Nestlé's current strategy to enter the UK market is through attempting to persuade midwives to accept its sponsorship. It invites midwives on all-expenses-paid trips to Vevey in Switzerland and tells them how much it cares. This worked with a terribly inaccurate article published by the British Journal of Midwifery in 2006 - so bad that it calls into question the standards of its peer review process and resulted in the journal publishing an extensive right-to-reply from Baby Milk Action.
Now Dr. Miriam Stoppard, a celebrity author and broadcaster in the UK, has been recruited by Nestlé to invite health journalists to Nestlé's global head quarters in Vevey in Switzerland in March.
---extract from Dr. Stoppard's invitation
I’m helping the educational division of the Nestle Nutrition Institute to organise a trip that would encompass fact finding, an introduction to Nestlé research and presentations on topics such as obesity, infant nutrition and pre and probiotics (draft agenda below) where Nestlé scientists are engaged in cutting edge research. There will be trips to the laboratories and the opportunity to chat to researchers first hand. There will also be seminars where you can question the decision makers in Nestle about any topic you wish.
We will be housed in the Nestlé Research Centre, nestled in the hills just outside Lausanne. It will be a very pleasant social occasion as well as giving you the opportunity to get to know Nestlé, its work and its programme of corporate social responsibility in some detail.
I do hope you’ll be able to join us, if so please let me know as soon as possible and I will organise your flights and accommodation.
The programme includes sessions on pre and pro-biotics, ingredients Nestlé and other companies add to formula and then make idealizing claims about.
It was a Nestlé Nutritionist, Zelda Wilson, who organised the trip resulting in the BJM article, written by midwife Chris Sidgwick and others. Midwives will remember Chris Sidgwick from a past Royal College of Midwives conference when she called on them to stop supporting the boycott and accept Nestlé funding for materials. She had just produced a video with Nestlé funding she was wanting them to use. Such materials can only be produced with the written approval of the Secretary of State for Health. We asked for the letter of authorisation, but it has never been produced.
Our analysis of the BJM article shows how primary sources of data were misrepresented and misquoted. It can be found at:
Now we have no objection to midwives disagreeing with the strategy of the boycott or taking a different view of the evidence, though we would rather have their support, but misrepresenting the evidence - and Baby Milk Action's position - is quite another matter.
The BJM published a long letter from us alongside one in which Chris Sidgwick attempted to defend describing her investigation as independent when the trip was organised and funded by Nestlé.
The page can be downloaded from:
Now we raised these concerns directly with the authors and though Chris Sidgwick, the named conctact, did not respond, one of the other authors did acknowledge our message.
It is a great concern that the article is being distributed by Nestlé without our right-to-reply being included. The most recent case to come to my attention was in Nestlé lobbying of Sheffield University students, encouraging them to drop their support for the boycott. Not only was the article used, but Chris Sidgwick was part of the Nestlé team.
The purpose of the article is explicit. It states: "Education for midwives and sound, well produced, high quality educational material for women is costly; Nestlé have financial and education resources available which would improve services to women and, as a result of fact finding, we see no reason not to tap into those resources at a time when most Trusts and educational establishments have very limited funds available."
With the latest initiative by Dr. Miriam Stoppard, it seems that Nestlé is starting to panic. The UK Government has introduced new regulations for formula marketing and promised to strengthen them in 12 months if they do not stop aggressive marketing. The Baby Feeding Law Group, consisting of UK health worker bodies and mother support groups, has called for Guidance Notes to accompany the law to reject company-sponsored materials such as that proposed by Chris Sidgwick. So perhaps Nestlé sees the clock is ticking its time away and so it is making this last push to gain the support of midwives.
At the same time, Nestlé's Global Public Affairs Manager, Dr. Gayle Crozier Willi, finally had to drop the pretence that the boycott has no impact and admitted last year that the company is 'widely boycotted'. In the UK it is particularly strong amongst student unions - one survey by the National Union of Students Services Ethics Committee finding that Nestlé is the most boycotted company amongst students, with 38% of student unions having official boycotts. See:
Nestlé now refuses to debate with Baby Milk Action in front of students having lost all past votes and will only speak if we are not present. It sent a team of 5, including Chris Sidgwick and people from Weber Shandwick, its crisis management advisors, to try to persuade the committee at Sheffield University.
Nestlé's best course of action would be to abide by the internationally-agreed marketing requirements, but it still refuses to bring its policies and practices into line.
This offering of 'hospitality' to health journalists and midwives as a way to enter the UK market and undermine support for the boycott raises questions of conflicts of interest, which are addressed in World Health Assembly Resolutions and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Code of Professional Conduct, which states:
---NMC Code of Professional Conduct Article 7.2 and 7.4
You must ensure that your registration status is not used in the promotion of commercial products or services, declare any financial or other interests in relevant organisations providing such goods or services and ensure that your professional judgement is not influenced by any commercial considerations.
You must refuse any gift, favour or hospitality that might be interpreted, now or in the future, as an attempt to obtain preferential consideration.
---end of extract
Apparently there were midwives who refused to join the BJM authors on the day-and-a-half trip, where travel, accommodation and food were paid by Nestlé. Perhaps they were concerned about the conflicts of interests and possible breaches of the NMC ethical code. The authors put a very different interpretation on their refusal, however, stating: "Most of us readily agreed to attend, but not all who were invited were allowed to do so by their managers. It was evident that some midwives and health visitors were managed by people who had fixed views about Nestlé and they were not prepared to encourage the investigation. Some were even threatened with their jobs should they get involved.”
An investigation does not require taking Nestlé funding and only speaking to Nestlé staff.
A properly-conducted investigation would not result in the flawed article Chris Sidgwick and her colleagues produced.
If any journalist do end visiting Nestlé following the invitation from Dr. Miriam Stoppard let us hope they maintain their independence and do a better job.