The UN Global Compact officer moves to Nestle - and so long to Niels

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A senior member of the World Health Organisation (WHO) responsible for the UN Global Compact has moved to Nestlé as Vice President for Corporate Affairs. The Global Compact is a voluntary initiative aiming to persuade corporations to abide by a set of Principles on human rights and the environment. Baby Milk Action and other Nestlé Critics filed complaints with the UN Global Compact Office in 2009 under so-called Integrity Measures alleging egregious violations of the Global Compact Principles, but the Office refused to investigate these. Despite the complaint about Nestlé's aggressive marketing of baby food in violation of international standards and other on-going concerns, the Global Compact Office accepted Nestlé as a patron sponsor of its 10th anniversary summit in New York in July 2010 (see press release UN Global Compact - 10 years of helping cover up corporate malpractice). Now it has been reported that the WHO officer responsible for promoting industry alliances with the UN Global Compact moved to Nestlé in October 2010 to take up a position as Vice President. While this is a worrying indication of the close relationship between the UN Global Compact staff and industry, Baby Milk Action is calling on Nestlé newest Vice President, Janet Voûte, to use her position to try to stop her new colleagues violating the Global Compact principles.

The UN Global Compact Office posts reports from Nestlé and other participants in the initiative on its website. Although the Global Compact Office claims it is beyond its mandate to check the reports for accuracy or to investigate complaints about the claims made in them, it has jointly launched one of Nestlé's Creating Shared Value reports at a high profile event and promotes Nestlé as a leading member of the initiative.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:

"The news that a senior Global Compact officer has become a Nestlé Vice President calls into question the nature of the relationship between the Global Compact Office and the companies who's behaviour it is seeking to change. We will write to Janet Voûte to ask her to try to stop systematic malpractice by her new employer, such as Nestlé's latest global strategy of promoting infant formula with the claim it 'protects' babies and is 'the new "Gold Standard" in infant nutrition. Babies fed on formula are more likely to become sick than breastfed babies and, in conditions of poverty, more likely to die. Nestlé has so far refused to stop the practice and the Global Compact Office refused to investigate. Nestlé also refuses to warn parents that use powdered formula that it is not sterile and may contain harmful bacteria and the steps to take to reduce risks - clearly doing so would undermine its 'protect' claims."

The new appointment comes as Niels Christiansen retires as Nestlé Head of Corporate Affairs.

Mike Brady commented:

"Under Mr. Christiansen leadership of the company's anti-boycott campaign, the company became one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet. Let us hope Janet Voûte will learn from Mr. Christiansen's mistakes and accept our four-point plan for saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott."

Niels Christiansen is credited within Nestlé for ending the first Nestlé boycott in 1984 with promises that campaigners found were not honoured, leading the boycott being relaunched in 1988 (original documents here). According to industry analysts, GMI, Nestlé is now one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet. Last week (25 - 31 October) was International Nestlé-Free Week, billed as a week for boycotters to do more to promote the boycott and for non-boycotters to give it a go, at least for a week. The week has been particularly successful at reinvigorating support for the boycott in the United States, where campaigners call on people to avoid Nestlé during Halloween.

Mr. Christiansen is understood to have been behind a hardbound, gold-embossed book of letters that Mr. Brabeck distributed around the world with the claim that the letters were official verification that Nestlé abides by the baby food marketing requirements. Mr. Brabeck subsequently had to apologise when some of the authors complained that their letters had been misrepresented, taken out of context and used without permission (details here).

In a similar vein, Mr. Christiansen launched monthly Code Action reports with the stated aim of highlighting Nestlé compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly, but after attacking Baby Milk Action for exposing violations, Mr. Christiansen published a substantial right-to-reply from Mike Brady after taking legal advice. The 'monthly' reports became increasingly delayed and have not appeared for some years - click here for details.