Methodist ethical investment committee announces Nestlé decision

The Methodist Church's Joint Advisory Committee on EthicalInvestment (JACEI) has cleared the way for the Church's investmentagency the Central Finance Board to invest in NestlŽ if it wishesto do so. The Committee said that, while there are still areas ofethical concern relating to marketing and promotion of breast milksubstitute issues, there is no suggestion that the nature ofNestlŽ's business is inherently unethical, and there areinsufficient reasons to avoid an investment in NestlŽ on ethicalgrounds. The decision of the Committee does not mean that CFB willmake an immediate investment in NestlŽ.

Anthea Cox, Methodist Co-ordinating Secretary for Public Life andSocial Justice, said, 'We do not believe that NestlŽ are perfect byany means. But we think that the option of making a financialinvestment in the company will enable CFB to press NestlŽ furtherthan the Church could achieve by other means.'

The Methodist Church has sought to listen to and engage positivelywith both NestlŽ and campaigners such as Baby Milk Action. Forexample, the Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) has inthe recent past given grants to Baby Milk Action to supportspecific projects, and Anthea Cox paid tribute to its work. 'BabyMilk Action and other groups have performed a great service inresearching NestlŽ's activities and keeping this issue in thepublic eye,' she said. 'If CFB did invest, one consequence would beto allow closer scrutiny of NestlŽ.'

The Committee recommended that the CFB should seek to meet the CEOof NestlŽ, and also that it should have annual meetings with seniorexecutives to continue addressing the company's record. The CFB,which is independent of the Church and has funds of about £1billion under its control, pursues a policy of active engagement aspart of its ethical investment, under which it uses its position asa shareholder to demand improvements in companies' attitudestowards development, fair trade, the environment and workers'rights.

After initiating a review process in 2002, the Committee held aconsultation in November 2004 to consider the ethical suitabilityof holding shares in NestlŽ. As part of its work, the Committeeheard submissions from both sides of the debate. Both NestlŽ andBaby Milk Action took part in the consultation, offering theiradvice and response to the briefing paper and the committee isgrateful for their contributions.

Anthea Cox: 'This is not a decision the Committee made lightly orwithout thorough investigation. We are fully aware of NestlŽ'srecord in the past, and that, despite improvements, there are stillreported violations of the WHO Code on the sale and marketing ofbaby milk. But companies are accountable to their shareholders, andif CFB invests it will, as usual, use that actively to press thecompany not only on the issue of baby milk, but in other areas aswell. We encourage people to continue to be aware of the issues andto act accordingly. In our continued work on this issue we willconsult with a number of groups and as a member of the InteragencyGroup on Breastfeeding Monitoring.'

A copy of the report can be found at www.methodist.org.uk/downloads/ne_nestle_revisedpolicystatement_1105.doc