Sunday, October 01, 2006

Buying friends and influencing people

It has been one of those days when the strength of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) is demonstrated. It is a great antidote to the past few days of trying to counter Nestlé's lobbying at the Labour Party Conference. There is a common theme, though: Nestlé opening its cheque book as a way to make friends with people.

IBFAN is a partnership. There is no IBFAN head office. It is a network of groups trying to stop baby food companies putting infant health at risk through aggressive promotion. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and other Resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly are our tools.

India is a good example where campaigners have been able to achieve change. The Code and Resolutions were introduced in legislation in 1992. Our partner organisation has the authority under the law to take companies to court if the law is broken. Johnson & Johnson pulled out of selling feeding bottles after being taken to court for illegal advertising by the IBFAN group in India. Nestlé was taken to court in 1995 for failing to label formula with the warnings specified in the law or translating them into Hindi. Though it changed its labels, that court case is still on-going. The process was delayed as Nestlé took the government to court in a failed attempt to have the law scrapped. (Read this report for more information).

In 2003 the law was strengthened in fact. It now includes a ban on company sponsorship of health workers. Even before that, in 1997, the Indian Academy of Pediatrics had a voluntary ban on sponsorship.

I always think of the Indian doctors who prefer to buy their own lunch than take company money when health workers here in the UK claim they couldn't have their conferences without company sponsorship (I've a story to tell about an on-going concerted campaign by a UK midwife to get Nestlé-sponsored materials into the National Health Service - but that is for another day).

In India they appreciate that companies invest in sponsorship as a way to influence health workers and reach mothers. Even though it is now illegal, companies still try. One of our IBFAN partners has produced a briefing on how Nestlé is trying and sometimes succeeding to sponsor events despite the law. And how access to health facilities then enables a company representative to hand out leaflets to mothers. One was caught doing just that by a doctor who knew the law. He confiscated the leaflets and is calling for action 'against their unethical and illegal designs'.

That's where you and I come in. We have the opportunity to tell the world what Nestlé is really doing in India. You can download the briefing paper from our Indian partner organisation at

Next week I'll post information on what you can do to help stop Nestlé ignoring the law in India.

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