Authors protest as Nestlé backs Hay festival

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The Independent Culture

Plans for this year's Hay-on-Wye literature festival have been attended by fierce controversy over the involvement of the Nestlé company as a sponsor for the first time.

Former luminaries of the festival, including author Will Self and comedians Rob Newman and Jeremy Hardy, are urging all "self-respecting writers" to boycott June's event.

The anger stems from concern over the tactics Nestlé has allegedly used to promote powdered baby milk in the Third World. Campaigners claim it has endangered infants by undermining attempts to encourage breast-feeding.

The company is paying the organisers a high five-figure sum for the privilege of draping its name over a huge "Smarties geodrome" throughout a week-long children's festival at the gathering.

Their call to arms comes nine months after stars including Newman, Victoria Wood, Emma Thompson and Julie Christie endorsed a similar boycott of the prestigious Perrier Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Festival; Perrier is owned by Nestlé.

Newman said: "By accepting this sponsorship, Hay have made themselves into something no self-respecting writer would want to go to."

Jeremy Hardy, a former Perrier winner and Hay veteran, said: "I would support a boycott and I think other people should do too. Increasingly, everything is sponsored by commercial organisations, most of which have ghastly motives."

Will Self said: "Nestlé is just the pits." And Patti Rundall, of the charity Baby Milk Action, said: "We are especially concerned about the fact that Nestlé are sponsoring the children's festival, and would welcome any boycott."

A spokeswoman for Nestlé, whose Smarties Book Prize for children has run for 17 years, said its marketing of infant formula in the developing world is fully in line with the World Health Organisation code.

Peter Florence, the festival's organiser, said he had approached Nestlé only after consulting aid organisations in Africa. He said: "They are also the largest corporate sponsor of the Red Cross and Red Crescent health initiative on HIV and Aids in Africa."

Comedian and campaigner Mark Thomas, whose Channel 4 series, The Mark Thomas Product, has featured exposés of Nestlé's trading practices, said: "So the Hay-on-Wye festival now knows more than Baby Milk Action and doctors working in the developed world, does it?"

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