Nestlé, the controversial Swiss-based multinational, has been forced to scrap plans to sponsor a new teenage book prize after a group of Britain's foremost children's writers told the company that they never want to be entered for the award.
Gillian Cross, the author of The Demon Headmaster, and Carnegie Medal winners Melvin Burgess and Tim Bowler are among seven leading writers who have signed a letter stating that they "do not wish to be associated" with Nestlé's prize "in any way".
The strongly worded letter, composed by Mr Burgess, accuses Nestlé of continuing to "violate" codes on the marketing of powdered baby milk in the Third World an issue that has seen Nestlé's products targeted by a decades-long international boycott.
The latest protest has been backed by Philippa Pearce, the author of Tom's Midnight Garden, and the Whitbread Prize-winner Philip Pullman, who said he was minded to tell his publisher not to enter him for the award. He said: "When I next have a book out in two or three years' time and the publishers suggest it's put forward for this prize, I'll probably say 'No, I'd rather you didn't'."
The strength of feeling about the proposed award, tentatively called the Nestlé Teenage Book Prize, has forced a humiliating climb-down. Last night, the Book Trust charity, which was due to administer the prize, confirmed that it was being put "on hold".
Chris Meade, the trust's director, said that the prize was being suspended because of the fierceness of the response generated by Mr Burgess, who was initially approached to act as a judge on the prize's launch this Christmas. "Of course, a Nestlé Teenage Prize cannot take place if it doesn't have the support of writers," Mr Meade said.
Mr Burgess, the author of Junk, a gritty examination of teenage heroin addiction, was unavailable for comment last night, but Mr Bowler, the author of the acclaimed novel River Boy, said: "I welcome this constructive response from Book Trust and I will certainly be willing to discuss the matter further with them."
Nestlé remains publicly optimistic about the prospect of launching the award in the near future, pointing out that it already sponsors the Smarties Book Prize, which has run successfully for 19 years. However, even that has been targeted by the occasional protest. Last year, the author Richard Platt donated his £750 runner-up prize to Baby Milk Action, the campaign group co-ordinating the anti-Nestlé boycott.
A Nestlé spokeswoman said: "We are very pleased to sponsor a new teenage book prize, which is still in the early stages of development.
"We are aware that Book Trust is in contact with a small group of authors who have expressed concern about our sponsorship. Our marketing of infant formula in the developing world changed many years ago and is in line with the World Health Organisation code."
The latest boycott comes less than nine months after the authors Germaine Greer and Jim Crace, a Booker Prize nominee, snubbed the Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival in protest at its decision to accept Nestlé sponsorship. It caps a period of disastrous PR for the company, which recently encountered worldwide opposition after demanding £3.7m from famine-stricken Ethiopia.
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