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 http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/businessinsight/archives/2005/09/01/branded.html).
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.