Background to the Nestle boycott

This document has been prepared to give information on the reinstating in 1988 of a boycott on Nestle products, due to their alleged continued defiance of World Health Organisation (WHO) codes on the advertising and promotion of baby milk substitute and supplements.
The WHO has declared that baby milk substitutes should not be advertised and should not be given away as samples to hospitals and clinics. Nestle has been reported as challenging their need to comply with these rules, defying them, and allegedly putting their own profit before the safety of babies.

Firstly, what are the problems with baby milk substitutes?
There is much research and information now that shows a mother's own breast milk is the healthiest for her baby. A few mothers may have problems breastfeeding, and so there is a small need for a reliable substitute. But generally breast milk is the way to go, and there are groups who have long been advocating the promotion of "breast is best'' .

Of course, when a company has a good product, it wants to keep its market share, and increase consumer use of it. The problem is that Nestle seems to be redefining its potential customers, not just those who need the milk substitute, but those who may find it more convenient. No problem there, it seems, mothers should have a choice.
There are problems though.

 Because milk substitute needs to be made up with water, wherever there is water of dubious quality there will be risks of introducing water borne disease to babies, who are otherwise not directly ingesting water. So in places with poor hygiene and poor water supply, which is often the case in the hospitals and living areas of developing countries, there can be major health risks with the use of milk substitutes.

Dr Raj Anand, in New Internationalist (1) states that there is a 14 times higher chance of babies dying from diarrhoea when on milk substitutes, over those fed on breast milk.

Another part of the WHO code is that in non-English speaking countries, labels noting the use of the product and whether it is useable as a milk substitute or just a supplement (that breast milk must be given as well), must be in the local language. In India, where the government has legislated that product must display a notice in English and Hindi to the effect that "breastmilk is best.", Dr Anand cites an example of a tin of lactogen with no Hindi notice. (1)
Where women aren't able to understand the information about the use of the product, they can make a decision that could be disastrous for their child.

WHO and UNESCO recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first four months and up to 6 months if possible. They state that the most common reason for women to stop breastfeeding early is because they think they do not produce enough milk, or that it is of poor quality. (2) In most cases neither of these is true. One can imagine that where the mother has been an essential contributor to the family income (the case in many communities in both industrialised and developing countries), the sooner she can get back to work, the better. So to bundle the baby up with one of the younger family members, and a bottle, means she can be at work earlier, and can work longer without interruption. (I certainly don't countenance this but it is often a fact of life).

Women may see the use of these products as a very convenient way of coping with a new child, and the possible loss of a job. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding has produced a document on the problems for working women with infants, including comment on the right to breastfeed in public places. (3)
Once the mother uses less breast milk, the breast produces less, and can completely stop production quite quickly, if the milk is not used. So a mother who uses a milk substitute regularly runs the risk of not being able to return to using her own milk.

The WHO International Code on Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes (4) was introduced because hospitals and health care workers (especially those in developing countries) were receiving free samples, and subsidised product, as well as free gifts and other incentives, which could easily predispose them to advocating breastmilk substitutes where breastmilk itself would be a much better and healthier choice. Health workers would have a much easier time if they were able to put babies on breastmilk substitutes while in hospitals, with little cost to the hospital. Of course, when the mother and child left hospital, they would no longer have access to free or cheap product, and would have to start purchasing it, because the mother's milk would have stopped.

"The concern now strongly felt by many, including Save the Children and UNICEF, is that the babymilk manufacturers are behaving in ways which undermine the consensus and circumvent and violate the Code despite public claims to the contrary. Their interests are clear, however, as the global babyfoods market is enormous and growing."
Mike Aaronson, Director-General of Save the Children UK to New Internationalist. (5)



Full article


Nestle is reported to have indulged in violations of the Code in Pakistan, by a former employee. Nestle counter that he is trying to blackmail them



BMJ 1998 Editorial

BMJ 1998 Article

British Medical Journal

- The British Medical Journal, April 11 1998 has an editorial and a full article on reported violations of the code by baby milk manufacturers, showing that such violations are still occurring in certain countries. The study looks at one city in Poland, Thailand, Bangladesh and South Africa. The report seems to vindicate a report in late 1996 by the International Baby Food Action Network, whcih was condemned by the Baby Milk Manufacturers Association.


BMJ Feb 1999

The British Medical Journal continues to report on alleged evidence of WHO Code breeches.

In Feb 1999 it reports that a former Nestle employee released documents allegedly showing more breeches.



And in the same month comes a report detailing the Advertising Standards Authority finding against Nestlé. This finding was in relation to an Ad of Nestle's which claimed that their marketing of baby milk formula was ethical and responsible.


BMA - Sponsorship

A further article in September 1999 discusses the ethicla dillema for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in its continuing acceptance of Nestle sponsorship, which it chose to not disclose.


Interesting responses can be found at the end of all of these articles.

Links to more articles and organisations on the next page

If you are interested in breastfeeding issues, the following site has many articles, including some that look at the complex issue that arises for mothers with HIV and the opportunities this gives for the suppliers of milk formula.

Breastfeeding site


Please notify, if these articles become unavailable

Product list for Aotearoa/New Zealand

Baby Milk Action are the international coordinators of the boycott and have regular updates.

On the following page, are further links to overseas groups promoting the boycott, WHO and UNESCO information, and several articles, including a response from a Nestle representative to an article in Irish Green Magazine An Caorthann.

Nestle now have their own web site, see the reference in the following page.

Go to Pat Scott's Shoppers' Guide No. 1 for more discussion of this subject.

The following product list has been compiled by New Internationalist (6) magazine:

Nestle Products in Aotearoa/New Zealand

There has been no action group on this issue for the past five years. Anyone interested in reactivating a group should contact Tul Bevan, NZ Lactation Consultants Association, PO Box 29279, Christchurch. Tel: (03)473 8677.

 Nescafé, including Cappuccino, Classic, Expresso and Fine Blend; International Roast; Andronicus; Caro; Carnation; Milo; Nesquik; Vittel and Perrier mineral waters; Nestea.
 Kit Kat; Smarties; Rolo; Quality Street; Life Savers; Milky Bar; Milo Bar; Scorched Almonds; After Eight; Allen's confectionery, including Oddfellows, Mackintosh's Toffees, Kool mints, Raspberry Twists, Soothers and Vita C; Allen's/Heards confectionery including Barley Sugars; Black Knight; Granny's licorice; Pixie Caramel; Chokito; Chocolate Raisins/Peanuts; Nut Roll; Crunch; Regina confectionery, including Marshmellows, Party Mix, Pineapple Chunks, Strawberry Hearts and Choc Orange Slices; Nutoata bars; Canterbury Oaty bars.

Cooking products:
Nestlé baking cocoa, Nestlé cooking chocolate, Chocolate Melts, Choc Bits, Milk Melts, Highlander condensed milk, Reduced Cream, Quick Custard Mix.

Processed food:
Maggi; Findus frozen food, including Lean Cuisine; Buitoni pasta and sauces; Nanda pasta; Crosse & Blackwell relishes/pickles.
Pet food:
Friskies, Go Cat, Cat Meow, Fancy Feast, Tux, Trusty.

Supermarket own-name brands:
According to our survey Nestlé only makes two such products for supermarket chains in Aotearoa: No Frills Muesli bars and Pams Condensed Milk.

Product information from New Internationalist Issue 275.

You may want to have a look at the products which Nestle list on their own web site.

The next page has links to more information.


(1) Dr Raj Anand in New Internationalist No. 275: In The Docks - then scroll down to Dr Raj Anand's name.

(2) WHO update titled "Not Enough Milk."

(3) World Alliance For Breastfeeding Action "Women, Work, and Breastfeeding."

(4) INFACT, Canada have an overview of the WHO code.

(5) Mike Aaronson in New Internationalist No. 275: In The Docks - then scroll down to Mike Aaronson's name.

(6)New Internationalist No. 275: The Nestle Boycott.