Sunday, April 25, 2010

The London Marathon - Nestle's sick strategy for attacking the UK boycott

Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the UK over the way it pushes baby milk and it is desperate to change the situation. It is reportedly paying celebrities US$10,000 per tweet to say nice things about it on Twitter and is hiring a PR firm to try to improve its image in cyberspace. Today it is sponsoring the London Marathon and is supplying branded Nestlé Pure Life water to runners around the course. We have produced leaflets for runners and others to hand out to use this as an opportunity to show they do not support Nestlé and have produced a press release including the following quote.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said: "People have to drink water doing a marathon and it is the height of irresponsibility that the organisers are providing water with the Nestlé brand, which is boycotted by many. We considered whether we could provide alternative water along the route, but it is simply unfeasible. Anyone running must put their own health first, but can hand out our leaflets to show they disagree with being forced to drink Nestlé water - for some it will be the first Nestlé product to have passed their lips for many years. It is a pretty sick way of Nestlé to force people to break their boycott and shows how desperate the company is."

Best wishes if you take part in the Marathon. Please let us and the organisers know what you think of having Nestlé as a sponsor.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Vote for babies in the UK General Election

I've just posted a new page on our website with a leaflet for the UK General Election campaign. See:

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Nestle tries to shake off boycotters

We have a boycott list with the main Nestlé brands in the UK. I was just adding a note that Nestlé is in the process of selling its Alcon contact lens solutions business to Novartis. This is due to complete in mid-2010. In the process I remembered I needed to update the link to Nestlé own brands page. We link to it from our boycott list, but Nestlé keeps changing the address of the page in small ways so the link dies (for example, its been changed from Brands.htm to BrandHome.htm). Thank you to everyone who contacted me about the dead link.

You can find our list with the link to Nestlé's latest page at

The game of 'find the Nestlé's brand page' is not the only one Nestlé likes to play. A new one surfaced when I visited the Annabel Karmel Facebook page today. Unsurprising as it was recruiting PR experts to try to improve its abysmal image in cyberspace. See:

Bestselling children's recipe book author Annabel Karmel withdrew from a campaign marketing Nestlé cereals last month after finding out more about Nestlé's baby food marketing practices and the boycott. Many members of the public posted messages and some alerted Baby Milk Action to the link up and a misleading statement defending Nestlé that was part of the campaign. See:

Visiting the site today I noticed a Nestlé advertisement at the side, calling on people to 'learn more about Nestlé approach to Corporate Social Responsibility'. This is trying to prompt visitors to listen to Nestlé's portrayal of its activities, rather than listen to boycotter supporters and critics.

They are probably targeting any page where Nestlé is mentioned, knowing that with a 'positivity' score in social media of just 12 out of 100 in an audit by Yomego Social Media Reputation (PR Week) these are likely to be critical comments.

Annabel Karmel fan page

Now you might think we know more than enough about Nestlé's approach to Corporate Social Responsibility: Put profits before all else, leave others to count the cost in damage to human lives and the environment, set up a team to tell people to ignore the critics, produce swish PR reports, recruit celebrities and others to pass on misinformation.

But I don't want to stop people hearing what Nestlé would like you to believe. You can find its latest Creating Shared Value report on its site at:

For analysis of its previous report and the complaint the Nestlé Critics registered with the UN Global Compact, which posted the report on its website, see:

Baby Milk Action is also on Facebook and Twitter. I've added some icons to our website so you can find us.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

People power

There are two reasons why Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the UK and one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet (findings of an independent poll conducted by GMIPoll and reported in The Guardian

Because Nestlé is so bad and because you, campaign supporters, are so good.

The decision of children's food author Annabel Karmel, to withdraw from a link-up with Nestlé last month demonstrates this clearly.

Nestlé is the worst of the baby food companies, pushing its products in breach of international standards and contributing to the unnecessary death and suffering of babies around the world. Although the boycott has forced some changes to Nestlé policies and practices, it still refuses to sign up to Baby Milk Action's four-point plan for saving lives and ending the boycott. Its attitude is demonstrated by its latest global monitoring strategy, claiming its formula 'protects' babies - a disgraceful practice that it is defending even though it knows babies fed on the formula are more likely to become sick than breastfed babies and, in conditions of poverty, more likely to die. It will take further pressure to force Nestlé to stop this. Click here to send Nestlé a message.

While Nestlé spends billions of pounds promoting its products and image around the world, its PR team is surprisingly inept at countering criticism. Nestlé had a 'positivity' score in social media of just 12 out of 100 in an audit by Yomego Social Media Reputation, according to PR Week reporting in February on Nestlé throwing more money at PR experts to try to counter this. Nestlé is also amongst the top ten companies criticised for social and environmental practices, according to ECOFACT. Greenpeace, targeting Nestlé over its sourcing policies for palm oil used in products like Fairtrade KitKat, found Nestlé's PR experts scored an own goal by using legal threats to force youtube to remove a spoof KitKat advertisement exposing how rainforests in Indonesia are being destroyed, contributing to climate change and endangering orang-utans. The clip went viral on other sites and youtube reinstated it. You can watch it here.

It is public support and action that makes all the difference. People like you spreading the word and sending messages to company executives.

Last year Nestlé's PR experts took 20 parenting bloggers to stay in a 5-star hotel in California, complete with celebrity chef, to co-opt them as cheerleaders for the company. Campaign supporters wrote blogs calling on them not to go. Some dropped out. Others went and some offered to take questions on the Twitter channel that Nestlé had set up for the event. This became a full-blow PR disaster for Nestlé that fuelled International Nestlé-Free Week in the US (during Halloween) and made it into the mainstream media. Baby Milk Action became aware of the event because of the surge in traffic to our sites from people posting links and we joined in, providing information and offering to debate with Nestlé on Twitter (not taken up). 

The point is, there is no way that Baby Milk Action could have achieved this alone. Nor would we want to have to try to do so. This is a mass campaign and it relies on the many thousands of boycott supporters around the world looking for opportunities to promote the boycott . We can provide information and support as best we can - supported by the network of campaigners, the majority volunteers, in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), who monitor what Nestlé and other companies are doing around the world.

The recent case of Annabel Karmel shows how important supporters are in spreading this information (or raising awareness as campaigners like to say).

Annabel Karmel is a best-selling author of recipe books for children's food. She teamed up with Nestlé to promote its 'whole grain' cereals. There are concerns about Nestlé's cereals as they are criticised for having high salt and sugar levels, except for Shredded Wheat, the only 100% whole grain cereal which is used as a marketing balloon to hang the less healthy cereals on. The bigger concern was that Annabel put a statement defending the link up onto her website, which appeared to have been drafted by Nestlé's PR team as it suggested that evidence showed that Nestlé supported breastfeeding and complied with the relevant marketing requirements. People very quickly started leaving comments on the website and on Annabel's facebook fan page pointing to the evidence showing that, in truth, Nestlé systematically violates the World Health Assembly marketing requirements.

Baby Milk Action was tipped off and I added my comments and contacted Annabel and her media person for a response to the evidence of malpractice, including Nestlé's latest global 'protect' claims used to market baby milk. All I received was a standard response about the importance of eating whole grain cereal - the defence of Nestlé's baby food marketing given on the website was not repeated in this message, perhaps a sign of the embarrassment of trying to defend it. However, the email said: "I know you expressed concerns about the company and I have forwarded these to Nestle who will respond to you directly."

I posted on the Annabel Facebook page warning people that their details would be sent directly to Nestlé if they raised concerns - though I think that is not good practice from a data protection point of view, a check of the privacy statement on Annabel's site showed she is warning she might pass on data to companies.

Then on 25 March Annabel made a welcome statement on her Facebook page:

"We have had a few enquiries about my association on the Nestlé whole grain cereals campaign. I was initially happy to work with them on a range of healthy cereals which met my ideals on nutrition. However after listening to people’s comments, I have made the decision not to continue my association with Nestle. Annabel"

The link to the past statement defending Nestlé is now dead. 

So the upshot is that Annabel, many of her 5,000 Facebook fans and lots of people who visited will have come across the concerns. As a secondary impact, we have had lots of traffic to our sites, more people joining our email lists to keep updated and perhaps even some of the recent members have joined as a result.

I think this reinforces Baby Milk Action's approach of trying to contact celebrities and public figures who defend Nestlé to try to put them right before trying to shame them. We did eventually go public over George Clooney as he has passed on Nestlé's misinformation to others even after we provided evidence showing he had been misled. See: 

There are various boycott groups and events that have been set up on Facebook and other social networking sites. It is impossible for Baby Milk Action to monitor them all, though we have our own official group on Facebook at:

We welcome people promoting the boycott and other campaigns themselves. Please put a link to our website and be careful to use the explanations for the campaign as given here or feel free to send text to me for checking. Anything we produce is legally water-tight and we shall step in if there is a challenge - but we cannot be held responsible if incorrect statements are made in editing our information.

If you have your own site or blog, you can even use a banner advertisement or logo that will link to our site. See:

We also welcome help in promoting the campaign at events, whether to do with infant feeding, development or other issues. For example, we have a leaflet for promoting the boycott at Fair Trade events, explaining why Fairtrade KitKat has been added to the boycott list. See:

If you would like a Baby Milk Action stall at an event or a guest speaker, please contact us. We have a network of area contacts who are able to provide support and I try to take up invitations to speak when I can, such as at the recent La Leche League Ireland Conference

With the General Election just called in the UK, we have the opportunity to ask politicians to pledge to strengthen the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations. The UK law is very weak, allowing companies to advertise breastmilk substitutes, such as follow-on formula, widely. The Government's own review has called for steps to be taken to strengthen the law. So do ask candidates on the doorstep if they will do this. We have written to the party leaders and will add a campaign for the election to this site shortly.

Baby Milk Action does need income to provide this support, of course. Though our annual budget is less than the cost of one Nestlé television advertisement, we have to work hard to raise what we do spend. So please do remember to encourage people to join Baby Milk Action and to visit our online Virtual Shop for information, merchandise and to make a donation. See: 

The boycott led directly to the World Health Assembly introducing marketing standards for baby milk and we have had a lot of success in bringing these into legislation around the world. But where there is no legislation or it is not enforced, companies continue to push their products in ways that endanger health. The boycott and our campaigns targeting other companies remain essential. With enough public support and pressure we will force Nestlé to stop it latest global 'protect' marketing strategy. The label from Malawi that is pictured on our campaign sheet to illustrate this strategy also shows the power of the boycott, because Nestlé refused to translate this label into the national language of the country until campaign pressure let to it being exposed on national television. Every person you tell, every link you post, every message you send to Nestlé helps to hold companies to account and to protect babies.