A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the launch of Save the Children’s campaign on breastfeeding, and their report Superfood for Babies, which details some of the barriers to breastfeeding in the developed world.
The focus of the campaign has now shifted to concentrate on one of those barriers in more details; the marketing tactics of multinational breastmilk substitute companies.
Despite 30 years of guidelines, there are continued reports of some breast milk substitute companies marketing their products in an unethical manner.
You can read Save the Children’s full briefing on Nestlé and Danone here, along with this article in the Guardian from Zoe Williams which details the situation in Indonesia, but I also wanted to pick out a couple of things from the report that really shocked me and highlight them in a post.
When I was at university – ten years ago – there was a Nestlé boycott in place in our union shops, and in fact the boycott began globally in 1977. A few people have said to me since seeing coverage of the Save the Children campaign that they think it’s out of date, and that the multinationals have now cleaned up their acts, but unfortunately that’s not true.
There is still – as recently as 2012 – evidence that companies including Nestlé and Danone are targeting health workers in countries like Laos, China and Pakistan with expensive gifts, using potentially misleading labels on products, and giving out free samples of formula.
Mums with little education and no access to health care can become confused about what is best for their baby – or what they can afford – and many end up in the situation where they struggle to pay rent, and have to cut back on essentials like food for the rest of the family, in order to keep buying formula. Some women start watering down the formula to make it last longer, and their babies are then unable to get all the nutrients they need.
If breast milk substitute companies like Nestlé and Danone, or their representatives, inappropriately promote their products in the poorest countries, it can influence women’s choices about breastfeeding, and in some cases those choices can put babies lives at risk.
No-one is saying that formula milk is inherently evil, or that mothers who use formula are in some way lesser than mothers who breastfeed. This is absolutely not about casting judgement on individuals. The whole point is that every mother should be able to make an informed and educated choice about how she feeds her child, but at the moment – especially in the developing world – that is not the case.
International guidelines around the marketing of formula exist for a reason – to protect children – and if there are companies who are still not sticking to those guidelines, who are finding ways around them to increase their profits, then it is only right that we hold them to account.
Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of a boycott, but there are other effective ways to let Nestlé and Danone know that that their customers in this country feel strongly about their behaviour elsewhere.
Join me in telling Nestlé and Danone to put a stop to any conduct that undermines breastfeeding in poorer countries
If you want to email Danone and Nestlé directly you can do that through the Save the Children website.
And if you want to add your name to the petition calling for Danone and Nestlé to abide by international guidelines, you can sign that on the Save the Children website here.
This is an ideal time to take action. The Nestlé AGM is on April 11th in Lausanne. The Danone AGM is in Paris on April 25th. Let’s try and make sure that this campaign is in the forefront of shareholders’ minds on those days and maybe, thirty years after poor marketing practices were first revealed, we can finally put an end to them and help save lives.