United Reformed Church Assembly 2010 backs Nestlé boycott

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Media coverage: Church Times 16 July 2010.

Update 26 November 2011: URC Assembly resolution renewing support for Nestlé boycott has surprising consequence

The United Reformed Church Assembly meeting on 4 July 2010 has given its support to continuing to boycott Nestlé over its aggressive marketing of baby foods. Baby Milk Action has welcomed the decision of the URC to continue its long-running support for the campaign.

Nestlé has tried hard to overturn URC support for the boycott. Last December Nestlé sent a team led by Vice President, Neils Christiansen, to try to persuade URC and other church representatives that the company had changed its business practices. However, Nestlé continues to reject the four-point plan put to the company by Baby Milk Action for saving infant lives and ending the boycott. Monitoring conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), shows Nestlé continues to systematically violate World Health Assembly marketing standards. It is a requirement of the four-point plan and the criteria of ethical investment listings, such as FTSE4Good, that Nestlé accept the marketing standards and bring policies and practices into line. [Update March 2011: FTSE4Good weakened its criteria in September 2010, allowing companies to be listed without having to make changes to their practices. It is hoped that the URC Assembly will reconsider its reference to the FTSE4Good listing in light of this change. 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].

FTSE4Good confirmed last week that Nestlé continues to be excluded from its list. According to the report from the URC Assembly “General Assembly resolves that if Nestlé obtains listing on the FTSE4Good Index, Mission Council be instructed to rescind the boycott on Nestlé products outlined in the Assembly 1992 resolution.”

The FTSE4Good criteria did have similarities with Baby Milk Action's four-point plan, requiring companies to accept World Health Assembly marketing standards (which Nestlé currently refuses to do) and to bring policies and practices into line. The key difference is that FTSE4Good looks to company reports on marketing practices, whereas Baby Milk Action looks to the independent monitoring conducted by IBFAN partners on the ground. A new monitoring report is due in 2010. Current concerns include Nestlé claiming its formula 'protects' babies and promoting it to health workers as 'The new "Gold Standard" in infant nutrition' (example left from Dubai, June 2010).

[Update March 2011: FTSE weakened the criteria in September 2010 to allow companies to be included in the Index while continuing to violate the marketing requirements and, accordingly, included Nestlé in March 2011. It is hoped that the URC Assembly will reconsider its reference to the FTSE4Good listing in light of this change. 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].

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

"Nestlé appears to have taken a turn for the worse since Mr. Paul Bulcke took over as Chief Executive Officer in 2008. Although his predecessor, Mr. Brabeck, was bad at least he paid lip-service to the World Health Assembly marketing standards - the Nestlé line now is that they do not apply to the company. It is also rolling out a global campaign claiming its baby milk 'protects' babies and reduces diarrohea. Its claims do not stand up to scrutiny, endanger health and violate the marketing standards. We have stopped such strategies in the past through pressure from the boycott, but Nestlé keeps coming back with new strategies to boost sales regardless of the impact on infant health. We hope the United Reformed Church decision will add to the pressure from our current 'email Nestlé' campaign to persuade Nestlé to drop its 'protect' claims and accept our four-point plan for ending the boycott."

For further information, contact Mike Brady on 07986 736179.

Click here for Baby Milk Action's Email Nestlé campaign.

Click here for details of the four-point plan and FTSE4Good criteria and Nestlé's response to it.

Click here for Baby Milk Action's briefing prepared for the URC Assembly, with images, links and references.

Point 1 of the four-point plan states that Nestlé must state in writing that it accepts that the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions are minimum requirements for every country.


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."

The World Health Assembly restated in May 2010 (Resolution 63.23) 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”.

Nestlé's refusal to accept the validity of the Code and Resolutions is also preventing it from being included in the FTSE4Good ethical investment list. See, in particular, points 3 and 4 of the Policy Criteria of FTSE4Good Breastmilk Substitutes Marketing Criteria.