Monday, April 30, 2007

Baby Milk Action director on award short list!

Congratulations to Baby Milk Action board member, Lisa Northover, for making it the short list of the Sheila McKechnie Awards, which I wrote about last November. See:

As it says: "The Sheila McKechnie Foundation is dedicated to equiping campaigners with the skills they need to change the world. Campaigners are setting the agenda for decision makers in new and diverse ways - passion, creativity and vision are powerful forces for change. The Foundation invests in campaigners through an awards scheme and campaigning workshops to help them develop new tactics and plan high impact campaigns."

Lisa attended the award ceremony, hosted by Chancellor Gordon Brown at 11 Downing Street. See:

So well done to Lisa!


The winner in the 'Consumer Action' category was Debbie Crew of the Crosby, Formby and District Citizens Advice Bureau, pictured with Lisa and Adam Sampson of award category sponsor, Shelter.

Friday, April 27, 2007

UK sets example as companies remove health claims from labels

It's nice to actually be able to congratulate the UK authorities for setting an example - that is a good one - to the rest of the world, instead of whinging about the pretty useless implementation of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements in the UK. Sure, baby food companies get away with aggressive marketing in the UK which would see Chief Executives imprisoned in countries such as India, but let us set that to one side for now.

The UK authorities have cracked down on illegal health claims on labels and in advertising and for that we, and many others, are grateful. See:

The example is helping health advocates around the world, particularly in those countries that are trying to introduce similar measures but are finding the industry is not accepting the regulations. In the UK companies have agreed to change and the labels are now coming onto the market. In the Philippines some of the same companies have taken the Department of Health to court and have successfully blocked regulations.

Wednesday (25 April 2007) there was a major article in the Manila Bulletin in the Philippines on the crackdown on illegal health claims in the UK. This has been archived on a government website. See:

Here is part of it:

---Quote begins

While makers of baby milk formula back their claims as valid, the UK government decided that they should not be permitted because they undermine breastfeeding.

"The legislation is framed in a way that it doesn’t matter whether they are correct or not. It is designed to promote breastfeeding," Bailey said.

Milk manufacturers like Wyeth, Nutricia, and Heinz expressed comliance.

Both the UK Department of Health activity encourages breastfeeding. Witth support from the Baby Milk Action group, they have argued the nutritional claims as illegal under the UK and European regulations that were first introduced in 1995.

The two work for the past decade to improve breastfeeding rate in the UK where only 22 percent of mothers are still breastfeeding their baby at six months, which is one of the poorest records in Europe.

In the Philippines, the breastfeeding rate is much lower at 16 percent with 13 percent of infants not breastfeed at all.

In July 2006, after several years of cosultation with industry and community groups, UNICEF and WHO, the Department of Health introduced strict regulations in order to implement the 1986 Milk Code.

The new regulation includes a ban on the advertising and promotion of milk substitutes for children up to two years old, with an absolute ban on false health and nutritional claims.

However, represented by Pharmaceutical Health Association of the Philippines, the milk companies appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that the new regulation to implement the Milk Code constituted a restraint on freedom of trade.

As a result, the Supreme Court granted temporary restraining order that is still in effect to date.

International groups from Malaysia, Geneva, UK, Boston, and Canada such as the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), Baby Milk Action (BMA), Infant Feeding Action Coalition (INFACT)and International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) alongside local advocacy groups like Arugaan, Liga ng mga Barangay, Nurturers of the Earth, Inc., Pro-Life, and La Leche Movement are working together to have the revised implementing rules and regulations of the Milk Code in effect.
---quote ends

Wyeth has already launched its new labels. While most claims have gone, others, which we believe are also illegal, appear. And Wyeth's new SMA logo incorporates a breastfeeding mother to suggest equivalence of the formula with breastfeeding. We are encouraging the authorities to act. See:

A quick check to the supermarket today shows that Heinz has changed its Farley's labels, removing the 'closer than ever to breast-milk' claim (though keeping its teddy bear, an idealizing image prohibited by the Code and Resolutions).

Numico has also changed its Cow&Gate labels, removing its 'now even closer to breastmilk' slogan and claim the 'prebiotics support the immune system' (instead saying 'prebiotic care').

Here is a graphic illustration of the Cow&Gate change in the Tesco in Ely: an pack of old formula, surrounded by the new one.

Click here for a larger version. You will see how the slogan has gone and the prebiotic claim changed. Again they have a prohibited teddy bear image. I'll give a fuller analysis of the new labels in a while, but we are seeing an end to the worst of the idealising claims.

So well done to the authorities in the UK.

Let us hope the Supreme Court in the Philippines will back the Department of Health there, a country where 16,000 infants die every year as a result of inappropriate feeding.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Right again - unfortunately

Look, I'm not a cynic. I just understood how Nestlé works. A short while ago I was not joining the fulsome praise from the President of Pakistan for the new Nestlé dairy processing facility that had been opened there.

President Musharraf said to Nestlé's Chief Executive Officer at the ceremony: “You are assisting the poor of Pakistan and this helps us fight the root cause of extremism and terrorism."

I raised a few questions about the impact of Nestlé in the dairy industry, given the evidence from countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Sri Lanka. See:

Even in Pakistan concerns had already been raised about the industry's media campaigns aimed at undermining confidence in the raditional milk distribution system. See:

Now I have learned that Nestlé is taking legal action in an attempt to remove price controls on its tetrapak milk. As the Pakistan Daily Times reports:

---Quote begins
Nestlé Pakistan claimed in the application that the producers of UHT milk packages do not fall under the purview of the Act of 2005 that only includes fresh milk. Nestlé sought to be excluded from the process of price determination on the grounds that milk in tetra packs and milk powder are not an essential commodity.

The other grounds agitated by Nestlé were that their products were value-added and branded. The consumption of tetra pack milk in Pakistan is less than four percent of total milk and fresh milk is just a raw material for tetra packages and thus the business of the intervener does not fall under the definition of hoarding or profiteering. The applicant expressed fears that the CDGK [City District Government] would be fixing the price of tetra pack milk, including that of the intervener.

The division bench heard initial arguments by the counsel for the applicant and then put both the CDGK and Milk Retailers Association on notice for May 3.
---quote ends

As Nestlé executives said repeatedly at the shareholder meeting last week, they are commited to the 'Nestlé model'. Which means concentrating on business that will produce 5-6% growth in turnover per year and increased profits. Any that fails to grow is dumped (as recently hapened with its milk business in Vietnam). In its milk business, it is highly processed and marketed products, such as formula, that generate it the greatest profits and its fights against measures that could impact on sales.

At the same time Nestlé will be working, already is working, to ensure its tetrapak milk does not remain a minority product in Pakistan. Marketing, undermining traditional distribution and becoming a major buyer of milk will see to that. In other countries once other systems of distribution have died, regulatory measures have made it difficult for farmers to resurect them once Nestlé starts increasing the prices it sells its milk for. To be able to increase prices, Nestlé is acting early to try to remove price controls.

Nestlé has its plan. We are seeing it unfold. Maybe someone is cynical in this story, but it ain't me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Good and bad news from Brazil

Thanks to campaign supporters we achieved the objectives of a recent campaign to protect Brazil's baby food marketing law - but unfortunately that is not the end of the story.

Partners in Brazil asked for help after congress voted to weaken warnings on whole milks. This was driven by the so-called 'rural platform' members of congress, which is linked to the dairy industry. 19 of them submitted identical amendments to a law that has nothing to do with
baby foods or infant health, but is aiming to promote economic growth in the country. Having clear warnings about the health risks of using whole milks for infant feeding is clearly an obstacle to sales. As previously explained, poor mothers often use unsuitable whole milks and we have campaigned against Nestlé promoting whole milk in the infant feeding sections of pharmacies and supermarkets. See:

Our partners in Brazil asked other members of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) to send messages to the Brazilian Senate encouraging Senators to oppose the changes introduced by Congress. We launched an action in our Campaign for Ethical Marketing. See the April 2007 action sheet:

This worked! The Senate rejected the proposed changes to the warnings and sent the law back to the Congress. So thank you to everyone who sent messages of support for the regulations.

Unfortunately, the Congress promptly but the changes back into the law.

That is not the end of the story, however. One political party that opposed sneaking the change in on the back of the economic growth law has entered a case into the Supreme Court challenging the decision. You can read more in Portuguese at:

This is a reminder, yet again, that campaigning does not take place in a vacuum. Powerful vested interests are workng to undermine or reverse every gain we make. It should also be a lesson to those who believe companies will change voluntarily if they sit down together and have a nice chat. The companies fight without tiring to protect their profits, regardless of the impact on infant health and mothers' rights. It is the daily reality we face. We know of what we speak.

We will continue to follow the case and do what we can to support our partners and mothers and infants in Brazil.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Nestlé, slavery, shareholders and a lot of booing

This is a translation of a shareholders intervention at the Nestlé shareholder meeting last week. The shareholder was booed by many other shareholders once they realised their glorious company was being criticised.

Surely a little short-sighted as the shareholder was raising issues of financial importance. Mr. Brabeck refused to respond to the questions asked.

---Quote begins
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last year, I came before this assembly to speak of the court case that Nestlé must confront in the United States for complicity in crimes against humanity.

This is a case that goes back to the end of the nineteen-nineties and that resulted, in 2001, in an agreement negotiated by a senator and a member of the House of Representatives of the United States with the companies most involved in the cocoa trade.

According to this agreement, these companies, including Nestlé, accepted to eliminate the worst forms of forced child labor – amounting to slavery – and the trafficking in children that this forced labor triggers.

In order to allow the companies in question enough of a transition period to avoid any adverse effects on the cocoa market, the agreement set a five-year deadline.

However, this agreement lacks key provisions that are vehemently opposed by the companies. Thus, there is no provision for guaranteeing an equitable price to cocoa producers.

The forced child labor results from the power of these companies – including, once again, Nestlé – in this market and their ability to force the cocoa producers to sell their crops at such a low price that only the use of forced child labor can save them from bankruptcy.

In 2006, the five-year deadline passed without anything having changed in Ivory Coast in any way, in spite of the repeated assurances of these companies.

Hence, in 2006, several children brought suit against the three companies most implicated – including Nestlé – in the courts of the United States. It is a “class action” suit, meaning that it can eventually include as plaintiffs hundreds of thousands of other children claiming compensation for the same reasons.

In the United States, the Alien Tort Claims Act, enacted in 1792, established what is known as universal jurisdiction. This means that United States courts may hear cases regarding persons – including legal persons such as corporations – accused of crimes against humanity such as slavery, kidnapping and torture. These crimes have no statute of limitations and need not have been committed on United States territory.

The three companies in question are accused of the three above mentioned crimes:

first, slavery, since the forced child labor (the children are as young as eight or nine years old) under the conditions that prevail on the plantations constitute slavery;

second, kidnapping, since the lack of enough children in Ivory Coast – and the lack of parents willing to entrust their children to the planters, as more and more parents become aware that the idyllic working and living conditions promised, as well as the advertised splendid schooling, lodging and overall conditions, are non-existent – has pushed the planters to cultivate the networks of child trafficking in order to obtain sufficient child labor;

third, torture, since those children who manage to escape and who are caught are systematically tortured as an example of what happens when one tries to leave.

Mr Brabek used the word “sensationalism” last year to describe my statements; however, charitable organizations working for the rights of the child – and especially for the rights of children in the poorest countries – have been gathering solid evidence for years, as have been other observers whose moral integrity is unimpeachable.

Thus, there is no lack of credible evidence about this, contrary to what certain persons would have us believe.

The case is currently under way in the United States court system and in its second year. In spite of the arduous objections of Nestlé, the courts have declared that the case may be heard.

A case similar in many ways was launched against the Unocal oil company for use of slave labor in the construction of a gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand. After eight years and more than one hundred millions dollars spent on lawyers fees, Unocal gave up and agreed to settle out of court. The amount of compensation awarded is secret, in keeping with the final agreement, but the colossal sums demanded are known, as are the colossal sums routinely awarded by United States courts in such cases.

Obviously, if Unocal settled out or court, it was to avoid an endless dragging out of a hopeless case with an endless accumulation of lawyers and court costs. It is likely that the sums paid out were less than what the plaintiffs were demanding, all while being substantial.

In the case against Nestlé, in addition to the decision of the courts that the case could be heard, there is a most disturbing aspect for the Nestlé shareholders, given the magnitude of the costs – similar to Unocal’s – that the company risks having to pay.

The only defense that Nestlé’s lawyers have been able to come up with before the court is the request that the case be dismissed unless the identity of the plaintiffs be ascertained and made public.

Such a motion demonstrates beyond dispute that Nestlé’s defense in the case is despaired of. Minor children have a guaranteed right to anonymity in such cases. Asking that the case be dismissed because their names are known to the public amounts to asking the impossible, for it is strictly prohibited by law.

Either Mr Brabek has approved the hiring of lawyers that are completely incompetent and know nothing about the law in the United States – and are thus incapable of defending the interests of Nestlé’s shareholders – or these lawyers are, indeed, competent and recurred to this tactic out of pure despair.

It is rather the latter, I would contend.

I return to the question that I put to Mr Brabek at last year’s shareholders meeting, and I would add three others.

First, what financial reserves is Nestlé setting aside in anticipation of a settlement of this case, a settlement that is likely to cost the company dearly?

Second, why, given the obvious hopelessness of mounting a defense, did Nestlé not immediately open negotiations with a view to settling out of court and thus minimizing the cost?

Then, what is Nestlé doing to keep the commitments originally made in the 2001 agreement in order to eliminate the crimes that triggered this case?

And, finally, why has Mr Brabek done nothing to inform the shareholders of Nestlé of the case in the first place and to keep them up to date through the annual reports?

Thus, four questions, if you please, Mr Brabek, if you can manage them:

1. the financial reserves set aside in view of a settlement likely to be dear;

2. why no negotiations from the outset to limit the cost to the shareholders;

3. what is being done to correct the wrongs behind the case;

and 4. why the silence in the annual reports?

I thank you.

Robert James Parsons, Nestlé shareholder

19 April 2007, before the shareholders assembled in the Nestlé annual shareholders meeting.
---quote ends

Monday, April 23, 2007

Nestlé's billionaire brands and Nestlé-free week

Nestlé's brands are crucially important. If the translation and my notes from the Nestlé shareholder meeting last week are correct, then more so than I previously thought. Commenting on the share valuation of the company, Mr. Brabeck, Chief Executive and Chairman, said that this is four times the value of its capital assets. In other words the company is worth far more than the factories and machinary it owns. This value is contained in the brands it owns.

This is what it says in one of the reports issued to shareholders:

---Quote begins

Nestlé - a company built on strong brands

Strong brands build strong relationships with consumers. Strong brands inspire innovation. Strong brands have a natural momentum for faster growth. Strong brands achieve higher profitability and create longer-term shareholder value. Nestlé is built on a foundation of very strong brands. Some are global, some regional, some local. Most have category leadership, globally or locally, and are an integral part of people's lives. For example, over 4000 cups of Nescafé are drunk every second.
---quote ends.

Nescafé is the principal target of the boycott because it is so widespread around the world. You can find posters, mugs, t-shirts and cards to promote the boycott of Nescafé in our on-line Virtual Shop at

Nescafé is Nestlé's most important brand. But there are others. At the meeting and in the report Nestlé highlights its 'billionaire brands'.

Here they are:


Nestlé (milk products)
Coffee mate

Nestlé (water)
Nestlé Pure Life
Poland Spring

Nestlé Infant Nutrition
Nestlé Baby Food

Lean Cuisine
Hot Pockets

Nestlé (chocolate, confectionary and biscuits)

Nestlé (ice cream)

Dog Chow


So these are the best known and most widespread as well as being the foundation of Nestlé.

While we target Nescafé it is good to remind people of the importance of the other brands. As I reported recently, a national coffee kiosk company in the UK dumped Nestlé Kit Kat following consumer requests. See:

We will shortly be launching new posters and other materials for targeting other Nestlé brands in preparation for Nestlé-free week. This is to take place during the first week of July, encompassing the anniversary of the first Nestlé boycott, which led to the introduction of marketing requirements by the World Health Assembly and a promise by Nestlé to abide by them. The boycott was relaunched as Nestlé did not keep its promises and continues to be the worst of the baby food companies.

If you have an artistic eye and would like to send us materials for targeting products in the Nestlé range, please do. We'll add those that won't cause us legal problems to our website and produce those that are downloaded the most. You can find other brands in our boycott section.

And why not get planninng for promoting Nestlé-free week in your locality.

It will be 2-8 July and is being promoted by boycotters around the world to encourage those who do not boycott, or focus on Nescafé, to give all Nestlé products a miss for this one week.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Got any Nestlé shares?

So yesterday I reported on the Nestlé shareholder meeting and included a link to the statement made by Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé. See:

Mr. Brabeck’s successor as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is due to be announced on 20 September 2007, to be confirmed at the next shareholder meeting on 10 April 2008 in Lausanne, Switzerland. You have about 11 months to sort out a share so you can attend the meeting. More on how to do that shortly.

There is a lot more I could have written about the shareholder meeting. Indeed, there is a lot more Mr. Brabeck could have said. In fact, there is a lot more he should have said to keep shareholders fully informed. And some are calling for better disclosure by corporations. Nestlé is notoriously poor when it comes to accountability. In the Global Accountability Report 2006 it received a little over 50% in just two of the four categories evaluated. One of these ‘positive rankings’ - as Nestlé portrays its half marks - was partly due to having an information disclosure policy. Nestlé glosses over the fact that the quality of that policy was evaluated at 0% (yes, zero %).

In the UK companies are now required to report to shareholders on their social and environmental impact as well as financial performance. This was resisted vigorously by business leaders and the regulations are weak (there are no reporting standards and no penalties for producing untrue reports). There are also calls for corporations to reveal to shareholders any possible liabilities.

Let us hope Mr. Brabeck’s successor as CEO will embrace some of these good governance principles. As that is a slim hope, let us continue to work for improved regulation of corporations.

In a fantasy world, I can imagine a Nestlé CEO including some key facts in his (unlikely to be ‘her’ as there is not a single female member of the executive board) statement. Something like this if it had been this year:

---What Nestlé's CEO could have said in a more honest statement

“Your company has just completed an excellent year. Excellent, first and foremost, in terms of the results achieved: sales topped the 98 billion Swiss francs mark, net profit climbed to 9.2 billion Swiss francs and – for the first time in the Company’s history – its operating margin rose to 13.5 percent. Quite clearly, these are impressive figures. But beyond all abstract notions of percentages and improving margins, allow me to share with you, the owners of Nestlé, the human and industrial reality behind this performance.

“As you know, one of our main strategic pillars and the origin of our company is infant nutrition. True, the farine lactee originally promoted for infant feeding by our founder Henri Nestlé is totally unsuitable for infant feeding by today’s standards, but then science was in its infancy. Now our formula is much improved, though still only a poor approximation to breastmilk, many ingredients of which have still to be discovered and understood, which cannot be synthesised or which act differently in the different environment of formula.

“So it continues to be true that artificially-fed infants have increased risk of their health being compromised in the short and long term. Much is being made of studies in the Lancet showing that improved breastfeeding could save 1.3 million infants in the 42 countries where most under-5 deaths occur. That is more than could be saved through provision of safe water, sanitation and HIB vaccines.

"Nestlé is not letting itself be distracted by these statistics, however. We continue to promote formula with idealising claims that suggest it is close to breastmilk or even superior. For example, claiming it contains ‘Brain Building Blocks’ even though we know a systematic review of research shows, and I quote: "At present there is little evidence from randomised trials of LCPUFA supplementation to support the hypothesis that LCPUFA supplementation confers a benefit for visual or general development of term infants". While that may be true we argue that LCPUFAs (long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids) are found in the retina and brain so what we say is literally true – they are brain building blocks, even if putting them into formula does not actually seem to do give any benefit.

“At the same time as making idealizing claims, we continue with strategies such as targeting mothers directly. This may be through baby clubs, which enables us to promote our brand name even before babies are born, or nutrition centres in supermarkets, a strategy we’ve employed in the growth market of China, where breastfeeding rates are beginning to fall. Not just due to promotion, of course, but also industrialisation. Nestlé argues that industrialisation and women entering the workforce will mean more mothers artificial feeding. This does require cultural change to undermine breastfeeding, unlike the Scandinavian model where working mothers are enabled to breastfeed.

“Nestlé does continue to target mothers more directly by distributing leaflets, free samples and free supplies. These practices are prohibited by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly and even Nestlé’s own weaker instructions. But we do have a strategy of either denying any reports or claiming it was due to flaws in our marketing practices. If we do say sorry from time to time when activists or authorities catch us bang to rights, we can actually suggest this shows we are ethical. But don’t worry, it is a big world and the vast majority of the violations are not recorded by these activists and not all countries have introduced independently monitored and enforced regulations, so there is still plenty of scope to break the rules and get away with it.

“Nestlé didn’t admit it at the time, but we have had to make some changes to policies due to campaigners. We resist as long as possible, however. In 1994 the World Health Assembly said that complementary feeding should be fostered from about 6 months, but we didn’t change our labels until 2003, carrying on promoting foods such as Cerelac form 4 months. Yes, yes, thank you for your applause. Those 9 years of delay were worth significant amounts for the company and in some countries, such as here in Switzerland, you can see we still manage to promote complementary foods from 4 months. If we can get mothers to introduce complementary foods early, then they are probably more likely to continue to use processed foods rather than family foods. As you know, our model for growth particularly involves the 4 months to 36 months age group, which is why we are so pleased to have taken over Gerber.

“There are still risks, of course, and as a responsible CEO I should keep you updated on these. In past years my predecessor, Mr. Brabeck, failed to mention these, though someone from Baby Milk Action did often attend these meetings to try to draw them to your attention. So let me be a bit more open and tell you what we are doing to neutralise the risks. One issue is the intrinsic contamination of powdered formula with pathogens such as Enterobacter Sakazakii. As you know infants have died after being fed contaminated formula, some of which has been linked back to our factories. We have even had to organise mass recalls of batches of formula, but we do try to limit such recalls. So in 2003 when we had to recall Beba formula we did so in the European Union, but did not in Switzerland, which is outside the juridstiction of the European Food Standards Agency.

“Campaigners and health advocates have won support for action from the World Health Assembly in Resolution 58.32 adopted in 2005, following a study, and I quote: “the joint FAO/WHO expert meeting on Enterobacter sakazakii and other microorganisms in powdered infant formula held in 2004 concluded that intrinsic contamination of powdered infant formula with E. sakazakii and Salmonella had been a cause of infection and illness, including severe disease in infants, particularly preterm, low birth-weight or immunocompromised infants, and could lead to serious developmental sequelae and death;”

“I know that sounds serious and there are moves for improved warnings on labels at the Codex Alimentarius Commission. But the Nestlé board is wise to the risks and the company is working to stop or weaken any warnings that may cause parents to question the quality of our products. Certainly we are not going to voluntarily warn parents that powdered infant formula is not sterile. As with the change in labelling of complementary foods, we will resist for as long as we can.

“There do continue to be governments introducing the Code and Resolutions into legislation. Again Nestlé is alert to the risks of controls on our marketing practices and actively works to undermine such legislation in favour of voluntary codes, which can be flouted, or to weaken regulations. Where possible we try to place Nestlé people on the bodies responsible for overseeing legislation, which gives us the best of both worlds. We can claim to support legislation while making sure our materials are approved.

“As you know my predecessor, Mr. Brabeck, frequently dismissed talk of a boycott of Nestlé, by suggesting it was limited to activists in the UK. Or Sweden. Well, I have to admit that according to an independent survey conducted by GMIPoll Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet. Now, we can argue that it is simply because we are big and visible. Privately at least Nestlé should perhaps at least acknowledge it shows the strength of the campaign to expose our malpractice and the risk of continued violations. However, at this stage the board is refusing to accept the four-point plan put by boycott organisers for saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott. Nestlé exists in a competitive world and the boycott is simply another factor to be taken into account. As long as we continue to grow and boost shareholder value we can limit the changes we are forced to make as much as possible. At the same time, Nestlé tries to label campaigners as inaccurate, ill-informed, counter-productive, unwilling to dialogue etc. etc. It is true Nestlé has been invited to set out its terms and conditions for participating in an independent, expert tribunal where witnesses could be called to get to the bottom of the issues, but that is not in our interests. Why would Nestlé want the truth to be known? It can only be counter productive to company profits, so we are refusing to even discuss terms and conditions. If many other organisations back the call for the tribunal, we may have to reconsider. But remember, despite welcoming a public hearing at the European Parliament at the shareholder meeting in 2000, in the end we still refused to attend. So Nestlé will be as obstructive to the process as we can.

“Mr. Brabeck’s other strategy, of course, has been to suggest the malpractice was in the past and Nestlé has since changed. Nestlé, can, of course, keep updating this strategy. Generally we say it was an issue in the 1970s. But when Baby Milk Action won a case before the UK Advertising Standards Authority in 1999, we claimed one of the practices we had been caught out over – giving free supplies – ended in the 1990s. Some of the things they and their colleagues exposed in their 2004 monitoring we can now say were due to flaws in our marketing practices and these have been corrected. The beauty of this strategy is it makes us look responsible and accepting of criticism while continuing to roll out similar promotions.

“One thing you will notice, however, is that Nestlé never apologises. The strategy is to admit to mistakes in the past, but to say they were isolated errors or standard practices for the time. If we apologised for the impact on parents and infants we could make ourselves liable for compensation claims.

“On the point of compensation and moving on from infant nutrition, you shareholders have really had the right to know the trouble Nestlé is storing up in terms of possible fines. In March 2006 we signed an agreement to stop pumping from the Primavera Well in São Lourenço in Brazil. Nestlé did manage to keep pumping for 10 years, despite not even having permission to sink the wells in a sensitive area or to demineralise the water. Well, we have continued pumping despite the agreement, which envisages daily fines while pumping continues. Nestlé is also in court over its failure to act on child slavery in its cocoa supply chain. We are trying to get this thrown out by demanding the plaintiffs identities are revealed, though they are children and protected by US law. There is also the possibility of legal action over the targeting of trade unionists in Colombia by paramilitary death squads. Nestlé denies any complicity despite accusations that we have labelled certain trade union activists as enemies of the company.

“On a final note, Baby Milk Action wrote recently about Nestlé’s expansion in the dairy industry in Pakistan. They cited other countries where Nestlé had become a monopoly buyer of milk then squeezed suppliers while increasing prices to consumers. At the 2007 shareholder meeting, Mr. Brabeck made special mention of the training we give to women on animal husbandry. I would like to balance this with some other news. Nestlé Pakistan is taking authorities to court in Pakistan to challenge their right to fix the prices of milk. Nestlé is arguing it should be excluded from the process of price determination on the grounds that milk in tetra packs and milk powder are not an essential commodity. Now, as Baby Milk Action pointed out, producers of processed milk are trying to undermine confidence in fresh milk through a mass media campaign and in other countries we have successfully changed the culture from fresh milk to packaged milk. So in the future our milk will be an essential commodity and shareholders will see the benefit of Nestlé challenging the price caps on milk at this stage. Just to reiterate what Mr. Brabeck has said about our involvement in low-income communities: ‘These are profitable activities: this is not charity, but a long-term business opportunity that is justified by the returns generated.’ Thank you once more for your applause.

“Now if thee are no questions, lets all go and have a Nescafé and a Kit Kat next door. At least those of you shareholders who are not supporting the boycott”

---End of the fantasy of a more rounded presentation from the Nestlé Chief Executive

It's not going to happen is it? So it falls to well-informed shareholders raising these issues. And you only need one share to be a shareholder.

If you would like to attend the shareholder meeting all you need is a registered share.

So do you have any Nestlé shares? If you do already – perhaps you represent an institutional investor – then please contact Baby Milk Action so we can provide a briefing on our concerns about Nestlé and put you in contact with other organisations who have researched its activities in other areas. It is impossible to for shareholders to change Nestlé practices at the AGM, but you can speak out or at least applaud those who do at future meetings.

If you would like to attend the meeting as an individual then you can buy one share yourself (we do not encourage people to buy more than the minimum required – why would you want to profit from Nestlé malpractice?)

Shares are of the order of £200 (currently quoted on the Nestlé website at CHF481.75).

If you buy through a UK broker, please discuss this carefully. Nestlé refused to register a share I had bought to attend the meeting. The broker I had used found this highly unusual.

I don’t think this is because Nestlé’s computer system screens flash and sirens sound when my name is entered, but because Nestlé is generally obstructive to anyone who wants to register a share, possibly due to the way Swiss law operates. As Nestlé said in 2006 it is mathematically impossible for shareholders to vote for changes to the way Nestlé operates. See:

---Quote begins
Nestlé shareholders also agreed to special quorums requiring the presence of up to two thirds of the total share capital and supermajorities for certain decisions, including changes to voting restrictions or the terms of the members of the board, etc. In the meantime, Swiss law has been amended and provides greater transparency and protection in a takeover situation.

Also, today, more than a third of shareholders have elected to hold "dispo" shares and not
to be registered with us. They voluntarily forego their voting rights. The Company's highest authority, the Annual General Meeting, thus finds itself factually unable to achieve the participation required by these quorum clauses and therefore cannot change the Articles of Association in several key points.
---quote ends

The International Financial Law review explains:

---Quote begins
Dispo shares in Swiss parlance are shares purchased through the banking system for which the beneficial owner has not filed a request for registration as a shareholder to the company. These shares do not vote at all, but they play a role for issues of quorum.
---quote ends

Normally, I understand, the bank holding the shares can issue a letter confirming that the share has been allocated to the person who has purchased it so it can be registered with the company. That is what my broker said they usually do and provided me with the letter. However, Nestlé refused to accept this letter when I presented it. I had a share. I could prove I had a share. But Nestlé would not register it. How many of those who Nestlé claims 'voluntarily forego their voting rights' are in the same situation?

So please check before spending any money. If you are a UK expert in this area, please do contact us.

If you do not wish to attend the shareholder meeting yourself, but would like to help us bring people from other countries to raise their concerns, then you can make a donation to Baby Milk Action. We have set up a special donation line for ‘Nestlé shareholder meeting action’. If you make your donation here, we will use the money to buy a minimum number of shares we can allocate to speakers and cover the costs of their attendance at the shareholder meeting.

Alternatively, you can make a general donation to our work.


If you do hold shares, you could also arrange to transfer some to us, which we can then allocate to speakers at future events.

It is a safe bet that Mr. Brabeck’s successor will not be making a presentation like the satirical - though totally factual - one given above. It falls to us to bring these points to the attention of shareholders.

However much they may groan and boo as at yesterday's meeting.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A glimpse of Nestlé's soul

Well, well, well, well, well.

Today I attended my first Nestlé shareholder meeting (how I managed that, I’ll explain tomorrow).

A shareholder meeting is a glimpse of a company’s soul. Its cold, calculating ruthless mind was also on show, in the persons of its all-male executive board. Its conscience should have been there in the form of its board of directors, but the Chief Executive, Mr. Brabeck, made himself Chairman of the board of directors a couple of years ago so there would be no obstacles to the plans he wanted to roll out. No restraining voice in the ear then (we have, in the past, written to the board of directors asking it to investigate Mr. Brabeck's policy of systematic violation of the World Health Assembly marketing requirments - an even more futile endeavour if we are asking Mr. Brabeck to investigate himself).

I am already familiar with Mr. Brabeck’s words and deeds. It was the assembly of 2,405 representatives of 49% of the share holdings that was truly chilling.

They booed people who raised difficult questions. They groaned when the next shareholder stood up to speak, even before they had a chance to open their mouth. These are the owners who unleash Nestlé on the world.

One speaker from the floor raised a well-crafted question on Nestlé’s failure to act on child slavery in its cocoa supply chain. As the shareholders realised this was a criticism of the company’s practices both in its treatment of cocoa farmers and in fighting a legal action brought against it in the US they became increasingly vociferous.

My colleague, Patti, who has spoken in the past on the baby milk issue has been booed in the same way, though sometimes there are pockets of applause, just as there were today when Mr. Brabeck’s pay cheque was questioned.

But overall there is an impression of a mob that boo just for being reminded of a blemish on the otherwise gleaming white Nestlé façade presented by Mr. Brabeck in his role of Chief Executive or Chairman, whichever role he was speaking in.

The question on cocoa had even been couched in terms the shareholders cared about most: money. How much was Nestlé spending fighting the legal action brought against it in the US? Why wasn’t it working to reach an out-of-court settlement which would likely be less than punitive damages in similar cases? Why had its well-paid lawyers launched a legally untenable action demanding the identification of the children bringing the case alleging kidnapping, enslavement and torture? As minors their identities are protected by the law.

The shareholder meeting booed and groaned as the short overview of the situation and questions reached their conclusion.

And what of Mr. Brabeck’s response? According to the simultaneous translation he said: “I was going to answer, but it appears you are some type of legal expert so I do not wish to prejudice shareholders interests. So I will not answer.”

And the shareholders cheered.

Mr. Brabeck presented a slide show with his year report, prior to the questions, demonstrating the money-making machine that is Nestlé, selling 48 million tonnes of products every day, requiring billions of individual purchases on a daily basis. You can read Mr. Brabeck’s statement for yourself by clicking here.

Growth continued to achieve the 5-6% promised by Mr. Brabeck. And only 1% of this through net acquisitions.

Richard Laube, head of Nestlé Nutrtion, later explained that infant nutrition sales in Latin America helped to achieve 7.2% growth there. Globally the recently created division had shown 6.1% growth, putting it in the top 8 Nestlé sectors. Its CHF6 billion sales were 6% of the group total and generated CHF1 billion profit, or 17%, greater a margin than any other sector.

In his comments on infant nutrition, Mr. Laube announced good news. More women are breastfeeding. A 15% increase from 1990 to 2005, a figure that is familiar from a UNICEF report on the Innocenti Declaration. Mr. Laube did not mention that this report highlights the importance of regulating the baby food industry.

How could Nestlé be welcoming an increase in breastfeeding, I thought, when everything for them is about growth? Any sector or brand that does not meet Mr. Brabeck’s growth target is sold off, as they have done recently with their dairy business in Vietnam. Would infant nutrition go the same way? No, because Mr. Laube was not finished. Breastfeeding is not sustained. Citing France as an example, he pointed out that 50% of mothers return to work within the first 4 months of giving birth and looked to formula. Nestlé would be looking to achieve its growth in the 4 to 36 months sector, combined with a relaunch of Nan formula over the coming 18 months.

Before becoming demoralised for losing so many times, Nestlé (UK) Head of Corporate Affairs, Beverly Mirando, used to debate the baby milk issue at public meetings with Baby Milk Action. She extended Mr. Laube’s argument to developing countries, suggesting that as women enter the workforce there they deserve the same access to infant formula as mothers elsewhere. Well, the marketing requirements do not stop formuula being on sale. All the same Nestlé's argument presupposes that industrialisation and artificial feeding go hand in hand, which is not the case. In those countries that do not allow aggressive marketing and support mothers in breastfeeding, extended breastfeeding continues or is recovering. That is of little relevance to Nestlé as its business plan – the ‘Nestlé model’ repeatedly referred to by the executives at the shareholder meeting – requires growth in sales.

The acquistion of Gerber is an important part of the plan, making Nestlé the global leader by far. Rather than changing Nestlé practices to bring them into line with the Code and Resolutions, as previous owner Novartis had promised to do, Nestlé has indicated it will continue with business as usual, targeting mother.

The Nutrition sector, which also includes things like food to 'help the obese to lose weight' is set to achieve sales of CHF10 billion next year.

I would very much like to have raised some of these points and other issues, but Nestlé had refused to register the share I had bought to attend the meeting. The broker I had used found this highly unusual. I will explain more about this tomorrow.

I did hand out some leaflets with Swiss friends to alert shareholders to some key facts. None thought it worth raising any questions with the board.

It seems they were too ravenous. Eager for the tedious questions to finish so they could get to the spread of food Nestlé had laid on in the adjoining hall and most keen only to hear about how much money Nestlé was making for them.

A group of shareholders aiming to change Nestlé practices did make some other points. About the total lack of women at board level. Mr. Babeck explained that Nestlé is not discriminatory against women, but it is easier for men to persuade wives to follow them around the world to gain the experience necessary to rise to board level, than for women to persuade husbands.

There were concerns over Nestlé’s environmental impact, with a particular focus on the packaging of a popular Nestlé chocolate brand in plastic wrappers, which provoked a 24% fall in sales. Milllions of Francs had been lost. As the meeting was taking place, Nestlé was in the process of distributing a free bar of chocolate to every home in Switzerland to try to recover market share.

Several speakers raised concern about the level of pay to the board and demonstrators outside had also distributed leaflets. The board members receive a total of CHF 3 million for 6 meetings of 2 and a half hours, one speaker said. Mr. Brabeck ridiculed this, saying with the travel some have to make, and time to read papers, it is more like 6 times three days work, or 18 days in total. And attracting talented people to work for 18 days does not come cheap.

On his own remuneration Mr. Brabeck defended his CHF3 million salary brilliantly. A graph hurriedly placed in front of a video camera to show how the share price had risen so significantly under his tenure. His comment to the questioner: “You have made so much money and you are ashamed of how much I earn?” This received thunderous applause. Though his defence of his 3 million was rather undermined as he failed to mention that his share bonuses brought him in a total of CHF15 million so one speaker claimed. I'll try and do the calculation myself to check.

But Mr. Brabeck’s argument can be used against shareholder complaint. The shareholders have profited from his management of the company – and many have booed down anyone who tried to bring malpractice to their attention – so how can they complain later? Better to sit back and count the money. If shareholders are the soul of the company, it seems it is already lost.

There were, however, two key notes to reassure any wavering shareholders that Nestlé makes profits in a way that is responsible. On its efficient use of water, for which a film was shown and a report made available and its cuts in carbon emissions. Mr. Brabeck said Nestlé was so efficient it could now sell carbon credits to other companies helping to cover the costs of the investment.

Impressive if true. Unfortunately knowing the board misled shareholders on two issues in which I am expert raises questions over all its boasts. Even those it claims are independently audited. Especially those it claims are audited, in fact.

There is Nestlé abysmal performance against the Code and Resolutions of course, which Richard Laube claimed Nestlé abides by.

The other was Nestlé’s water pumping operation in the historic spa town on São Lourenço, Brazil. See:

Nestlé began to exploit water illegally (demineralising it, contrary to federal law) from wells sunk illegally (in an area of high ambiental risk) from 1996. Pumping damaged surrounding springs which people visited for their alleged medicinal properties. The citizens of São Lourenço prompted an investigation by gathering petition signatures and, following this, the Public Prosecutor in the city brought a legal action against Nestlé in 2001. After much campaigning, a public hearing in the Congress, bad publicity in Switzerland and a seminar held by Baby Milk Action in the UK, Nestlé finally settled with the public prosecutor in March 2006. Yet, as I reported here, pumping did not stop, despite the accrual of daily fines while pumping goes on.

It was raised by a shareholder. And the executive responsible responded stating that pumping continued even then and carbon dioxide was removed from the water for adding to another bottled water.

One of the auditing firms name-checked by Mr. Brabeck, Bureau Veritas, had conducted an audit that cleared Nestlé of any wrong-doing. A ten-year-old doing a homework assignment could have done a better job in my opinion. Meeting Bureau Veritas staff at the launch of a Nestlé report on corporate social responsibility, I asked why they hadn’t referred to the Civil Public Action brought against Nestlé and it was apparent they were not aware of it, despite having been to São Lourenço to investigate. Seems like Nestlé didn’t let on they had been taken to court. Or if they did it did not end up in the report. Bureau Veritas later admitted to Baby Milk Action: “our work did not constitute a legal audit as such, nor did it include a review of the on-going civil action”. Bureau Veritas had again got it wrong as the civil public action had been settled at that point.

Though Nestlé carries on pumping.

Such details would have the shareholders groaning and booing no doubt. Too tedious. Too much of a blemish on the gleaming facade.

So an illuminating few hours.

Shareholder democracy in action.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Let's drink to promoting and protecting breastfeeding

Baby Milk Action has a great new mug for promoting and protecting breastfeeding.

Here it is:

It features our popular Brazilian pregnant and breastfeeding fridge magnets.

As previously reported, these are also available on t-shirts. Following public demand we have extended the range of sizes for the children's version to include 2-3 years and 3-4 years. Also available for younger babies.

Order through our on-line Virtual Shop at

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Little hope for Gerber changes with Nestlé as owner

As anticipated and revealed last week, Nestlé is buying Gerber baby foods from Novartis. The hope that Nestlé will deliver on an undertaking from Novartis to bring Gerber marketing practices into line with World Health Assembly marketing requirments looks slim.

Novartis had agreed to change policies and practices to bring them into line with the baby food marketing criteria of the FTSE4Good ethical investment listing. It had 6 months left to make the changes, of which there are so far no sign. Nestlé is not on the FTSE4Good ethical investment listing so the threat of explusion for not delivering carries no weight. And Nestlé's existing policies and practices are so far from complying it apparently has no interest in even trying to get on the list.

There are further indications that Nestlé will continue with the type of aggressive marketing practices we exposed and targeted last year on our Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet. This featured general internet promotions as well as targeting of mothers in China.

According to a report in Promo magazine, Richard Laube, Chief Executive of Nestlé Nutrition briefed analysts on Nestlé admiration for Gerber's promotional techniques. It is believed to spend US$13.8 million on advertising. Promo states: "Laube also praised Gerber’s marketing expertise with mothers, via geographically targeted ads, as well as direct mail that segment babies by age."

Promo goes on: "The purchase will push Nestlé Nutrition annual sales to $8.5 billion; Gerber’s sales are $1.95 billion. In the U.S., Gerber’s 80% market share in baby food strongly complements Nestlé’s 13% market share in the infant formula segment."

In the US Nestlé has won industry prizes for its advertising of infant formula, so it is unlikely to stop the type of promotion that Novartis was commited to ending.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Holding companies to account for malpractice in India

Our partners in India have issued a new legal briefing on baby food company marketing malpractice.

India is in many respects a success story for implementation of the marketing requirements for baby foods. Though it took 11 years, India did introduce legislation which our partners have used to take legal action against several companies. Including Nestlé and Johnson and Johnson. The latter pulled out of the feeding bottle business as a result. Nestlé took the government to court in a ultimately failed attempt to have the law struck down. Find out more about the dedicated campaign to introduce and strengthen the Indian law in the IBFAN case studies report.

Having a law is not enough. We have seen how Wyeth is responding in the UK to a crackdown on illegal activities - with a new aggressive marketing campaign. We are calling for action against this, while exposing Wyeth's contempt for the regulations, infant health and mothers' rights.

In India, Nestlé continues to flout the regulations and to reject complaints about its malpractice. Our partners, the Breastfeeding Protection Network of India, write about the campaign in support run by Baby Milk Action and quote Nestlé's response to us. In part BPNI writes:

---Quote begins

Baby Milk Action (BMA) took stern steps against Nestle over illegal promotional activities in India. In replying to the accusation made by BMA, Nestlé, however, admits to some of the charges, but claims its activities are legal referring to the provisions of old IMS Act 1992 which was amended in 2003.

Nestle was charged for illegal distribution of educational materials by a Nestle representative to the parents in a clinic at Srinagar which was not allowed under the provisions of IMS Act 2003.

It also denies leaflets were distributed to mothers at a clinic in Srinagar. The doctor, who is the in-charge of the clinic, confirmed the Nestle incident. Did Nestlé Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, really act on his claim to personally investigate any hint of a violation?
---quotation ends

The full legal briefing leads on this case and the support of the doctor in confirming the details of the incident.

Last week, Mr. Brabeck commented on the boycott in a report in the Daily Telegraph about Nestlé's takeover of Gerber. He said: "We are considered today one of the most socially responsible companies in the world. Yet you have a small group of people in the UK who are still talking about infant formula, which was an issue 30 years ago."

In reality, Nestlé is one of the most boycotted companies on the planet. And if we are talking about Nestlé malpractice in the UK it is because of the concerns of our partners in India and other countries. Not thirty years ago as Mr. Brabeck would like people to believe, but today.

Not only do those on the ground stand by the report of Nestlé malpractice, the legal briefing has a further report on apparently illegal activities by Nestlé, along with GlaxoSmithKline and FDC.

As BPNI states in commending the action of the doctor in Srinagar: "As a doctor you don't just dignose the disease of a child but you should monitor and control the health system of your locality."

We hope journalists will look to the facts and not accept Mr. Brabeck's denials at face value, particularly in reporting on the Nestlé shareholder meeting on Thursday.

Further evidence of systematic and institutionalised malpractice can be found in the codewatch section of the Baby Milk Action website. Or try speaking to people who see and experience the suffering that results from Nestlé pursuit of Mr. Brabeck's annual growth target.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Committed to exposing corporate malpractice

Thanks to everyone who has completed our quick questions on how you keep updated on the baby milk campaign. If you haven’t done so yet, please do. It only takes a few minutes. See:

One person who answered was obviously not a fan of our work suggesting we are ‘obsessed’. The Oxford English dictionary says to be obsessed means an issue will: “fill the mind of (someone) continually and disturbingly.”

Mmmm. Could have a point, ‘cos here I am supposed to be on leave and not doing a blog this week and here’s the fourth. But it has been a little exceptional with Wyeth’s new marketing campaign for its SMA milks and Nestlé announcing the takeover of Gerber yesterday.

I prefer to use the word committed though. Which the Oxford English dictionary defines as: “dedicated to a cause, activity, job, etc.”

Ah yes. Committed to exposing and stopping corporate malpractice. Committed to protecting infant health and mothers' rights.

And it is not just me. Groups around the world have launched national boycotts.

Lots of people promote the boycott on their own volition. Doing a quick search on YouTube to see how my animation on Wyeth/SMA is getting on (over 600 views already) I came across this guy, Joel Gore, drinking vinegar in support of Baby Milk Action. Not exactly sure why. We didn’t put him up to it and have to say ‘don’t try this at home, folks (try something else to raise awareness and funds)’.

At the same time, thanks for the dedication, Joel. Looks like there was a good turn out to the stunt and quite a few viewers on YouTube too. It is through such commitment that Nestlé has become the most boycotted company in the UK and one of the four most boycotted on the planet (see The Guardian for details of the GMIPoll from where this finding comes).

If you are not of a nervous disposition, you can view the video here.

There are less nauseous ways to support the campaign, of course.

For example, we are demonstrating outside Nestlé (UK) HQ in Croydon on 19 May from 11:00 till noon. Further details at:

It is Nestlé’s shareholder meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on 19 April. So you could pop along to the ‘Palais de Beaulieu’ before the 2:30 pm start with some suitable leaflets and placards to politely inform shareholders. Being careful not to cause obstruction, trespass etc. etc. If you have a share you can enter and raise questions. Correction. You can enter if you can persuade Nestlé to register the share, which seems to be just about impossible. I’ll write more about this for anyone interested in coming along next year. Mr. Brabeck should be standing down as Chief Executive so deserves a resounding send off.

Mr. Brabeck is exasperated by the boycott. At least that’s what it says in one of the reports on the Nestlé takeover of Gerber where the boycott is mentioned.

The UK Daily Telegraph says today:

---Quote begins

The deal also marks a significant return to Nestlé's roots. The company was selling baby supplements long before KitKats.

However, that occasionally led to controversy, not least when Nestlé was accused of promoting baby formula in Africa at the expense of breast feeding. That led to a boycott, and some people still perceive the company in a bad light, which exasperates Mr Brabeck-Letmathe.

"We are considered today one of the most socially responsible companies in the world," he said. "Yet you have a small group of people in the UK who are still talking about infant formula, which was an issue 30 years ago.”
---quote ends

Two points here. Mr. Brabeck says here it is a small group in the UK. On other occasions he has included other countries, such as Sweden, while his own company’s survey finds Nestlé gets the ‘red card’ in Australia and Italy as well (see The Times). It was an independent survey that found Nestlé to be one of the most boycotted companies on the planet. So basically Mr. Brabeck says whatever he thinks will divert criticism.

Second point is that as Mr. Brabeck keeps this an issue by systematically violating the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods and has had many violations reported to him personally. While Mr. Brabeck claims to personally investigate any hint of a violation, reports are either ignored or he gets a minion to dismisses them. See a recent example of violations in India.

Remember, of course, that Mr. Brabeck could have put an end to the boycott years ago by agreeing to the four-point plan put to him. But he refuses to accept the validity of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements and the need for Nestlé to bring policies and practices into line, the first two points of the plan.

Let us hope his successor is a little more capable when it comes to social responsibility and addressing legitimate concerns. Mr. Brabeck’s approach has served only to demonstrate the company’s contempt for regulations and infant health. Fortunately his public relations initiatives usually backfire, generating headlines such as “Mr. Nestlé gets angry”.

We see the Nestlé takeover of Gerber as bad news. Last year Novartis, then owner of Gerber, was admitted to the FTSE4Good ethical listing after giving undertakings to change policies and practices to bring them into line with the World Health Assembly marketing requirements (undertakings Mr. Brabeck refuses to give to the International Nestlé Boycott Committee). While there had been no sign of changes to practices, we were hopeful, not least because Novartis would have been expelled from the list if it did not deliver.

If Nestlé is the owner of Gerber it does not have to deliver on the Novartis commitment as Nestlé is not on the FTSE4Good list. Nestlé does not meet the FTSE4Good criteria on baby milk marketing. In fact, Nestlé is worse than Gerber in its aggressive marketing from the evidence of past monitoring projects. So what hope is there it will change Gerber's practices when it won't change its own? Not much, without pressure from the boycott and from legislation.

But lets not obsess over Mr. Brabeck. You can read my blog suggesting he should relax more.

While we are committed to exposing Nestlé malpractice, it is not to the exclusion of other companies. As our current campaigns demonstrate, including in support of the Philippines, against illegal promotion in UK supermarkets and exposing Wyeth’s new promotion strategy for SMA formula.

Again, it is not just us. The International Baby Food Action Network consists of over 200 groups in more than 100 countries. And lots of other people support the campaign outside the IBFAN network.

Here is a rather wonder animated image from Tracy on the new SMA logo. You can also see it on her Myspace page.

So call us obsessed. Call us committed. Whatever.

While companies continue to put their own profits before infant health and mothers' rights, we aren’t going away. And there are a lot of us. Some even prepared to drink vinegar if it will help.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Nestlé buys Gerber: bad news for mothers and infants

It has been announced that Nestlé has bought the Gerber baby food business off Novartis for US$5.5 billion.


Click here for Nestlé's press release

A quick quote for any passing journalists.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:

"Nestlé is the worst of the baby food companies so this growth in its market share can only be bad news for mothers and infants. We did have hope that aggressive marketing by Gerber would be ending as its previous owner, Novartis, gave undertakings to comply with the World Health Assembly marketing requirements. Nestlé breaks these in a systematic manner and has rejected our four-point plan aimed at saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott we promote. We will monitor closely with our partners to see what happens with Gerber practices."

Despite Novartis giving undertaking to FTSE4Good that it would respect the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods, violations continue. See our Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet:

Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the UK and one of the four most boycotted on the planet. You will find facts and figures on a recent demonstration press release and contact details. See:

There will be a demonstration at Nestlé (UK) HQ on 19 May 11:00-12:00. See:

Here are a couple of relevant past blogs when the takeover was still in the speculative phase:

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lesson from Wyeth: two steps forward, one step back

To recap. At the turn of the year the Food Standards Agency warned baby food companies in the UK that most of the health claims they were making about infant formula are illegal under legislation introduced in 1995. Companies have apparently said they will change. Wyeth is the first to do so, with new labels being manufactured from 1 February 2007, which are now starting to appear on the shelves (judging by the use-by dates, which are two years after this).

Most illegal claims and the 'now even closer to breastmilk slogan' has gone. As this shot below shows.

Click here for a hi-resolution picture.

Wyeth has cunningly changed the SMA logo so the M appears to be a breastfeeding mother, crossed with a love heart. Yesterday I posted an animation picking up on this.

The tin contains claims which I believe to be illegal as they are not on the list of claims permitted in the UK law. These are 'improved protein balance' and 'easily digested'. Claims that are permitted relate specifically to composition (such as 'iron enriched' or 'sucrose free'), not about claimed benefits. See:

The under-lid flier further idealises the formula. This again features the slogan 'Love the milk you give' used on the label.

This states, in part:

----Quote begins

Great new formula

New SMA Gold has changed its protein balance, a significant nutritional advance to bottle-fed babies. In fact no other formula in the UK or ROI comes close to new SMA Gold.

Our new formula is expertly balanced to meet all the nutritional needs of your baby, whilst being gentler than ever on your baby's tummy.
---quote ends

I don't know about you, but whenever I see these 'new improved' type claims it brings home the shortcomings of the previous version and raises questions about the present one, for surely another 'significant advance' is just around the corner. If something is required to reduce the negative impact on infant health of formula feeding, we want to see it a requirement for all formulas, not a promotional strategy.

Remember, Wyeth used to suggest its previous version was 'now even closer to breastmilk'. But following the logic of Wyeth's new promotion old SMA Gold, like other brands, does not 'come close to new SMA Gold'.

Think about that. According to the UK Department of Health, 34% of women in a survey incorrectly believed that infant formula, such as old SMA Gold, was the same or almost the same as breastfeeding. Old SMA Gold was promoted with a whole heap of claims: "Helps to support immunity", "Easily digested", "Helps brain and eye development". Which aside from being illegal, gave the impression that 'closer to breastmilk' is not far off from being the same. As I have analysed previously claims made by baby food companies do not stand up to scrutiny. See:

Now we learn that old SMA Gold doesn't come close to new SMA Gold.

Wyeth knew about its shortcomings, otherwise why would it be claiming changing the protein balance is a 'significant nutritional advance'?

Just as Wyeth knows about the shortcomings of its new improved formula.

Which is why companies should not be the ones to provide information on infant feeding to parents. The World Health Assembly says this should be the responsibility of health workers.

Even with the crackdown by UK authorities, Wyeth tries to imply equivalence between its formula and breastfeeding with its new logo. Do take a look at my posting from yesterday responding to this.

A final thought, the under-lid leaflet includes the required 'Important notice', which states, in part, "Breast feeding is best for babies".

In the past this was used almost as an endorsement for the formula. If breastmilk is good and the product said it was 'now even closer to breastmilk' the formula appears to be good too.

Wyeth can't get away with that subversion of the breast is best message any more, except through the subliminal message of its logo. Which could be viewed as progress of a sort.

The crackdown has had some impact. So two steps forward for the campaign to protect infant health and mothers' rights and one step back because of Wyeth's response.

Wyeth does not, of course, admit that it has made the changes to its labels because it was told they were illegal. Alongside the promotion of its careline and website (where the illegal claims continue to be made) it states this on the under-lid flier:

---Quote begins

Great new look

As we hope you've noticed, SMA Gold has a great new look.

After listening to mums and dads, we've given all our packs a great new look.

So it is now even easier to choose the right product for your baby.
---quote ends

Ho, ho, ho. Scared of being hauled before a judge more like.

Wyeth has shown it will change if forced to do so.

Let us hope the authorities will continue to press for full compliance with the law and an end to all illegal claims and images. They have the power to enforce the law introduced 12 years ago. Will they do so?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Love the milk....

This is my one blog this week as I am on leave. I will do my weekly podcast, delayed because of the national holiday on Monday, shortly. You can hear podcasts by clicking here.

I was a little distracted from relaxing and doing the podcast by a comment someone posted on my Myspace blog about Wyeth's new slogan for its formula. You will recall from Thursday's blog last week, that I revealed how Wyeth plans to respond to the warning given to baby food companies in the UK by the authorities that many of the claims they make about their formula are illegal. I reckon Wyeth will be breaking the law with a new 'close to breastmilk' promotion it will be rolling out in the coming weeks. It will be claiming that its infant formula has: ‘improved protein balance’, which is not on the permitted list of claims.

Wyth's new slogan for its SMA milks is: "Love the milk you give". The comment on my blog, prompted me to have a go at a little animation, producing the clip below.

You can leave a comment on YouTube and, if you like it, find the code you need to post it on your own blog or website.

Find it at:

Thursday, April 05, 2007

SMA plans new 'close to breastmilk’ launch following UK crackdown on claims

As we reported recently, the UK authorities have warned baby food companies that they must stop making claims about their products prohibited by the 1995 UK Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995. This is an acknowledgement that Baby Milk Action’s monitoring and reporting of aggressive marketing practices over the 12 years since the law was introduced was correct.

Companies have said they will change their labels (unlike in the Philippines where some of the same companies have taken the government to court following its new regulations – the regulations there have been suspended).

Wyeth (makers of SMA formula) will shortly be launching new labels.

The new labels claim the milk has ‘improved protein balance’ – a claim that is not on the permitted list – and will be the basis of a promotional campaign being rolled out over the coming months.

On its website its is claimed that SMA infant formula:

“SMA Gold has the right balance of nutrients, to be as close to breast milk as possible, to support your baby's natural growth, development and immunity.”

Again, these claims are not on the permitted list and so are illegal. The Food Standards Agency wrote to the companies at the turn of the year pointing this out to them.

Will the authorities take any action now a new promotional campaign is being planned with illegal claims?

Health workers are being targeted by Wyeth to promote the milks to mothers. The campaign is based around a change to the protein formulation. So while formula-fed infants will still be at greater risk from short and long-term illness, Wyeth will use its ‘close to breast milk’ campaign to imply the difference is slight. Remember, the Department of Health found in a survey in 2005 that 34% of women incorrectly believe that formula is the same or almost the same as breastmilk.

Here is the way Wyeth is exploiting the need to change its labels brought about by the crackdown by the UK authorities in promotion to health workers:

Health workers are being invited to seminars to learn about Wyeth's changes so they will promote its 'improved protein balance' to parents. We are not going to put up Wyeth's idealizing and illegal claims without accompanying analysis. But if any journalists would like to investigate this issue, please do contact me.

Wyeth claims that it is aiming for the gold standard of breastmilk. Its marketing experts no doubt advised it long ago to give the impression they had reached it by naming its infant formula SMA Gold.

But it doesn't stop there. Remember that infant pictures and other idealizing images are banned from labels?

Wyeth marketing people have come up with a cunning plan which they think gets around that by redesigning their logo.

Here is part of the new SMA logo.

What does that remind you of?

Surely it just a coincidence that it looks like a mother breastfeeding? That would give the subliminal impression that SMA formula is somehow the same as breastfeeding.

Surely the highly paid marketing people who came up with the change had something else in mind?

Here is the full infant formula logo.

These people, eh! Tell them they are breaking the law and they respond with more aggressive marketing.

Oh! Just to finish. The marketing people have come up with a new slogan for the label. It used to be 'Now even closer to breastmilk'. They were told by the Food Standards Agency that this is an illegal claim.

So they have changed it. The new labels have the slogan: 'Love the milk you give'.

Great slogan for creating brand loyalty. 'Love the milk you give'.

But the reason there are marketing regulations is companies are not only competing with other breastmilk substitutes, they are competing with breastfeeding. That is why the preamble to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes states: "the marketing of breastmilk substitutes requires special treatment, which makes usual marketing practices unsuitable for these products."

'Love the milk you give'. They didn't come up with that one by accident.

Well, that is it for a while. It is the long Easter weekend in the UK. So the blog and my weekly podcast will appear on Tuesday.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

How do you know what is going on?

News of the baby milk campaign and Nestlé boycott may reach you in many ways. It could come from Baby Milk Action, in the media, at events, in conversation with friends and colleagues, or in a song set to be a hit. Yup, the boycott is checked in a new release from
Dan le sac VS scroobius pip.

It is called 'Thou shalt always kill' and you can find it on iTunes or on their myspace page
(the version there has a couple of rude words - you have been warned). In amongst the good advice given in the song is 'Thou shalt not buy Nestlé products'. And 'Thou shalt think for yourselves' - which we hope a lot of people will do by coming to our website to find out more about the boycott.

So how do you keep up with what is going on in the campaign?

We are conducting a survey of our members, supporters and the wider public to find out. We would also like to know how often you would like information and the aspects of our work that interest you the most.

Are you making use of this blog and the weekly podcast? How often do you visit the website? How frequently would you like to receive the printed newsletter (sent to members - next one is being sent out after Easter - click here to join)? Do you have any ideas on how we could improve what we do?

To give us your feedback, complete the quick questions form on the website.