Nestlé and Danone: what we’ve achieved

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Months ago, when I received Save the Children’s research into formula marketing in Pakistan and China, I was shocked by the results. We found that 30 years after the original scandals and campaign that led to the Nestlé boycott around baby formula marketing, there was still evidence of free samples of formula milk products and gifts having been given by representatives of some breast milk substitute companies to health workers and mothers in poor countries.

It went beyond our research. In the Philippines we found women spending more on formula every month than rent. Some skipped meals or couldn’t feed their children because their money went on baby formula – often because they had been told they couldn’t produce healthy milk. It was extremely worrying, and we knew we had to do something about it.

Breastfeeding: superfood for babies

As well as publishing our report, Superfood for Babies, outlining why not enough women in the world are breastfeeding, we launched a campaign aimed at the two biggest baby formula companies reported to be violating the World Health Organization’s international code for formula milk marketing: Nestlé and Danone.

We asked them to ensure the way they market their products never puts child health at risk. And we asked you, our supporters to get behind the cause.

And wow, did you all step up and show these companies how much you care about how they market their products in poor countries. The campaign achieved 15,000 petition signatures, 5,000 emails each to Nestlé and Danone, alongside hundreds of Facebook posts and phone calls – all in the run up to the companies’ AGMs earlier this month.

Danone listens

We’re happy to report that this has made a difference: last Thursday at their AGM, Danone announced plans to publish the results of regular and independent audits of their operations to ensure they align with the international code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes. They will publish the first results of these audits on their website in the coming weeks.

This is a huge victory and shows that Danone is taking our research very seriously. They have also encouraged Save the Children to scrutinise their policies and be clear with them how they can improve. We plan to give detailed feedback in the coming months.

When we asked Nestlé about their plans to respond to our research and report, they reiterated their existing policies. However, they did commit to reading our research in depth and announcing their response in the coming months.

We submitted our petition to Nestlé’s UK headquarters, and will continue to follow up with them to ensure they take our research seriously.

Thank you

We would not have achieved these responses and commitments to further action without your help. Your voices made sure our crucial concerns about breast milk substitute marketing were heard. Thank you.

Changing entrenched practices is a tough task and we’ll be following up with these companies throughout the year. We’ll be asking for your help again – it’ll be a long road to secure lasting change, but know we can get there together.

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  • judy ludlow

    It seems to me that we have been fighting Nestle for many many years now and every time they say they will improve – but they don’t. What makes you think this will make any difference. I did sign but have my doubts.

  • ann juan

    I’m so very glad there has been a reaction to the petition. However we must not go to sleep. nestlé and Danone will pretend to comply and wait till they think we are too busy on other subjects. Some years ago we managed to stop a factory which was going to be built in Ethopia to manufacture milk powder for babies. The fight goes on . . .!

  • Rita Griffiths

    It worries me no end that Nestle were doing this 30 years ago and they are still doing it now. Do you really think they are going to take the research seriously? It seems to me that they just pay lip service then carry on their own way not caring one iota about the damage they inflict on the poor of the world. They are only out to make a profit and do not care who gets hurt on the way.

  • Julie Dyball

    This is good news – but could you clarify whether this is an international audit, or just in the countries mentioned above? Will we be seeing a removal of their Facebook pages for example?

  • Jan O;Donnell

    Well done to all who supported this! I am pleased to hear that Danone have taken a serious stand on this issue but note that as ever Nestle continue to remain non committal, long may the Nestle boycott reign until someone within that company decides to act ethically.

  • Dave Pamphilon

    Many thanks for initiating this campaign – as you rightly say there appeared to be a reversal of Nestlé’s policy in recent years – we just cannot keep our ‘foot of the gas’.
    Very encouraging to hear of Danone’s response and we await their action.
    Thanks again

  • Cheryl Williams

    Great step forward. There are the other considerations too when using formula milk. The water supply and how adequate the sterilization techniques. This makes it even more important breast feeding is supported.

  • Annette Shaw

    I am so pleased they are taking note of the reaction. I hope they dont think we will forget, because we will not

  • Sue Barnet

    Well done for the hard work done and not loosing focus on this activity. Let’s hope Danane’s response is full and that Nestle change their long term attitude in Marketing.
    I wonder what Nestle would do if the true nature of this activity was responded to. ie made a crime against humanity and taken to international court.
    To me this type of activity is a crime against the most vulnerable and poorest people on the Planet.

  • I agree with Sue Barnet: Nestle’s promoting baby formula in areas with unsafe water and where mothers are spending more on formula than on rent, resulting in child deaths and malnutrition, are indeed committing ‘a crime against the most vulnerable and poorest people’. How Nestle can stand their ground and carry on all these years is beyond me.

  • lesley

    we have the power to stop Nestle in their tracks if all stopped buying and consuming their products – it is the only message they will take note of