Inspired by Dara’s post on the same topic over at Readily A Parent
Every time I hear about the Nestle boycott I feel confused. Confused by what it’s all about, by how much of it is actually still valid, how much of the boycotters’ claims are true and how much nothing more than urban myth or a case of exaggerated Chinese whispers?
I tried searching the internet for information, but there is so much of it and not laid out in a very ‘easy to gather information quickly’ kind of way that I quickly felt swamped and manipulated. As we all know, anyone can publish just about anything on the internet, it doesn’t need to be true. And that goes for both sides, both the boycotters and Nestle themselves. So what to believe in the face of all this contradictory information?
What is true and what just propaganda and lies?
I’ve been trying to unravel it a little.
Nestlé is one of the worlds largest companies selling, amongst other things, baby formula and foods, bottled water, milk, chocolate, cereal, coffee and pet food. According to INFACT Canada, Nestle controls 40% of the worldwide market for baby food and is active in 80 countries.
For the year 2009 Nestlé reported a profit of $9.58 billion.
The Nestle boycott
According to the World Health Organisation, 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed.
The nestle boycott has been running since 1977 and is still ongoing today.
The claims by the boycotters are that Nestle’s promotion of infant formula over breastmilk has caused the illness and death of infants in developing countries because:
- Formula must normally be mixed with water, which is often contaminated in poor countries, leading to disease in vulnerable infants. Because of the high illiteracy rates in developing nations many mothers are not aware of the sanitation methods needed in the preparation of bottles. Even mothers able to read in their native tongue may be unable to read the language in which sterilization directions are written.
- Even mothers that can understand the sanitation standards required often do not have the means to perform it: fuel to boil water, electric (or other reliable) light to enable sterilisation at night. UNICEF estimates that a non-breastfed child living in disease-ridden and unhygienic conditions is between six and 25 times more likely to die of diarrhea and four times more likely to die of pneumonia than a breastfed child.
- Many poor mothers use less formula powder than is necessary, in order to make a container of formula last longer. As a result, some infants receive inadequate nutrition from weak solutions of formula.
- Breast milk has many natural benefits lacking in formula. Nutrients and antibodies are passed to the baby while hormones are released into the mother’s body.Breast-fed babies are protected, in varying degrees, from a number of illnesses, including diarrhea, bacterial meningitis, gastroenteritis, ear infection, and respiratory infection. Breast milk contains the right amount of the nutrients that are essential for neuronal (brain and nerve) development. The bond between baby and mother can be strengthened during breastfeeding. Frequent and exclusive breastfeeding can also delay the return of fertility, which can help women in developing countries to space their births. The World Health Organization recommends that, in the majority of cases, babies should be exclusively breast fed for the first six months.
In May 1999 a ruling against Nestlé was issued by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Nestlé claimed in an anti-boycott advertisement that it markets infant formula “ethically and responsibly”. The ASA found that Nestlé could not support this nor other claims in the face of evidence provided by the campaigning group Baby Milk Action.
In November 2000 the European Parliament invited IBFAN, UNICEF and Nestlé to present evidence to a Public Hearing before the Development and Cooperation Committee. Evidence was presented by the IBFAN group from Pakistan and UNICEF’s legal officer commented on Nestlé’s failure to bring its policies into line with the World Health Assembly Resolutions. Nestlé declined an invitation to attend, claiming scheduling conflicts, although it sent a representative of the auditing company it had commissioned to produce a report on its Pakistan operation.
Is Any Of This Current And True?
Is what the boycotters are saying true? Is any doubt in our minds just the enormous Nestlé PR machine doing its job? Or are the boycotters over reacting, going off old information or falling for urban myths?
Nestlé claim that all problems to do with formula milk marketing are old news and were all resolved long ago, organisations like Baby Milk Action Group, a none profit organisation that is the secretariat for the International Nestlé Boycott Committee, say this isn’t so.
Baby Milk Action Group claim that this is Nestlé’s strategy for dealing with the accusations. To admit past problems that they wouldn’t admit at the time and say that it stopped then and isn’t a problem any more. They claim that Nestle is still failing to comply with The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, a code prepared by WHO and UNICEF which, although not legally binding, carries moral and political weight.
The International Code of Marketing
The code states, amongst other things that:
(Formula milk) should not be marketed or distributed in ways that may interfere with the protection and promotion of breastfeeding;
Manufacturers and distributors should not provide, directly or indirectly, to pregnant women, mothers or members of their families, samples of products within the scope of this Code.
Manufacturers and distributors should not distribute to pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children any gifts of articles or utensils which may promote the use of breastmilk substitutes or bottle feeding.
Marketing personnel, in their business capacity, should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children.***
Labels should be designed to provide the necessary information about the appropriate use of the product, and so as not to discourage breastfeeding.
Neither the container nor the label should have pictures of infants, nor should they have other pictures or text which may idealise the use of infant formula. They may, however, have graphics for easy identification of the product as a breastmilk substitute and for illustrating methods of preparation.
Information provided by manufacturers and distributors to health professionals regarding products within the scope of this Code should be restricted to scientific and factual matters, and such information should not imply or create a belief that bottle feeding is equivalent or superior to breastfeeding.
Today the state of implementation of the code in national measures is as follows:
- 20 countries – all or nearly all provisions in law.
- 27 countries – many provisions in law.
- 21 countries – all or nearly all provisions as policy or voluntary measures.
- 19 countries – few provisions in law.
- 21 countries – some provisions voluntary.
- 22 countries – measures drafted, awaiting final approval.
- 35 countries – being studied.
- 14 countries – no action.
- 11 countries – no information.
*** Didn’t the Nestlé marketing team recently invite a group of mummy bloggers to their head quarters or for a day out or something? Did any of those bloggers have infants or young children? Would that be a violation of the code?
Nestlés Failure To Comply
Baby Milk Action Group claim they have evidence to show that Nestlé are disregarding this code, many of them happening this year (2010). You can see them here. They include the alleged idealising of forumla by packaging it as ‘The New Gold Standard’ and saying that is protects babies and stops diarrhoea and also providing branded promotional information to health care professionals, when the code states that they are only allowed to provide scientific and factual information and not imply that bottle is better or equal to breast.
The film Formula For Disaster (2007) highlighted many of the problems. You can see clips from the film here including clips showing how baby food companies undermine breastfeeding, see the conditions under which mothers are using formula, some of the company promotions and hear health workers explaining the pressure they are under to recommend company products.
The Guardian ran a report (2007) by Joanna Moorhead who travelled to Bangladesh to investigate whether Nestlé and other baby milk firms were still using aggressive marketing tactics in Bangladesh and found them to be still pushing their product on mothers.
In early 1997, Syed Aamar Raza a Medical Delegate for Nestlé in Pakistan, responsible for promoting breastmilk substitutes and infant cereals, resigned from his job. Six months later he issued his former employers a Legal Notice (dated 12/11/1997), attaching nearly 80 pages of evidence of the company’s unethical marketing practices. These alleged practises included bribing doctors to recommend Nestlé products, being paid commission on his sales, something banned under the code and handing out samples at baby shows. Read more here.
What Nestlé Say
Taken from the Nestlé website
Nestlé agrees with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other leading medical and health associations that breast-milk is the best and most natural food for babies. Nestlé also supports the WHO/UNICEF’s Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding and Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
Like the WHO, Nestlé recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, followed by safe and appropriate complementary foods, preferably with continued breastfeeding until at least two years of age. This recommendation features on many of our infant nutrition products. We also distribute educational material in support of breastfeeding to healthcare professionals.
Nestlé supports the protection and promotion of breastfeeding and has always emphasised the superiority of breast-milk as far back as 1867, when Henri Nestlé wrote in his Memorial of the Nutrition of Infants: “During the first few months the mother’s milk will always be the most natural nutriment, and every mother able to do so, should suckle her child herself.”
However, some mothers either cannot or choose not to breastfeed for the optimal time. They need a safe and nutritious alternative for their babies. For these women and their babies, Nestlé researchers have developed and continually improve a wide range of infant formula that meets the nutritional needs of babies during the first months of life.
In the developing world, breastfeeding is nearly univeral, with most children being breastfed for some time. Even after 6 months of age when food supplementation becomes necessary, many mothers continue to breastfeed until their child is two years old.
However, evidence indicates that in these countries exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months is rare and early supplementation with water, or other fluids, is the norm. According to UNICEF’s statistics, less than 40 per cent of infants under 6 months old are exclusively breastfed. This rate is particularly low in Africa.
In developing countries, most children who are not exclusively breastfed do not receive infant formula, but rather dangerous substitutes, including water, water-based liquids, or unadapted whole cow’s milk. These are inappropriate substitutes because they lack the required nutritional content and balance to satisfy a baby’s development and growth. In addition, food supplementation often starts very early.
The use of inadequate breast-milk substitutes may lead to stunting, underweight or wasting and increases infant mortality. Infant feeding practices account to a large extent for the high rates of malnutrition among children in developing countries.
Although exclusive breastfeeding rates have been increasing in Africa and Asia over the past 10 to 15 years, UNICEF’s statistics show the necessity to continue to educate mothers about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding during the 6 first months of age and the introduction of appropriate and nutritious complementary food from 6 months old.
The Four Point Plan
Despite their above statement on their website though, they refuse to agree to Baby Milk Action’s four point plan. The four point plan was put to Nestlé in 2001 as a way to call off the international boycott on Nestlé products. Nestle rejected the plan immediately and since 2005 have refuse to even debate the issue.
1. Nestlé must state in writing that it accepts that the International Code and the subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions are minimum requirements for every country.
2. Nestlé must state in writing that it will make the required changes to bring its baby food marketing policy and practice into line with the International Code and Resolutions (i.e. end its strategy of denial and deception).
3. Baby Milk Action will take the statements to the International Nestlé Boycott Committee and suggest that representatives meet with Nestlé to discuss its timetable for making the required changes.
4. If IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network) monitoring finds no Nestlé violations for 18 months, the boycott will be called off.
You can read Nestlé’s answers to the plan here.
What The Boycotters Want You To Do
Refuse to buy ANY Nestlé products until such time as Nestlé comply with the The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.
Register your support with Baby Milk Action Group
Contact Nestlé by phone or post or email to tell them you intend to boycott their products. More details on contacting Nestlé can be found on this website
A Nestle Product List (August 2010)
Coffee – Nescafé including:
Munch Bunch yoghurts
Rowntree yoghurts and ice creams
Confectionery & snacks
*Colgate Dental Gum
Henri Nestlé Collection
Kit Kat Chunky
Kit Kat – Fairtrade
*Lyons Maid Ice Cream
*Nestlé Ice Cream
Rowntrees Fruit Gums
Contact lens care
Alcon (Nestlé is due to complete the sale of Alcon to Novartis by mid-2010).
Buitoni pasta & canned foods
Cheerios & Honey Nut Cheerios
Cinnamon and Golden Grahams
Shredded Wheat including: Bitesize, Fruitful, Honey Nut
Shreddies: Coco and frosted
These are all pro boycott sites, I couldn’t find any online campaign on behalf of Nestlé.
That’s a lot of information to take in. A lot of big claims. I would like to believe that none of it is true, however, the big thing that keeps jumping out at me is why Nestlé wouldn’t agree to the four point plan if they honestly believed they were doing nothing wrong. After all, any reputably firm that was following the rules would surely leap at the chance to show that it was doing things correctly, wouldn’t it? And wouldn’t they want the boycott lifting?
Having immersed myself in it for the best part of a day, chasing around the internet trying to nail down facts and not just hype, I have come out convinced that Nestlé are guilty, not just of doing these things but of trying to cover it up with their massive PR machine and spending more time, money and effort trying to cover it up than trying to fix their wrongs.
They may not be breaking any laws, the Code isn’t law after all, but they are morally corupt and souless to be still aggressively marketing their milk in this way, without thought or care for the lives they are destroying.
I guess the next question then is what will I be doing about it. Do I consider the lives of people in developing countries more important than Kit Kats and Cheerrios?
What do you make of it all? Is it new to you? Is it old news? Do you, will you boycott or do you think it’s all over hyped nonsense? Has this helped you understand it any better or just confused you more?