Nestlé needs to stop violating baby milk Code says new board member, Veneman - ex UNICEF Director. Guards stop health campaigners seeing Ms Veneman before the AGM
Nestle Shareholder Meeting, Lausanne, Switzerland 14th April 2011
Former head of UNICEF, Ann Veneman, joined Nestlé's board yesterday after Nestlé security and newly appointed Vice-President, Janet Voûte (1) stopped Baby Milk Action and GIFA members from speaking with her prior to her appointment.
The health campaigners were calling on her to reconsider, or at the very least make her joining the board conditional on Nestlé bringing its baby food marketing requirements into line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant WHA Resolutions, championed by UNICEF and WHO.
In a Reuters report the previous day (2) UNICEF, had distanced itself from Ms Veneman. UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said: "Ms. Veneman left UNICEF nearly a year ago and is now a private individual. UNICEF would not presume to comment on any personal choices. I can confirm that UNICEF does not take funding from Nestle. I can also confirm that Nestle violates the code."
Ms Veneman was duly voted onto the Board by 98.7% of the Shareholders who were present and later pledged in a statement to the Associated Press (3) "to take up a fight from within to change Nestlé's marketing of breast milk substitutes" and to have "acknowledged Nestlé isn't fully complying with a voluntary breast milk code adopted by World Health Organization but would work from within to change the world's biggest food and beverage company."
In the Reuters report Nestlé had attempted to suggest it was already compliant, with Nestle spokesman Robin Tickle quoted as saying Veneman would help "ensure our continued full compliance" with the Code. Nestlé Executives also claimed that the recent addition to the FTSE4Good ethical investment listing was a sign it complied with the Code. However Nestlé was only admitted after the standards were weakened in September 2010 so now a FTSE4Good listing does not require companies to comply with the UN marketing standards. Nestlé's marketing practices will be assessed by FTSE4Good in 2 countries and the company will be excluded once again if it does not respond positively to the recommendations in the resulting assessement report. (4)
Following the AGM, Patti Rundall, OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action and Ina Verzivolli of IBFAN GIFA did secure an interview with Ms Veneman and were able to explain how Nestle was misinterpreting the FTSE4Good listing. She was given a copy of IBFAN's latest independent monitoring report, ‘Breaking the Rules,’ which shows how Nestlé continues to be a major violator of the UN requirements. Throughout the discussion Janet Voûte kept trying to prise Ms Veneman away, insisting that the FTSE listing did mean that the company was considered to be code compliant and that it would be far more effective if the campaigners did more breastfeeding promotion (instead of monitoring) and used the "carrot AND stick " approach.
After listening and looking at the evidence Ms Veneman did seem to change her position, and later admitted to Associated Press that Nestle's practice was a problem and needed to change. Earlier to the Dow Jones Newswire (5) she had been reported as saying: "Nestle's policies are consistent with those of the World Health Organization. I will make sure that the code is complied with during my time on the board," In the same report Nestle claimed to be "fully compliant with the WHO codes"
Patti Rundall said: "I really welcome Ms Veneman's comment that Nestlé needs to change, but was disgusted that Nestlé guards and Janet Voûte should stop me from speaking to her before her appointment. Do they think they own their Board members? Sadly my experience leads me to be skeptical about the strategy of working from within to change this company - Ms Veneman will certainly have her work cut out to achieve the signifant changes that are necessary to protect infant health. Many others have tried, for example by investing in the company, but this has resulted in little more than clever PR words. Indeed, the Methodist Church has had to repeatedly complain that its decision to invest to change Nestlé has been used by the company to falsely suggest it is happy with its ethical behaviour. The fact is, campaigns such as the Nestle Boycott and the independent monitoring that exposes bad practice all help governments bring in the strong legislation thats needed to bring effective long-term change. In this way we have indeed brought about some significant changes in Nestle's marketing and those of other companies - but its inevitably a long haul - we are talking about very lucrative products. I hope Ms Veneman will agree to meet us again to work out an effective strategy to bring an end to the marketing practices that are so harmful to child health. If she could get Nestle to commit to stopping all health and nutrition claims on foods and formulas for infants and young children it would be a great start!"
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