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Tuesday
Sep292009

An open letter to the attendees of the Nestle Family blogger event

Dear bloggers,

I learned about the Nestle Family blogger event with dismay when a friend e-mailed me about it. I was happy to hear that she had declined their invitation and hoped that many of the other mommy bloggers that I hold in high regard would follow suit. When I later saw the list of people who were attending, I was distressed to see women who I respect and women who are breastfeeding advocates had accepted the invitation. I wanted to believe that they must just not be aware of Nestle's unethical business practices and that once they found out that they would, of course, decline the invitation and boycott the event. That was not the case. Some of you heard the concerns and said that you didn't care. Some of you heard the concerns and said you would go anyways because you felt a dialogue with Nestle would be more productive. You are all skilled communicators. But having followed the Nestle fiasco for a long time, I know how ineffective dialogue has been in the past and I know that their public relations people will tell you a good story and try to take you for a ride.

That said, you are going. I can't change that now. Many of you were tweeting this morning about packing your bags and heading off to the airport. So, in a last ditch effort to help you make a difference, I am writing you a letter outlining the things I would like you to know.

How formula marketing kills

Let me be clear. This is not about what you chose to feed your babies. If you formula fed, whether by choice or by necessity, that is none of my business. That said, the marketing and advertising of formula has been linked to the deaths of millions of babies every year. According to the World Health Organization:

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.


In developing countries, the difference between being breastfed and being bottle fed truly is life or death. When women choose to formula feed in developing countries, their babies are at significant risk. They do not have the financial means to keep buying formula, so they water it down and give their babies less than they really need. There is often a lack of clean water, so formula gets mixed with dirty water, which can lead to infections, disease and death. In the developed world, formula feeding isn’t as likely to kill a child, but not breastfeeding does come with a whole host of health risks for both the baby and the mother. It can lead to deaths as well as increased health problems and increased health costs (whether you have a public system or a private insurance system, you do pay for other people’s health care to some extent). Around 1.4 million lives could be saved every year with improved breastfeeding.

Advertising formula and providing free samples to women in developing countries could be likened to advertising free c-sections with a dirty knife and untrained medical staff. Infant formula and c-sections can both be life saving under specific circumstances. But marketing them to the general public as an equal, better, or even close to as good alternative is dangerous, especially in countries where they do not have the means to use it safely.

The International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes

In order to reduce the negative effect of formula marketing and save lives, the World Health Organization developed the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (World Health Organization), which restricts marketing and related practices of the following products:


  • breast-milk substitutes, including infant formula, other milk products, foods and beverages, including bottle-fed complementary foods

  • feeding bottles

  • teats, like bottle nipples and pacifiers


Governments in more than 60 countries have adopted the Code and made it law. Some countries have gone a step further by making formula available only by prescription or requiring warnings on labels. In the absence of legislation, the Code encourages manufacturers and distributors to comply with its provisions. Some do so voluntarily. Some pretend that they do, but instead blatantly lie (Nestle), do not fully disclose ownership (Lanisoh), or make other choices that compromise their compliance. Others just don’t care at all about compliance and care only about profits.

How Nestle lies, cheats and deceives

What is Nestle's role in this problem? According to INFACT Canada, Nestle controls 40% of the worldwide market for baby food and is active in 80 countries. It is the biggest player in this market. Other companies are unethical too, but the size and reach of Nestle makes its violations of the Code especially problematic and especially risky for moms and babies. Nestle has been characterized by experts in the field as the worst of the baby food companies in terms of its breaches of international standards.

Some illustrations of Nestle's unethical practices include:


  • Nestle has an Infant Formula Marketing Policy that it says complies with the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, but its scope is much narrower, covering only infant formula (instead of all breast milk substitutes) and covering only developing countries (instead of all countries). Read more here and check out a detailed chart comparing the two here.

  • Nestle invests in public relations initiatives to divert criticism, instead of making changes to bring its practices in line. Read more.

  • Monitoring of the baby food industry by NGOs has found many areas where Nestle's advertising and promotion practices violate the Code. Look here for 13 pages of illustrated and annotated examples of violations.

  • Nestle systematically violates its own policies as brought to light by a senior Nestle employee in Pakistan who resigned and then wrote a scathing, detailed and well-documented whistleblower report on all of the violations that were both allowed, encouraged and ordered by his superiors. He is pursuing legal action against the company. His family has been threatened.

It is important to note that Nestle will try to tell you that all of this is in the past. That has been their approach all along. According to Baby Milk Action's report on Nestle's PR machine, "Nestle's strategy is to admit to malpractice only years in the past, even though it denied it at the time".

Beyond the marketing issue, there are other business practices related to its infant formula that have come into question. For example, apparently Nestle is purchasing 1 million litres of milk per year from Grace Mugabe, the wife of the President Robert Mugabe, despite sanctions due to human rights violations by his government and despite the fact that these farms were seized from farmers by Grace Mugabe. As per its usual practice, Nestle came up with some weak excuses for why this was not a problem.

There is so much to say. I feel like there is no way I can do it justice in a few short paragraphs.

What I would like Nestle to do

I think there is an opportunity for Nestle, as a leader in the food industry, to take a leadership role on this issue. At a minimum it should start abiding by the law in all countries where it operates and not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law. But ideally, in order to rectify some of the damage that its past practices have caused, it should go above and beyond what the law requires. Nestle should:


  • Commit to abiding by the  International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes in all countries worldwide for all products covered by the Code

  • Ensure that all of its packaging includes information on:

    • The risks of formula

    • Where people can go for breastfeeding help from trained lactation professionals (not Nestle staff)

  • Provide funding for lactation programs in developing countries and in low income neighbourhoods in the United States as part of its corporate social responsibility program

I think a complete about face is required here. Nestle should shift from trying to circumvent the law and the Code to proactively trying to encourage the safest nutrition for infants.

What I would like you to do


At a minimum, while you are there, I hope you'll listen with a critical ear and not take everything at face value. Nestle's public relations machine is well oiled and they will find a way to "address" your concerns without really doing so. I would like you to tell Nestle in no uncertain terms that you do not support its unethical business practices. I would like you to tell them that you will not be using your blog, your twitter presence, or any other platform you are on to help market their products. I would like you to tell Nestle that you are going to boycott its products and ask your friends and family to do so too. Above all, I would like you to ask yourself how you feel about supporting a company that puts profits ahead of the lives and health of babies.

I'll be watching your blogs with interest and a critical eye following this event.

Safe travels,

Annie

Important Note

Following the event, I posed a number of follow-up questions to Nestle via e-mail. As they respond to them, I am posting their responses and posting a reply to their responses in separate blog posts. You can access an index of the questions, and the blog posts with the responses here:

Follow-up questions for Nestle

« BlogHer Listens and Acts - Check out my WHO International Code Compliant Ads | Main | Sharing the Babwearing Love »

Reader Comments (279)

But the thing is, they keep denying that formula can sicken or kill babies. But it can. EVEN IN AMERICA WITH OUR CLEAN WATER. It's tangential, I know, but they are saying that formula has never killed anyone.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElita @ Blacktating

One of the common misconceptions about formula is that there is consistency in the ingredients. There isn't. We are made to think that if a baby is doing well on one brand, they should remain on that brand because it is the best 'recipe' for them and that we should 'transition them' to a new formula if there is to be a change.

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no guarantee that the formula you are buying is going to contain the same ingredients from one case to the next. There is no regulation, so formula manufacturers are free to buy whatever ingredient is currently cheapest AS LONG AS the new formula meets the minimum nutritional requirements. So, one batch of "Brand X" formula may get additional iron from animal sources and the next batch of the SAME "Brand X" formula might get that additional iron from vegetable sources. All that matters is that there is the appropriate amount of iron. This means that babies could thrive on one batch of formula and have difficulty digesting the next batch of the SAME BRAND of formula.

In fact, while formula companies are required to submit new products for testing and approval before they go to market, after that initial process, they are legally free to change the recipe in any way they choose (even if it results in inferior products).

Basically, what this means is that there is no reason to be concerned about switching brands in terms of your baby 'doing well' on one particular type of formula, because there's no actual consistency in ingredients. If he's been thriving on 'Brand X' for more than one case, then he is likely to thrive on any other brand as well.

The obvious exceptions to this being switching from one TYPE of formula to another (ie cow's milk based to soy based to rice based).

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStefanie Sasinek-Roil

Thank you for this, Annie. All we can do is keep pushing AWARENESS AWARENESS AWARENESS. And as mom-bloggers, I think that we all have an even greater responsibility in that regard, because we do have this medium to work with. I can only hope that anyone who attended raised concerns and used the opportunity to expand discussion. Either way, though, you've done us all a tremendous service with this post.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Also, I'd be very worried if my health care professional recommended one brand of formula over another to that extent. All artificial infant milks are required to meet the same nutritional standards, so should be equally good options for an infant. Saying that one brand is 'best' and having their promotional materials on hand is a good indicator that you are NOT getting impartial medical information.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStefanie Sasinek-Roil

I will do my best to elicit answers but I'm only here for 3 more hours because I'm leaving early. Worst case, she gave me her phone number and I can do a more extensive interview later.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg - Telling Dad

Thank you, doing what I can but understand that my access is limited because of all the activity. But I will be following up with her a more extensive chat if I can't get enough time before I leave. I am departing at 4:15pm today to head to IZEAFest so I'll miss most of the event.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg - Telling Dad

Thanks for a great post. I have to say though, why does it take a conference invite list to prompt this (wonderful) level of action and discussion? It's not like formula companies weren't pushing their way into new families' hands via domestic hospital maternity wards and thinly veiled "humanitarian" efforts in the third world for decades already. I understand that awareness is good, but also worry that sudden-onset activism can also lead to sudden-stop of same.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commentershriek house

I haven't heard any denial here but I have seen their willingness to open up to those of us who post serious questions. I wish I had more time here because I want to pose all of the questions asked of me, as well as some of my own, but even if I don't get enough time before I leave, I WILL be doing a more intensive phone interview with her.

I like the professional track this comment stream has taken. Some on Twitter were harming your message because their comments started to take your advocacy to a crackpot extremist vibe with their venomous accusations and blanket insults.

This is the only forum in which I'm discussing what we're told on this issue and while I know I won't be able to provide satisfactory answers, at least a dialogue is starting to crack.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg - Telling Dad

Well, I believe it took a conference invite list to prompt this level of activism because it provided a platform from which to promote it. Many of us here were not aware of everything listed above. I know some have insulted me as being an idiot for not knowing but I can't be privy to everything in the world. :)

Now that I've been made aware, I'm asking questions and farming answers. There are obviously two distinct perceptions of what is really occurring and seeing how this issue is 24 hours old to me, I'm doing what I can to get informed.

The activity will subside after the conference because many of those on board the hate train will move on to the next station. But I do think it did a good job of raising awareness and inspiring people to learn more, to ask questions, and to open communication.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg - Telling Dad

There are lots of charges against Nestle that are perfectly fine. I don't care about those. The one that says they care more about profit than about the lives of babies is empty because it applies to too large a group to make anything beyond a rhetorical impact. It's worthless.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBackpacking Dad

I really appreciate you writing this post, Annie. I hope that Nestle takes some of the questions re: WHO violations, child slave labor, etc. seriously, but I honestly don't have that much faith. These are problems that have been going on for 30 years and they haven't bothered to change yet, so why now?

Some of the talk on #nestlefamily (on both sides) on Twitter today has me quite upset. I wish there was more respect and more willingness to listen (again, on both sides). Still, at least the dialogue is taking place. I know it's raising awareness and knowledge is power. :)

If you are interested in a full list of Nestle's products to boycott, check out http://bit.ly/14zOsp (at the bottom).

Wow, Esther... that is brutal. It's something to hear from a woman seeing it happen in person. How tragic.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan (5 Minutes for Mom)

Clearly there’s been a lot of conversation, and we recognize that you haven’t heard from us yet. We ask that your readers do not attack our guests. We’ve been listening from the start. The social media space is new for us. Bringing bloggers to Nestle was a first step to extend conversations with our consumers in the social media space. We intend for this to be a first step not a last.

Let me share a few facts. We comply with laws of every country in which we do business and encourage mothers to breastfeed. In the U.S., we provide breastfeeding counselors and pediatric registered dietitians who provide support 24 hours a day at 1-800-727-4900.

Send your questions to us. There are a variety of issues being discussed here. I couldn’t begin to address them all in this comment. We encourage you to visit any of our websites such as www.babymilk.nestle.com, www.starthealthystayhealthy.com
or www.nestleusa.com.

If you’re interested in having a dialog, I’m available until 3:30 p.m. PST on Twitter. Follow #nestlefamily.

Scott Remy
Senior Vice President
Nestle USA

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScott Remy

I am sooooo game there too. I bet within 10 minutes I am offered the option to supplement if I am worried baby isn't getting enough milk. If you really want to do this I will document everything and even create my own blog post about it. Just email me and we can work out the details.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

A senior VP from Nestle is currently on Twitter to try and answer questions. I don't understand why people on Twitter are so venomous...no way they'd act like this in public forums. But still, the channel to communicate is open.

People need to speak intelligently about this...like on here. Some of the things being said on Twitter have no place in the discussion.

I will be updating tomorrow as I'm leaving the event shortly and will be on a plane. :) I appreciate all of the helpful links, information, and comments here. I just wish some of those casting hate against the attendees from the sideline would realize that it's hurting more than it's helping the cause.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg - Telling Dad

Here's the link to my post on store brands vs. name brand formulas:

http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/parenting/archive/2009/02/20/president-s-choice-formula-vs-similac-enfamil-nestle.aspx

One new thing to keep in mind re: that post is that some brands of formula that advertise Omega 3s and 6s have different levels (some so low it doesn't make a difference):

http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/parenting/archive/2009/09/23/dha-ara-content-omega-3-6-infant-formula.aspx

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChad Skelton

This disappoints me that this is still happening. I remember discussing how formula companies were using underhanded techniques to misleed women in the 3rd world into using formula in a college ethics class. When the WHO created regulations to stop this practice I kept tabs on the story even though I wasn't married. I thought the issue was over. Apparently not. :(

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCondo Blues

[...] to access. Right now since yesterday’s powerful and well-written post by Annie @PHDinParenting http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/09/29/an-open-letter-to-the-attendees-of-the-nestle-family-blogge... the lines have been drawn and it is getting nasty. I have watched from the sidelines (ok I have not [...]

I completely agree.... while in school for my MBA, the signature case study for our ethics class was on Nestle and their horrible, unethical business practices.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

Thank you so much for writing such a great piece! Nestle is a disgusting company and I would rather go to the gyno and the dentist at the same time than attend anything they sponsor. We did a piece awhile back ago on water bottles and Nestle commented with some company rhetoric. We told them to shove it! They do so much damage to breastfeeding support and to the environment with their bottles. I love what you wrote and you have a fantastic site. I love all your breastfeeding photos, you make me want to go and grab my camera and take a pic of the little appendage attached to me right now while I am typing this (excuse any typos I am doing this with one hand) Here is the piece we did on water bottles with the Nestle corporate comment. I am sure they will come pay you a visit too! http://renegademoms.com/?p=592
Thanks for the great work!
~RM1

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRenegade Moms

But, the question is... can you trust the "spokesperson" who will be answering questions at the event? Although talking might work for a rational company, the only way to affect an unethical company is via the bottom line. And that means boycott, in order to affect their profitability.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

@Alina: Did I teach your ethics class? Because I use that case study when I teach business ethics too. Oh wait, almost every university does, so you probably weren't in my class.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I came via MaggieDammit's tweet.

This brings to mind the free formula and diaperbags full of goodies given out at hospitals and clinics here in the US.

On one hand how generous to have free stuff. On the other hand how convenient in those first vital days postpartum and breastfeeding so so difficult.

If baby and mom prefer formula, that's great, but what if you can't afford the formula?

Many many questionable practices right here in the USA.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnn's Rants

I wish I had time to read all these comments and I apologize if my sentiments here are repeated elsewhere.

I just heard about all of this today.

Nestlee definitely should be supportive of the laws and regulation of the countries that they operate in. What I'm reading is disgusting.

However.

I don't think that I can go along with calling out a group of bloggers and attaching responsibility for mass death of infants to them and their blog like this.

Did you email any of the individuals and pass along your concerns or contact them and ask why they attended before calling them out on such a horrifying charge? Because it really is, you know. (And I can see how you are horrified as well, I really can.)

I have no idea why they attended or what their motives were. Putting the behavior of Nestlee aside, it just made me feel a bit slimy reading this.

Sorry.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLoralee

As a reader and not really a blogger, I do think anyone who publishes a blog for public view, and agrees to promote products from that company, run ads or anything else, therefore takes on the reputation of the company they are promoting. Therefore, it's up the blogger to protect their own reputation by doing due diligence.

Imagine if you ran a newspaper in a small town, and a local restaurant who is know to discrimate against minorities in both their hiring practicing and customer service, asks to run a full page ad. Would you do it? Your readers would not accept the "I didn' t Know" excuse... it's your job to know, when you are publishing info.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

@Loralee:

A number of them were engaged by me and others on twitter, individually and via the #nestlefamily hash tag that they were tweeting on. It wasn't until they were packing to leave for the event that I got any replies from attendees expressing any interest in hearing about concerns and bringing them forward. When the request was made of me to pass along some questions, I decided to write this open letter to all of them. I'm glad I did because it is the ones that I didn't know before and wouldn't have thought to contact that have been the most helpful.

To be clear, I'm not attaching responsibility for the death of infants to the bloggers. However, I do think that bloggers should be careful who they associate with and provide free public relations for. The tweets from some of the attendees today (and likely their blog posts to come) have been about all of the WONDERFUL Nestle products they were trying at this WONDERFUL company. I just think they should be more aware of the company's practices before providing free public relations.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

What "money" is it that you speak of? Really, let's get down to the meat and potatoes here, okay? At events like this, do you think bloggers are paid big bucks to attend, or something?

You're mad at Nestle, direct that anger at Nestle and talk to THEM about your concerns, leave the bloggers out of it who are there for EXACTLY what you're desperately wanting - dialogue.

"Nestle should shift from trying to circumvent the law and the Code to proactively trying to encourage the safest nutrition for infants."

Unfortunately I dount this will happen. Because it is cheaper and easier for them to stay on the road they are on, then to cut a new road to lead.

I agree with you 100%

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHyla

I'm a breastfeeding mother, and I appreciate the information told to us here in an informative, well-thought-out way. Thank you Annie. I am grateful for the abundance of info in one place, I am grateful for the bloggers attending the #nestlefamily even to have the opportunity to open the doors to communication about this subject and I am wholly grateful for the information we are now receiving in response to this information.

HOWEVER, I am so disappointed in the way I am seeing people (some who have commented here) behaving on Twitter. We are all adults, and pointing fingers, calling names, putting people down, etc, is just CHILD-LIKE and juvenile to say the least. If you want to make a difference and truly help people by getting this information out there, make an intelligent argument like Annie did, and have your say without the name-calling, @NestleFamily is now on Twitter to hear you, by recommendation of the same bloggers you vilify for taking this trip. @NestleFamily didn't have to join Twitter or take the time to answer your questions, but they did, and for that I am (and you all should be) thankful. I won't attack them, I will ask what I want to ask, others ask as well, watch and see it all unfold, and see if there is rectification of the issues or if there is progress towards rectification. Let's use it for the powers of good, and not continue to attack each other, okay?

Lisa--I was with you 100% up until the part where any of us should be thankful to Nestle for trying to do damage control.

Although I saw one possibly questionable tweet from an attendant, I am more than willing to assume I misinterpreted it. Other than that, most of the attendants have either stayed away from the issue or been class acts when they did address it.

Nestle should be grateful that some of the bloggers there are such professionals. But no debt of gratitude is owed from any of us to Nestle for spending a few minutes "listening" to questions.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

Scott, the Code is ethically binding worldwide. So right off the bat there's that to consider. Aside from that, you're making the claim that Nestle does follow the Code as it has been put into law in various countries? Well, let's pick an example. What about Argentina, then? The Code is law in its entirety there. But women are still being given samples of Nestle brand formula in the hospital. You can try to blame the hospitals I guess-- but how did they get those free samples to give away?

State of the Code by country:
http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/abm/paginas/articles/arch_art/298-11.pdf

Report: Nestle and the Code
http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/abm/paginas/articles/arch_art/302-17.pdf

Also, can you please explain to me all the misinterpretations of the Code by Nestle?
Nestle and the International Code: Where Do They Differ
http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/abm/paginas/articles/arch_art/247-2.pdf

I would very much like to see you or someone else from Nestle show up for a tribunal, debate, etc. If this is some big giant mistake then you can set the record straight. I'll be honest here-- I think if you could do that, and end the decades-long boycott, you probably would've already.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter@Artemnesia

Oh, I wasn't saying Nestle was doing damage control. At least in the sense of painting a rosy picture or coming forth and misleading us. I meant that they have opened the doors to hear our concerns, and are willing (seemingly). They are watching, they are reading, and they hear us. The ball is now in their court. What they choose to do from here will be very telling. I'm just thankful for the chance to be heard, I just wish others would stop the insanity, such as crazy tweets like "personally I prefer my cookies not soaked in the blood of babies #nestlefamily killed" from some are just downright childish.

Lisa, I think it's a very small number of people doing the cringe-worthy tweeting on either side. They're just talking the MOST. The vast majority of the people I've seen engaging have been doing so respectfully and, well, sanely.

I also don't feel an ounce of gratitude toward the Nestle people for stepping in to answer questions. That's their job. By having an event like this, they should have known questions would be asked. In fact, I'd flip it around and say THEY should be grateful others are asking them questions and providing them a public platform in which to respond. I'm glad they seem to be receptive, but actions speak louder than words.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeagan Francis

@Meagan: YES. Actions speak louder than words.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

@Sarcastica Check out President's Choice formula. It's far less expensive and I'd like to think that loads of research goes into PC products.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBad Mummy

Thank you for this post. Off to remove myself from their mailing list for coupons.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterduffnstuff

Thank you Annie for doing this, and taking it on the chin the last few days.

I have to say that reading everything on twitter, and the comments posted here have left me disheartened at the incredible ignorance of some bloggers who do not know about the long history of Nestle, and not just with baby food! And the idea that they would ever tell them the truth---oh lord. It's PR, hardly an SEC filing. PR people are allowed to lie, hell encouraged to! If you don't have a marketing degree, fine, I don't expect you to know all the tricks. But I hope you don't believe all the commercials on TV either?

The real evidence against Nestle has been documented for over 30 years by established journalists. Double and triple sourced. This isn't some new minor dustup among mommybloggers!

I would ask that everyone stop referring to this as a conference. That implies that it was open to the public and that anyone could register. This was a more like training session for a paid sales force. If someone wants to take the money, then fine, take it. It's a crummy economy, but don't pretend that this is some volunteer investigative effort, like you are a journalist who paid their own way. You are now part of the corporate machine. Same as if you worked for any corporation.

And I saw the tweet intro from the Nestle exec. Very cute. I'll make sure all the political tweeters know where to find the people who are propping up the Mugabe regime. Oh yes, quite legal to buy milk from the butcher of Zimbabwe since Switzerland cleared Nestle, you know, their largest taxpayer and employer. No surprise!

This is about more than formula, because even consumers who don't give two shits about breastfeeding or formula feeding, will care about the labour issues and Zimbabwe and the disgusting expenditure of stockholders money on a terrorist regime. No other corporation on earth will operate in Zimbabwe. For a reason.

Oh, and yes, Mugabe and his henchmen HAVE killed many many children. Not with baby milk. With guns, and machetes and gasoline.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Mugabe

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTxYa-QjX20

http://www.amnesty.ca/blog2.php?blog=human_rights_zimbabwe

Watch that video, and tell me it's ok for Nestle money to be used to prop up that murderer. As a stockholder I can assure you I am FURIOUS that my money was given to them.

As for how Nestle should deal with this? Start by firing every single executive who thinks that there is any excuse for this. There is none. Then keep firing, until you hit someone with sense and ethics. It may take awhile.

P.S. Not everyone online is poor, or desperate for cash. When you go anywhere in public, companies should assume that all of their stockholders, mutual fund managers, pension fund managers and bondholders are watching. And whenever your executives show bad judgment in running their areas? We know. We remember.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAurelia

I'm going to throw a few points into this:

Nestle makes thousands of products. A list is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nestl%C3%A9_brands. There is a Nestle factory in Trenton ON. This factory also produces chili and soups for Tim Hortons.

In the same way, Philip Morris cigarettes and Kraft General Foods, fall under the same company called Altria. Dove, the company that promotes the 'Real Beauty' campaign for girls and women, is made by Unilever, which also makes Axe products, who uses advertisements that degrade women. It would seem that everyone is 'in bed' with everyone else, as Sharon mentions, so it's nearly impossible to boycott everyone.

HIV can be spread from mother to child thru breastmilk. This is just one of the reasons formula is made available in developing countries where AIDS is a pandemic. In fact, some Canadian organizations that serve to support People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) supply formula (obtained through donations) to new mothers with HIV/AIDS, since breastfeeding is not at all an option for them. The PWA Foundation in Toronto ensures new mothers living with HIV/AIDS receive donated formula.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBad Mummy

I agree - responding to tweets and blog posts is one thing. Cutting off financial ties with Mugabe, adhering to the Code, and extricating themselves from situations in which there is a clear conflict of interest (selling products vs. promoting child health) is something else entirely. Based on their previous actions, I have to admit that I view Nestle's responses cynically - they are in the middle of trying to quell a PR firestorm. When all the chatter dies down, they will continue with their same unethical (and in some cases, illegal) business practices as if the debate had never happened.

Shame on you, Nestle. I've been proudly boycotting your products for 10 years now, while living in 4 countries on 3 continents - in all of these places, I have seen firsthand the damage you have done to infants' health. When you change your business practices, I will change my buying behavior. You've had all the time in the world for dialogue - now it's time to act.

And kudos to you, Annie, for taking this important stand and bringing the issue to light for so many who were unaware. I'm proud to know you!

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

I missed this today, but I am with you. I would never attend a Nestle blogger event! I know formula has its place, and yes, some babies need it. But I completely disagree with Nestle's (and other formula company's) marketing tactics. Thank you for taking a stand and being true to your beliefs. I wish everyone would stay true to their convictions, no matter which Big Business comes a' calling.

"The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.”
Confucius

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterA Mama's Blog- Heather

Amen to everything you said about Mugabe - there is NO excuse for any link with him, his family, or his regime.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Bad Mummy - You know what is SAD? It's actually SAFER for an HIV positive mother in the thrid world to exclusively breastfeed her child than it is for her to formula feed her child. All you need to do is google exclusive breastfeeding HIV to see the research. It's sickening.

Those Canadian organization you talk about are seriously misguided.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

THAT is a fantastic idea. I'd be happy to place a call or two!

I would recommend you record the call or something. I just get the vibe that they're going to be led down a path or goaded into that recommendation. It would be more valuable if you simply recorded the entire conversation...leaves nothing to interpretation, prevents exaggeration, and is far more evidential.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg - Telling Dad

I think it's gotten to the point where the negativity is going to pervade no matter what. The comment that "no debt of gratitude is owed from any of us to Nestle for spending a few minutes “listening” to questions" is indicative of that.

Here they open the channels of communication and it's scoffed at. They reply, and it's not enough. What did you expect us to be able to achieve in a matter of hours? The venue didn't even have baby products on the agenda...yet they took time to answer the questions we posed (that were grossly off topic) because of the concerns brought forward by others.

They never hid from a question, skirted a question, or said no comment. They took time, from these "PR" folks you won't believe to the CEO. How much more can we do?

I pledged to bring your questions to them but it's frustrating when their efforts are just thrown back in their face. Short of them making sweeping changes over lunch, it's as though you aren't willing to discuss with them.

I feel that they DO deserve kudos for answering our questions. Are they skewed? Who knows! But I didn't promise transparency, I promised to ask questions...for your concerns and for my own.

If a company offers dialog, don't just send them links to read. Interact with them. Don't just cast insults, communicate with them.

Actions do speak louder than words but there can be no course for action without open lines of communication. I feel that many are so hell-bent on dismissing any effort on Nestle's part that it affects the strength of your mission.

"Oh, they lie", "they'll go right back to doing what they were doing"...it's these kind of comments that close that bridge. The assumptions made about them spending a few minutes with us are wrong. They were peppered with these questions ALL DAY...from breakfast through the close of the day. They were considerate, they appreciated YOUR stance and concerns, and they offered to speak with you.

What they got in return was, "it's not enough" and "thanks but no thanks". If you're serious about wanting to guide change then you can't slap away an open hand.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg - Telling Dad

[...] started when Annie from PhDinParenting wrote An open letter to the attendees of the Nestle Family blogger event. If you don’t know about Nestle’s history, I suggest you go read that first. As Annie [...]

Nicely said.. that is all.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkristin

Greg, I think a lot of people feel as I do WRT Nestlé. I'll believe they mean to become responsible corporate citizens when they actually DO something more that say "We're listening." You are admittedly new to the game. Please realize that there are many of us out here who are not. Nestlé is not hearing ANYTHING new. The message that Annie outlines so clearly has been shared and shared and shared.

Quite frankly I don't blame the people saying "Talk to the hand." It's so incredibly EASY for Nestlé to say they are interested in dialog. It costs them nothing to act interested and possibly distracts people from other, more effective, actions.

However a lot of people are looking to Nestlé's corporate actions - not their PR people - to determine how genuine their message is.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

[...] the past 2 days, this post by Annie at PhD in Parenting has sparked a level of intelligent, passionate, critical discussion that I have never before [...]

We had to switch over to formula recently, when my son was 7 1/2 months old, due to health issues of mine. Our pediatrician recommended Enfamil or Similiac or one other brand, I forget which, because she said they'd be gentler on my son's tummy (he has reflux). I don't think Nestle has anything to do with either of those brands.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMZ

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