The Nescafé and Netmums equation

We have been contacted by people concerned that the website Netmums has entered into a deal with Nestlé to promote Nescafé.

It is easy to see why Nestlé has persued this deal.

Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the UK because of the way it pushes its baby foods, contributing to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants around the world.

The principal target of the boycott is Nescafé coffee.

Public relations experts, Saatchi and Saatchi, suggested Nestlé should support good causes, particularly those linked to children, to build up a reservoir of good will for times of crisis - the suggestion was made in a marketing magazine when the UK Advertising Standards Authority ruled that Nestlé had failed to substantiate its claim that it markets infant formula 'ethically and responsibly'. See:

So the equation for Nestlé is straightforward. Boycotted because of its aggressive baby food marketing ---> promote Nescafé through a mothering website to try to maintain sales and improve the company's image.

Now why is Netmums falling for this? Unless they did so anonymously, I am not aware of anyone asking Baby Milk Action for our views on whether it would undermine the boycott - which it clearly does for the reasons set out above.

Like any non-profit organisation, Netmums requires funding. On their public forum it explains its decision and advertising policy as follows:

---Quote begins
Hi girls

That advert shouldn't have gone live just then, its still being tweaked but got put live in error - but it'll be back soon and now that you're here, can I explain our reasons for accepting this advert?

Netmums does need advertising to exist - we now have (what I consider to be) enormous technical costs and a fairly hefty monthly bill for salaries, print, professional fees etc.

We do have an advertising policy, which I've copied for you at the bottom here.

Nescafe is a coffee advertised in every magazine, paper and tv channel (even GMTV weather is sponsored by Nestle Whole Grain I saw this week). Trinny and Susannah are the faces of nescafe. It is sold by every supermarket, garage and corner shop.

Nestle still arent whiter then white but neither are loads of other big organisations ..and I dont think Netmums can always be the final frontier - we cant fight all the big fights (tho to be fair to us we do fight quite a few eg the battle for health visitors and for government recognition of mums).

If we don't finance ourselves, we'll just end up disappearing into thin-cyberspace.

So my decision was, that we can do more good with this money than without it. I hope you understand. I wish the world was perfect.

Here's that ad policy...
Siobhan x

Advertising Policy

Netmums is a social enterprise, working to support families in their communities.

In the absence of social funding, revenue to pay for the costs of running of the network comes from corporate and local advertising. Netmums ensures that the promotions it accepts are relevant to parents and fit appropriately within the Netmums website.

Netmums is concerned about the health and welfare of children and works hard to campaign on issues around parental support, flexible working, postnatal depression and junk food and will not take advertising that conflicts with these campaigns.

Netmums does not accept advertising of medicinal or weight-loss products.

Netmums defines acceptable advertising by product and not by corporation.

Netmums cannot vet the detailed social and environmental record of all products, brands, and corporations, but expects brands to have a good record on environmental and employment issues, good customer relations and to be family-friendly
---quote ends

We come across the 'financial imperative' again and again and, as a non-profit organisation ourselves, totally understand it. However, we have a very different take on things. We accept no funding or advertising from corporations. In practice this does mean that we cannot do as much work as we would like. Sometimes staff (and there are only three paid staff plus a book keeper) go onto part-time contracts to keep the organisation solvent.

We campaign generally for corporate accountability and so it is our decision that it is better to do less than undermine what we are doing through inappropriate financial arrangements. As Netmums says, if you dig then you may find issues with other companies. As an organisation working with partners around the world we could find a corporation is taking action of which we were unaware that is having a negative impact on the people we work with. How shameful that would then be for us if we were taking money from them and what a coup to the corporation. So we have a blanket ban on commercial funding and we encourage other organisations to at least have a clear funding policy. It is great to see Netmums has a policy to which they can refer.

On the Netmums policy we could argue that Nescafé, the target of the UK's biggest boycott, is not a brand with 'good customer relations', nor is it 'family-friendly'. Netmums also has a campaign against junk food advertising to children - and I believe Nestlé has the highest advertising spend in this area (though not specifically for Nescafé). Clearly they have made a different judgement.

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.

If they have decided to link with Nestlé, the worst of the baby food companies, then at the very least we hope they will not get into defending its record. This is what we sometimes see happening. An organisation becomes embarassed by the complaints it receives from its supporters and so tries to suggest there is not really anything wrong with Nestlé. If that happens then we do have to become involved more directly - for example, we reported a charity to the Charity Commissioners in the past for making untrue statements about Nestlé after taking money.

It has been suggested that we promote a boycott of Netmums and encourage people to resign their memberships.

I am reluctant to launch a campaign on this for two reasons.

Firstly, I am rather busy. Our aim is to get Nestlé and other companies to change their baby food marketing practices and for governments to regulate and monitor the baby food industry. Promoting the boycott is part and parcel of that, but every action has to be considered carefully for its potential to achieve progress. Having an argument with Netmums is not necessarily going to be the best use of our limited resources.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Nescafé advertising provides a great OPPORTUNITY for existing and new Netmum members to raise the boycott and spread the word about Nestlé malpractice on the Netmums sites. Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the UK and one of the most boycotted on the planet, not because of what we do. But because of what you do in spreading the word.

I try to be philosophical whenever Nestlé opens its cheque book to try to counter the boycott in ways such as this. Wherever Nestlé rears its head boycott supporters can remind people of its aggressive marketing of baby foods in breach of international marketing standards and its human rights abuses.

Nestlé is paying for the advertising and with the thread it has already prompted on the Netmums site many people who were unaware of the boycott now are.

There is, of course, also potential for boycott supporters to promote the demonstration at Nestlé (UK) HQ in Croydon and Body Shop outlets around the country taking place on 19 May and Nestlé-free week 2-8 July. See:

Netmums has local bulletin boards where I imagine it would be possible to promote local Nestlé-boycott events. I am sure that Netmums would claim that advertiser have no control over content on the site, so would be very surprised if such threads are removed or censored.

It is up to each Netmums member to make their own decision and consider what would be their most effective action. I hope at least they will investigate the issue by taking a look at our website and this blog. If you are a member and decide to resign over this, please do spell out the reasons why to Netmums.

And it would be good to let Nestlé know that you will not be buying Nescafé regardless. You can do so my completing our on-line boycott petition and by calling Nestlé's Customer Services. This is a freephone number. You can see what happened when I called yesterday by clicking here. This includes a link to Youtube, where you will find the code for including the film clip on other sites.

So that is my advice to boycott supporters. Don't get mad. Get campaigning!!

If you are a Netmums member or not, please do leave your views here. These are sensitive issues and we are always keen to hear what people think.

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