Nestlé, the UK's most boycotted company over its marketing of baby milk, is trying to improve its image by sponsoring the London Marathon on Sunday 17 April 2011 with its 'Pure Life' bottled water brand, but is also attracting criticism over the impact of its bottled water operation. Nestlé Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, has highlighted his involvement in the United Nations CEO Water Mandate, but this received the Public Eye Greenwash Award in January 2010 for its role in covering up corporate malpractice (sponsored by the Berne Declaration and Greenpeace). Nestlé promotion of 'Pure Life' at the London Marathon comes after it was driven from the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006 where it sponsored the Perrier Award - Nestlé took over Perrier in 1992 and was targeted by celebrities such as Emma Thompson and Steve Coogan, winners of the award before Nestlé's takeover.
Baby Milk Action, which promotes the boycott of Nestlé in the UK, has asked the London Marathon organisers about their ethical policy for partners, but, contrary to Charity Commission guidance, they have said this is confidential - click here). Baby Milk Action is urging runners to contact the organisers about their sponsorship policy and has produced a leaflet with information they can send or hand in.
Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said: "People have to drink water doing a marathon and it is the height of irresponsibility that the organisers are providing water with the Nestlé brand, which is boycotted by many. We considered whether we could provide alternative water along the route, but it is simply unfeasible. Anyone running must put their own health first, but can send or hand our leaflets to the organisers to show they disagree with being forced to drink Nestlé water - for some it will be the first Nestlé product to have passed their lips for many years. It is a pretty sick way of Nestlé to force people to break their boycott and shows how desperate the company is."
Nestlé Pure Life was launched in Pakistan in 1999. The marketing strategy began with a series of "awareness seminars," organised by Nestlé's PR company and involving key government officials who claimed that urban water supplies were contaminated and other bottled water then on the market was tainted - Nestlé's connection with the seminars was not revealed. Soon after the seminars, Nestlé unleashed its Pure Life sales force in Karachi, this handed out leaflets and samples backed by a billboard campaign with the slogan "welcome to purity." Having capitalised on the fears raised by the seminars, Nestlé is now distancing itself from them, claiming: "We didn't want to be perceived as stirring up controversy." The Managing Director of the Lahore Water Supply Company was quoted in the Wall Street Journal: "These foreign companies are misleading the people to make money."
For a detailed analysis of Pure Life in Pakistan see the 2005 ActionAid Pakistan report: "Drinking Water Crisis in Pakistan and the Issue of Bottled Water - The Case of Nestlé’s ‘Pure Life’"
Nestlé launched Pure Life water in Brazil shortly afterwards, demineralising water from a spring in the water park in the historic spa town of São Lourenço, which had an adverse impact on other springs and the tourism industry, leading to a mass petition which prompted a civil public action by the public prosecutor. Nestlé eventually stopped bottling Pure Life in São Lourenço, settled the case out of court under threat of daily fines and providing compensation to the town by refurbishing the water park.
A legal opinion from a federal prosecutor exposed multiple breaches of federal laws, which, for example, prohibit the demineralisation of mineral water resources. Nestlé's bottling plant was shown in an environmental impact assessment to have been built in the area of 'maximum vulnerability' in the water park over the aquifer. Nestlé hired a spy to gather information on the Brazilian campaign and other campaigns by infiltrating a campaign group in Switzerland.
Corporate Accountability International issued a press release coinciding with Nestlé's 2010 shareholder meeting, highlighting that sales of Nestlé bottled water are falling, stating:
This past year, as more and more people joined the tens of thousands who have begun to question the value of bottled water, and as more communities began to challenge Nestlé’s attempts to gain control of water resources in their communities, Nestlé worked hard to convince individuals and communities that the company has turned over a new leaf, while also ensuring investors that the future viability of Nestlé’s bottled water business is sound. However, consumers and community groups aren’t buying Nestlé’s line, or their water, and even some investors are beginning to doubt that Nestlé’s bottled water business will be viable in a climate where more and more people are turning back to their public water systems and rejecting Nestlé and other bottlers’ efforts to sell them ‘old water in new bottles’.
Nestlé Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, launching his Creating Shared Value report at the 2010 AGM commented: "Water is an essential human need. People need better access to water, particularly in vulnerable regions." A coalition of campaigning organisations, known as the Nestlé Critics, submitted a report to the UN Global Compact Office regarding the last Creating Shared Value report in 2009 as this voluntary corporate responsibility initiative posts the reports on its website and has even taken part in joint events with Nestlé. The Nestlé Critics claim the Creating Shared Value reports are misleading and the apparent endorsement of them by the UN Global Compact is assisting Nestlé to continue violating the Global Compact principles of respecting human rights and the environment. See: http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press17june09.html
Mr. Brabeck boasts of his involvement in the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate, citing this as demonstrating his companies commitment to sustainable use of water. The initiative received the Public Eye Greenwash Award in 2010. See: http://www.publiceye.ch/en/
Nestlé is the target of a boycott over its aggressive marketing of baby milk. According to UNICEF: "Marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding are potentially hazardous wherever they are pursued: in the developing world, WHO estimates that some 1.5 million children die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. These facts are not in dispute."
Improved breastfeeding rates could save more under-5 lives than universal provision of safe water, sanitation and vaccination, according to the Lancet Child Survival Series. The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) monitors baby food companies against marketing standards adopted by the World Health Assembly and finds Nestlé to violate these systematically in its policies and practices. Baby Milk Action, which promotes the boycott in the UK, has put a four-point-plan to Nestlé to save lives and ultimately end the boycott, but this has been rejected by Nestlé. Baby Milk Action appealed to shareholders at Nestlé's AGM last week to stop management promoting baby milk with the claim that it 'protects' babies, when it is proven that babies fed on breastmilk substitutes are more likely to become ill and, in conditions of poverty, more likely to die. Nestlé's CEO, Paul Bulcke, defended the practice and dismissed Baby Milk Action's criticism of it.
For further information, contact Mike Brady, Baby Milk Action's Campaigns and Networking Coordinator, on 07986 736179 or Patti Rundall, Policy Director, on 07786 523493.
The following film from Corporate Accountability International and The Story of Stuff is being used by water campaigners to encourage people to return to using tap water. It includes information on Nestlé, Coca Cola, Pepsi and other companies.