Briefing on Nestle - updated January 2013

Share this

Mothers and babies need you to keep up the pressure on Nestlé now more than ever - look at what it is really doing.

Briefing paper - updated 29 January 2013

Nestlé-Free Zone

Why target Nestlé with the boycott?

1. Nestlé is the biggest and most aggressive of the baby food companies (ref. 1). Baby Milk Action works to stop malpractice by all companies (ref. 2). With Nestlé, extra pressure is needed as it drives down standards. Its competitors even tried, unsuccessfully, to stop it advertising in South African supermarkets in 2008 (ref.3). Nestlé is currently leading an industry attempt to weaken legislation in the Philippines.

2. Nestlé has rejected Baby Milk Action’s four-point plan aimed at saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott (ref. 4). Baby Milk Action put a similar plan to Danone when it jumped to second place in the market after taking over other companies in 2007. Danone promised a ‘root-and-branch review’ of activities and claaimed that it has introduced changes to stop 50% of violations in the last International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) global monitoring report, produced in 2010, and needs to do more. Nestlé said it would act on just 3% of violations. (ref. 5). Rather responding positively to campaigns, Nestlé uses dirty tricks - in January 2013 it was ordered to pay compensation to ATTAC Switzerland after sending spies to infiltrate the group and gather information on who was contributing to a book on Nestlé, covering its baby milk marketing, trade union busting, exploitation of water resources and other concerns. 

3. One of Nestlé’s current marketing strategies is to undermine the ‘breastfeeding is best’ warnings the boycott brought in. It is adding colourful logos  to labels claiming its baby milk ‘protects’ babies, but babies fed on it are more likely to become sick than breastfed babies and, in conditions of poverty, more likely to die (ref. 6).

[PHOTO: Nestlé formula in Saudi Arabia in June 2010, with the 'protect' logo and 'New Active Immunity' flash]

4. Nestlé has been targeting health workers with the claims its formula is ‘The new “Gold Standard” in infant nutrition’, ‘reduces diarrhoea’, ‘aids brain and eye development’ and ‘strengthens the immune system’. Don’t take our word - look at Nestlé’s materials.

[The leaflet left was being used by Nestlé in Egypt, June 2010 - click here for more images on our email Nestlé campaign page. Nestlé dropped its "Gold Standard" claim in November 2010 in response to our email Nestlé campaign]. 

Nestlé’s claims do not stand up to investigation and are prohibited by the marketing standards adopted by the World Health Assembly (Ref. 9). 


Look at what Nestlé does - not what it says it does

5. In its report on Nestlé for the United Reformed Church in 2010, ethical investment organisation EIRIS cites examples of “total or substantial violation of the International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes”. Nestlé produces impressive policy statements and reports, but it is what it is actually doing that harms health.

When violations are reported, Nestlé dismisses them. Baby Milk Action is in on-going communication with Nestlé, and executives are defending its ‘protect’ marketing campaign, which has been rolled out in 120 countries (Ref. 7).

The tin below was purchased in Malawi, Africa, in July 2009. We’ve stopped similar practices in the past - and we hope you will help us to again (Ref. 8). 

6. Nestlé has rejected Baby Milk Action's four-point plan for saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott. As step one it is asked to accept the validity of the World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions. Baby Milk Action raised this at Nestlé's shareholder meeting on 19 April 2012. Nestlé Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, response was that it is not for Baby Milk Action to tell him what to do.

The World Health Assembly restated in May 2010 that it “CALLS UPON infant food manufacturers and distributors to comply fully with their responsibilities under the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions;” and expressed "deep concern over persistent reports of violations". Improvements to breastfeeding rates and complementary feeding practices “could save annually the lives of 1.5 million children”. Resolution 63.23 (WHO pdf) 



Other concerns

There are other issues, such as the way Nestlé is using its Fairtrade KitKat to divert attention from its cocoa purchasing record. While Fairtrade KitKat benefits the producers of the 1% of cocoa sourced by Nestlé for this product, Nestlé has failed to deliver on its promise to end child slavery in its cocoa supply chain by 2006. It has been taken to court in the US by campaigners acting on behalf of former child slaves from Ivory Coast. Child-slavery campaigners issued a press release showing they are not too impressed by Nestlé's commitment, click here.

Nestlé has also been targeted recently by Greenpeace over the harmful impact its sourcing of palm oil. It has responded in the same way as it responded to the child slavery campaigners in 2001: promising to end the practice within five years. It remains to be seen whether it will deliver on this undertaking or not.

Similarly, there are other groups raising concerns about Nestlé trade union busting activities, impact on water supplies and spying on campaign groups. You can find information on this issues on the Nestlé Critics website at:

Also see the report the Nestlé Critics submitted to the United Nations Global Compact under its Integrity Measures:


Ref. 1: According to the report Global Packaged Food: Market Opportunities for Baby Food to 2013 produced by industry analysts, Euromonitor, Nestlé's share of the global baby food market has been rising steadily over the period of its survey (2001 - 2007) , while that of leading competitors has fallen. Nestlé has the largest share of the infant formula market, with Bristol-Myers Squibb, second-placed in this sector, losing market share. In 2007 Danone jumped to second place after acquiring the NUMICO brands.

Ref. 2: For campaigns against malpractice by other companies, see the Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheets and the Breaking the Rules monitoring reports (the last report profiled the leading 12 companies). The boycott targets Nestlé as it is found to be the worst of the companies. Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet, according to an independent survey by GMI (click here for Guardain report), and the most boycotted in the UK.

Ref. 3: In South Africa, the Infant Feeding Association took Nestlé to the Advertising Standards Authority over its supermarket promotion of its formula labelled with the new 'protect' claims. According to the ASA ruling: The ruling states: "The complainant submitted, in essence, that the campaign goes beyond informing consumers of a change in packaging by drawing much attention to the brand. This contravenes both the World Health Organisation (WHO) Code and the Code of Advertising Practice, which [sic] practices used to induce sales directly to the consumer at retail level" [I presume it should read 'prohibits practices'].

The ASA is a voluntary body funded by advertising revenue, making Nestlé a major funder, and it rejected the complaint, meaning Nestlé's competitors may feel compelled to use a strategy they feel violates the marketing and advertising codes. The South African Department of Health informed Baby Milk Action that it is usually consulted by the ASA on rulings impacting on health, but had not been in this case. Click here for further details.

Ref. 4: Click here for full details and assessment of progress with the four-point plan. Nestlé rejects the vast majority of violations reported to it, claiming the marketing requirements have been misinterpreted. Baby Milk Action has invited Nestlé to meet with it before a panel of independent experts to resolve disagreements of interpretation, but Nestlé refuses to even discuss this proposal with us. It has rejected both the four-point plan and proposed expert panel meeting repeatedly, most recently in December 2011 - click here.

Ref. 5: Baby Milk Action wrote to Danone in 2007 after it took over the NUMICO companies, putting forward a four-point plan similar to that put to Nestlé to bring its baby food marketing activities into line. While Nestlé has rejected the plan, Danone responded:

"The Group is well aware of the extremely important issues associated with this activity, and is looking to conduct a root and branch review of its corporate mission in the baby foods field."

The latest global monitoring report, Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2010, from the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) gives examples of Nestlé marketing materials that violate many of the provisions of the Code and Resolutions. In its response in May 2011, Nestlé has counted 130 violations in the report and suggests only 4 require remedial action - one of these being a leafleted specifically targeted by a Nestlé boycott email campaign. (By contast, Danone promised a ‘root-and-branch review’ in 2007, when it jumped to second place in the market through taking over other companies. Concerns continue, but Danone responded to Baby Milk Action in April 2011 saying changes it has introduced will stop 50% of the violations exposed in the 2010 report and it has since promised three additional changes to practices).

Ref. 6: The World Health Organisation booklet responding to Frequently Asked Questions on the International Code  (updated in 2008) relates the protective factors of breastfeeding and states:

In addition to the risks posed by not having breastmilk's protective qualities, breastmilk substitutes and feeding bottles in particular carry a high risk of contamination that can lead to life-threatening infections in young infants. Infant formula is not a sterile products and it may carry germs that can cause fatal illnesses. Artificial feeding is expensive, requires clean water, the ability of the mother or caregiver to read and comply with mixing instructions and a minimum standard of overall household hygeince - factors not readily met in many households in the world.

Improper marketing and promotion of food products that compete with breastfeeding are important factors that often negatively affect the choice and ability of a mother to breastfeed her infant optimally. Given the special vulnerability of infants and the risks involved in inappropriate feeding practices, usual marketing practices are therefore unsuitable for these products.

Yet Nestlé promotes its breastmilk substitutes with the claim they 'protect' babies and are 'The new "Gold Standard" in infant nutrition', as well as targeting mothers and health workers with gifts, attempting to sign them up to clubs and other promotional strategies that violate the marketing requirement for breastmilk substitutes. After thousands of emails, Nestlé said it had discontinued this particular leaflet - this shows campaigning works, but we need to keep up the pressure because it is still defending the other claims with bogus arguments.

Ref. 7: In its response to members of the public calling on it to respect the Code and Resolutions, Nestlé claimed in July 2010: "For your information, the World Health Assembly does not formulate marketing standards – rather it makes health policy recommendations to Member States. It is up to each Member State to determine how it implements these policy recommendations in their own country, according to their development goals and their social and legislative framework."

In truth, the International Code was adopted in 1981 and article 11.3 is clear: "Independently of any other measures taken for implementation of this Code, manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of this Code should regard themselves as responsible for monitoring their marketing practices according to the principles and aim of this Code, and for taking steps to ensure that their conduct at every level conforms to them."

This was restated by the World Health Assembly in May 2010.

NOTE: Nestlé is citing its addition to the FTSE4Good ethical investment listing when claiming it 'fully complies' with the Code. However, Nestlé was excluded from the listing until March 2011 and was only admitted after FTSE4Good changed its criteria in September 2010 to allow companies onto the list while they are still violating the Code and Resolutions. Click here for Baby Milk Action's briefing recommending that people who want to hold baby food companies to account DO NOT invest in a FTSE4Good tracker for full details.

Ref. 8: Nestlé has claimed in the past that its formula 'counteracts diarrhoea'. However, the papers published by the United Reformed Church (URC), dating from briefings given to the Methodist Church Joint Advisory Committee on Ethics in Investment (JACEI), include a denial by Nestlé that it had done any such thing. This demonstrates that Nestlé is prepared to say whatever it believes it can get away with, regardless of the truth, as Nestlé and Baby Milk Action had already been in communication about the leaflets with the 'counteracts diarrhoea' claim and it had given an undertaking not to change its leaflets. We informed JACEI that it had been misled and provided scans of Nestlé's leaflets. An extract:

For some other examples of changes achieved by the campaign - and how Nestlé has reported these, click here.

Ref. 10: Nestlé's Global Public Affairs Manager, Dr. Gayle Crozier-Willi, said in correspondence with Baby Milk Action on 14 January 2010:

Nestlé makes significant investment in R&D and technology to deliver innovative products with scientifically proven nutritional benefits in many different areas. Concerning the 'Protect' logo, while all our infant nutrition products meet the needs of non-breastfed babies during the first critical months of life, the functional benefits that are encapsulated in the 'Protect' logo are the result of many years of intensive research on how best to improve the nutritional composition to stimulate the infant's immune system. The logo helps distinguish this particular formula from other less advanced products but does not claim in any manner that infant formula is superior to breast milk.


 [Left: Nestlé promoting its formula to pharmacists in Botswana with the claim it 'protects' babies in Botswana in May 2010]

The 'proven' nature of the claims is disputed by independent reviewers (see below). In addition, all idealizing claims are prohibited by Article 9.2 of the International Code, which states: 

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. [emphasis added]

The colourful logo, which says 'Protect Start' on the infant formula for use from birth and 'Protect Plus' on the follow-on formula for use from 6 months and the terms DHA, ARA, Opti-Pro and Bifodigenic effect.

[Left: Logo detail from a tin from Malawi, Africa, July 2009]


• DHA and ARA are Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids LCPUFAs. According to the respected Cochrane Library: "It has been suggested that low levels of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) found in formula milk may contribute to lower IQ levels and vision skills in term infants. Some milk formulas with added LCPUFA are commercially available. This review found that feeding term infants with milk formula enriched with LCPUFA had no proven benefit regarding vision, cognition or physical growth."

• Bifodigenic effect appears to be suggesting the formula contains an oligosaccharide - sometimes marketed as 'prebiotics' - (breastmilk contains over 100) to promote bacteria growth and provide protection against allergies. The Cochrane Library concluded a review: "There is insufficient evidence to recommend the addition of prebiotics to infant feeds for prevention of allergic disease or food reactions."

• Opti-Pro implies a benefit for eyes (until recently, Nestlé owned marketed Opti-Free contact lens solutions) or 'Optimum Protein', itself an idealising claim. Nestlé's Dr. Crozier-Willi, said in her letter of 14 January 2010: 

The logo 'Opti-pro' does not refer to eye development at all, rather it refers to an optimised mix of milk proteins which when ingested, results in the infant having a blood amino acid composition which closely resembles that of an infant on breast milk. This represents quite an advance in the application of technology to superior nutrition and is explained in detail in the scientific information that we share with health professionals.

• Nestlé's 'active immunity' claim is made about probiotics. However, the Cochrane Library has reviewed the science on this subject and concluded: "There is insufficient evidence to recommend the addition of probiotics to infant feeds for prevention of allergic disease or food reactions." See:

Article 7.2 of the International Code states: "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."

[Left: Nestlé promoting its baby milk under the slogan 'Nutrition and Protection across the crucial first year of life' in Egypt, June 2010]

If ingredients are proven to be necessary in breastmilk substitutes to reduce the poorer health outcomes of formula-fed babies then these should be required in all formulas and Baby Milk Action campaign for improvements. However, when Codex Alimentarius, the European Union and other health authorities have revised composition requirements, they have decided these ingredients are not necessary.