Friday

Netmums are delighted to welcome Nescafé

Well I'm staggered.

There has been a lot of controversy over the planned link between Nestlé and Netmums to promote Nescafé, the principal target of the boycott over Nestlé aggressive marketing of baby foods. Some have said how disappointed they would be if the link goes ahead. Some have resigned. Checking this evening, I see over 1,000 postings to the thread and over 27,000 views.

The advertisement has now gone live and we have posted our response on our website with links to supporting information. We hope that Netmums will include it on their website, with the same prominence as a Nestlé statement that has been publicised to members.

It is more than an advertisement for Nescafé that has appeared on the site. It seems to be a message to everyone who voiced their concerns about a link with the worst of the baby food companies. It says: "Netmums are delighted to welcome Nescafé". No second thoughts there then it appears, or wish to portray the Nescafé promotion as just another banner advertisement.

Here it is. I've had to subvertise it a little as I have no wish to promote Nescafé myself.


You can see the actual advertisement at
www.netmums.com

It is possible to view the forum there and registered users can comment. Having seen how the thread is going, I am not encouraging supporters who are not already Netmums members to become involved. There seems to be a core of Netmums users who object to any postings from boycott supporters and some members have said on the thread they are leaving because of the unpleasantness. At the same time, some have been upset by postings from boycott supporters.

This campaign aims to protect all mothers, regardless of how they feed their infants and Baby Milk Action tries to make this point as clearly as we can. The wider aspects of the campaign, such as the way companies promote breastmilk substitutes as the same or almost the same as breastfeeding, have to be presented sensitively and in appropriate settings because this information can be upsetting for mothers who have not breastfed. I have written on this topic here previously. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/03/uk-health-claims-action-example-to.html

I am not entering into the discussion on Netmums myself for two reasons. Firstly, because people have been invited to leave comments on this blog and I see the link to it has been posted several times. Secondly, there is too much else going on. We are in daily contact with partners around the world who know only too well what Nestlé and other companies are doing on the ground to push their products and the misleading claims they make about them. We are working to strengthen implementation of the marketing requirements for baby foods adopted by the World Health Assembly, while the industry lobbies to weaken them. The boycott is part and parcel of the campaign, but it is probably more productive to comment and respond here than enter into discussion on a quick-fire thread on Netmums.

An irony that will likely be lost on those posting comments suggesting Nestlé's assurances should be accepted or suggesting we are 'biased' and people should look elsewhere for evidence, is that when experts are looking for evidence, they often come to us. We provide briefings to the ethical investment sector, for example, and no reputable listing includes Nestlé. (Nestlé makes much of the one listing that does include it – an organisation that refuses to consider monitoring evidence, instead looking to a company's own reports - details of that here).

We often brief journalists, providing documentary evidence of malpractice, such as company materials. Many go on to conduct their own investigations, finding substantiation for themselves.

While Nestlé claims our interpretation of the marketing requirements is incorrect, we seek clarification from UNICEF (which is mandated to advise governments) if necessary, to check. And we and our partners in IBFAN are invited to train policy makers on the marketing requirements by governments and United Nations organisations. I, myself, organised training in Moscow a few years ago for health workers and consumer protection campaigners from the former Soviet Union. The baby food industry was rushing in and using marketing tactics that it knew it couldn't get away with in other countries. We, alongside UNICEF, conducted a training for UK policy makers more recently thanks to funding from the King's Fund.

So when I see people new to the issue rubbishing our information I try to be philosophical. They think we are as Nestlé labels us: just a bunch of activists.

That said, I am always happy to respond to comments and questions, within the limits of time and midnight oil. There have been 5 comments left on my blog so far and I will respond to them here. All have been left anonymously.

---First comment
I'm a netmums user and don't give two hoots where the sponsoship comes from.The world isn't perfecet and boycotting Nestle is hardly gonna give them an itch!
Instead of boycotting nestle how about doing something productive and that will actually make a difference.....give money to provide wells and clean water.Some of you seem like nothing but a bunch of breastfeeding vigilantes who only care about the fact that people actually feed via bottle-pathetic.
Have you even thought for one second how many lives are saved due to bottle feeding.I can't imagine you have.In this world everything has to be balanced and I suggest you remember that
---comment one ends

As I have said above and in many other places, the campaign aims to protect all mothers, regardless of how they feed their infants and I do not believe anyone should try to make a mother feel guilty over the way she has fed her child.

The boycott targets Nestlé with good reason: it puts its own profits before infant health and mothers rights by aggressively marketing baby foods. Mothers have a right to accurate information free from commercial interests. Nestlé aims to increase sales of formula by promoting its products in breach of marketing standards adopted by the World Health Assembly. Our demand is simple: for Nestlé to follow the rules. If it did so, then the boycott would be called off. A plan for this has been put to Nestlé and it has rejected it. The boycott keeps up the pressure for changes and, though Nestlé is still the worst of the baby food companies, it has forced some changes. The campaign saves lives.

Nestlé links to good causes to try to divert criticism so that it can carry on with business as usual. That is something that many people do give a hoot about. Organisations have turned down hundreds of thousands of pounds from Nestlé, even £1 million.

I am not particularly familiar with Netmums, but I think it is essential that mothers have access to support networks that are independent of the baby food companies. I understand Netmums has a policy of not accepting advertising for infant feeding products and I think that is excellent. Baby food companies try to get mothers to go to their sites and there need to be independent alternatives. The government should give more support to such initiatives so they do not feel compelled to take inappropriate funding.

Calling for independence from baby food companies is not the same as saying formula should be banned or mothers who formula-feed are bad. On past blogs I have told people where they can obtain independent information. If you check the UNICEF leaflets on mixing up a feeding bottle you will see these give information that companies continue to refuse to give, about the risk of powdered formula being contaminated and how to mix up the formula to counter any possible contamination.

Much of our work is concerned with making formula safer, both in the way it is labelled and in its composition. Why? Because we care about all mothers and infants. That is why we do what we do.

As it says on my profile, I lived and worked in Africa for four years. What I continue to do to support communities there is of no relevance so I will not respond to the suggestion I should be 'doing something productive' instead of boycotting Nestlé. I feel privileged to be able to do this work, which I think is critically important.

---Second comment (same person?)
Out of interest Mike, why is netmums sponsorship concerning you so greatly ? Are you one of the fantastic people that uses the site for support, advice,friendships and having a laugh? You say you are posting on the thread regarding nescafe in your blog, but having an avid interst in the thread myself i see no posts by mike !!! and there is only one non regular member thats been posting, but i find it hard to believe that is you, as this lady claims she helps mothers breastfeed, something you dont mention in your blog profile ?
So who exactly are you and what is it you are trying to gain from all of this, because im a tad confused as to why you have seemingly registered as a lady, on a site with plenty of other men to leave messages accusing people who formula feed of feeding their babys junk food, so on and so forth !
Some impression youve left me with, and what right does any man who can never possibly experience breast feeding to judge women who choose or are forced not to?
---Comment two ends

The suggestion that I am posting on the thread is simply wrong. What I said in the blog was: "As this is already being discussed on the public forum on the Netmums site, I am responding publicly, but will also contact Netmums directly to raise these issues." I responded publicly on my blog, not on Netmums. And in contacting Netmums, I contacted the organisers of the website, using the 'Report it' button on the website.

I have not posted on Netmums and do not intend to. I have asked Netmums organisers to post our statement. The comments attributed to me have nothing to do with me.

---Comment three
As a long term Netmums user I have decided to cancel my membership. I am disgusted and disappointed that a site, which used to be all about caring for women and babies can suddenly do such a u-turn faced with the temptation of big corporation money. Nestle must be laughing in their boardrooms. What mugs Netmums are being. What a shame it has come to this.
---Comment three ends.

As I said on my first blog, I understand the problems of funding a not-for-profit organisation. It is a constant struggle for us to keep going. We refuse to take corporate money, being funded by members, charitable trusts and development organisations. Many of the people we provide information and support to do not pay for it, however, and we do our best to meet the need.

Netmums has claimed they would have not been able to keep going without the 7-month deal with Nestlé to promote Nescafé and says that taking the money justifies any upset that it causes. Whether Netmums appreciates the coup it is to Nestlé is another question. Netmums have already got drawn into publicising a Nestlé statement to members and encouraging them to contact Nestlé for further information. As I say, I hope our statement will be given equal prominence. We will monitor how and where Nestlé makes use of the link more widely to try to improve its image and undermine our work and will have to take action to counter any kudos it gains from it.

---Comment four
I'm a netmum too. I tried to start a new thread yesterday for netmums boycotting Nestle but it was removed! While netmums owners claim not to be endorsing Nestle by accepting sponsorship I don't think they would have censored such debate before accepting their money would they.
---Comment four ends

And:

---Comment five
THIS COMMENT HAS SINCE BEEN DELETED
---Comment five ends

There is the long-running thread on the Nescafé promotion still running.

Anyway do continue to leave me comments.

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