Opinion: Breakthrough and Nestle both slipped up

The news that charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer has rebuffed a lucrative cause-related marketing (CRM) offer from Nestle is a shock. The offer, said to be worth £1m and involving endorsement of the charity on cereal packets, has reportedly been declined on ethical grounds.

Breakthrough - which has a successful CRM history in the UK - is understood to have had misgivings about associating with Nestle, a corporation with baggage, and whose products and practices are often controversial. Its UK head of communications, David Hudson, admitted last week that 'we've had a real crisis every two or three years' (PRWeek, 7 May).

On the issue of its promotion of baby milk in developing countries, Nestle has a dedicated website around the subject of 'infant formula', which painstakingly goes through the Qs&As about whether the company markets its product in breach of World Health Organisation guidelines. There is a proper but weary sense of compliance about the website's detailed but detached explanation of Nestle's policy relating to this subject.

This may explain why the issue has not died down in over 20 years of ardent campaigning and why Breakthrough has delivered such a devastating snub and turned away so much vital money. Both parties should now be public about their position.

Presumably, Breakthrough felt its reputation was the priority and did not want to risk contamination of its brand by a controversy-laden association.

It has a high profile, its patron is the Prince of Wales, and chief executive Delyth Morgan was recently appointed as a Working Labour Peer in the House of Lords.

But Breakthrough entered the discussions. To leave Nestle hanging with humiliation does not send out a good message to other prospective corporate partners. The least it could do is explain why it made the decision to back out.

Nestle, meanwhile, should ask the charities that do take its cash to come to its defence. In the UK, these 'charity partners' include Kids' Clubs Network and the London Mozart Players.

Even this type of endorsement may fall short of what's needed. As has been argued elsewhere, CRM is merely the outward expression of an inner system of values. If doubt remains that Nestle's values and practices reflect this expression, no amount of CRM will shore up its reputation.

Breakthrough feels it has much to lose by accepting Nestle's money. The ball is in Nestle's court to prove the charity wrong. Kate Nicholas is on maternity leave.

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