Dump the Quality Street and After Eights revellers urged as Nestlé rejects plan to save babies and end the long-running boycott over its baby milk marketing

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Nestlé also rejects Baby Milk Action's proposal to meet before a panel of independent experts to resolve disagreements about how to interpret the marketing requirements

Press release 19 December 2011

Boycott poster

In the week before Christmas, Nestlé, the UK’s most boycotted company because of the way it markets baby milk, has rejected a four-point plan put by boycott coordinators, Baby Milk Action. This plan asked Nestlé to bring its policies and practices into line with the United Nations' baby food marketing requirements and could have led to the end of the boycott.

In a letter dated 15 December 2011, Nestlé’s Global Public Affairs Manager also rejected an invitation to meet before a panel of independent experts to resolve disagreements over interpretation.

As a consequence, Baby Milk Action is calling for increased boycott support to persuade executives to change their minds. Nestlé is already one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet and the boycott has forced some changes to marketing policies and practices (see the additional information below).

Baby Milk Action alleges that Nestlé is the worst of the baby food companies for the scale and scope of its violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly, and refusing to stop the majority of violations reported to it - unless these are specifically targeted by the boycott campaign.

A UNICEF spokesman stated in April 2011: "I can confirm that UNICEF does not take funding from Nestle. I can also confirm that Nestle violates the code." UNICEF has also stated in the past: "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." 

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

"Nestlé is putting its own profits before the lives of babies by pushing its baby milk in ways that undermine breastfeeding and endanger babies who are fed on formula. Nestlé claims that it follows the rules and so we suggested convening an expert panel to examine who is telling the truth. Nestlé refuses to even discuss this proposal with us or set out its terms and conditions for taking part. Clearly executives think it is better to spend money on its anti-boycott team and so we are asking for greater support for the boycott to persuade them to change their minds for the good of babies and their families around the world."

The Nestlé boycott targets Nescafé coffee specifically, but Baby Milk Action encourages people to avoid all Nestlé products and to let Nestlé know. At Christmas, it is suggested people do not buy Nestlé products such as Quality Street and After-Eight chocolates, but look for alternatives.

Mike Brady commented: "If you find Nestlé products in your Christmas treats, send the full or empty packet to Nestlé saying you won’t be eating or drinking any more Nestlé products until the boycott is called off."

Nestlé (UK), St Georges House, Park Lane, Croydon, Surrey CR9 1NR, United Kingdom.

Baby Milk Action's Nestlé boycott page - click here.

Baby Milk Action's draft message to Nestlé about current concerns can be found by clicking here.

For further information and to see the correspondence contact Mike Brady on 07986 736179 or mikebrady@babymilkaction.org


Additional information


Nestlé rejects independent expert panel

Nestlé rejects the vast majority of violations reported to it by claiming the marketing requirements have been interpreted incorrectly. Baby Milk Action cites specific provisions when calling on Nestlé to stop violations and seeks the advice of UNICEF's legal experts if questions of interpretation arise. 

Nestlé executives claim to be willing to engage in "dialogue with all key stakeholders, with the aim of finding resolution to this ongoing disagreement". Baby Milk Action accordingly wrote to Nestlé on 7 October 2011, requesting further information and commenting: 

"As you know, for many years we have been proposing convening an independent, expert tribunal where claim and counter claim regarding violations can be examined by independent experts, with input from expert witnesses. ... We have repeatedly invited Nestlé to set out its terms and conditions for participating in the proposed independent, expert tribunal. In your last comment on this proposal, in your letter of 14 January 2010, you suggested the name ‘tribunal’ was an obstacle. We responded on 10 March 2010 as follows:

"We have asked Nestlé to start the ball rolling by setting out its terms and conditions. If you are interested in 'dialogue' and object to our proposed name, you may wish to suggest calling it something else. Rather than rejecting the proposal out of hand, please include a suggested name with your terms and conditions and we will consider this."

Baby Milk Action also reminded Nestlé that it had proposed meetings under the framework of its four-point plan for saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott. The plan asks Nestlé to first accept the validity of the marketing requirements and that it needs to make changes to bring policies and practices into line.

Nestlé responded in its letter of 15 December 2011, again claiming it wished to engage with stakeholders, but stating:

"We feel that the description of your proposal as a 'tribunal' as well as that of your 4-point plan indicates that its nature is not about having such constructive dialogue. As a consequence we do not see the value of an interaction defined along these terms at this time."

Given that Nestlé was invited to go first in proposing terms and conditions for meeting before the expert panel - and to suggest an alternative name for it - there is little more Baby Milk Action can do, other than call for public support to persuade executives to change their minds. Nestlé's unwillingness to engage with the proposal can be explained by the fact its interpretation of the marketing requirements is not supported by experts. 

FTSE decision to weaken its FTSE4Good ethical listing emboldens Nestlé

In rejecting Baby Milk Action’s proposals in its letter of 15 December 2011, Nestlé claimed: "independent organizations have recognised Nestlé as having the strictest implementation of the WHO Code in the industry."

This is a reference to FTSE, the stock exchange listing company that weakened the baby milk marketing criteria for its FTSE4Good ethical investment index in September 2010 because Nestlé and other companies failed to meet the criteria. Nestlé was admitted to the Index in March 2011 without having to change any of its practices on the ground.

Far from seeing this as the start of a process, Nestlé claims it is already in full compliance with the Code and cites its inclusion in the FTSE4Good Index when trying to divert criticism. For example, when former UNICEF Chief Executive Ann Veneman, joined the Nestlé board Reuters reported (13 April 2011): "Nestle spokesman Robin Tickle said Veneman would help 'ensure our continued full compliance' with the code", adding "'We are the only infant formula manufacturer to be listed by the FTSE4Good Global Index,'  Tickle said."

Ms Veneman took a different view and "has acknowledged Nestlé is not fully complying with a voluntary breast milk code adopted by the World Health Organisation", according to The Guardian (14 April 2011).

Nestlé claims to be willing to work with others to move beyond disagreements, but this willingness is limited to those who accept Nestlé’s assurances and monitor company activities against Nestlé’s policies, rather than the World Health Assembly marketing requirements. In the case of FTSE4Good, a report is awaited on FTSE’s assessment of Nestlé’s actual practices, but FTSE Chief Executive, Mark Makepeace, has already told Baby Milk Action: "we will not be asking the assessors to act as a judge with regards to specific allegations, but rather to assess whether the companies practices on the ground are in-line with THEIR stated policies." [emphasis added]

Mike Brady commented:

"FTSE suggested that giving Nestlé the reward of inclusion in the FTSE4Good Index would encourage it to make further changes, but it has had the opposite effect. It was entirely predictable that FTSE dropping the standards of expected behaviour for baby food companies would embolden Nestlé in trying to justify business of usual."


Legislation and the boycott change practices and stop violations -

Nestlé in court in India

Nestle Nan 2011Baby Milk Action’s partners in India, the Breastfeeding Protection Network of India, have reported that their long-running case against Nestlé failing to put required warnings on labels will be heard shortly. India’s law includes sanctions of up to imprisonment of the Managing Director. Although it has taken 17 years for this case to reach this stage, the legal action has prompted Nestlé and other companies to put the required warnings on labels (a current Nestlé label is shown left).

The Indian law, introduced in 1992, is credited with stopping companies growing the baby milk market in India as they have in other countries, with industry analysts Euromonitor stating: "The huge disparity in the retail value of milk formula sales between China and India is mainly due to the significant differences between their official regulatory regimes." It notes: "In India, all advertising is prohibited, while in China, TV advertising and the use of celebrity spokespeople are allowed."


WHO states in its Frequently Asked Questions booklet on the Code:

"The protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding rank among the most effective interventions to improve child survival. It is estimated that high coverage of optimal breastfeeding practices could avert 13% of the 10.6 million deaths of children under five years occurring globally every year. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life is particularly beneficial, and infants who are not breastfed in the first month of life may be as much as 25 times more likely to die than infants who are exclusively breastfed."

Nestle Nan 2011

While Nestlé’s labels in India now include the required warning on the front of labels, the latest version (introduced in 2011 - left) are the subject of further investigation as they violate the law by including idealising health claims. For example, claims imply that the formula will "support the natural defences" and "contribute to the development of brain and vision".

Article 9.2 of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes states: "Neither the container nor the label should have pictures of infants, nor should they have other pictures or text which may idealise the use of infant formula."

The Indian Infant Milk Substitutes Act (1992) states: "(2) No container or label referred to in sub-section (1) relating to infant milk substitute or infant food shall... (b) have pictures or other graphic material or phrases designed to increase the saleability of infant milk substitutes or infant food;"

Claims that formula builds immunity, protects and is good for brain and eye development undermine breastfeeding, as demonstrated in the 2007 UNICEF Philippines film Formula for Disaster. In addition, the claims do not stand up to scrutiny

Nestlé also promotes the made up names for its ingredients "NutriProtect", "ProBlend" and "Immunonutrients", implying its formula protects babies. Baby Milk Action has specifically and repeatedly asked Nestlé to remove its "protect" claims from formula, but executives refuse to do so (and FTSE included Nestlé in the FTSE4Good Index knowing this to be the case).

By contrast, Nestlé's main competitor, Danone, agreed to remove its "Immunofortis" claims from labels around the world after these were exposed in the Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules monitoring report and Baby Milk Action's 2010 newsletter (Update 43) - click here. The Immunofortis claim is now specifically prohibited in the European Union. Danone also claims to have taken action to stop 50% of the violations in its profile in the monitoring report, whereas Nestlé has said it will only take action on 3%. Baby Milk Action and its partners continue to communicate with Danone about the changes it has made and the further changes that are required, though launching a consumer campaign targeting Danone has not been ruled out. At present, Danone's willingness to discuss violations and make changes contrasts with Nestlé's rejection of reports and its refusal to even discuss terms and conditions for resolving questions of interpretation regarding the Code and Resolutions. For further information see the presentation of the Breaking the Rules report to the Geneva press club in May 2011.

One of the four violations included in the report that Nestlé did stop had been specifically targeted by Baby Milk Action's email Nestlé campaign. Nestlé claimed its formula is "The new 'Gold Standard' in infant nutrition". It discontinued this claim after receiving thousands of emails, demonstrating how the boycott helps to force changes. However, Nestlé did attempt to argue its claim was not idealising, but referred to the colour of the labels of the formula. 

For further information, contact Mike Brady on 07986 736179.