its involvement with breast milk substitutes. Further, the Annual Report of the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church stated that it had become a shareholder (of Nestlé) in the past year.
---extract ends

The Methodist Church Central Finance Board statement on Nestlé explains why it invested:

---Extract from Church statement

JACEI [the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics in Investment] acknowledges and respects the work of organisations such as Baby Milk Action in highlighting the scandal of inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes. The way in which the CFB responds to such activities is to engage with company managements and seek change from within. These approaches should be seen as complementary strategies working to achieve a common aim.
---extract ends

Prior to the investment, the 2006 Methodist Conference adopted texts that suggested ‘engagement’ and the ‘boycott’ go hand in hand:

---Extract from Conference text

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.
---extract ends

You can find the full story and source documents at:

So George Clooney was misled by Nestlé. Church investment is intended to press the company to stop malpractice. It is not, as Nestlé wants people to believe, a reward for good behaviour. Indeed, the Methodist Church Conference stated that it sees ‘engagement’ and the ‘boycott’ as complementary strategies.

Nestlé relies on people not looking too closely at its activities. It relies on the fact that people find it difficult to believe that a household name should be so calculatingly dishonest in how it presents information.

Our challeng to bring the evidence to people's attention so that can see they have been misled and act accordingly.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

When to trust and when to anti-trust?

In the past the baby food industry has claimed that companies are unable to cooperate to stop violations of the baby food marketing requirements due to anti-trust legislation. This is an excuse as these measures are basically intended to stop companies forming cartels to protect their financial interests.

As I've noted here a few times, Nestlé has been accused of price-fixing in its confectionery business on three continents. While those investigations are running, let me flag up another example of the double standard, where cooperation between companies is taking place for gain.

The two leading forces in the baby food industry, Nestlé and Danone (which bought NUMICO, owner of Nutricia, Milupa and Cow & Gate brands over a year ago), are working together to defend their bottled water interests.

PR Week reported last September:

---extract begins

Nestle Waters, Danone and Highland Spring have joined together to launch a new association to lobby on behalf of the bottled water industry.

The Natural Hydration Council (NHC) was launched this week to research and promote the environmental, health and other sustainable benefits of natural bottled water.

The new group aims to provide information and advice for the Government, researchers, the industry, media and the public about the economic and social value and impact of bottled water. This will include lobbying politicians and the Government about the benefits of drinking bottled water. The NHC will also be looking for a PR agency to help support its 2009 activity.

---extract ends

Nestlé, in particular, wishes to be seen environmentally friendly when it comes to water use. While it claims it has cut back on consumption at factories, it is also criticised for the harmful effect of its water bottling activities. Information can be found on the Nestlé Critics website:

So the fact is that companies do work together to protect business interests. So why not in agreeing to abide by World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods? There the opposite is the case, with competition between companies - led by Nestlé - driving down standards:

In a properly functioning market, surely things should work the other way around? Companies agree to uphold minimum standards, while competing on other aspects of business.

One of the aims of the United Nations Global Compact, which Nestlé claims to support, is to do business in accordance with Global Compact principles, which means respecting human rights. As we will be explaining at a meeting in Zurich tomorrow, Nestlé uses the Global Compact for public relations purposes, while breaching the principles.

We are speaking alongside other experts on Nestlé malpractice, such as its trade union busting and spying activities. Find out more at:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nestle promises to change bear brand logo - but what about whole milk marketing?

In Update 41 we reported on a study in the British Medical Journal about Nestlé's marketing of coffee creamer in Laos with a bear logo. The newsletter is sent to members and can be accessed on our website (click here to join Baby Milk Action). See:

The research found that mothers were using the coffee creamer as a breastmilk substitute, being misled by the logo which appears to show a bear breastfeeding. This logo undermines the message that the product should not be used for infant feeding.

Nestlé has responded to the research in a letter published in the BMJ and a correspondence with the researchers has resulted. Nestlé at first refused to change the logo, while claiming to be concerned about inappropriate use of products such as this. Yesterday it said it would remove the baby bear.

Seeing its claim to be concerned about inappropriate use of products, prompted me to post the following today:

It is interesting to read Nestlé's Roland Stieger (BMJ 2009;338:b196) state that Nestlé: "is very concerned that mothers in poor countries feed infants with inappropriate breast milk substitutes." Mr. Stiegler claims that Nestlé takes steps to reduce such inappropriate use. My experience suggests otherwise. Rather, it seems Nestlé seeks to gain sales from inappropriate use of products bought by mothers who cannot afford infant formula.

A stark example of this appeared in one of Nestlé's own audit reports, its Sustainability Review, launched in 2002. This shows 'auditors' standing in front of a 'baby food' section in a retail outlet, ostensibly checking the labels of formula. Behind them on the shelves, Nestlé's whole milk can be clearly seen alongside the formula.

Whole milk is totally unsuitable for infant feeding. Nestlé Nido (Ninho in Brazil) is typically a third of the price of infant formula and it is known that in some settings poor mothers who do not breastfeed, for whatever reason, are more likely to use powdered whole milk rather than formula.

Yet around the world Nestlé continues to promote whole milk alongside infant formula in pharmacies and supermarkets. The fact that this goes on under the noses of its 'auditors' is stark proof that this is deliberate policy. Whole milk can be viewed as a complementary food and World Health Assembly Resolution 49.15 requires: "that complementary foods are not marketed for or used in ways that undermine exclusive and sustained breast-feeding." Placing it with formula with the implication it can be used for infant feeding breaches this Resolution.

Aside from displays in retail outlets, we have found promotional materials, such as this 2003 calendar in the Dominican Repulic.

More recent examples, can be found in our 'Gallery of Shame' at:

When this was raised with Nestlé, it claimed: "Nido whole milk is not promoted at all as a breastmilk substitute." And: "Unfortunately, Baby Milk Action continues to attempt to apply the WHO Code to products which are not marketed as breast-milk substitutes, in contradiction to the WHO Code itself."

Full text at:

Yet if, as Mr. Stiegler claims, Nestlé: "is very concerned that mothers in poor countries feed infants with inappropriate breast milk substitutes" surely it would not try to excuse the practice, but would remove Nido and Ninho from the infant feeding section as a precaution, knowing that it is used as a breastmilk substitute. There is no legitimate reason for it being placed there.


You can follow the correspondence at:

In Nestlé's latest posting on 27 January 2009, it says it will change the bear brand logo, so, if true, that is an important result. Let us see if it will change its policy on marketing of whole milks.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Looking back on 2008 and forward to 2009

And so here we are in 2009 and it's time to fire up this blog after a bit of a New Year break.

Last year was as eventful as ever and sets the scene for what is to come. 2008 opened with us going to the High Court in London to help the UK government in defending the new Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations. Though we disliked the regulations for being little better than those they replaced, the baby food industry was trying to undermine them further and ultimately succeeded in doing so, winning a delay in labeling requirements. Our position had been company's labels are currently illegal, so they should be withdrawn in any case.

Companies contempt for the rule of law in the UK was further demonstrated when Heinz launched its new 'Nurture' range of formulas, using health claims that had been illegal since 1995 and continue to be illegal.

In May we began producing regular monitoring reports to submit to the government review panel investigating the effectiveness of the law. The reports profile the main companies, expose practices that we believe violate the regulations and explain what enforcement authorities have - or have not - done to hold them to account.

We are grateful for the public donations that go towards the monitoring project, as we have no other funding for it, essential though it is. The monitoring evidence was submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which, in October, called for the UK government to implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and commented in its report on the UK that: "aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes remains common."

In the wider world, we saw a UK Member of Parliament defending Nestlé after an all-expenses-paid trip to South Africa. Tom Levitt MP attacked the boycott, claiming Nestlé misbehaviour was decades in the past. We contacted him regarding the malpractice he missed while on his jolly to South Africa, including advertising of infant formula in supermarkets and prohibited health claims on labels. These strategies were not only criticised by the Department of Health, but Nestlé competitors reported it to the Advertising Standards Authority in a ultimately unsuccessful attempt at stopping what they saw as a clear breach of the marketing requirements. So Nestlé endangers infant health to boost its profits, while driving down standards for the industry as a whole. It is shameful that a Member of the UK Parliament supports them in this. While we have provided information to Mr. Levitt MP and requested a meeting, we have still not received a reply from him.

We campaigned in support of stronger regulations in South Africa, which have still not been finalised. We joined with partners in successfully defending Brazil's strong regulations - an important victory, but one that stops us moving backwards, rather than gaining anything extra. Such is the nature of some of our work, something that is difficult to raise funds for.

Nestlé used a variety of other strategies to try to divert criticism of its practices. In March it launched a report with the UN Global Compact office. This is an unmonitored and unenforced scheme introduced by Kofi Anan, when Secretary General of the UN, as an alternative to regulatory systems. Nestlé uses it for Public Relations purposes, the report it produced having important omissions and factual inaccuracies.

Nestlé gained a new Chief Executive Officer in April, Mr. Paul Bulcke. We sent him a letter of welcome and put the four-point plan to him for saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott. He rejected it.

In the Scottish Parliament a 'No to Nestlé' campaign was launched, which has seen some local authorities to switch to alternative suppliers.

Campaigners in Switzerland embarked on legal action against Nestlé after it was revealed that Nestlé had hired someone to pass off as an activist to infiltrate the group to gather sensitive and confidential information. The spy's reports included information on the baby milk campaign. The spy was run by a former MI6 agent employed by Nestlé.

In August it was revealed that not only is Nestlé one of the world's most boycotted companies, it is one of the world's most criticised.

For International Nestlé-Free Week in October, a new website was launched as a portal to information from experts concerned about Nestlé practices. Nestlé lawyers threatened Baby Milk Action with legal action over the site and demanded the domain name be handed to Nestlé just days before the launch. We refused, concerned at Nestlé's history of 'passing off' as activists to gain sensitive information and suspicious of what it may put on the site. The launch went ahead as the Nestlé Critics website.

In the UK, Nestlé pulled out of the Children's Book Prize, after a winner refused to accept Nestlé's money.

Nestlé also continued with its efforts to break into the UK formula market, recruiting Dr. Miriam Stoppard, alongside Nestlé cheerleader, midwife Chris Sidgwick. Trading Standards confirmed that a Nestlé video Chris Sidgwick launched for midwives was being distributed in breach of regulations.

It was a 'reporting year' at the World Health Assembly - every two years the Director General makes a report on progress in implementing the marketing requirements. This only looks at government action on legislation, not company's responsibility to abide by the requirements independently of government action. That aspect of monitoring has to be done by us with our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). We attended the Assembly and called for renewed enforcement action and other steps to address current concerns.

We continue to take the lead in strategic thinking on holding corporations accountable, drawing on our experience to argue for international regulatory systems. Personally I am proposing there be a World TNC Regulatory Authority.

Towards the end of the year, the scandal of melamine contaminated formula in China emerged. We reminded people how Fonterra/Sanlu, the company at the centre of the scandal, had been pushing formula for years in breach of marketing standards. We analysed claim and counter claim regarding levels of contamination and showed that Nestlé's claim that its milk products were unaffected was untrue, as one was on the contaminated list, though at lower levels than the Sanlu products.

The year of 2009 began with yet another emergency, this time in Gaza, where formula has been sent by well-meaning, but ill-informed, people. This puts lives at risk, as I reported in March with information on a UN meeting on infant feeding in emergencies. We put out similar warnings in response to disasters in Burma and China.

This is just some of the things going on in 2008.

For Baby Milk Action it was a particularly difficult year as we had to cut staff hours even further. For me this means that, while trying to do as much as I can unpaid, I do sometimes have to take on freelance work to make ends meet. Hopefully the situation will improve - we live in hope - but it may be in 2009 this is not quite a daily blog. Apologies for that.

Friday, January 16, 2009

John Lewis violating children's rights with breach of baby bottle marketing standards

Lot's of people have been contacting us about the John Lewis Baby feeding advisors promoting Avent feeding bottles in stores in the UK.

If you went along, reports of what you were told and scans of materials you may have received (or pop copies in the post) are most welcome. Report using the forms at:

This is a blatant violation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

Article 2: The Code applies to the marketing, and practices related thereto, of the following products: ... feeding bottles and teats.

Article 5. The general public and mothers

5.1 There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this Code.

5.2 Manufacturers and distributors should not provide, directly or indirectly, to pregnant women, mothers or members of their families, samples of products within the scope of this Code.

5.3 In conformity with paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article, there should be no point-of-sale advertising, giving of samples, or any other promotion device to induce sales directly to the consumer at the retail level, such as special displays, discount coupons, premiums, special sales, loss leaders and tie-in sales, for products within the scope of this Code....

5.5 Marketing personnel, in their business capacity, should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children.

We are discussing with the authorities what action can be taken. There is a problem in the UK, however. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child explained it in October 2008 when it's report on the UK stated it: "is concerned that implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes continues to be inadequate and that aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes remains common."

Marketing regulations for bottles and teats are less than inadequate, they are not included in the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations, which the government points to as its implementation of the Code.

The feeding bottle promotion is being done along Avent breastpumps, but there is reason to be seriously concerned at the message the John Lewis Baby feeding advisors will be giving out. This is what they say on the John Lewis website : "There’s been a lot of talk, and quite a bit of controversy, about which is best for baby - breast or bottle."

If the advisors have not even read the 'breastfeeding is best for babies' message on formula or the reasons for it, what can be expected of them?

Certainly all mothers need support and information, but company representatives with a vested interest in selling products are not the best people to be targeting mothers.

Please let us know your experience if you went to an event in what was billed as 'Avent Feeding Awareness Week' or are able to go this weekend.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Happy new year?

I have a bit of a break from blogging over Christmas and New Year, but I thought I would make a post to wish everyone a happy new year and review the past year of blogs.

Except I will leave that for another day as we are reminded every day on the news that it is not a happy new year for some, particularly in Gaza and Israel at the present time.

So, instead, here are two related thoughts.

Firstly, please don't send formula to Gaza! We have this every time there is an emergency. People collect formula to send. We had to remind people at the time of the Asian Tsunami in 2004 that this is harmful in both the short and long term.

In the short term, donated formula is rarely distributed properly. Some mothers end up using it, thinking it is necessary rather than breastfeeding. They and those caring for orphans or separated children usually find donated milk is labelled in a language they don't understand.

In fact, if formula is labelled in the wrong language it is actually illegal to export it from the UK, including as a donation. We had to resort to invoking the law in the case of the Tsunami. See:

All the same, formula found its way to places like Sri Lanka. The Health Minister of Sri Lanka is quoted in a briefing paper from the Emergency Nutrition Network (of which we are members), released to raise awareness of the dangers of formula to Gaza.

This is what the Health Minister had to say:

---quote begins
Although Sri Lanka is a country with a high exclusive breastfeeding rate, there was a myth among mothers about the inability to produce enough breastmilk when under stress. A major problem was the distribution of infant formula and feeding bottles by donors and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), without the appropriate controls, to breastfeeding mothers. Donors acted emotionally withoutany scientific basis, disregarding the dangers of artificial feeding in disasters. Additionally the mass media was very keen on feeding babies so made a public appeal to supply artificial milk and feeding bottles. The Ministry of Health faced many challenges to ensure that breastfeeding mothers continued to do so and did not swap to unsustainable and potentially dangerous infant formula.

Statement from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami
---quote ends

You can download the briefing at:

Long-term effects can be devastating and last a decade. After the Armenian earthquake in 1988, breastfeeding rates fell from 64% to 20%. My colleague, Susanna Harutyunyan was interviewed in the Armenia Weekly about this and said: "During the early 1990s Armenia was provided with infant formula as humanitarian aid, and the availability of free infant formula was one of the most obvious reasons for the dramatic decrease in breastfeeding."

You can listen to an interview I conducted with Susanna at the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Europen meeting in 2006 in our broadcasts section:

At the time of the Kosovo crisis when many refugees moved into Albania, our partners there in the IBFAN set up baby friendly corners. Mothers experiencing problems with lactation were helped to relactate. Babies that needed to be bottle fed, where fed in a separate area with locally sourced formula, labelled in the correct language, and prepared hygienically.

The Emergency Nutrition Network has training manuals for field staff working in emergency situations, which can be found at:

Please support the Emergency Nutrition Network, or if you want to send a donation that will go to humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza, you might like to send them to UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). See:

Secondly, I don't want to discuss the politics of what is happening in Gaza here, but I don't think think wishing peace and security for all should be contentious. The Avaaz campaign is calling for action from the international community to help achieve that. You can find out more and sign the petition if you wish at: