Nestlé has twice failed to appear in court in India to respond to charges that it breached Indian law regulating the production and distribution of baby milk products.
Nestlé finally appeared at a third hearing to answer to charges concerning the labelling of baby milks. The charges related to Nestlé's failure to translate an important warning into Hindi as set out in India's Infant Milk Substitutes, Infan t Foods and Feeding Bottles Act 1992 and Rules 1993. The complaints against Nestlé were filed by the Bombay based Association for Consumer Action on Safety and Health.
The case has been highlighted on British Yorkshire Television documentary which focused on the ill effects of bottle feeding in Bombay which has the biggest slum in Asia. The documentary showed a hospital where 7 out of 10 bottle fed premature infants die d when bottle feeding was routine. Now because all babies receive breastmilk 9 out of 10 survive. The introduction of a breast milk bank also increased the survival of preterm infants. Dr Raj Anand, featured in the film says,
Studies have s hown that in developing countries like India a baby who is not breastfed is 14 times more likely to die from diarrhea, 4 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 2.5 times more likely to die from other infectious diseases. A bottle is a passport to dea th for our babies.
Nestlé, with global sales of $US42 billion for 1994, controls about 50% of India's baby milk and baby food market and has refused to print an important warning on its formula tin labels in Hindi, a language read by about 50% of India's population of 900 million. Less than 4% speak and read English. To offset the bad publicity Nestlé sent a public relations team to a meeting with the Church of England and showed a film and display about India which claimed the whole labelling incident was but a technicality which would have no effect on the health of babies. Nestlé also claimed that Yorkshire Television had refused their offers to cooperate. However, Yorkshire Television in a letter to the General Secretary of the Synod of the Church of England, cited many approaches offering the company a chance to respond.
Save the Children in the UK reports that in the Yunan Province of China Nestlé is marketing its products in Kumming by first sending free samples of products to local hospitals and then retailing formulas at below market price. Mike Aarenson of Save the Children writes to Helmut Maucher, Nestlé's Chief Executive as follows:
The use of formula in hospitals is now widespread: there has been a decrease in the incidence of breastfeeding and a large increase in the consumption of Lactogen...Our report which only covers hospitals in one city clearly demonstrates that, in Kumming at least, Nestlé still fails to respect the principles and the aim of the International Code and all relevant resolutions. Nestlé [claims] that its 'record over the years is second to none and stands up to close scrutiny.' On the evidence from Kumming this does not appear to be the case.
In response Nestlé claimed ignorance of an April 1992 Chinese government notification banning free supplies in an attempt to protect the health of 25 million babies born annually.
Top | Summer 95 Contents |
Nestle defies Indian courts, Press Release, July 18, 1995 Baby Milk Action, UK Nestle appears in court in India, British Medical Journal August, 1995