Monday, October 01, 2007

Nestle in Burma - and apartheid South Africa

Now that Buddhist monks and others are challenging the regime in Burma, it is worth remembering Nestlé's support for the oppressive regime there.

This picture from 13 July 2001 shows Business Development Manager Khun Suravath Pinsunwanbutr of Nestle Trading Limited Myanmar Representative Office presenting gifts to the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association Chairperson of MMCWA Professor Daw Kyu Kyu Swe and Vice-Chairperson Dr Daw Khin Win Shwe (wife of then Chief of Intelligence and later Prime Minister, General Khin Nyunt).

The Global Unions organisations reports that Health Minister Maj-Gen Ket Sein received Nestlé Vice-President Mr Khun Nophadol Siwabutr in 2001, prompting a response from the company - the pdf can be downloaded by clicking here.

Nestlé said it employes three staff in Burma and its business is conducted through a third party.

Nestlé said: "Nestlé does business in nearly all countries in the world, and our products are found in widely diverse political settings. As we provide basic food products, it is recognized that refusing to do business in a country would result in a worsening of the diet and nutritional status of the population. Therefore, we do not refuse to do business in individual countries, but work for social and economic development trhough our business activities."

It is an intersting point and it is worth reiterating that the Nestlé boycott list does not include Nestlé formula because there may be times when it is necessary, but there are two other facts to be taken into account.

Firstly, Burma's pro-democracy movement, led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has called on foreign companies to disinvest. While the above event was in 2001 there is no indication the situation has changed and a 2006 report states that Fraser and Neave Holdings is manufacturing other Nestlé products for the Burma/Myanmar market.

Secondly, in the picture at the top the Nestlé executive is donating tins of Lactogen 2 formula. Such donations are a violation of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements Nestlé professes it abides by. Provision of free supplies is one of the strategies Nestlé uses to undermine breastfeeding. As well as donating tins in the ceremony, tins were donated to Yangon Children Hospital, North Okkalapa General Hospital, People's Hospital (East Yangon), People's Hospital (West Yangon), Insein General Hospital, South Okkalapa Women's & Children's Hospital and Thin-gangyun Sanpya General Hospital in a ceremony attended by Minister for Health Maj-Gen Ket Sein, Deputy Ministers Professor Dr Mya Oo and Prof. Dr Kyaw Myint (google archived web page).

Nestlé has a history of supporting oppressive regimes. Here is a picture from the 1950s of its 'milk nurses' providing Nestlé formula to mothers in apartheid South Africa. Providing free formula interupts lactation to make a mother dependent on formula, which she then has to buy.

Nestle 'nurses'

Nestlé famously offered Nelson Mandela half a million pounds in 2003 to try to ingratiate itself with the man who led the battle to over turn apartheid. Nestlé had rejected Mandela's call for foreign companies to disinvest during the apartheid years.

The offer was made by Lord Richard Attenborough surprisingly enough (there was a link to Nestlé through a PR consultant), who said: "They [Nestlé] are so desperate to reinstitute themselves in South Africa, to be seen to have changed their philosophies and that they are now totally in favour of everything he [Mandela] stands for."

All Nestlé wanted in return was a photograph of an executive presenting the cheque direct to former President Mandela and the kudos of it going to his children's charity, a great way to counter Nestlé's appalling image for the impact of its aggressive marketing of baby foods and its exploitation of concerns over HIV and infant feeding. It wasn't the first time it had tried to use its cheque book to improve its image, as Nelson Mandela's Children's Fund pointed out when they said they would refuse the offered half million as they had refused the past offer:

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


While Nestlé professes to stick by oppressive regimes for nutritional reasons, its record suggest it is more interested in pushing formula in breach of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements as it puts its own profits before all else.

You can find out more about the campaign in support of democracy in Burma and make a donation to it should you wish to do so at


Anonymous said...

You must be really struggling for bad news if the best you can do is a 60 year old photo from
'Apartheid South Africa' - were you even born in 1950? Do you watch the news, and if so, are you aware SA has been under black rule since 1994?

- could do better -

Mike Brady said...

What a very strange comment from anonymous above.

The article was looking at Nestlé's role in apartheid South Africa, so of course it is historic.

For the latest situation with Nestlé malpractice try clicking on some of the links on the blog as suggested.

Anonymous said...

been a book written about nestle ?

Mike Brady said...

There are various books with information on Nestlé available from Baby Milk Action. See: