hits counter
PhD in Parenting Google+ Facebook Pinterest Twitter StumbleUpon Slideshare YouTube subscribe by email or RSS
Recommended Reading

Blog Index
The journal that this archive was targeting has been deleted. Please update your configuration.

Nestle answers: Lobbying for weak laws? Nestle says no, evidence says yes

This is one of a series of posts that features Nestle’s answers to my questions that came out of the Nestle Family event. To access the other questions and answers, go to follow-up questions for Nestle and click on the questions you are interested in. Answers will be posted as they are received and analyzed.


You mention that "The WHO Code will only truly succeed if governments enforce it and monitor its compliance." When a country is considering changing its legislation to include provisions contained in the WHO Code does Nestle lobby against those changes through formal or informal consultation processes?

Nestle's Answer

No, it is not in Nestlé’s interest to have weak national codes in place; we apply the WHO Code and the Nestlé instructions if the national code is less strict than the WHO Code itself. A strong national legislation, that includes monitoring procedures, provides clarity and an even playing field for all infant formula manufacturers. Therefore, Nestlé encourages governments to implement monitoring mechanisms. The Code itself also recommends this.

My Response

I understand the concept of a level playing field. I understand why Nestle likes a level playing field. If it were, for example, to stop using advertising in Canada that blatantly violates the WHO's International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes , but Enfamil continues with its pervasive and ever-present ads and Heinz keeps putting $10 off coupons in front of its products at Loblaws, then that puts Nestle at a competitive disadvantage.  I understand. But I think it is a crappy excuse. I think that if Nestle and the other manufacturers truly supported breastfeeding and didn't want to push formula on parents, they would get together as an industry and agree to comply as a group with the Code. They would create their own level playing field.

Now that we've dealt with that issue, let's look at how Nestle encourages strong national legislation and monitoring. Let me be clear...it doesn't.

The International Baby Food Action Network has a list of examples of companies undermining implementation of the International Code. I've copied and pasted the ones that specifically mention Nestle or its brands (e.g. Gerber), although Nestle could have been involved in some of the other examples too (e.g. examples that mention only "baby food companies" without giving specific names).

  • Pakistan - 1992 and 1997/8. Nestlé lobbied for babymilks and baby foods to be removed from the Government drug list in 1992, so that sales are not restricted to pharmacies, but can be sold in any grocery or market. In 1997 Nestlé opposed many provisions of Pakistans draft law. Details.

  • India - 1995. After Nestlé is taken to court it files a Writ Petition against the Indian Government challenging the provisions of the Infant Milk Substitutes Act under which it is being prosecuted.

  • Guatemala - 1995. The US Government puts pressure on Guatemala to allow Gerber to use baby pictures on its packaging.

  • Russia - 1996. Nestlé offers to translate the weak UK infant formula and follow-on formula regulations as the basis for legislation instead of the International Code and Resolutions.

  • Sri Lanka - 1997. Nestlé opposes a revision of the Sri Lanka Code which would bring it into line with the 1996 WHA Resolution. Details.

  • Zimbabwe - 1998. Nestlé threatens to disinvest if Zimbabwe does not revoke its strong law. Details.

  • Urguguay - 1998. Nestlé Uruguay General Manager lobbies the Director of Health to ignore subsequent Resolutions of the WHA and implement the Code as "published by WHO in 1981". Details.

  • European Union - 2000. Nestles refuses to attend a hearing by the European Parliament Development and Cooperation Committee into its baby food marketing activities, demonstrating "utter contempt for a properly constituted public hearing" according to the hearing organiser. There is a focus on Pakistan and a call for the European Commission to review why its export regulations are proving ineffective. Details.

In addition to those examples, Baby Milk Action has documented several other examples on its Boycott Nestle blog (see the links in the bullets below for substantiation). This includes:

  • When the Philippines was defending stronger legislation in 2007, Nestle USA was part of a campaign against the UNICEF and WHO country heads for speaking up in favour of the regulations.

Many of the same examples listed above are quoted again by the Third World Network in its article Governments under pressure to abandom WHO marketing code, but it also includes others not mentioned above:
Nestle has been lobbying the Government of Gabon since at least 1991 for permission to advertise Cerelac on television. The Government has consistently refused. After having received a further request in June 1997, the Ministry reminded Nestle of the letters it had already sent and repeated its request that Nestle stop the promotion of Cerelac to mothers and health professionals at public and private hospitals by methods including film-shows, free samples and gifts.

In response to criticism from the Ministry, in July 1997 Nestle proclaimed that it is a respected international company with the highest standards of morality and ethics. It then stated that it intends to disregard the Government's requirements as it does not believe Cerelac is covered by the International Code. In April 1998, Nestle appealed for a meeting.

While this is an older example, it is typical of the approach used by Nestle. It applies its own interpretation of the Code in order to justify certain practices that are not allowed and it bullies governments with its international influence.  Another example not mentioned above that are included in this article include:

  • Swaziland 1998: Nestle attempted to undermine implementation of the Code, but representatives of IBFAN Africa were successful in countering Nestle's arguments for weak controls and Nestle's moves were ineffective.

There is evidence of ongoing lobbying and attempts to influence governments in the European Union. A 2008 PR Week front page article Brussels Decision On Lobbying This Month reported:
In the UK, Nestlé is acc­used of targeting the Government with ‘sponsorship and free trips', to promote its powdered baby milk formula. Nestlé denied this. A spokeswoman said: ‘We are totally committed to the protection and promotion of breastfeeding.'

However, Nestlé was this week discovered to have paid for a trip to South Africa by Labour MP Rosie Cooper.

An article in the New Internationalist does a great job summing up Nestle's approach. You've seen in my other posts on this issue that Nestle claims it is not violating the WHO Code by either applying its own narrower version of the Code or by claiming the country has no legislation. Here is why so many countries do not have legislation:
Lobbying to keep national legislation on breastmilk substitutes weak. Although over 70 governments have now taken action to stop free or low-cost supplies to healthcare facilities, only 11 or so countries have laws which cover the whole range of activities covered by the Code. In the 1980s Nestlé and other babyfood companies opposed strong national legislation, advocating 'voluntary agreements'. Yet Nestlé now excuses its own actions by saying governments have not legislated against them - and in countries such as Pakistan, Ghana and the Philippines it has lobbied governments to weaken legislation. In Chile, for example, Nestlé continues to give out free supplies in contravention of the International Code, excusing the practice by saying there is no local law against doing so.

Strong national legislation is recommended by the Code. Manufacturers are also told that they should comply with the code independently of any other actions taken by governments. Not only is Nestle not living up to its responsibilities under the Code, but it is also lobbying governments and using its vast influence and resources to ensure that governments don't live up to their obligations under the Code.
« Nestle Answers: The International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and the Developing World | Main | IComLeavWe: Day 7 »

Reader Comments (3)

[...] 5. You mention that “The WHO Code will only truly succeed if governments enforce it and monitor its compliance“. When a country is considering changing its legislation to include provisions contained in the WHO Code does Nestle lobby against those changes through formal or informal consultation processes? ANSWER HERE [...]

There is a group that all the formula manufacturers belong to that would allow them to all comply with the code. It is the International Formula Council. But instead, they use it for lobbying, as best as I can understand.

November 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBettina

Exactly. They use it for lobbying governments, they use it to spread misinformation to consumers, they use it to pad their pockets.

November 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...