A boycott was launched in the United States on July 4, 1977, against the Swiss-based Nestlé corporation. The boycott expanded into Europe in the early 1980s and was prompted by concern about Nestlé's "aggressive marketing" of breast milk substitutes, particularly in underdeveloped countries. The boycott has been cancelled and renewed because of the business practices of Nestlé and other substitute manufacturers monitored by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). Organizers of the boycott state that substitutes for breast milk are worse for infants' health. As of 2013, the Nestlé boycott was coordinated by the International Nestlé Boycott Committee, whose secretariat was the British group Baby Milk Action.
Groups such as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and Save the Children argue that the promotion of infant formula over breastfeeding has led to health problems and deaths among infants in less economically developed countries. There are three problems that can arise when poor mothers in developing countries switch to formula as well as one list of benefits of breast milk:
Advocacy groups and charities have accused Nestlé of unethical methods of promoting infant formula over breast milk to poor mothers in developing countries. For example, IBFAN claim that Nestlé distributes free formula samples to hospitals and maternity wards; after leaving the hospital, the formula is no longer free, but because the supplementation has interfered with lactation, the family must continue to buy the formula. IBFAN also allege that Nestlé uses "humanitarian aid" to create markets, does not label its products in a language appropriate to the countries where they are sold, and offers gifts and sponsorship to influence health workers to promote its products. Nestlé denies these allegations.
Nestlé's marketing strategy was first written about in New Internationalist magazine in 1973 and in a booklet called The Baby Killer, published by the British NGO War On Want in 1974. Nestlé attempted to sue the publisher of a German-language translation (Third World Action Group) entitled "Nestlé tötet Babies" for libel. After a two-year trial, the court found in favour of Nestlé because they could not be held responsible for the infant deaths 'in terms of criminal law'. Because the defendants were only fined 300 Swiss Francs (just over US$400, adjusted for inflation), and Judge Jürg Sollberger commented that Nestlé "must modify its publicity methods fundamentally", TIME magazine declared this a "moral victory" for the defendants. This led to similar court challenges brought against other milk companies in the U.S. spearheaded by the Roman Catholic order Sisters of the Precious Blood in conjunction with the Interfaith Centre for Corporate Responsibility.
The widespread publicity led to the launch of the boycott in Minneapolis, USA, by the Infant Formula Action Coalition (INFACT) and this boycott soon spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Europe. In May 1978, the US Senate held a public hearing into the promotion of breast milk substitutes in developing countries and joined calls for a Marketing Code. In 1979, WHO and UNICEF hosted an international meeting that called for the development of an international code of marketing, as well as action on other fronts to improve infant and early child feeding practices. The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) was formed by six of the campaigning groups at this meeting.
In 1981, the 34th World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted Resolution WHA34.22 which includes the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. The Code covers infant formula and other milk products, foods and beverages, when marketed or otherwise represented to be suitable as a partial or total replacement of breast milk. It bans the promotion of breast milk substitutes and gives health workers the responsibility for advising parents. It limits manufacturing companies to the provision of scientific and factual information to health workers and sets forth labeling requirements.
In 1984, boycott coordinators met with Nestlé, which agreed to implement the code, and the boycott was officially suspended. In 1988 IBFAN alleged that formula companies were flooding health facilities in the developing world with free and low-cost supplies, and the boycott was relaunched the following year.
In May 1999 a ruling against Nestlé was issued by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Nestlé claimed in an anti-boycott advertisement that it markets infant formula "ethically and responsibly". The ASA found that Nestlé could not support this nor other claims in the face of evidence provided by the campaigning group Baby Milk Action.
In November 2000 the European Parliament invited IBFAN, UNICEF, and Nestlé to present evidence to a Public Hearing before the Development and Cooperation Committee. Evidence was presented by the IBFAN group from Pakistan and UNICEF's legal officer commented on Nestlé's failure to bring its policies into line with the World Health Assembly Resolutions. Nestlé declined an invitation to attend, claiming scheduling conflicts, although it sent a representative of the auditing company it had commissioned to produce a report on its Pakistan operation.
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Alongside the boycott, campaigners work for implementation of the Code and Resolutions in legislation, and claim that 60 countries have now introduced laws implementing most or all of the provisions.
Some universities, colleges, and schools have banned the sale of Nestlé products from their shops and vending machines in the period since the revelations. In the United Kingdom, 73 students' unions, 102 businesses, 30 faith groups, 20 health groups, 33 consumer groups, 18 local authorities, 12 trade unions, education groups, 31 MPs and many celebrities support the Nestlé boycott.[when?]
Nestlé claims that it is in full compliance with the International Code. According to Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, "we also carry out annual audits on WHO Code compliance with a sample of Nestlé companies, and we investigate any substantiated claims made by those who believe we have broken the Code.... If we find that the Code has been deliberately violated, we take disciplinary action." The company maintains that many of the allegations are unsubstantiated, out of date, or use IBFAN's own non-standard interpretation of the Code.
In May 2011, the debate over Nestlé's unethical marketing of infant formula was relaunched in the Asia-Pacific region. Nineteen leading Laos-based international NGOs, including Save the Children, Oxfam, CARE International, Plan International and World Vision have launched a boycott of Nestlé and written an open letter to the company. Among other unethical practices, the NGOs criticised the lack of labelling in Laos and the provision of incentives to doctors and nurses to promote the use of infant formula. An independent audit of Nestlé's marketing practices in Laos was commissioned by Nestlé and carried out by Bureau Veritas in late 2011. The audit found that "the requirements of the WHO Code and Lao PDR Decree are well embedded throughout the business", but that "promotional materials in 4% of the retail outlets visited" violated either the Lao PDR Decree or the WHO Code.
An episode of the TV show The Mark Thomas Comedy Product produced by the British Channel Four in 1999 investigated the boycott and Nestlé's practices concerning baby milk. Mark Thomas attempted to find evidence for claims against Nestlé and to speak to heads of the company. In one portion of the show he "received a tin of baby milk from Mozambique. All instructions are in English. 33 languages and dialects are recognised in Mozambique. Portuguese is the official language. However, only about 30% of the population can speak it.
In 2001, comedian Robert Newman and actress Emma Thompson called for a boycott of the Perrier Comedy Award, because Perrier is owned by Nestlé. An alternative competition called the Tap Water Awards was set up the following year.
The 2014 film Tigers (film) is based on 1977 Pakistan Nestle infant formula controversy.
The Council of Canadians, a social action organization, launched a boycott in September 2016 in response to the company outbidding a small town aiming to secure a long-term water supply through a local well, stressing the need for bottled water industry reform as the country battles drought and depletion of ground water reserves.