Friday, February 26, 2010

Nestlé's friendly MP stands down

Mr Tom Levitt, Member of Parliament for Buxton, has announced he is standing down at the next election.

Nestlé bottles Buxton water in the town and has befriended its MP with free tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament and a free trip to South Africa.

After the trip, Mr. Levitt praised Nestlé and suggested it should no longer be criticised for issues he said were 30 years in the past. In the Buxton Advertiser today, he is again quoted defending his friends at Nestlé:

There is a short quote from me in the article and I have posted a follow-up to the editor as follows:


It is a disgrace that Mr. Levitt continues to claim regarding Nestlé baby milk marketing : "Nestle is amongst the most ethical of traders in this field."

He has been provided with information showing that while he was enjoying his free trip to South Africa, Nestlé was advertising infant formula in supermarkets - a practice so shocking that even its competitors in the Infant Feeding Association tried unsuccessfully to stop it. The voluntary Advertising Standards Authority, part-funded by Nestlé advertising revenue, cleared the practice, meaning all companies may resort to advertising, something prohibited by the international marketing standards Nestlé claims to follow. Nestlé drives down standards.

Mr. Levitt ignores the fact that the Department of Health in South Africa told Nestlé to stop making claims about its formula that undermine breastfeeding - and the fact it says it was not asked for an opinion by the ASA about the Nestlé supermarket advertising as normally happens with issues impacting on health.

Nestlé is currently promoting its formula with the claim it 'protects' babies and refuses to stop misleading mothers; infants fed on formula are more likely to become sick than breastfed babies and, in conditions of poverty, more likely to die. This is not an issue from 30 to 40 years ago as Mr. Levitt likes to claim when defending his free Wimbledon tickets and other Nestlé benefits.

See our Campaign for Ethical Marketing.

The article picks up on a report in Private Eye that Mr. Levitt is heading for a consultancy with Nestlé, something they both deny in the Buxton Advertiser article.

We will watch closely. There is a history of Nestlé paying back people who have defended it. Lord Nazir Ahmed cropped up several times when former Nestlé Pakistan employee, Syed Aamir Raza, exposed practices such as bribing of doctors, which were substantiated by internal company documents. Lord Ahmed arrived uninvited at the European Parliament Public Hearing into the affair, which Nestlé boycotted. When he was unable to speak there, he wrote to Members of the European Parliament offering to brief them.

Aamir had met with Lord Ahmed asking for his help - a meeting I attended - and he was originally enthusiastic. However, a proposed public meeting never went ahead and Lord Ahmed then announced he had conducted an independent investigation in Pakistan which had found Nestlé was doing nothing wrong and that Aamir was trying to blackmail Nestlé. Two years later it emerged that the trip Lord Ahmed made to Pakistan had been organised and paid for by Nestlé and that he was being taken on by the company as a consultant. I took part in a head-to-head interview with Lord Ahmed on the BBC radio when his financial links with Nestlé were revealed. You can listen to the recording at:

Lord Ahmed again came to Nestlé's defence in 2003 when the TUC (Trade Union Congress) refused Nestlé a stand at their annual conference (Nestlé was one of two corporations that regularly exhibited, always amidst controversy - the other being British Nuclear Fuels). We had offered to debate with Nestlé in previous years and it refused - now denied its customary platform it agreed. Lord Ahmed was in the audience and to his lasting shame, stood up and told the audience that Aamir was living happily in Canada and his campaign exposing Nestlé had been about finding a way to leave Pakistan. I pointed out that Aamir was without his wife and children who he had not seen since leaving Pakistan three years before - he was unable to return home after threats from doctors implicated by the internal documents in accepting bribes and after shots were fired at his home, narrowly missing his brother. As Lord Ahmed attacked Aamir in this underhand way, Aamir was indeed in Canada, but distraught as his mother was ill with cancer. Aamir was separated from his wife and children for seven years and he never saw either of his parents again, who both passed away. There are many issues involved in Aamir's case. You can read his evidence here:

Another case of someone claiming to be independent but turning out to have financial links with Nestlé, revolves around an article published in the British Journal of Midwifery. Nestlé has widely distributed an off-print of the article, without the substantial right-to-reply from Baby Milk Action exposing some of the many errors and misrepresentations in the article. You can find a detailed analysis on our archive site. This provides an in-depth history of the campaign, with reference to source documents which can be downloaded from the site. See:

Nestlé claims the article was written by 'independent midwives'. In reality the lead author was Chris Sidgwick who worked with Nestlé on a video that was distributed to UK health workers in breach of UK law, something that Trading Standards has raised with Nestlé several times. Not only did the authors enjoy an all-expenses-paid trip to Switzerland for 'fact-finding' at Nestlé's HQ, Chris's organisation, HCP Study Events, received funding from the Nestlé Nutrtion Institute. It still does, and Chris crops up from time to time inviting health journalists on jollies to Switzerland on Nestlé's behalf and students to drop their support for the boycott. We have contacted her to discuss her work for Nestlé, but have never received a reply. See:

Nestlé has even tried to use its cheque book to bring Nelson Mandela into its fold, offering half a million pounds just for a photo-opportunity. Nestlé persuaded Lord Richard Attenborough to put the offer to former President Mandela. The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund rejected the sum. i.Africa reported:

"In a statement it [Mandela's Children's Fund] reiterated the position it took in 2000 regarding a donation Nestle proposed to the Fund. In July 2000 the Fund was approached by Nestle, to contribute towards its Aids Orphan Appeal, a theme it had adopted for Mandela's birthday celebration with the children in that year

"However given the Nestle debacle in relation to HIV/Aids infected mothers and their campaign on promoting formula milk as opposed to breast milk and the disadvantages they put out publicly regarding breast feeding, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund declined the donation.""

Nestlé's Chairman has been open in saying that the company only supports good causes if it benefits shareholders. See:

Nestlé is no doubt pleased that Mr. Levitt has parroted its PR about its baby food marketing following his trip, refused our offer to meet and ignored the evidence we have sent to him. I don't know the source of the Private Eye report on the alleged consultancy agreement, and would not wish to doubt Mr. Levitt's word, but it certainly reflects the way Nestlé works.

No comments: