Indian Government targets illegal Nestlé activities - but is undermined by FTSE4Good

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Baby Milk Action met with FTSE on 20 February 2012 with Dr. Arun Gupta of the Breastfeeding Protection Network of India.

Dr. Gupta raised concerns about illegal activities in India by Nestlé, the largest of the baby food companies. These include targeting of health workers with sponsorship and conferences.

Nestlé is well aware that these practices are prohibited. The Indian Government confirmed on 7 March 2012:

In our opinion, which has been clearly expressed in our letter dated 17 August 2010, such activities are violative of the [Indian Law - the IMS Act]*. I draw your kind attention to another letter dated 29 December 2010 sent by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to your organization and others expressing that 'IMS Act clearly prohibits sponsorship of health workers or their association directly or indirectly by the Infant Food Manufacturing companies'.

Although FTSE raised these concerns with Nestlé in a letter dated 14 November 2011 after commissioning an assessment of Nestlé activities in India, it appears to have accepted Nestlé defence of its practices. It described Nestlé's sponsored conferences as a "grey area", demonstrating its lack of awareness of the Indian Law and the provisions of the Code and Resolutions. Unfortunately, FTSE4Good assessments are made against company policies, not World Health Assembly or government measures, and the assessors are unable or unwilling to evaluate whether practices violate these measures when they are reported. Hence, Nestlé remains in the FTSE4Good Index even though the Indian Government says it is violating its law (and others, such as UNICEF, have cited 'routine' violations of the World Health Assembly measures).

Despite the clear position of the Indian Government, Nestlé's Chief Executive Office, Mr. Paul Bulcke, responded to FTSE on 18 November 2011 stating:

We carry out these activities in accordance with the WHO Code with specifically allows companies to 'donate fellowships, study tours, research grants, attendance at professional conferences or the like', as long as the institution to which the professional is affiliated is informed.

Mr Bulcke and FTSE not only ignore the position of the Indian Government, but the subsequent Resolutions of the World Health Assembly that call for care over conflicts of interest.

Like Dr. Gupta, we are concerned that FTSE has weakened the criteria for the FTSE4Good ethical investment index, allowing companies to be added to the list even while breaking national laws and violating the International Code and Resolutions.

Nestlé was the first company to be added to the list in March 2011. It has since been using its inclusion in trying to convince people it is abiding by the Code and Resolutions. FTSE has had to ask it to stop misrepresenting what inclusion signifies.

We joined Dr. Gupta in producing a briefing on FTSE4Good on behalf of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) - click here

* The letter from the Ministry of Women and Child Development states Nestlé's "activities are violative of Section (9) of the Infant Milk Substitute Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 1992 and Amendment Act 2003".