Nestlé boycott

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A boycott was launched in the United States on July 4, 1977, against the Swiss-based Nestlé corporation. The boycott expanded into Europe in the early 1980s and was prompted by concern about Nestlé's "aggressive marketing" of breast milk substitutes, particularly in underdeveloped countries.[1][2] The boycott has been cancelled and renewed because of the business practices of Nestlé and other substitute manufacturers monitored by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN).[3][4] Organizers of the boycott state that substitutes for breast milk are worse for infants' health. As of 2013, the Nestlé boycott was coordinated by the International Nestlé Boycott Committee, whose secretariat was the British group Baby Milk Action.[citation needed]

Baby milk controversy[edit]

Groups such as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and Save the Children argue that the promotion of infant formula over breastfeeding has led to health problems and deaths among infants in less economically developed countries.[5][6] There are three problems that can arise when poor mothers in developing countries switch to formula as well as one list of benefits of breast milk:

  • Sanitation:
    • Formula must be mixed with water, which is often impure or not potable in poor countries, leading to disease in vulnerable infants.[7] Because of the low literacy rates in developing nations, many mothers are not aware of the sanitation methods needed in the preparation of bottles. Even mothers able to read in their native language may be unable to read the language in which sterilization directions are written.
    • Although some mothers can understand the sanitation standards required, they often do not have the means to perform them: fuel to boil water, electric (or other reliable) light to enable sterilisation at night. UNICEF estimates that a formula-fed child living in disease-ridden and unhygienic conditions is between 6 and 25 times more likely to die of diarrhea and four times more likely to die of pneumonia than a breastfed child.[8]
  • Nutritional value:
    • Many poor mothers use less formula powder than is required, in order to make a container of formula last longer. As a result, some infants receive inadequate nutrition from weak solutions of formula.[9]
    • Breast milk has many natural benefits lacking in formula. Nutrients and antibodies are passed to the baby while hormones are released into the mother's body.[10] Breastfed babies are protected, in varying degrees, from a number of illnesses, including diarrhea, bacterial meningitis, gastroenteritis, ear infection, and respiratory infection.[11][12][13] Breast milk contains the right amount of the nutrients essential for neuronal (brain and nerve) development.[14] The bond between baby and mother can be strengthened during breastfeeding.[12] Frequent and exclusive breastfeeding can also delay the return of fertility, which can help women in developing countries to space their births.[15] The World Health Organization recommends that, in the majority of cases, babies should be exclusively breast fed for the first six months, and then given complementary foods in addition to breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond.[16]
  • Preserving milk supply:
    • The practice of relying on free formula in maternity wards frequently means the mother loses the ability to make her own milk and must buy formula (as stated in the following paragraph).

Advocacy groups and charities have accused Nestlé of unethical methods of promoting infant formula over breast milk to poor mothers in developing countries.[17][18] For example, IBFAN claim that Nestlé distributes free formula samples to hospitals and maternity wards; after leaving the hospital, the formula is no longer free, but because the supplementation has interfered with lactation, the family must continue to buy the formula. IBFAN also allege that Nestlé uses "humanitarian aid" to create markets, does not label its products in a language appropriate to the countries where they are sold, and offers gifts and sponsorship to influence health workers to promote its products.[19] Nestlé denies these allegations.[20]


Nestlé's marketing strategy was first written about in New Internationalist magazine in 1973 and in a booklet called The Baby Killer, published by the British NGO War On Want in 1974. Nestlé attempted to sue the publisher of a German-language translation (Third World Action Group) entitled "Nestlé tötet Babies" for libel. After a two-year trial, the court found in favour of Nestlé because they could not be held responsible for the infant deaths 'in terms of criminal law'.[21] Because the defendants were only fined 300 Swiss Francs (just over US$400, adjusted for inflation),[22] and Judge Jürg Sollberger commented that Nestlé "must modify its publicity methods fundamentally", TIME magazine declared this a "moral victory" for the defendants.[23] This led to similar court challenges brought against other milk companies in the U.S. spearheaded by the Roman Catholic order Sisters of the Precious Blood in conjunction with the Interfaith Centre for Corporate Responsibility.[24]

The widespread publicity led to the launch of the boycott in Minneapolis, USA, by the Infant Formula Action Coalition (INFACT) and this boycott soon spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Europe. In May 1978, the US Senate held a public hearing into the promotion of breast milk substitutes in developing countries and joined calls for a Marketing Code. In 1979, WHO and UNICEF hosted an international meeting that called for the development of an international code of marketing, as well as action on other fronts to improve infant and early child feeding practices. The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) was formed by six of the campaigning groups at this meeting.[18]

In 1981, the 34th World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted Resolution WHA34.22 which includes the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. The Code covers infant formula and other milk products, foods and beverages, when marketed or otherwise represented to be suitable as a partial or total replacement of breast milk. It bans the promotion of breast milk substitutes and gives health workers the responsibility for advising parents. It limits manufacturing companies to the provision of scientific and factual information to health workers and sets forth labeling requirements.[25]

In 1984, boycott coordinators met with Nestlé, which agreed to implement the code, and the boycott was officially suspended. In 1988 IBFAN alleged that formula companies were flooding health facilities in the developing world with free and low-cost supplies, and the boycott was relaunched the following year.[7]

In May 1999 a ruling against Nestlé was issued by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Nestlé claimed in an anti-boycott advertisement that it markets infant formula "ethically and responsibly". The ASA found that Nestlé could not support this nor other claims in the face of evidence provided by the campaigning group Baby Milk Action.[26]

In November 2000 the European Parliament invited IBFAN, UNICEF, and Nestlé to present evidence to a Public Hearing before the Development and Cooperation Committee. Evidence was presented by the IBFAN group from Pakistan and UNICEF's legal officer commented on Nestlé's failure to bring its policies into line with the World Health Assembly Resolutions. Nestlé declined an invitation to attend, claiming scheduling conflicts, although it sent a representative of the auditing company it had commissioned to produce a report on its Pakistan operation.[27][28][29]

Current status[edit]

As of 2013, the Nestlé boycott is coordinated by the International Nestlé Boycott Committee, the secretariat for which is the UK group Baby Milk Action.[30] Company practices are monitored by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), which consists of more than 200 groups in over 100 countries.

Alongside the boycott, campaigners work for implementation of the Code and Resolutions in legislation, and claim that 60 countries have now introduced laws implementing most or all of the provisions.[31]

Some universities, colleges, and schools have banned the sale of Nestlé products from their shops and vending machines in the period since the revelations.[32][33][34] In the United Kingdom, 73 students' unions, 102 businesses, 30 faith groups, 20 health groups, 33 consumer groups, 18 local authorities, 12 trade unions, education groups, 31 MPs and many celebrities support the Nestlé boycott.[when?][35][36]

Nestlé claims that it is in full compliance with the International Code.[37] According to Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, "we also carry out annual audits on WHO Code compliance with a sample of Nestlé companies, and we investigate any substantiated claims made by those who believe we have broken the Code.... If we find that the Code has been deliberately violated, we take disciplinary action."[38] The company maintains that many of the allegations are unsubstantiated, out of date, or use IBFAN's own non-standard interpretation of the Code.[20]

In May 2011, the debate over Nestlé's unethical marketing of infant formula was relaunched in the Asia-Pacific region. Nineteen leading Laos-based international NGOs, including Save the Children, Oxfam, CARE International, Plan International and World Vision have launched a boycott of Nestlé and written an open letter to the company.[39] Among other unethical practices, the NGOs criticised the lack of labelling in Laos and the provision of incentives to doctors and nurses to promote the use of infant formula.[40] An independent audit of Nestlé's marketing practices in Laos was commissioned by Nestlé and carried out by Bureau Veritas in late 2011. The audit found that "the requirements of the WHO Code and Lao PDR Decree are well embedded throughout the business", but that "promotional materials in 4% of the retail outlets visited" violated either the Lao PDR Decree or the WHO Code.[41]

In the media[edit]

An episode of the TV show The Mark Thomas Comedy Product produced by the British Channel Four in 1999 investigated the boycott and Nestlé's practices concerning baby milk. Mark Thomas attempted to find evidence for claims against Nestlé and to speak to heads of the company. In one portion of the show he "received a tin of baby milk from Mozambique. All instructions are in English. 33 languages and dialects are recognised in Mozambique. Portuguese is the official language. However, only about 30% of the population can speak it.[42]

In 2001, comedian Robert Newman and actress Emma Thompson called for a boycott of the Perrier Comedy Award, because Perrier is owned by Nestlé.[43] An alternative competition called the Tap Water Awards was set up the following year.[44]

In 2002, authors Germaine Greer and Jim Crace withdrew from the Hay Festival in protest over Nestlé's sponsorship of the event.[45]

A 2007 article in The Guardian highlighted aggressive marketing practices by Nestlé in Bangladesh.[7]

The 2014 film Tigers is based on 1997 Pakistan Nestle infant formula controversy.[citation needed]

2016 Canada boycott[edit]

The Council of Canadians, a social action organization, launched a boycott in September 2016 in response to the company outbidding a small town aiming to secure a long-term water supply through a local well, stressing the need for bottled water industry reform as the country battles drought and depletion of ground water reserves.[46][47][48][49]

See also[edit]

  • H2NO – an upselling campaign by Coca-Cola to dissuade consumers from ordering tap water drinks at restaurants


  1. ^ "Baby formulas linked to infant deaths overseas". Minneapolis Star. INFACT Clearinghouse. September 9, 1978. Retrieved December 5, 2019.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ Krasny, Jill (June 25, 2012). "Every Parent Should Know The Scandalous History Of Infant Formula". Business Insider. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  3. ^ Macdonald, Theresa (October 24, 1987). "Simple formula urged for healthy children". Regina Leader-Post. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  4. ^ "Nestle Boycott Being Suspended". New York Times. January 27, 1984. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  5. ^ "What is the Problem?". IBFAN. Archived from the original on April 26, 2007. Retrieved June 6, 2007.
  6. ^ A Generation On: Baby milk marketing still putting children’s lives at risk Save the Children report, May 2007 (pdf).
  7. ^ a b c Milking it Joanna Moorhead, The Guardian, May 15, 2007
  8. ^ "Infant and Young Child Feeding and Care". UNICEF. Retrieved June 8, 2007.
  9. ^ "World Concern - Witness the Transformation". Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  10. ^ "Breastfeeding". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 23, 2007.
  11. ^ Gartner LM, et al. (2005). "Breastfeeding and the use of human milk". Pediatrics. 115 (2): 496–506. doi:10.1542/peds.2004-2491. PMID 15687461.
  12. ^ a b "Mothers and Children Benefit from Breastfeeding". February 27, 2009. Archived from the original on March 16, 2009.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  13. ^ "Gastroenteritis". Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. February 1, 2003. Retrieved November 21, 2006.
  14. ^ Atkinson, S; Bo Lönnerdal (1989). Proteins and non-protein nitrogens in human milk. CRC Press. p. 131. ISBN 0-8493-6795-6.
  15. ^ "Comparison of Effectiveness". Planned Parenthood. April 2005. Retrieved August 12, 2006., which cites:
    :Hatcher RA, Trussel J, et al. (2000). Contraceptive Technology (18th ed.). New York: Ardent Media. ISBN 0-9664902-6-6.
  16. ^ World Health Organization, "Global strategy for infant and young child feeding," section titled "EXERCISING OTHER FEEDING OPTIONS" November 24, 2001
  17. ^ "Nestle Products to Boycott". Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  18. ^ a b History of the campaign Baby Milk Action Group
  19. ^ "How breastfeeding is undermined". IBFAN. Archived from the original on April 15, 2007. Retrieved June 6, 2007.
  20. ^ a b "WHO Code Violation Allegations". Nestlé. Archived from the original on April 9, 2007. Retrieved June 6, 2007.
  21. ^ Sethi, S. Prakash (1994). "Multinational Corporations and the Impact of Public Advocacy on Corporate Strategy: Nestlé and the Infant Formula Controversy". Journal of International Business Studies. 25 (3): 658–660. doi:10.1057/jibs.1994.41. JSTOR 155364. S2CID 166328342.
  22. ^ "Historical Data for Switzerland / U.S. Foreign Exchange Rate". Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  23. ^ The Formula Flap TIME Magazine, Jul. 12, 1976
  24. ^ Muller, Mike (February 13, 2013). "Nestlé baby milk scandal has grown up but not gone away". Retrieved December 21, 2016 – via The Guardian.
  25. ^ "The International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes" (PDF). WHO. 1981. Retrieved June 6, 2007.
  26. ^ Ferriman, Annabel (February 13, 1999). "Advertising Standards Authority finds against Nestlé". BMJ. 318 (7181): 417. doi:10.1136/bmj.318.7181.417a. PMC 1114895. PMID 9974443.
  27. ^ "European Parliament public hearing on Nestlé's baby food marketing" (PDF) (Press release). Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India. November 22, 2000. Retrieved June 8, 2007.
  28. ^ "MEPs shocked as Nestlé and Adidas snub Public Hearing on corporate responsibility" (Press release). Baby Milk Action. November 23, 2000. Retrieved June 8, 2007.
  29. ^ "European Parliament Committee on Development". Nestlé. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved June 7, 2007.
  30. ^ Baby Milk Action
  31. ^ "The role of regulations in protecting infant health". IBFAN. Archived from the original on April 29, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2007.
  32. ^ "Students to vote on Coca-Cola boycott". Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  33. ^ " - leedsstudent Resources and Information". Archived from the original on March 8, 2016. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  34. ^ Nestle Products Are Banned by FSA
  35. ^ "UK groups endorsing the boycott". Baby Milk Action. Retrieved November 7, 2009.
  36. ^ An example of one such ban Archived March 14, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Council of the Oxford University Student Union, June 9, 2006
  37. ^ "The "International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes"". Nestlé. Archived from the original on May 16, 2007. Retrieved June 6, 2007.
  38. ^ "Foreword by Peter Brabeck". Nestlé. Archived from the original on April 9, 2007. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  39. ^ "Letter from NGOs to Nestlé" (PDF). Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  40. ^ "The "LAOS: NGOs flay Nestlé's infant formula strategy". Retrieved November 26, 2014.
  41. ^ "Bureau Veritas report" (PDF). Archived from the original on February 3, 2016.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  42. ^ "Home - Mark Thomas Info". Archived from the original on September 29, 2008. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  43. ^ Scott, Kirsty (August 27, 2001). "Spoof horror writer wins £5,000 Perrier award: Fringe comedy contest soured by baby milk protests". The Guardian. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  44. ^ "The Tap Water Awards". Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  45. ^ "Writers boycott literary festival". BBC News. May 27, 2002. Retrieved June 7, 2007.
  46. ^ "Petition calls on Canadians to boycott Nestlé over water grab". USA TODAY. Retrieved December 29, 2016.
  47. ^ "Wynne wants new rules for bottled water industry after Nestle outbids town". The Toronto Star. Retrieved December 29, 2016.
  48. ^ "'Everyone should care' about bottled water, teen says at rally against Nestlé permit". CBC News. Retrieved December 29, 2016.
  49. ^ "People are furious at Nestlé for taking over small town's water supply". Business Insider Deutschland. Retrieved December 29, 2016.

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