Nestlé set for campus debates on boycotts

August 24, 2001

Nestlé is beginning a charm offensive to try to turn around its poor image in student unions.

The company has been vilified for years by students campaigning against its sale of baby milk products to the third world. Many student unions worldwide have boycotted Nestlé by refusing to stock its products in retail outlets.

To fight back, Nestlé is offering to provide speakers for debates. Hilary Parsons, head of corporate affairs for Nestlé UK, is writing to student unions to get the message out. She said: "This is part of our effort to engage with student audiences who have concerns about our marketing of baby milk in the developing world. We are conscious that perhaps we have not fully engaged with our critics on campus."

She said the main focus was to explain the company's marketing of baby milk products - if unions decided to lift their Nestlé bans, that would be "very nice".

At Baby Milk Action, a pressure group, campaigns officer Jonathan Dorsett said that about 80 student unions were boycotting Nestle.

He said: "They (Nestlé) are very worried about it. This is the time of year when presidents of unions are changing, and they obviously thought it would be a good plan to contact them. But the boycott is very strong in the student sector, and I think they will have problems getting any change there."

Activists believe Nestlé is trying to befriend student unions because strong anti-Nestlé feeling among students has hurt the company's graduate recruitment. Ms Parsons said this was not so: "We have not had problems recruiting graduates. We have well over 1,000 applications on average."

Nestlé and Baby Milk Action are set to debate at the University of East Anglia's student union in November.

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