Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Just a Mum

Thought I would pass this on in its entirety. Not sure the origin. It is just doing the rounds at the moment.


A woman, renewing her driver's license at the County Clerk's office was asked by the woman recorder to state her occupation.

She hesitated, uncertain how to classify herself.

"What I mean is," explained the recorder, "do you have a job or are you just a......?"

"Of course I have a job," snapped the woman. "I'm a Mum."

"We don't list 'Mum' as an occupation, 'housewife' covers it," said the recorder emphatically.

I forgot all about her story until one day I found myself in the same situation, this time at our own Town Hall.

The Clerk was obviously a career woman, poised, efficient and possessed of a high sounding title like, "Official Interrogator" or "Town Registrar."

"What is your occupation?" she probed.

What made me say it? I do not know. The words simply popped out.

"I'm a Research Associate in the field of Child Development and Human Relations."

The clerk paused, ball-point pen frozen in midair and looked up as though she had not heard right.

I repeated the title slowly emphasizing the most significant words. Then I stared with wonder as my pronouncement was written, in bold, black ink on the official questionnaire.

"Might I ask," said the clerk with new interest, "just what you do in your field?"

Coolly, without any trace of fluster in my voice, I heard myself reply, "I have a continuing program of research, [what mother doesn't) in the laboratory and in the field, (normally I would have said indoors and out). I'm working for my Masters, (first the Lord and then the whole family) and already have four credits (all daughters). Of course, the job is one of the most demanding in the humanities,
(any mother care to disagree?) and I often work 14 hours a day, (24 is more like it).
But the job is more challenging than most run-of-the-mill careers and the rewards are
more of a satisfaction rather than just money."

There was an increasing note of respect in the clerk's voice as she completed the form, stood up and personally ushered me to the door.

As I drove into our driveway, buoyed up by my glamorous new career, I was greeted by my lab assistants -- ages 13, 7, and 3. Upstairs I could hear our new experimental model, (a 6 month old baby) in the child development program, testing out a new vocal pattern.

I felt I had scored a beat on bureaucracy!

And I had gone on the official records as someone more distinguished and indispensable to mankind than "just another Mum." Motherhood!

What a glorious career! Especially when there's a title on the door.

Does this make grandmothers "Senior Research associates in the field of Child Development and Human Relations" and great grandmothers "Executive Senior Research Associates"?

I think so!!!

I also think it makes Aunts "Associate Research Assistants".

Please send this to another Mum, Grandmother, Aunt, and other friends you know.

May your troubles be less, your blessings be more and nothing but happiness come through your door!


So feel free to pass it on.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

30th anniversary year

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first Nestlé boycott in 1977. Time for some reflection if you will indulge me.

The boycott was launched following the publicity around the Baby Killer trial - where Nestlé took campaigners to court over a booklet exposing its practices. See

The first boycott campaign was instrumental in bringing about the marketing requirements for baby foods adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981.

The boycott was suspended in 1984 after Nestlé gave undertakings to abide by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, but it failed to do so. Monitoring conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) found – and still finds – Nestlé to be responsible for more violations of the Code and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the Assembly. Hence Nestlé was given an ultimatum in 1988 to comply and when it did not the boycott was relaunched. In the UK this was in 1989. Today the boycott has been launched by groups in 20 countries and is supported by people in many more. Independent analysis has found Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet. See

Way back in my first blog entry, I wrote of some of the victories achieved by the boycott in the more recent past, such as compelling Nestlé to stop promoting complementary foods from too early an age. Although the Assembly set out complementary feeding should be fostered from about 6 months in 1994 it took 9 years of campaigning to prompt Nestlé to change its policy – which it announced during a week of demonstrations at Nestlé sites in the UK.

Nestlé does continue to grow, of course, swallowing other companies and entering new fields, such as bottled water, pet food and cosmetics. Nestlé is not the world’s largest food company by accident. It is through its aggressive approach to business which prompts it to see the boycott as another inconvenience to be countered – like laws it has tried to strike down or official orders it has ignored. In a similar way, campaigners have to be prepared for the long haul. See

For the past decade this has been the attitude of Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, acknowledged to be obstinate not only when it comes to the boycott, but to every other aspect of business, including corporate governance. He became Chairman in the face of an unprecedented shareholder rebellion, exposing the futility of those who believe investing in Nestlé will have influence, other than from standing up at the shareholder meeting each year to raise questions about corporate malpractice. See

Aside from the changes in policy forced on Nestlé and the success in tackling specific cases of malpractice, the scene 30 years after the first boycott is radically different.

For a start, the baby milk issue is well known and the body of evidence of the dangers of artificial feeding and advantages of breastfeeding has grown considerably. Breastfeeding saves millions of lives every year – campaign supporters can claim some of the credit for that. See this review of the state of breastfeeding, marking another anniversary, that of the Innocenti Declaration in 2005:

The biggest change, however, comes from having the International Code and subsequent, relevant Resolutions. We are no longer simply demanding companies stop aggressive marketing practices, we are calling on them to abide by standards adopted by the world’s highest health policy setting body.

It would have been nice if companies had complied with the Code when it was adopted in 1981, but they had opposed it as ‘irrelevant and unworkable’ (to use the words of Nestlé at the time, speaking on behalf of the world’s industry). So it was clear to campaigners that the battle for regulations had to be won again at national level, country after country. We now had important tools to help us. The Innocenti report noted 64 countries with regulations introduced. The total is now over 70, enforced to varying degrees, but some are making a real difference in stopping malpractice and saving lives.

As IBFAN’s 2004 review of 7 case study countries show, achieving regulations has always been a tough call, given the massive resources of the baby food industry and its political influence. Even in countries with exemplary legislation which is helping to reverse the decline in breastfeeding, such as Brazil and India, it took years of hard work and several revisions of the law to achieve the measures in place today. In some countries industry pressure won out and it was voluntary routes that were followed, to little effect. For further details see the report Checks and balances in the global economy: using international tools to stop corporate malpractice – does it work?

Of course, companies should change their practices voluntarily. Indeed the Code calls on them to do so independently of government measures. But in practice, without enforcement, voluntary approaches seem to have little merit.

I have recently written to Novartis about its undertaking to comply with the criteria of the FTSE4Good ethical listing on baby food marketing. It’s Gerber subsidiary satisfied FTSE that it had put in place systems to achieve compliance with the Code and Resolutions in every country where it operates. We looked at Gerber marketing on our September 2006 Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet around the time this was announced. Checking today the same violations continue on its website. We said we would take a ‘wait and see’ approach. What we see so far is that changes to the systems have not brought about changes in practices. It is practices that impact on infant health, not policy statements. How long does it take a transnational corporation to change a website? Surely 5 months is more than enough time to put a member of staff on to it. If the company was serious about changing, rather than just getting listed.

For us, legislation is the way forward. We know from our experience at home in the UK, as much as abroad, that achieving legislation is not an easy task. When the UK law regulating the marketing of infant formula and follow-on formula was introduced in 1995 it was opposed by Baby Milk Action and all health worker organisations as being too weak, too partial an implementation of the Code and Resolutions to function effectively.

Of course, we have done our best to make use of its provisions. We do have a lot of success in stopping illegal promotion in supermarkets – only for it to recur. It seems it will take prosecutions before supermarkets get the message. Regulatory authorities are handicapped by the loopholes in the law however. See

We have documented in detail how companies exploit the loopholes and how little the authorities are able or are prepared to do. That is why, as I wrote yesterday, we have campaigned for and won a commitment from the Government to strengthen the law. Now we have to work with our partners to ensure the Code and Resolutions are implemented. See

It won’t be easy. Challenging powerful vested interests never is. But we know what works and will call on your help to convince the politicians and expose company malpractice and lobbying. If you have been following this blog you will know what we and our partners are up against in the Philippines, with legal action brought by the pharmaceutical companies to strike down regulations, the US Chamber of Commerce putting pressure on the President and even official suspicion that the government's lawyer defending the case, who was assassinated last month, may have been murdered because of the case. See
Campaigning has won through in many other countries and we hope it will in the Philippines. Global mobilisation of organisations and individuals voicing their support is often what it takes.

Thirty years since the launch of the boycott seems a good time to review where we are at. We are not complacent, because, in truth, we and our IBFAN partners repeatedly review the campaign and future strategies in light of past experience. There are always new approaches to be considered. For example, IBFAN was the first to see the potential of the European Parliament public hearings into corporate practices and successfully called for Nestlé to be the first to be investigated. We denounced Nestlé to the Advertising Standards Authority for untrue claims in an anti-boycott advertisement and won on every complaint. IBFAN has been very active in using human rights instruments, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to remind governments of their obligation to implement the Code and Resolutions and participates in relevant international meetings, such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission - see:

Currently we are asking partners to support our call for Nestlé to participate in an independent, expert tribunal into its baby food marketing practices. Nestlé refuses to even discuss terms and conditions and, as I wrote recently, now appears to be running away from public debates. See

We must keep up the pressure for the tribunal until such time there is some form of international court where Nestlé and other corporations abusing human rights could be put on trial. Now there is a strategy worth considering. At present it may seem too outlandish, but it is only by discussing the possibility that we can make progress towards a regulatory system capable of holding transnational corporations accountable at the global level. In a world that is rapidly globalising, global governance is not keeping pace. The IBFAN case studies report has something to say on how it could.

In this 30th anniversary year there is nothing to celebrate in the fact that the boycott remains necessary.

However, we can and should celebrate the commitment of ordinary people around the world to win justice for mothers and infants wherever they may be. Watch this space for news of forthcoming events.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Baby Feeding Law Group – read all about it

Somebody left a comment recently on a blog about the great new Baby Feeding Law Group flier.

It is great. Here is the front of it.

The Baby Feeding Law Group was convened some years ago to work for the implementation of World Health Assembly marketing requirements in the UK. It is made up of health professional organisations and mother support groups.

If you have been following this blog, you will know that the UK is pretty dire when it comes to implementing the marketing requirements. So dire in fact that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child said in 2003 (after we presented written evidence) that the Government should implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

Over three years later we are still waiting, though the Government did give a commitment in its public health white paper to strengthen the UK law on infant formula and follow-on formula and did call for strengthening of the EU Directive from which these derive (though with little success).

The movement we have seen from the Government is largely due to the work of the Baby Feeding Law Group, in the face of lobbying from the baby food industry and its front organisations, such as INFORM (more about that soon).

To find out more about the BFLG (as we like to call it) download the flier.

See the website to report aggressive marketing and to see summaries of past reports. We expose how baby food companies push their products and target mothers directly and how supermarkets repeatedly break the existing ban on infant formula promotion without being prosecuted (the topic of an earlier blog

More will unfold on the UK situation this year as the Government has to take action to implement the changes in the EU Directive and will review the legislation at the same time (you can download the recently published directive via the BFLG website).

Pen and paper ready people, there is another campaign coming to try to get the Government to protect mothers and infants.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Anita doesn't get it

Dame Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, gave an interview to the Guardian newspaper while I was on my blog break, over the controversy of her selling to L’Oreal, part-owned by Nestlé. See it at:,,1987696,00.html

Dame Anita admitted: "The backlash surprised me, stupid me, about Nestlé. I just didn't get it."

A surprising admission as surely due diligence in advising other shareholders on the merits or otherwise of a deal would require a little rudimentary investigation of who was buying, one would have thought.

We certainly contacted Dame Anita as soon as news of a possible deal was reported to raise with her the Nestlé issue. It was very much one way communication, however, as my earlier blog on Body Shop explains. See:

Boycott supporters replying to our on-line survey said overwhelmingly they would add Body Shop to their personal boycott list. Our main target is Nescafé coffee, but we list on our site and handy product list cards the main brands from which Nestlé profits.

99% of 500 respondents to our survey said they would stop buying Body Shop products so as not to put money in Nestlé’s coffers. Their comments show their sense of betrayal at the sale.

In boycott and other discussion groups people shared ideas on what ethical alternatives there are. Body Shop’s rating in Ethical Consumers listing fell from 11 out of 20 to just 2.5. Many other companies do better than even the old rating. See

But for Dame Anita a boycott 'didn't happen' and 'There was protest but it was more headlines. Sales didn't drop.'

Sorry, Dame Anita, the Nestlé boycott exists. Independent surveys have found it is one of the best supported on the planet (see The Guardian’s report).

Body Shop is now listed on our site and product list cards as part-owned by Nestlé. People want to know where their money goes. Putting out misinformation that there is no boycott does not change the fact that buying Body Shop products ultimately profits Nestlé. This, too, however, is something Dame Anita is reluctant to admit.

"...everybody thinks that any money made goes to Nestlé but it doesn't - it stays within The Body Shop. L'Oréal ringfences the money. It goes to develop The Body Shop."

Guardian's Hannah Pool: "But if The Body Shop does spectacularly well, doesn't Nestlé still get some money?"

Dame Anita: "I guess they would but that's not changing The Body Shop's values."

L’Oreal is investing in promoting Body Shop. And, we understand, it had to increase the salaries of managers significantly to stop a mass exodus. So it may well increase turnover as more outlets are opened and the brand is launched in new countries.

What should Baby Milk Action's reaction to this be? Targeting the Body Shop has to be part of our general work in raising Nestlé malpractice wherever it raises its head. We have produced a special leaflet people can hand to people outside Body Shop so people are aware of Nestlé baby food marketing practices and that shopping at Body Shop profits the world's 'least responsible company'. The fact that the baby food issue continues to be raised in articles such as that just published in The Guardian in itself helps to spread the word.

But with limited resources there is only so much we can do. Should our priority be trying to hit Body Shop sales or more directly targeting Nestlé malpractice and that of other companies through our other work, such as our campaign in support of the Philippines?

Our aim is to save infant lives, not to annoy Dame Anita – however much our supporters may feel betrayed by her. While the boycott and targeting Body Shop is part of the campaign, each day we have to think what is the best thing to be doing to strengthen regulation of the baby food industry and stop aggressive marketing.

In the Guardian interview Dame Anita says: "No one was ever curious about who was investing in The Body Shop and so, knowing that they [Nestlé] were 25% investor-owners [in L'Oréal], I couldn't understand why people were worried, whether you liked them or didn't like them. I don't particularly like Nestlé."

Dame Anita commented in her eventual letter to Baby Milk Action: "Why do you object to ownership by a company which Nestlé has less than a quarter share [sic - it is actually 28.8% according to Nestlé], but not to The Body Shop's current ownership structure - mainly by a collection of amoral city financiers, asset strippers and fund managers in the city of London, who eat communities for breakfast."

This is to totally misunderstand what Baby Milk Action is campaigning about. We target baby food marketing malpractice, monitoring companies against United Nations Wolrd Health Assembly standards. We are not anti-capitalist campaigners, targeting publicly-listed companies on principle, as Dame Anita seems to suggest we should.

It was not our concern who owned Body Shop until there was a link to Nestlé, the worst of the baby food companies. Targeting Nestlé malpractice through the boycott and informing supporters when their spending profits Nestlé is our concern.

We are not the guardian's of Body Shop's values and soul.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Youth and breastfeeding

My wife Sonia tells a story of when she coordinated World Breastfeeding Week in São José dos Campos a few years ago. This event is called by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), of which Baby Milk Action is a member.

The theme in this particular year was : “Breastfeeding: Education for Life”. Sonia did some events in schools in partnership with the education deparment.

Soon after, one of the school students, Caio, 7 years old, was walking with his mother through a supermarket where a new promotion had been launched for feeding bottles. They were contained in a giant bottle almost reaching the ceiling. He called it to his mother’s attention saying: “Look, mum. Dr. Sonia isn’t going to be pleased”.

You can see a picture of the bottle in this article about Brazil’s inspirational projects promoting, supporting and protecting breastfeeding, in this article.

Attitudes towards infant feeding are shaped long before we become parents. With so much advertising of artificial feeding on television, dolls that come with feeding bottles and dummies and baby care signs that use a feeding bottle the promotion is insidious, at least in the UK. Campaigns such as that to protect the right to breastfeed in public and ours to implement the World Health Assembly baby food marketing requirements in legislation aim to ensure breastfeeding is not undermined.

This comes to mind as WABA have just sent round an email about a new discussion group they have launched for young people. If you know someone who may be interested, please copy this on to them.

Join YOUth-4-Breastfeeding Now!

Hello my friends! I’m writing to you to invite you to join the YOUth-4-Breastfeeding Yahoo! Group.

Many youths today may think that they are too young to make a real difference for breastfeeding or don’t know how to relate to breastfeeding. On the contrary, youths already exist in five social domains: family, public, school, work and cyberspace. Young people can share with the others within these domains about the benefits of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is best! That is the fundamental reason why everyone should support it!

In line with this, the WABA Youth-4-Breastfeeding was launched to get youths interested in breastfeeding and to develop and sustain young advocates to promote and protect breastfeeding through the perspectives of human rights, reproductive health and gender equality.

What you can do through Youth-4-Breastfeeding?

§ Forward this email invitation to your contacts or anyone who may be interested

§ Download information and materials from the website

§ Join YOUth discussions at our Yahoo! Group. Share your thoughts, experiences and learn what others think of breastfeeding

§ Find out what other YOUths are doing for breastfeeding around the world: what are they doing and how do they do it ??!

§ Do youth activities in your area/country. Tell us how we can help you carry out your activity! For ideas see our brochure

§ Contribute to the Youth-4-Breastfeeding Newsletter. First issue coming in February. Please subscribe to the Yahoo! Group now!

§ Decide to act to make a difference!

First, you and your friends have to join the Yahoo! Group. How? Visit

Step 1: Download and complete the WABA Endorsement

Step 2: Complete the Endorsement and send it to us by email

Step 3: Join the YOUth-4-Breastfeeding Yahoo! Group

Step 4: You’re in!

The initiative is open to all youths who want to help and to make a difference.

YOUth can be one of them and receive the latest information, newsletters, brochures, recent activities and much more.

For more information please write to or visit...



What are you waiting for? YOUth can act to make a difference!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How does Nestlé investigate reports of violations?

I've just posted Nestlé's response to a recent Campaign for Ethical Marketing case on our website and our analysis of it.

In India last year Nestlé sponsored cultural and sporting events for medical students, arranged symposia for doctors and a representative was found distributing leaflets to parents in a clinic. Violations of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements and also covered by Indian legislation.

I wrote to Nestlé Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, who has stated that he personally investigates any hint of a violation. The response came from the anti-boycott team based at Nestlé (UK) in Croydon, from Beverley Mirando who has just reversed Nestlé's policy on debating with its critics in fact. The response shows why Nestlé is so fearful of responding to critics in a public forum and why it has lost all past debates.

Firstly Nestlé does not appear to know the law, referring to 1992 legislation, rather than the 2003 amendment that introduced a prohibition on sponsoring events for health workers.

Nestlé admits to organising the symposia for health workers, but claims they are not illegal. It does not refer to the music night and other events for medical students at all.

It claims it has investigated and leaflets were not distributed to mothers at the clinic as reported by a doctor. We went back to our partners with Nestlé's letter who contacted the doctor who has confirmed how he confiscated hundreds of leaflets from Nestlé's medical representative, who is named, and explained how he found him distributing leaflets and free samples of Cerelac cereal food for infants to parents in the vaccination clinic after he had been to see him to promote his products.

Nestlé's claims this never happened, effectively calling the doctor a liar. It claims the leaflets were not given to parents and they were for medical personal only. This is not the first time it has used this argument when we have found it producing leaflets in large quantities and distributing them direct to parents. We have highlighted past cases on the Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet. Some years ago former Nestlé employee Syed Aamir Raza documented how this was part of his training in Pakistan. See the report Milking Profits.

Nestlé claimed it investigated Aamir's allegations and found them false. In past debates Beverley has even referred to an external audit which she has claimed shows this. I then quote from the audit report where the auditors state they did not investigate Aamir's claims, they only investigated the situation they found when they visited Pakistan, which we know was a month after senior Nestlé staff went to Pakistan to prepare the way. The auditors also admitted at the launch of their report that they were forbidden from contacting Aamir, Baby Milk Action, our partners in Pakistan and any other Non Governmental Organisations. Our offer to Nestlé to provide information to the auditors when we learned the audit was planned was not passed on. The auditors could only interview doctors and distributors from a list provided by Nestlé.

It is depressing that so little has changed since then. The same type of promotion is exposed in India and Nestlé simply denies the evidence, claiming to have conducted an investigation. The doctor who made the report says he has seen no-one from Nestlé since the representative was distributing leaflets.

What type of investigations does Nestlé conduct? Ones that do not stand up to the most basic scrutiny, but which they hope will persuade those who want to believe the best of Nestlé - perhaps because they want to take its money or invest in it - that it does no wrong.

Nestlé loses debates because it does not tell the truth about its activities. It is great shame that instead of changing its practices it has decided to stop attending debates. This may save its staff embarassment of being caught out in public, but brings the company into disrepute and does nothing to help infants.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Listen on-line, listen on an iPod

In a further bid to keep at the cutting edge of technology, you can download an interview with our Policy Director, Patti Rundall, as an mp3 file to listen to on you iPod or other player. Alternatively you can listen on-line.

This was an interview Patti gave to Cambridge Community radio. They did a slot on the baby milk campaign more generally a few months ago with me. Here is Patti talking about our efforts to support partners in the Philippines as they defend their baby food marketing regulations against high-powered pressure (look back through past blogs if you haven't been following this story).

Patti's interview is 28 minutes into the show, 'So far and yet so near. To listen click here.

That's all I'm going to say today so as not to distract you from listening to the programme.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Nestlé, transparency and child slavery in Ivory Coast

Here's a fun thing to try.

Visit the Nestlé global website

There, on the front page, is a featured story about "Global accountability - Nestlé rates positively". This may very soon disappear as Nestlé's PR spin is turning into another PR disaster.

As I wrote last week, Nestlé's portrayal of its profile in the One World Trust Global Accountability Report 2006 is partial to the point of dishonest. See

However, Nestlé has, quite properly, put a link to the One World Trust website. The page it links to gives an overview of the report and links to pages on each of the organisations profiled. Click the Nestlé link and there is a brief introduction and then space for comments. I have left a comment linking to documentary evidence of Nestlé systematic violation of the marketing requirements for baby foods and exposés of some of the reports Nestlé hypes as examples of its accountability and transparency.

There is also a comment from Bama Athreya of the International Labor Rights Fund, a US group that has taken Nestlé to court over its failure to act over reports of child slavery in its cocoa supply chain. For an interview with Bama Athreya and further information see our website:

Here is ILRF's view:

Nestle was exposed in 2001 for its complicity in the trafficking of West African children for cocoa harvesting. Nearly half the world's cocoa originates from Ivory Coast, and international organizations have estimated that several thousand children have been trafficked from neighboring countries and forced to harvest cocoa. We have repeatedly requested that Nestle take responsibility for its cocoa supply chain in Ivory Coast and are still waiting for clarification on what the company has done to take the few simple, basic steps that we and others requested years ago. These include:

*Provide transparency of your supply chain. The farmers know which multinationals are buying their cocoa- why, then, is it so hard for the multinationals to identify which farmers are selling to them?

*Create contracts with the farmers. Nestle can be assured farmers will do the right thing if the farmers can be assured that Nestle will honor its arrangements with them.

*Support the re-establishment of an International Cocoa Agreement. West African farmers have no leverage nor ability to bargain but Nestle and other chocolate companies are making more profit than ever. Why not re-establish the commodity agreement to provide poor farmers with some basic guarantee of a stable world price?

*Buy Fair Trade cocoa. For several years Nestle has been claiming that social certification of its cocoa production is impossible. Yet, social certification exists for cocoa: it's called Fair Trade. Why can't Nestle make a commitment to convert to Fair Trade?

For more information on the issue of forced and trafficked child labor in global cocoa/chocolate production, visit

Bama Athreya, International Labor Rights Fund

So two click away from Nestlé's website is information on its aggressive marketing of baby foods and unfair treatment of cocoa farmers. You could call that a form of transparency - which is why the link will probably not be there for much longer.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Nestlé, transparency and its refusal to debate

Yesterday I wrote about how Nestlé is presenting its coverage in the One World Trust Global Accountability Report as something to be proud of. Reading the reports shows in reality Nestlé has much to be ashamed of when it comes to transparency. The best that can be said is it has some policies and produces some reports - even if the policies are poor and the reports designed to divert attention from corporate malpractice.

One change we congratulated Nestlé for a few years ago was ending its objection to debating with Baby Milk Action. Prior to 2001 it refused to even speak in public if we were present. But students targeted its graduate recruitment events at colleges, refusing to give it a platform while it refused to debate and eventually Nestlé backed down.

We have had many debates with Nestlé since then. A video of one at a school is available to borrow from us. They are well-mannered affairs, though the Nestlé executives who attend are shameless in the dishonest way they present the company's activities. This is easily exposed with some documentary evidence, however, and wherever there has been a vote Nestlé has lost overwhelmingly. Indeed, in one school students were so unimpressed by Nestlé's peformance that they adopted Baby Milk Action as their cause for a campaigning week shortly afterwards and raised over a thousand pounds for the campaign.

It has been quite a while since there has been a debate with Nestlé. The last one scheduled was at the University of East Anglia in 2005 as it held a referendum on renewing its long-running boycott. Nestlé said it could not make it. Instead Beverly Mirando, then Nestlé Senior Policy Advisor, gave a telephone interview. In the interview she said Nestlé was open to debates and would have been there, but for other commitments. She even said Nestlé would consider taking part in the independent, expert tribunal Baby Milk Action is proposing for an in-depth investigation where expert witnesses could be called.

Unfortunatley after we wrote to Nestlé asking it to set out its terms and conditions for the tribunal, Nestlé backtracked and Beverly said she had not said they would consider taking part. You can hear the actual interview in the broadcast section of our website at:

I go through this history now because there have been two recent changes at Nestlé's anti-boycott team.

Firstly, the former Head of Corporate Affairs, Hilary Parsons, who took part in many of the debates alone or alongside Beverly is now called their head of Corporate Social Responsibility. It was in her Public Relations (PR) role that Hilary launched Nestlé's Fairtrade-marked coffee, Partners' Blend, at the end of 2005. We did point out it was revealing that the Fairtrade project was led by the PR department rather than someone who works for Nescafé coffee, adding to our view the product is principally about opposing the boycott rather than improving conditions for farmers (only about 0.1% of the farmers dependent on Nestlé are involved in the Fairtrade product - the rest see their incomes forced down by Nestlé's trading practices). Perhaps our comment prompted the change in job title.

Whatever, Hilary is now head of CSR and Beverly has the title Head of Corporate Affairs.

The other change seems to be that Nestlé is no longer prepared to participate in debates. A step backwards to the pre-2001 position. We hope this is just temporary situation with Beverly taking on the new post and those having troubling setting up debates will be able to arrange events so we can put our case against Nestlé and the company can respond. Or Nestlé can set out how it markets its baby foods and we can reply with evidence of what is really doing. We will, of course, be as polite and well-mannered as we always are.

This is a company that is today boasting on the front page of its website of its 'transparency'. It would be absurd if at the same time the Head of Corporate Affairs is ending participation in debates.

Ideally I will be able to report that debates will be going ahead and even that Nestlé has agreed to discuss the proposed independent, expert tribunal.

But don't bank on it. For Nestlé 'transparency' is a public relations buzz word, not the reality.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Nestlé puts up a transparent smokescreen

Nestlé has posted a prominent link on its website to a report by the One World Trust.

Nestlé states:

Global accountability - Nestlé rates positively

British-based NGO One World Trust has rated Nestlé 3rd-highest out of 10 transnational corporations measured for its 2006 Global Accountability Report. Nestlé scored 5th-highest in transparency of all the 30 organizations rated, which were 10 from each sector: Intergovernmental Organizations, International NGOs and Transnational Corporations. Read more here on the OWT website.

As you might expect, Nestlé's boast needs some investigation. It is in fact a smokescreen. Transparent only in that if you look a bit more closely you can see right through it.

The full report is on the One World Trust website. This is a fascinating document and a serious attempt to improve transparency amongst organisations. We should perhaps not be too surprised that its findings are being spun so shamelessly by Nestlé, however disappointing that may be.

Download the report and you will find that though Nestlé is third rated of 10 TNCs for having policies that guide its social and environmental impact, Nestlé gained its position with a mark of just 52%. The leading company had 80%. Having policies does not, of course, mean they are followed, as we know all too well from monitoring the outputs of Nestlé systems when it comes to baby foods. We see forest-loads of booklets and leaflets on what Nestlé claims it does and evidence strewn around the world of what it really does. Policies, it seems, are there for public relations purposes. Behind the scenes and on the ground the story is different.

Similarly, 5th position on transparency capabilities is little over 50%. This rating is based on having policies in place and systems to ensure they are followed. If this was a score in a test at a job interview Nestlé would have failed.

The report highlights which of the 30 corporations, intergovernmental organisations and international nongovernmental organisations that scored 50% or more in 3 out of the 4 areas assessed. Nestlé isn't there amongst the 8 that made the grade. Overall, it's not even amongst the best of a bad bunch.

Look a little closer at the ranking on the actual policies and you will see that Nestlé is actually rated 0% out of 100% for the quality of its information disclosure policy. Credit where credit is due, of course. One cheer for Nestlé for having a policy even if it does get a big fat 0% for its quality.

Nestlé also scores poorly - though better than some - on its response to internal and external complaints, not even managing 50% overall. Even this score gives a false impression. The report explains:

Pfizer policy for handling complaints from internal stakeholders is the most developed of the ten TNCs, while Nestlé’s is the least developed. Nestlé’s low score is due to the fact that their policy on handling complaints from internal stakeholders applies only in relation to one product: incidents of potential non-compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes. This is open to companies in the group and all agents and distributors who market Infant Formula in developing countries under trade marks owned by the Nestlé Group.

So Nestlé gained points for its so-called Ombudsman for reports of violations of the International Code, yet there is no evidence of any action from this Ombudsman as far as we are aware. We did write to the office of the Ombudsman when the post was launched amongst much fanfare by Nestlé, but never received a reply. Does it really exist? And why are complaints limited to the marketing of infant formula, when the International Code and subsequent Resolutions apply to all breastmilk substitutes. And why only developing countries when the Code and Resolutions apply to all countries? Well, because the system, if it does exist, is not very good is the answer.

No doubt Nestlé gets credit for replying to some of the complaints registered by Baby Milk Action and our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). This does belie the fact that the responses we receive are pretty much useless other than for exposing Nestlé's lack of concern for infant health. Generally letters either deny the evidence or use Nestlé's discredited interpretation of the marketing requirements to justify continued malpractice. Transparent by some measures, but does nothing to stop unnecessary death and suffering of infants except in those instances were campaign pressure has forced a change of policy (such as on the marketing of complementary foods from too early an age).

Nestlé may well claim it is being transparent in flagging up the Global Accountability report on its website. Yet it is really putting up a smokescreen.

The full report can be downloaded from the One World Trust website.

Two important points to make.

Firstly, Nestlé does better than many companies and other organisations in producing so many reports. Other companies and organisations should do better in reporting. Yet Nestlé's reports are so highly flawed as to be worse than useless as we have documented repeatedly (see, for example, Nestlé PR Machine Exposed, and our newsletter item on Nestlé Latin America Corporate Social Responsibility report). Its reports are there to divert attention from harmful activities and to try to persuade policy makers to accept self-regulation for corporations instead of legislation.

Secondly, the One World Trust invites people to: "Help us build a picture of Nestlé's accountability by posting facts, figures, linked resources, or your views and experiences as a stakeholder."

So please do. Leave your information on the website. It will be helpful to those following Nestlé's link to the site, particularly if they do not have the time to look through the full 68-page report.

Here's the comment I left earlier:

Independent monitoring of Nestlé's baby food marketing activities finds it to be responsible for more violations of World Health Assembly standards than any other company. Aggressive marketing contributes to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants around the world. According to UNICEF: "Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year." As the worst of the baby food companies, Nestlé is the target of an international boycott and is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet. See and

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Philippines gains backing of UN human rights official

The United Nation's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Zeigler, has written to the Philippines Ambassador to the UN commending the government's action to defend infants from the aggressive marketing of the baby food industry.

This was reported in the Philippines Daily Inquirer on 12 January 2007. See the article:
UN rights body backs Republic of the Philippines vs int’l milk firms

Perhaps you have been following the unfolding story in these blogs and on our website If so, you will know that we are supporting colleagues in the Philippines who are trying to defend baby food marketing regulations introduced by the government. These have been challenged in court by US and Swiss companies and Nestlé, which is not part of the legal action, has opposed key provisions. The US Chamber of Commerce wrote to the President of the Philippines threatening investment to the country if the regulations remained and several days later they were suspended. The court case continues, though the government lawyer defending the regulations was assassinated on 6 December, the day our partners attended court to file papers in support of the regulations. While the killers are still unknown, the Solicitor General has said there may have been a link between the murder and this court case.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has written to encourage the government 'to pursue its firm stand on this issue despite increasing external pressures'.

His letter has become available. He wrote to the Philippines Ambassador at the UN on 27 November as follows:


I have the honour to write to you in my capacity as the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, appointed persuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 2000/10, to General Assembly resolution 60/251 and to Human Rights Council decision 2006/102.

I am writing because I wish to congratulate your Excellency's Government, including the Secretary of Health, for adopting the new Implementing Rules and Regulations aimed at restricting those marketing practices promoting sales of formula milk for infants. These regulations update the 1986 Executive Order 51 also known as Milk Code, based on the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

Human milk is the ideal nourishment for infants' survival, growth and development. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life stimulates babies' immune systems and protects them from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, two of the major causes of infant mortality in the developing world, and improves their responses to vaccination. Particularly in unhygienic conditions, breastmilk substitutes carry a high risk of infection and can be fatal to infants.

Overwhelming evidence has shown that appropriate infant and young child feeding is key to eliminate child malnutrition, at the same time contributing to reducing child mortality and morbidity. Regulation of promotion and marketing of breastmilk substitutes is a step in the right direction as it complies with Government's obligations to protect, promote and advocate for appropriate and safe infant feeding, according to international standards.

I again commend your Excellency's Government for adopting the above mentioned regulations and encourage it to pursue its firm stand on this issue despite increasing external pressures, with a view to ultimately protect children's right to food and improve the lives of million of children.

This letter is very welcome and I hope it gives the government encouragement not to bow to pressure and interfere in the court case on behalf of the industry.

It gives me encouragement too. We see the companies try to paint Baby Milk Action as a group of extremists who are the only people still banging on about the need to regulate the baby food industry.

However, the standards we promote are those of the World Health Assembly, we look to the findings of scientific research and our criticism of companies is based on documentary evidence of on-going malpractice (you can see examples of what happens in the Philippines on our website, for example).

Though some of our tactics are designed to gain attention in the media and public eye we are one part of a much broader campaign to protect infant health.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

2007 - An iconic year

Happy New Year to you all!!

Well, I've been back at work for a while, but catching up with things so let the blog go while catching up.

So 2007. A year of much more campaigning faces us. The Philippines case is still being heard. We have the UK law being revised and will be actively involved in working for that to be brought into line with the World Health Assembly baby food marketing requirements. And lots of other things going on too, which will unfold on this blog an the Baby Milk Action website over the months ahead.

If you visit you may notice a change. Not a major redesign. Not yet. But a Favicon. Oh yes. Baby Milk Action has its finger on the pulse of the internet. Got to the site and you should see a little Baby Milk Action icon on the address line of you browser and on the browser tab. It may well also appear by the book mark you have for the website (of course you have a bookmark).

If you want your very own Favicon you can make one at this website:

This came my way thanks to the million pixel campaign, which is a collection of campaigning groups Favicon's. See if you can spot the Baby Milk Action logo on this page:

I hope this is useful to some of you. That's the point of this blog. Look out for daily postings from now on.

Oh, Favicon stands for Favourite Icon.