Thursday, November 30, 2006
PLEASE DON'T TRY IT.
I'm not even going to link to the site. It deserves no traffic.
What comes up is a site that claims it is 'Anti Nestlé' but then has links to Nestlé infant formula promotions, promotions by other baby milk companies and recipés using Nestlé products. It claims these are 'sponsored results'.
Well, as someone said pointing this out today: "You are doing a great job if they have taken that action".
But is this really Nestlé trying to gain a bit of business from people making a mistake with our website address?
A quick bit of net-detecting shows the domain is registered to a company called Nameview, based in Vancouver, Canada. This handles domain names in bulk on behalf of other companies.
Now, it could be the domain name has been snapped up by a cyber-squatter, hoping to earn a bit of cash by selling it on to us or someone else. Perhaps the formula advertisements are meant to make us so angry we pay through the nose to be able to close it down and save any possible confusion with our good name.
Nameview does not help people track down who owns the domain, saying on its website there is no point in even asking: "These domains belong to our customers, not to us. Any such inquiries will be discarded unanswered. Please contact the domain owner directly using the information provided by whois."
But if you use the whois service on a site such as INTERNIC, you find there is no clue as to who owns it. The domain name is tagged as "client Transfer Prohibited", meaning it is not for sale. This does not suggest it is a cyber-squatter.
The contact form on the site did not work when I tried it, again suggesting this is not someone looking to sell the domain name. Possibly it is someone looking to harvest email addresses so it can send spam to them. Alternatively the page could just be there to make it look like a legitimate site.
Should we care that this site exists?
Well, if someone was looking for us they are not going to believe the site has anything to do with us. Everyone who contacts us about it is does so to warn us of its existence, not to question why we appear to be advertising Nestlé formula.
If they came across it because they were searching for formula, they will probably have found the Nestlé 'Very Best Baby' formula site higher up the same search list. So they are already in trouble.
We're certainly not going to fork out cash to buy the domain name. And even if we wanted to, it is not for sale.
We just have to spend a bit of time every now and then responding to emails when this comes up.
So part of the reason for this blog is to have a quick explanation to direct people to.
If you come across the site, please don't post the link on newsgroups or send it on in emails for people to take a look. That will just help move it up the search engine listings as a popular site. Send them the link to this blog instead. (Yes! Move this blog up the search engines!). Use the link http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2006/11/stupid-website.html
In summary, the site has nothing to do with us. Possibly a baby food company is behind it, possibly not. Best thing to do is just ignore it. Don't visit it. Don't encourage others to visit it.
Another purpose of this entry is to try to bring this blog onto search engine listings should somebody accidently search for us using the .com domain instead of .org
I will have to mention the name so, hopefully, it will be picked up by the search engine spiders that crawl the web. The following text is just for the benefit of the spiders and is intended to appear on the listing: Whoever set up babymilkaction.com is a stupid idiot and should be ignored. Visit www.babymilkaction.org instead.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
One of the favoured ways companies try to reach potential customers is through 'carelines' which are heavily advertised in the print media, on radio and television and on leaflets and materials distributed to parents through the health care system. In some places parents even receive promotional information when they register the birth of their child (see Monday's blog on Hipp).
We exposed during World Breastfeeding Week in August 2006 the type of promotion that is done on the Wyeth / SMA careline. According to an entry on the company's own website, one of the most common questions and its answer are as follows:
----NOTE: DON'T TAKE SMA'S COMMENTS HERE AT FACE VALUE - READ THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW THEM
Q: How does infant formula support my baby's development?
A: The first six months of your baby's life are an exciting time. Their first smile, first look, holding their head up, first tooth, rolling over and sitting up - there are many developmental milestones they will reach in those important weeks and months.
Nutrition is a vital part of supporting this rapid development. Breastfeeding is the best option, because breast milk contains the ideal balance of all the key nutrients babies need for healthy growth. But some mothers are unable to breastfeed or choose not to for physical, social or practical reasons. They can still provide all the necessary goodness by choosing an infant milk with a balance of nutrients as close to breast milk as possible, like SMA Gold*.
SMA Gold has a fat blend that is balanced to meet your baby's needs. It is well absorbed, providing your baby with the necessary calories giving energy to keep pace with all the milestones coming up. It improves the absorption of calcium, which is important for the healthy growth and development of bones and teeth.
It's a source of essential fatty acids, with beneficial LCPs (long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids) present in a similar ratio to those in breast milk. These are involved in the development of your baby's eyes, brain and nervous system.
SMA Gold is a whey-based infant milk, with a balance of proteins similar to that in breast milk. Protein is an important building block for the development of all your baby's organs, including skin and body tissue.
SMA Gold can help ensure that babies who are not breastfed don't miss out on a good start in life, providing the nutrients they need to grow and progress from tiny bundles of joy to walking, talking toddlers.
I have written in several past blogs how the claims made about the addition of LCPs are not substantiated by the evidence as found in a systematic review of research conducted by the Cochrane Library. You will also recall that market analysts said back when LCPs were going into commercial production for use in formula that it did not matter if they gave any health benefit or not as they would become a promotional tool used by companies to claim their products are close to breastmilk. So it has proved (see the blog entry: http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2006/10/health-claims-goldmine.html)
The thing with these 'Carelines' is they are unnecessary. I spoke to someone from the Scottish National Health Service telephone help line a couple of years ago and was told that they have the capacity to handle far more calls than SMA professes to receive. So the companies are not providing a service that is unavailable through independent means. A 'Careline' is not the same as a customer service number, which people may need to call if they have a concern about the product. It is promoted for giving infant care advice.
The same promotional role is found with company information on infant feeding. But, again, there are independent sources.
Resources on all aspects of infant feeding are available in a wide range of languages from the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative. See http://www.babyfriendly.org.uk/parents/home.asp
The advantage of having information free from commercial interests is clear from these resources and shows the benefit are for mothers who bottle feed as well as those who breastfeed. So, the information on mixing up a bottle gives good clear advice on how to reduce the risks of possible contamination with pathogens such as Enterobacter Sakazakii, contamination which is worryingly common. The baby food companies are still opposing calls by the World Health Assembly for this information to be included on labels and certainly don't mention it in their promotional materials claiming their formula helps to boost a child's natural defences.
Other sources of independent information are the mother support groups. You can find UK contact details in the 'Links' section of our website. See http://www.babymilkaction.org/pages/links.html
Company 'Carelines' do not provide a service that is otherwise lacking. They are either directly promotional, as in the example quoted above, or serve at least to make contact with mothers to provide other promotional materials. They should be prohibited in line with World Health Assembly marketing standards and government resources put into increased support for independent sources of information.
There is a UK campaign calling for such a joined-up approach to infant feeding in government policy. It is called the Breastfeeding Manifesto. Something to be explored in future blogs, but you can find information now and ask your Member of Parliament to give support if you are in the UK here: http://www.unicef.org.uk/campaigns/take_action/email_fax_your_mp/index.asp?action=37&nodeid=action37§ion=9
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Today a look at a UK video from Wyeth/SMA Nutrition. This is sent to mothers in pink utility bag with a booklet and has the title : "Newborn know how: An essential guide to being a new mum."
It is presented by television celebrity Lowri Turner and is targeted at pregnant and new mothers: "If you are watching this you chances are you are just about to give birth or has just had your baby."
It has three sections: the first day, the first week and the first month. One of the landmark events is, of course: "The first feed whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding."
Companies should not provide gifts, such as this video, to mothers. They should not seek direct contact .. and the video is sent after mothers have responded to a magazine advertisement, health centre pamphlet or registered via the company careline.
Looking at videos such as this with a marketing eye reveals how much thought has been put into their preparation. It contains information on all aspects of child care in the first month, no doubt much of it useful. But its presentation of infant feeding marks it out as a company video rather than an independent video produced with the best interests of mother and child at its heart.
It does have Lowri Turner asking the expert mid-wife: "Is breast always best?" and getting the answer: "Yes." But this is not followed by the list of benefits to mother and child from a health point of view, the impact of introducing feeding bottles on lactation or the financial costs of artificial feeding .. information required by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes to be in materials for mothers. The bear essentials of the required information is given in text scrolling up the screen after the film has finished.
In the body comes stress on negative associations with breastfeeding. "It seemed I was destined to feed her for the next two years..", "Actual feeding of her was pretty much a disaster...", "What you don..t expect is the crying in between..."
A neutral video would provide information on addressing these concerns and details of where help can be obtained. Other than advice to speak with a mid-wife and numbers at the end of the film, the video has Lowri say to the expert midwife: "Not all women can or indeed want to breastfeed though do they."
The response: "If you want to bottle feed your baby that's fine and your baby will thrive as well as a breastfed baby". No mention that even in the UK an artificially fed child is 5-10 times more likely to be hospitalised with gastro-enteritis and at greater risk of short and long-term illnesses such as respiratory infections, otitis media (ear infection), diabetes, allergies and obesity.
Certainly mothers who decide to use formula should not be made to feel like failures or to feel guilty, but they have a right to know there are health implications. There are important differences between formula and breastmilk, which are not even fully understood, though the difference can be seen in the health outcomes. Companies idealize their products to suggest there is no difference.
Most mothers who stop breastfeeding early on do so because of the problems they experience, which are real and distressing in themselves, made worse by a crying and hungry baby and concerned family members. At such times support is needed.
It is at times of vulnerability that baby food companies see their opportunity. The video says: "One of the important things to remember is to practice making up a bottle to feed the baby before you have to do it in reality when the baby is crying beside you."
This is followed by a mother explaining: "It was going to be easier to bottle feed him. We..d given it our best shot."
The video points out that a mother can ask for formula in hospital and has the right to specify a particular brand.
The first week section again looks at infant feeding, with Lowri saying: "One of the commonest worries that new mums have is if the baby is feeding enough."
The response from the expert mid-wife: "Yes a lot of mothers worry about that, particularly when they are breastfeeding. Breasts don't come with millimetre measurements on them. And bottles, of course, do. And mothers really become worried about that."
While there is reassurance about checking for a wet nappy there is no discussion of other signals that a breastfed baby is feeding well, such as throat movement or weight gain. No discussion of the difference in weight gain between breastfed babies and artificially-fed babies.
And so it goes on through such company-produced materials. It would be foolish to expect anything different.
The short hand message from the planning department for this video presumably went something like: "Breast is best.. but inconvenient and difficult.. not all women can do it.. be ready with the formula... Use the company logo used on our infant formula as liberally as possible."
The film ends with: "If you would like more information on infant feeding or weaning issues please phone SMA careline ***".
Distribute and watch the money roll in.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Hipp: organic farmer and human rights violator
I've written in the past about the Hipp baby food company and how in some countries in Central and Eastern Europe it found to be responsible for the most aggressive undermining of breastfeeding (though in some cases it has risen to this position after Nestlé malpractice has been successfully targeted).
Don't just take my word for it. Listen to a paediatrician from Armenia, who I interviewed earlier this year. See the 'broadcasts' section of the Baby Milk Action website or go direct to http://www.babymilkaction.org/ram/ibfaneurope06.html
In the UK we also see outrageous practices, such as parents being targeted with Hipp promotional materials when they go to register the birth of their child. These encourage mothers to visit the Hipp website or to call its careline number.
Today I watched the Hipp video received by some mothers. It is called: "Hipp Organic. Your Baby's Health. The Importance of Choosing the Right Foods".
It makes much of the organic farming methods used for Hipp products, with voice over comments such as: "Even if you don't feed her organic foods later in life you will know you have given her the very best possible start to her future."
Well, not if you follow the advice in the video, because it encourages early introduction of complementary foods. And Hipp products are promoted for use from 4 months of age, despite the World Health Assembly Resolution from 12 years ago saying complementary feeding should be fostered from about 6 months. We have campaigned on this repeatedly, but all companies continue to promote complementary feeding from 4 months. In 2003 Nestlé did give us an undertaking to change this policy and has done so to a large extent, but as we have recently reported in the campaign to defend the Philippines regulations on baby food marketing, it still encourages early introduction in some countries and some marketing.
Early introduction of complementary foods is big business. We have exposed in the past how the industry is concerned that is must stop mothers: 'drifting into home-made foods.' (See IBFAN Case Studies). One way is by portraying the companies complementary foods as a natural continuation of using its formula. Another is by encouraging introduction of foods at an age when the child is not yet ready for solid foods, so processed purés are an attractive option for parents.
There is a growing body of evidence that if children are allowed to follow their own instincts and ability to handle food, then at around 6 months they will start to eat family foods. These will need some thought, particularly things like salt levels, but not the preparation and effort required to encourage a child to eat something from a spoon at an earlier age. Look for information on 'baby-led weaning'. I'll write something more about it one day.
So the strategy for a company wanting to stop the 'drift into home-made foods' is to promote foods for use from 4 months of age.
The Hipp video says early on: "For the first 6 months everyone knows breastfeeding is best, but what comes next?"
Actually, Hipp, if you read the World Health Organisation Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, what everyone knows is optimal infant feeding is: "EXCLUSIVE breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and with nutritionally adequate and safe complementary feeding through introduction of safe and adequate amounts of indigenous foodstuffs and local foods while breastfeeding continues up to the age of two years and beyond." (emphasis added). The UK Department of Health advice follows this, with the 6 month recommendation for introduction of complementary foods the same for breastfed and artificially-fed infants.
What Hipp suggests comes after 6 months of breastfeeding is its processed foods, with no mention of continued breastfeeding. In fact, even before 6 months, stating in the video: "When your baby is ready for solids at about 4 to 6 months you want the food you give him to be the best it can be."
The video claims: "We work very closely with experts in child nutrition and take all the latest scientific recommendations into account when developing our baby foods." Not true, as Hipp works to undermine the World Health Organisation recommendations.
The video includes footage of Mr. Claus Hipp, head of the company and the man responsible for undermining breastfeeding and putting infants at risk, through misleading information like this, more aggressive promotion in Central and Eastern Europe and opposing legislation on baby food marketing in countries such as Georgia (opposition that was unsuccessful thanks to health campaigners).
There is a nice sounding closing message from Mr. Hipp on screen. It says:
"The future health of our children is at the heart of our company and this is a big responsibility. To us nothing is more precious than our children's health and well being. It always has been so and always will be so."
For those trying to persuade Hipp to abide by international marketing standards it is evident there is one thing more precious than children's health and well-being - money.
Hipp: Human rights violator
Friday, November 24, 2006
The Guardian ran a profile of Nestlé Chief Executive Office and Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, today. The corporate malpractice of the company he leads clearly catches up with him. The headline was: "Peter Brabeck-Letmathe: smooth defender of a tainted brand". See http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,1955666,00.html.
Mr. Brabeck suggests criticisms are misplaced. He puts the malpractice in the past, in the case of its baby food marketing, or suggests there is an over-simplification, in the case of Nestlé's failure to act on child slavery in its cocoa supply chain.
Readers of this blog and the supporting evidence to which it links will know that Mr. Brabeck is not only being untruthful, but is very much responsible for the problems Nestlé faces. This is not just in the theoretical sense that he is Chief Executive, but in the practical sense. Mr. Brabeck claims to personally investigate any hint of a violation of the baby food marketing requirements for example. I write to him often to report violations and the replies we receive back from Nestlé staff are dismissive, denying evidence and showing contempt for the regulations of the World Health Assembly and the legal opinions of experts at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
In the blog about my São Lourenço hat and Nestlé's illegal water pumping operation I explained it was Mr. Brabeck who promised pumping would stop in January 2005, a promise that was broken. A promise that appears to still being broken despite the company signing a legal agreement with the Public Prosecutor earlier this year.
The Guardian states: "Such criticism helps keep an army of press handlers and lobbyists employed by the Swiss multinational."
That is Mr. Brabeck's decision. To invest in news management, rather than address the concerns. This failure has an impact which investors notice. The Guardian says:
"Although Nestlé has had a relatively good run in recent months, its shares have underperformed peers such as Unilever or US rivals such as General Mills and Kelloggs despite top-line growth rates consistently higher in the 5-7% range and margins that have improved from 10% to 13%. Alain Oberhuber, analyst at Bank Vontobel in Zurich, believes Brabeck-Letmathe's manner detracts from this performance. 'When I talk to investors in the UK they say he comes across as too Austrian. They mean he is not very sensitive to criticism ... He believes analysts do not understand the potential of his company."
Mr. Brabeck attempts to suggest critism of his company and the policies he pursues are not widespread: "He points to a survey by research group GlobeScan that found Nestlé's reputation on social responsibility to be good in Africa but bad in Britain, saying it is only the bogeyman for some in the UK and possibly Sweden."
Well, let us leave aside the fact that our partners on the ground in Africa raise concerns about Nestlé practices and provide evidence of on-going aggressive marketing. Let us leave aside the way Nestlé is exploiting concerns over HIV to promote formula feeding and to argue laws regulating the marketing of baby foods should be weakened (while UNICEF and other experts argue HIV makes marketing regulations more important not less). Let's leave aside the fact that a boycott and media campaign was launched by a group in Cameroon after Nestlé was found promoting formula in clinics (leading to regulations being introduced recently).
As the article is about company image, let us look instead at that GlobeScan finding. Mr. Brabeck says criticism is limited to the UK and possibly Sweden. Yet according to The Times: "Britain, Australia and Italy give Nestlé the red card" - though other countries do apparently score Nestlé well in this survey. See: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,9065-2289959,00.html
Although its not mentioned in the article, in a presentation on 7 November 2006, Mr. Brabeck referred to the survey as : "Our annual GlobeScan reputation survey". The questions Nestlé chose to ask could have had a significant impact. See Nestlé's website.
An independent survey conducted in 17 countries by GMIPoll found a different story. As The Guardian reported last September, Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet. See http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/businessinsight/archives/2005/09/01/branded.html
And in a global internet vote coinciding with the World Economic Forum in 2005, Nestlé won the public award for irresponsible corporate behaviour, by a margin of over 2 to 1 on the second placed companies. See http://www.evb.ch/en/f25000157.html
Nestlé is a tainted brand. It needs more than smooth talking to address that. It needs a change in direction, to be less confrontational and dismissive of criticism. Instead of employing an army of press handlers and lobbyists to try to limit the damage, Nestlé should listen and take action. It should embrace the International Nestlé Boycott Committee's four-point plan, for a start. See http://www.babymilkaction.org/boycott/boyct4pointplan.html
It may take a change in leader for that to happen. A piece of good news in The Guardian piece is that Mr. Brabeck says he is going "to relax a little bit and have a new generation taking over a bit."
Perhaps we could suggest he relaxes a lot and let's someone else take over the job of running Nestlé. Someone from a different mould. It could do everyone, including Nestlé investors, a great favour if he did.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
And as I am posting this late I have already seen Friday's interview with Nestlé Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, in The Guardian. I imagine the headline is not one he relishes: "Peter Brabeck-Letmathe: smooth defender of a tainted brand". See http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,1955666,00.html.
Thursday though, two things caught my eye in the newspapers on the train on the way back from London. One of them is a great piece of journalism, I wanted to share for being so funny and so concise.
Both articles are on the subject of obesity. The first in one of the free London papers handed out on street corners was headlined: "Exposed: tricks junk food giants use on children". It was based on a report from the Consumer Association (remember Monday's blog was about a campaigning award set up in memory of a past Director, Sheila McKechnie?). They have documented the methods companies use to target children using new forms of marketing. Nestlé, for example, has a website for one of its sugary drinks where kids are able to leave messages for their friends to pick up.
We keep a watch on what is going on in the area of obesity, partly because we are well familiar with the strategies Nestlé uses in attempting to weaken regulations - and it is heavily involved in trying to undermine regulations in this area. But also because of the crucial role of infant feeding decisions on future chance of obesity. We raise the importance of promoting, supporting and protecting breastfeeding as part of a coordinated strategy on tackling the obesity epidemic. More about that another time, but one amazing fact that will bear repeating is: "Artificially fed infants consume 30,000 more calories than breastfed infants by 8 months of age." (Human Lactation 1999). Which is equivalent to 120 Mars bars. If you can't wait for the serious information, see http://www.babymilkaction.org/update/update38.html
The other article, I am including below. It shows how a clear policy lead from a government can have a wide impact in changing social attitudes. I imagine some will read it and think: "Political correctness gone mad", which is perhaps inevitable when attitudes and traditions change in light of new understanding.
But I include it for two reasons.
Firstly, I think it is very funny, though i accept that you may have to be English to understand this.
Secondly, it is brilliant journalism. I can just imagine The Guardian news editor handing a press release to the journalist, Helen Carter, and saying: "Helen, make something of this. No more than 100 words, please."
So here it is. Available on line at http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1954597,00.html
Pie-eating contest cuts down on the calories
The World Pie Eating Championship is to change emphasis from volume to speed this year in an attempt to satisfy healthy eating campaigners.
The competition at Harry's Bar in Wigan has always been won by the contestant who eats the most meat and potato pies in three minutes. But this year, it will be whoever eats a single pie in the shortest time.
Tony Callaghan, owner of Harry's Bar, is also offering a vegetarian option.
He said the contest was "doffing its cap to government guidelines on obesity".
"I realise this might be controversial," he said. "But this is the way forward for pie-eating at this level."
And perhaps pie-eating at any level. Thanks Helen. I still laugh when I read it.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
As reported yesterday on this blog, your messages of solidarity were a front-page story in the Philippines' best-selling broad sheet newspaper yesterday, so that's one way.
In the UK, we have yet to gain coverage. We will use the messages for an event here to try to make something newsworthy.
I'm on various lists where journalists can put out requests for assistance with stories. These can be quite general. Recently a journalist for a women's magazine was asking for a 'hearwarming and brave' story. I responded with information on how our partners in the Philippines mobilised over a thousand women to hold a demonstration to protect their infants. We have great pictures showing the decorated umbrellas they used to make an exciting image. But no, not interested in international stories. I had made a UK link with our Policy Director heading out to the Philippines to give her support for the campaign on the breakfast television couches and radio shows. But no. The advice was to get a celebrity on board.
Well we have been receiving messages of support from celebrities such as actess Emma Thompson, so that is certainly a route to go down.
But, as I have said before, the power of this campaign comes from people like you spreading the word, passing around our leaflets and petitions, directing people to our wbesite http://www.babymilkaction.org/ and this blog. The mass media is not the be all and end all in spreading news. You learn that when despite getting our issue into front-page stories like the Nestlé/L'Oreal takeover of Body Shop we still get emails asking us if we have ever thought of publicising the campaign, 'cos people really should know about it!
We have to tell our own story of the injustices our partners face and the struggle to hold corporations to account.
One great tool for helping with that is the Indymedia website. This has a newswire function, where you can post your stories. This is what Indymedia says it is all about:
"Indymedia is a collective of independent media organizations and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage. Indymedia is a democratic media outlet for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth."
So I post our press releases on the Indymedia site, either the international site at http://www.indymedia.org/ or the UK site at http://www.indymedia.org.uk/.
Some news services such as Google news scan the Indymedia sites. Here's an experiment. Try typing "philippines baby milk marketing" or "philippines baby food regulations" into Google news at http://www.google.com/ to find recent coverage (this may pull up some unconnected stories including the same keywords).
If you want to leave comments on what you find please do. Hopefully journalists will start to wake up to the heartwarming and brave story of our partners' struggle, with or without celebrity endorsement, and the list will grow.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
That's a front-page headline in the Philippines today, brought about by your support for Baby Milk Action's campaign of international solidarity with the country. The Government has been taken to court by US and Swiss baby food companies who are trying to undermine regulations on the marketing of their products. The US Chamber of Commerce wrote to the President encouraging interference in the court case and a few days later the regulations were suspended.
You can find the story unfolding on this blog, and details of the international solidarity campaign on our November Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet.
This is how the Daily Inquirer's article today, 21 November, opens:
"EXPRESSIONS of support from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have poured in in the wake of the "blackmail"of the Philippine government by American businessmen over the country..s rules regulating the marketing of infant milk formula.
"Do not let yourself be bullied by these outrageously inhuman beings -- they are not supported by the citizens of their countries," a mother from the United States wrote in an Internet-based "petition of solidarity" started by the global advocacy group Baby Milk Action.
"I admire the Philippines (for) taking this strong action to protect infants," wrote another mother from Canada. "Infant health should always take precedence over corporate interests."
Similar messages continue to fill the online Baby Milk Action petition, all attacking the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America.
You can read the full article at http://newsinfo.inq7.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view_article.php?article_id=33842 (please let me know if the link dies). You have likely caused a bit of a stir as the Daily Inquirer circulation is the most widely read broadsheet newspaper in the Philippines: "With over 2.7 million nationwide readers daily, it enjoys a market share of over 50% and tops the readership surveys".
The article relates the story of the Chamber of Commerce letter, which was exposed by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) back in October. See:
The article explains how the Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier described the Chamber of Commerce letter as a form of "pressure" and "a subtle blackmail" and states that the President's press secretary said Duque was acting in the country's "interest."
However, the spotlight being shone on the attempt to undermine measures intended to protect all infants - whether breastfed or bottled-fed - may not yet be enough to counter the pressure. The Daily Inquirer reports the press secretary said the government was also trying to "address" the concerns of the American businessmen.
Another of your comments from the solidarity campaign is quoted in the article:
From England, a certain Jennifer wrote: "The health of children of the Philippines is of far greater importance than the accumulation of profits by baby milk companies. It is shameful that companies and individuals should undermine the health of babies purely to make money."
In other developments, the campaign has prompted responses from Abbott and Wyeth which have been forwarded to us by supporters. These US companies are involved in the legal action against the government. We are analysing these to post on our website shortly. Nestlé Philippines wrote to us directly expressing its 'disappointed' in being included in our campaign when, as we state, it is not part of the legal action. It claims it has supported the new regulations in writing.
Well a full analysis from us will appear shortly, but the Inquirer article explains that what Nestlé means by support is in practice:
The company said it was also supporting an advertising ban on breast milk substitutes for infants aged up to 12 months. In contrast, the [new regulations] regulates the advertising of milk formula for children aged up to 24 months, which is consistent with the World Health Assembly resolutions and the Infant and Young Child Feeding Convention to which the Philippines is a signatory.
Tut tut Nestlé. We are very disappointed at such economy with the truth.
So this still has a way to run yet. Please keep the comments and petition signatures coming in please. As you can see action YOU take in response to our campaigns has an impact in supporting mothers and infants on the other side of the planet.
Finally, remember the blog entry about 1,000 women coming together at a demonstration in the Philippines with umbrellas sporting slogans in support of breastfeeding in defence of the regulations?
I thought you might like to see some pictures.
Click for large versions. Photo credit: ARUGAAN (IBFAN Philippines), 2006.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Any influence Baby Milk Action has as a campaigning organisation comes from two things to my mind. One is being right, arrogant as that may sound. Asking, demanding, that the health and well-being of babies be put before the greed of corporations is not unreasonable. Using internationally agreed health standards as the benchmark for what is and is not acceptable is sensible. Having a well-documented case to expose aggressive marketing practices is compelling. Being able to show the positive effect of introducing legislation and having independent monitoring and enforcement systems demonstrates the necessary action.
But being right is not enough in this world. As Ines, writing from the Philippines, said in her message recently: "money talks in all levels of power in the media, medical societies, congress, supreme court".
So the second thing we need to have influence are people. Writing letters, signing petitions, spreading the word. In campaigning we talk about grassroots supporters. Not sure why exactly, but it means people on the ground. They are 'the people' in the democratic sense of the expression, who take the information and evidence Baby Milk Action or any other organisation produces, or research an issue themselves, and say to politicians and business leaders: "You must take action". Who say to their friends and neighbour: "This is unacceptable and if we to not raise our voices, then who will?"
The Sheila McKechnie Awards are intended to help new grassroots campaigners, who have been involved in a campaign for less than 5 years (can be longer if this is in a voluntary capacity). They are for people who are already active in campaigning and would benefit from a package of training and support. This is tailored to the individual winner and there are 9 categories, including Consumer Action, Health and Social Care and International Campaigner. The description for the last of these says:
"This award will recognise campaigners based outside of the UK in the global South, working to achieve social or environmental justice in their home countries. In partnership with Concern Worldwide this award will target campaigners living in the lowest 40 countries in the world as defined by the United Nations Human Development Index."
There is a list of countries on the website at http://www.sheilamckechnie.org.uk/showSubSub.php?id=6&page=1
There is also a "Young Campaigners" award for people aged 18-24, in memory of Guy Hughes, an activist on international conflicts with Crisis Action, who died tragically earlier this year. The description says: "This award is for campaigners working towards global justice, challenging the root causes of world poverty, international conflict, environmental destruction or human rights abuses."
Further details of the awards can be found on the Sheila McKechnie Foundation website http://www.sheilamckechnie.org.uk/
This also has helpful information on campaigning strategies and tells you more about Sheila McKechnie. She was Director of Shelter (a charity working on homelessness) and later the Chief Executive of the Consumers Association. The Foundation was established in 2005 to provide support to campaigners. The Awards are sponsored not by business, but by campaigning organisations. Winners don't receive cash, but support from experienced campaigners.
The Foundations says it exists: "To empower people to change the world. A strong society needs campaigners: people who question, challenge injustice, hold people in power accountable and fight for social change."
So if you are one of these people or know someone who is and think an Award would be of benefit, please check out the site. In particular if you are a young or international campaigner working on the baby food issue and would like Baby Milk Action's help in applying, contact me. The closing date for applications is 18 December.
It's not enough to be right. To have influence, we all need a little help.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Getting in the picture
Been a bit of a busy catch-up sort of day today, so instead of news from me, I am directing you to a couple of people who have made a great contribution to the campaign by donating pictures for use in our materials.
There are many people who have done so over the years, both campaigning logos and images of breastfeeding. We produce (Alison our amazing Office Manager and Lisa our equally amazing long-term volunteer, more accurately) produce a breastfeeding calendar that is used by groups around the world. It is great to have an alternative to the promotional ones that formula companies are all too willing to hand out.
There are a few stories to tell about the calendar, its production, use and the pictures it contains, so I'll come back to it when I have more time.
Until then a big thank you to everyone who is involved in it and buys it or other items from our on-line Virtual Shop.
So the two links I mentioned. I know there are more out there, but I have to be quick today, so feel free to add on the comment list.
One to a mother whose picture will be the February image. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/bellymotherbaby/242442324/
And another whose picture is being used for some new cards. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/22554961@N00/273896630/.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
It all began for me when I heard on the morning radio news back in March that L'Oreal was making a bid for Body Shop. No mention of Nestlé, but as carriers of our handy pocket size boycott cards will now, Nestlé is part owner of L'Oreal.
It seemed a disaster in the making as Body Shop has espoused 'ethical values' including consumer power and boycotts as a way to exert pressure on dodgy companies. Now here was Dame Anita Roddick, founder of Body Shop and still a major shareholder in it, approving selling out to the world's 'least responsible company'. There she was in The Guardian saying: "this is without doubt the best 30th anniversary gift the Body Shop could have received".
It is at moments like this that all work plans go out the window to deal with a story in the heat of media interest. The first objective was to ensure that future news reports mentioned that Nestlé owned over a quarter of L'Oreal and that if the sale went ahead buying Body Shop would put money in Nestlé’s pockets. And in making that link, we wanted to gain further exposure of Nestlé's aggressive marketing of baby foods and the boycott campaign. Our press release went out later that day.
We asked supporters to send messages to Body Shop and Dame Anita via their websites raising their concerns about a link to Nestlé.
The media soon picked up on the absurdity of 'ethical' Body Shop falling into the hands of unethical Nestlé. Others were raising concerns about L'Oreal's record of testing on animals and obstruction over regulations aimed at ending the practice, regulations Body Shop had championed.
So almost immediately news of the Body Shop takeover became a story of unscrupulous businesses getting their hands on an ethical pioneer and the dilemma it would create for consumers. The front-page story of The Independent on 18 March was : "Anita’s £625 million sell out" with plenty on Nestlé's record on baby food marketing and the boycott.
This obviously rankled Dame Anita. She wrote on her blog after seeing more of the same in the Sunday papers: "I woke up on Sunday morning, bright and early, to discover that – apparently, and at some time during the night – I had 'betrayed women'. This is something that has happened to me only rarely in my life, thank goodness: reaching over for the Sunday papers and my reading glasses, only to find the headline 'Oh, Anita, it's not worth it!'"
But though while Dame Anita attempted to defend the decision of selling to L'Oreal, claiming Body Shop values were 'ring-fenced' and would change L'Oreal rather than the other way around, she was silent on Nestlé and the fact it would profit from Body Shop customers.
In a bid to raise these issues with Dame Anita, who was proving difficult to contact, I posted a message on her blog:
Nestle, the world's 'least responsible company', owns 26.4% of L'Oreal. Baby Milk Action promotes a boycott of Nestle over its aggressive marketing of baby foods. Nestle is responsible for more violations of World Health Assembly marketing requirements than any other company. The boycott targets Nescafe, Nestle's flagship product, but we list all products from which Nestle profits. Body Shop will be listed once the takeover has gone through. Many people have contacted us voicing their shock and disappointment that buying Body Shock products will in future put money in Nestle's pockets.
Find out more at http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press17march06.html
We too are saddened, particularly given the support of Dame Anita and the Body Shop for consumer action in the past. The Body Shop website still states: "Whether it's signing a petition, using our purchase power to boycott a company, or lobbying governments, we all have the power to effect change."
You can sign a Nestle boycott petition on our website and find out how the campaign helps to hold some of the world's most powerful transnationals to account.
We welcome your views, which can be submitted via our site.
Campaigns and Networking Coordinator
Baby Milk Action
The boycott focuses on Nestlé's Nescafé coffee in the UK and most other countries (in Italy it is Nesquik as self-respecting Italian's – connoisseurs of real coffee - would not drink Nescafé). This is for the tactical reason. Nescafé is Nestlé's biggest brand and flagship product. It is widespread, so presents lots of opportunities to raise the boycott. There are many other options on the market – many of them better and/or cheaper. And having a main focus on one product gets around the opt-out excuse of : "You can't boycott Nestlé, they make too much".
Well, you can as many boycotters will testify. For those who want to avoid the lot, we list the main products from which Nestlé profits, including where the link is not immediately obvious. This has had sometimes dramatic effects. So the wholefood sector keenly supported the boycott of Tartex vegetable patés because of the Nestlé link. When Nestlé sold the business, they continued to boycott those products made at Nestlé’s factory, which we listed. When these were moved away like the other products so not a penny went to Nestlé, Tartex was moved off the list and into the wholefood shops.
Nestlé was set to own 26.4% of Body Shop via its holding in L'Oreal – Nestlé's Chief Executive is on the board. So it would go on the list, with an asterix indicating it was partial ownership. But, we wondered, what would boycott supporters do, faced with divided loyalties between attraction to Body Shop values and revulsion of Nestlé's?
We thought we'd ask so set up an on-line questionnaire and emailed our lists of supporters. The results came back quickly and where striking.
Literally 99% of 500 respondents said they would add Body Shop to their personal boycott lists. And people left comments explaining their outrage at what Dame Anita had done in selling to Nestlé/L'Oreal. It was not just a bad move, it was a betrayal they said. You can read the comments at http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press21march06.html
The hot topic of conversation was what where the alternatives. Baby Milk Action doesn't recommend other brands because we don't want to be compromised by associating ourselves in any way with a competing company. But Ethical Consumer had a ranking of cosmetic firms. Body Shop was set to tumble in the 'ethiscore' rankings from a good 11 out of 20 to an abysmal 2.5 out of 20. But there were many alternatives, scoring even higher than the old Body Shop. See http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/magazine/press/2006/BodyShop_LOreal.htm
Which I found to be an interesting phenomena. The main beneficiaries of the furore would be ethical businesses.
Inside Body Shop meanwhile rumour has it there was chaos as people went into shops tearing up their loyalty cards, 'At Home' agents resigned and an apparently large number of shop managers began looking for new jobs. Once the takeover went through I am led to believe salaries had to be hiked up to keep managers in the shops.
Throughout this all Dame Anita was silent on the Nestlé link. Though she said in her blog on 23 March: "I realise I need to reply to the comments that have been emailed to me regarding Nestle, which I will do, but as I’m just about to go to the Far East for a few weeks on business, I’ll craft my response upon my return."
The weeks passed and no crafted response came. Then in May after I left a comment on the blog explaining our forthcoming annual demonstration against Nestlé would include leafleting at Body Shop outlets, I received a letter. I phoned and sent emails saying we would take this to be the public response unless Dame Anita wished to provide something else. We were told she had nothing to add.
So we released the letter. See http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press10may06.html
It was strong stuff and in many respects a great contribution to the campaign as it acknowledged Nestlé's record. It included the memorable phrase: "So if you have to bloody boycott - then boycott."
Though only those companies Nestlé owns 100%, Dame Anita suggested. Not those it owned 28.8% of (Nestlé's latest year report revealed an increase in shareholding).
This resulted in another round of media coverage. I mentioned previously picking up the Evening Standard on a train and finding a full page article about it, with a picture of our boycott leaflet downloaded from the website. This is the report from The Independent
The letter contained a surprising shift from Body Shop values - the website was still proclaiming the power of consumers and the role of boycott. But Dame Anita wrote: "...boycotts rarely work and the people you hurt are primarily the weak and the frail. And when all you do is boycott then there is no chance of getting a lever on the way the world is."
Dame Anita also commented that as a company listed on the stock market it was already owned by: "amoral city financiers, asset strippers and fund managers in the city of London, who eat communities for breakfast." It has been suggested there was no choice in the sale as L'Oreal could have taken it over anyway - indeed it seemed it was buying up all the shares it could while negotiation was going on. Perhaps, though there had been an earlier takeover bid that would have seen the Body Shop return to private ownershop, so it would have been owned by neither L'Oreal or 'amoral city financiers'. If it was to be bought out, there were choices about how to present this publicly, how to refer to - or ignore - the Nestlé link.
There are a few more twists and turns in this story which I will save for another day.
So what was achieved by dropping other work to respond to the takeover story that day back in March? Well, many more people know about Nestlé part-owning L'Oreal and now Body Shop. They know about the boycott and Nestlé's aggressive marketing of baby foods. It is publicity we could not buy. That few organisations could buy, because aside from the media it travels by word of mouth. The Body Shop is another place to raise Nestlé malpractice – that is part of the logic of a boycott campaign.
And in the build up to Christmas you may like to download leaflets from our website or request copies from us to hand out as people mill around a Body Shop near you. The leaflet targets Nestlé and acknowledges some will have a dilemma over whether to add the Body Shop to their personal boycott. If they do not wish to they can at least boycott Nescafé and support the campaign in other ways. But they have a right to know where their money will end up.
There was also an indication that Body Shop's brand image had been tainted by its association with Nestlé. A critically important point for investors, because if Nestlé drags the value of a brand down they are worried. A YouGov opinion poll found:
"The Body Shop's "buzz" rating has dropped 10 points to –4 since the beginning of the month, the public's "general impression" of it is down three to 19 and "satisfaction" has slumped a massive 11 points to 14."
Why? Because of L’Oreal's reputation and because: "L'Oreal is 26.4% owned by Nestle, one of the most boycotted companies in the world."
L'Oreal is now planning massive investment in Body Shop and to expand it further. Maybe its image will recover if enough is spent on advertising and promotion. If L'Oreal does respect its 'ring-fenced' values and is converted by them. But maybe the Nestlé taint will be too strong, particularly if we continue to remind people where their money ends up.
One thing is for sure. There has been a cost to Nestlé/L'Oreal, a financial and a public relations cost, because the company continues to market its baby foods in breach of international standards.
Nestlé executives put profits before infant health. Making the unnecessary death and suffering appear on a company balance sheet through the boycott makes them, investors and shareholders take notice.
(And if you are now asking 'to what affect' read the blog 'The long haul').
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
São Lourenço is on Brazil's famous 'water circuit' of historic spa towns, and is built around a water park full of mineral springs credited with healing properties. For over a century people have visited the town to take the waters and, until the pharmaceutical companies expanded into Brazil after the second world war, doctors were taught 'crenology' - using mineral waters for health.
I first visited São Lourenço on a honeymoon tour of Brazil in 2001 and did not realize at that time that the eerily humming concrete building we strayed across in one corner was owned by Nestlé. The park fell into its hands when it took over the Perrier bottled water company in 1992. It was only later that I was contacted by residents of the town who had come across the boycott we promote over Nestlé's aggressive marketing of baby foods and were looking for help with their campaign. Then I learned of the destruction of this wonder of nature through Nestlé's sinking of two massive wells to extract water for supplying its Pure Life brand across Brazil. The volumes drawn off were affecting the other springs. One of which dried up. Others changed their mineral composition and long-time visitors started to complain and to stop visiting. The ground started to subside and the chapel like buildings over the springs began to crack.
Residents raised a petition, gaining thousands of signatures, and presented this to the Public Prosecutor, who had to launch an investigation. When he found many irregularities, he brought legal action against Nestlé calling for an immediate end to pumping and compensation to the town. That was in 2001. Campaigners went to Brasilia and there was a congressional hearing, investigations by a federal Public Prosecutor - again finding multiple breaches of regulations - and, in 2004 an order was published calling for Nestlé to paralyze all activities at the well it had sunk, within 30 days. The well was known as the 'Primavera well' ('Primavera' is Portuguese for Spring, the season). There is an original Primavera spring with water coming from the same level in the aquifer. Each spirng has a chapel-like building above. Nestlé demolished the oldest, above the Orient Spring, dating from 1892, to build a massive wall around the bottling plant to hide what it was doing and to penetrate deeply into the ground to stop rain water that was now entering through the earth disrupted by the subsidence from contaminating its bottled water source. You can see the picture and a wealth of information in Portuguese at http://www.circuitodasaguas.org/.
Nestlé continued pumping despite the order, bringing a legal challenge against it.
There were repeated hopes of a breakthrough. One of the campaigners, Franklin Fredrick, began travelling to Switzerland to bring the case to Nestlé's doorstep and found a similar situation had occurred there, but the media attention to a Swiss campaign had quickly stopped Nestlé's damaging activities. It seemed the same would work for São Lourenço, as when Franklin questioned the Chief Executive of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, at a public meeting in January 2005 Mr Brabeck said Nestlé would stop pumping. It was headline news. But the promise was worthless. Nestlé continued pumping.
We raised the issue when relevant in the UK. Such as in an article I wrote for Corporate Watch, given the title: Steal the water, Push the powder. See http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk/?lid=580.
When Franklin was in Switzerland we raised a little money to bring him to the UK to meet with water campaigners and development organisations here. We had him as a speaker at our event on Nestlé at the European Social Forum in London in 2004. We put him in contact with the organisers of the Tap Water Awards, the alternative to Nestlé's Perrier Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Fringe and they included information about São Lourenço in their materials.
We also saw the value in a wider campaign Franklin was heavily involved in. Something to make a lasting and wide-reaching difference. He was working with campaign organisations and faith groups in calling for water to be recognised as a human right and public good and for there to be a convention setting out responsibilities. While there had been some work on the rights angle in the UK, the water campaigners here were not linked into the Brazil/Swiss campaign, which was gaining momentum. Seeing the value of this approach from our experience with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, we included promoting it in a project we put together on corporate accountability. I have just finished the report to one of our funders today, which has prompted me to revisit this case.
So with a bit of money, earlier this year, in March, we held a joint seminar in London with Franklin, ActionAid, Christian Aid, War on Want and the World Development Movement, organisations that had endorsed a declaration based on the Brazil/Swiss one calling for water to be recognised as a human right and for there to be a convention.
Nestlé reached into its usual armoury of tricks to try to undermine the seminar. It wrote to the directors of the organisations claiming it had an independent audit conducted by Bureau Veritas showing the allegations of illegal activity were false. It included a letter from the Mayor of São Lourenço saying Franklin was not born in the town, did not live in the town and had no right to speak on behalf of the town.
Well, I had a mass of documents showing that the claims of illegality were true and had met and spoken with prosecutors, members of congress, hydrologists and so on while in Brazil and on a return trip to São Lourenço when the BBC were recording a radio programme (which you can hear by clicking here and read the transcript by clicking here). Nestlé were bang to rights. The seminar went ahead.
A little later I was able to question Bureau Veritas about their audit. Know what they said: "our work did not constitute a legal audit as such, nor did it include a review of the on-going civil action." So the audit was a pile of pants (to use the technical phrase) because Bureau Veritas had not even talked with the Public Prosecutor or mentioned the legal action. They also seemed unaware of the Federal Prosecutors legal opinion which led to the 2004 paralysation order. But Nestlé misrepresents the audit saying: "a third party audit by Bureau Veritas confirms that we have acted in accordance with Brazilian legislation". Laughable, if it wasn't people's livelihoods we are speaking about. As we have told Bureau Veritas, they can download the documents from our website at http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press2march06.html, but they refuse to revise their audit.
Two things happened subsequently in Brazil. Firstly when news of the Mayor's letter reached Brazil it caused a bit of a stink and the town council introduced a motion to make Franklin an honorary citizen!
Secondly, Nestlé met with the Public Prosecutor and agreed to settle the case! It was coming to a head after 5 years in the courts. There was a suggestion to call in an independent hydrologist. At the meeting to discuss this, Nestlé instead said it would stop pumping and by way of compensation would renovate the park.
Ten years after it sank its well, it finally agreed in a written agreement to turn off the pump. That's all it had to do. Flick the switch. In the agreement, failure to comply would require it to pay a fine of R$ 55,000 per day.
What a great victory! Franklin came once more to the UK in August and was able to attend the Tap Water Awards in Edinburgh this year. There was a celebratory air as Nestlé had also abandoned the Perrier Comedy Award following the bad publicity it attracted to its baby food marketing practices and the Brazil case. The Tap Water people gave Franklin a special prize for the work of the campaigners.
Today we received an endorsement for our petition of solidarity with the Philippines from São Lourenço. The Friends of the Water Circuit of Minas Gerais Movement's message was sent on to our partners there as they battle to defend their baby food regulations from attack by the industry and US Chamber of Commerce. You can now see images of the baby milk labels from Nestlé and other companies on our Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet, which demonstrate one aspect of the aggressive marketing they use. See http://www.babymilkaction.org/CEM/cemnov06labels.html.
But this story does not have a happy ending, I'm afraid. Not yet. Because I learned something else today from São Lourenço.
It seems Nestlé has not turned of its pumps.
I have before me the official government record of pumping rates from 11 May 2006, after the agreement to stop pumping was signed. It was still pumping at over 10 m3/hour on that date. You can see the record here: http://www.circuitodasaguas.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=138.
That's equivalent to ten thousand 1 litre bottles of water every hour of every day. But apparently Nestlé is just throwing the water away, because it is illegal to demineralise it and sell it. Last we knew it was extracting the carbon dioxide to put into other drinks.
So now to force Nestlé to comply with the agreement it signed, they have to try to levy the fine of R$55,000 per day. Does Nestlé care? Has it just incorporated the fine into its business plan? Does it know it will take years more to take it through the courts again, years while it will continue to make a profit?
An all too familiar story of denials, deception and profits before people.
There's not much I can do with everything going in with the baby milk campaign, which has to be our priority.
But I can at least keep on wearing that baseball cap so São Lourenço is not forgotten.
(Though, if you really hate it and want me to take it off, leave me a message).
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Thank you so much to everyone who has signed our petition of solidarity with the Philippines. This will come to the crunch later this month as The Supreme Court is due to make its decision on the baby food marketing regulations, which are under attack from the baby food industry.
We have received the following message from our partners.
Thank you so much for your sincere help in our struggle to protect the Filipino mothers and children rights to breastfeeding as we encounter .. pressures from the milk - pharma companies greed for profits over health. Money walks, money talks in all levels of power in the media, medical societies, congress, supreme court. We are still hopeful.. as we wage people's action in legal system, mass action.
As we receive the solidarity messages from different countries, we are filled with heartfelt thanks and it motivated us to persevere as we fight for truth and justice for the cause of breastfeeding.
Maraming salamat. Thank you so much.
Ines Av. Fernandez on behalf of the People of the Philippines coalition for breastfeeding.
And it is great to receive organisations' endorsements for the campaign from not only our own IBFAN Europe network of 58 groups, but from the other side of the planet, such as from the Infant Feeding Association of New Zealand and the Australian Lactation Consultants Association.
The Philippines campaigners are truly amazing. Just look at this UNICEF report on the mass mobilisation of one thousand mothers in September over this case. See http://www.unicef.org/philippines/news/060901.html
More than a thousand breastfeeding mothers together with civic organizations unite to protect breastfeeding through a forum and a colorful public display of a thousand slogan umbrellas at the Risen Garden, Quezon City Hall. The slogans, written in English, Filipino and local dialects, embodied the voice and sentiments of the mothers in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision to temporarily suspend the implementation of the Executive Order 51 or the Philippine Milk Code. The code aims to protect mothers and infants through promoting breastfeeding and regulating advertisements of breastmilk substitutes.
But it is so difficult to gain media coverage for these issues in the Philippines. Milks (including baby milks and whole milks) are the third most heavily advertised product there, the bulk of it being imported. Meaning print media in particular appears loath to report on pressure from companies against the baby milk marketing regulations. According to a market analysis report, we have been told, the spend on advertising powdered milk (baby and whole milk) in the first 6 months of 2006 was 2.6 billion pesos (£27 million or US$52 million).
In the past we have exposed a television station being threatened with the removal of advertising for running programmes on aggressive marketing practices.
So we need publicity in the rest of the world to shame what the baby food companies are doing in trying to weaken the government's regulations through legal action, what the US Chamber of Commerce has done in pressuring the President to interfere in the court decision by suggesting investment is at risk.
If you are a journalist, know a journalist or have other contacts in the media, please look at this story. It is a life and death struggle with mothers from some of the poorest villages in the Philippines mobilising to take on the might of US and Swiss transnational corporations. See our press release at http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press9nov06.html
The World Health Organisation estimates 16,000 Filipino under-5 children die every year through inappropriate feeding. Nearly half the population (47.5%) lives on less than US$2 per day, 15% don..t have access to an improved water source, and nearly 30% to improved sanitation (UNDP Human Development Report 2006).
Get this. According to the UNDP Human Development Report, sanitation figures hide key facts. Like only 4% of the population of Manila are connected to a sewer network.
The problem is that sludge treatment and disposal facilities are rare. The result: indiscriminate disposal of inadequately treated effluents into the Pasig River..a complex network of waterways that links the Laguna de Bay Lake to Manila Bay through a huge urban conurbation. Another 35 tons of solid domestic waste is deposited in the Pasig annually by squatters dwelling in makeshift settlements on the river's banks. In total, some 10 million people discharge untreated waste into the river. This has serious consequences for public health. The Pasig is one of the world..s most polluted rivers, with human waste accounting for 70% of the pollution load. Faecal coliform levels exceed
standards set by the Department of the Environment and Natural resources by several orders of magnitude..and around one-third of all illness in Manila is water related. The 4.4 million people living along the river face particularly acute problems, especially during the floods in the June to October rainy season. During the low flow season the Pasig River reverses direction and carries pollution into Laguna Lake, creating further public health problems.
This report was launched on 9 November (that's another news peg, journalist friends). In the reality it described in the Philippines, the baby food industry is using every tool in its armoury to try to undermine regulations on the marketing of baby milks.
This is a struggle where the might of transnationals is countered by a thousand mothers with coordinated umbrellas! What a great story! What a great image!
See our press release. We can provide rock-solid evidence and data, pictures and interviews.
This story needs to be told. Please help.
Maraming salamat. Thank you so much.
Monday, November 13, 2006
He made no reference to it in the programme and it was only afterwards I realised what it was meant to say. His programme focused on Nestlé's failure in some countries to include the appropriate language on product labels. Famously, Nestlé wrote to a Baby Milk Action campaigner on one occasion explaining why: "Due to cost restrainsts of small runs it has not been viable to change languages for specific export markets". Hmm. It took 7 years of campaigning after that, and Mark's TV programmes, to prompt Nestlé's Chief Executive to promise a review of all labels.
But there is more to clearly labelling products than translating them into a language mothers will understand (if they are literate). Though obviously that is an important step and not one that should be neglected just because it eats into company profits a little.
I've just received a pack of product packaging from the Philippines. And they are not good. You will be able to see examples on the Baby Milk Action website as an update to our Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet calling for international solidarity with the Philippines as it stands up to pressure from the baby food industry and US Chamber of Commerce.
But the first thing to notice with the labels is the message across the top: "Breastmilk is best for babies up to two years old". A statement on the superiority has been required since the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981. Again, in line with the Code and national measures the label contains instructions on how to mix up the formula states: "Breastmilk is best for babies up to two years old. Before using an infant formula, consult your doctor or clinic for advice. The improper use of breastmilk substitutes may be dangerous to baby's health."
The form text takes is very much dependent on the measures taken by governments to specify and enforce it. In Brazil warnings have specified text and font size, headed "Ministry of Health Warning" in a black box. It is so striking the industry lobbied hard to have it less prominent, without success.
In some countries however, companies can get away with using the 'breast is best' almost as a product endorsement as we have exposed in the past. For example after the 2001 global monitoring project we noted (see the June/August 2001 Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet):
Nestlé complies with the 'Breast is best' statement requirement, but in many countries it adds text. The message it attempts to portray becomes in effect: 'Breast is best and this formula is similar to breastmilk so it must be good'.
For example: Breast is best and...
* Nativa 1 (Côte d'Ivoire): "Its composition is based on mother's milk."
* Lactogen 1 (Ghana): "Composition is based on that of breastmilk."
* Nan (Mexico): "Based on mother's milk."
* Nan (Uruguay): "Composition qualitatively and quantitatively based on mother's milk."
* Nidina 1 (Italy): "Similar to mother's milk."
* Good Start (Canada) is the "next best alternative to breastmilk"
* Good Start (USA) is "100% whey protein, the primary type of protein in breastmilk" and the "ideal formula choice to bring out the best in your baby."
Nestlé's current label for Nestogen infant formula in the Philippines is using a slightly different approach. It is:
"New improved NESTOGEN 1."
It has a prominent, colourful logo, saying it contains "Brain Building Block - DHA" and "More Calcium - Bone Builder".
On the back, under the message about breastmilk being best for baies, it states:
"Nestogen 1 is a starter formula made specially to meet the needs of infants
0 to 6 months old. It provides all the vitamins and minerals needed by the
young infant. Plus, it is now improved with:
"DHA - Experts recognize DHA as essential for brain development and good
"More Calcium - Ensures stronger bone and teeth formation."
These are 'health claims' of the type being discussed at the Food Code (Codex Alimentarius) meeting at the end of last month. They were one of the hot discussions over the recently updated European Union Directive.
If something is necessary for infant health, then stick it in the formula, but
why do companies battle so hard to be able to put claims about the ingredients on labels? Because they are promotional. They are intended to encourage mothers to use the product, to be reassured that even if 'breastmilk is best' the artificial milk is not so different. But they are misleading as I explored in the entry on Long Chain Polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as DHA. Who are the experts Nestlé refers to? Certainly not the influential Cochrane Library that reviewed the scientific evidence for the value of adding LCPs to formula and found claims about benefits to brain development are not supported by the evidence.
The complementary foods in the Philippines are plastered with these type of claims as well, for reasons I might write about another time. However, something did strike me with the Nestlé label. Nestlé told us during national demonstrations in May 2003 that it would comply with World Health Assembly Resolutions setting out the appropriate age of use for complementary foods. Since 1994 the Assembly has said this should be fostered from about 6 months of age, that is exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age.
The Nestogen feeding table suggests introducing its 'New Improved Nestlé Baby Food' in the 5th or 6th month. That is from as young as 4 months of age - the age of a baby at the start of its 5th month.
Well, no surprise to find Nestlé has not delivered on a public undertaking. We shall raise it with the company.
These things do not end up on labels by accident. Strong warnings and clear instructions come from strong regulation. Idealizing comments come from companies ignoring their responsibilities under the World Health Assembly marketing requirements and national measures.
So back to Mark Thomas's t-shirt. Was it obvious to you? If not, leave a comment and maybe someone will explain it.
We lend out the video of his programmes, so contact us for details.
I couldn't find a picture of the t-shrit on a web search, but found this interview with Mark from that time.
Friday, November 10, 2006
It links to loads of resources for students and teachers: written, audio and video. Nestlé's promotion in schools presents an opportunity for students and teachers to question why it is there and wider issues of infant feeding, corporate marketing practices, public relations, human rights and ethics.
We have a schools' pack, which contains 14 participatory-style lesson plans, case studies and a host of background material, to help students deconstruct public relations messages - from companies and their critics. It is free to access on-line at http://www.babymilkaction.org/spin/
Nestlé is a company that puts its own profits before infant health in the way it pushes its baby foods in breach of international standards. The contradictions of it sponsoring the Booktrust children's book prize are obvious and we hope will be talked about. Today I was able to do just that on a cable television programme for teachers, Teachers' TV.
The 6 minute slot in the news programme examined how pressure groups and companies are making materials available for schools. There are clearly issues of what to allow into schools, which should be a concern for students and teachers alike. That is the point of our schools' pack. How to deconstruct the messages in sponsored materials and understand the motivation of those who are producing them. One of the exercises looks at an image that Baby Milk Action uses. Another, a Nestlé anti-boycott advertisement. In another students develop a policy for vetting materials, which could be presented to the board of governors.
You can see the Teachers' TV programme here. The piece on pressure groups and companies is about 15 minutes and 30 seconds into the programme. The part specifically on the Nestlé book prize is at 19 minutes 50 seconds. Check out the page on our website as this may be updated with the clip, copyright permitting.
Nestlé provided a statement to Teachers' TV. It said:
"Nestlé is a socially responsible company.. It is regrettable that a UK campaign group is attempting to undermine a unique and well-regarded book prize, aimed at rewarding high standards in children's literature."
Well, thank you for that, Nestlé. No doubt it does regret the bad publicity. And is not happy about its impact on child health being on television and in the media once again and its practices questioned in schools.
The questioning helps to educate and to keep up the pressure on Nestlé. If schools opt out of the Nestlé children's book prize or join those calling for the Booktrust to find a different sponsor it will send a strong message that will echo around the world.
We think the book prize is a great idea, except for the Nestlé link. Long may it continue without Nestlé, just as the teenage book prize went ahead without Nestlé after protests from authors. Just as the Nestlé Perrier Award for Comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival continues under a different guise following protests over Nestlé involvement from the public and performers. Nestlé pulled out this year.
As the first entry in this blog explained, pressure from the boycott is forcing changes from Nestlé and helping to save infant lives. The boycott makes Nestlé baby food marketing practices an issue wherever the company raises its head.
And should not students and teachers question why a book prize has to come with Nestlé branding attached? A company producing a range of foods targetted at children, many of which are high in salt, fat and sugar and contributing to the epidemic of obesity.
Should they not question why the book prize press release goes further than Nestlé's sponsorship for it and boasts of Nestlé's support for children's charities more generally?
Should they not question why Nestlé's record of abusing children's rights in its baby food marketing and other areas, such as failing to act on child slavery in its cocoa supply chains, does not disqualify it as a sponsor?
But Nestlé inhabits a topsy-turvy world. It suggests it is Baby Milk Action's behaviour in raising these questions that should be regretted.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
The World Health Organisation is reported as saying the needless death of 16,000 Filipino infants every year from inappropirate feeding practices exceeds any humanitarian emergency which the Philippines has faced in the last 20 years.
We have asked people like you to sign our petition of solidarity with the Philippines as it comes under pressure from baby food companies and the US Chamber of Commerce over its new baby food marketing regulations and to include a message for our partners if you wish.
These have been really appreciated by our partners to show the world is watching and supporting their efforts. Baby Milk Action's Patti Rundall has been in the Philippines in a media whirlwind. You can see her sitting on a breakfast TV couch on our website.
Live TV is great, because what you say goes out on air, though in the past TV stations have come under pressure afterwards as we reported on our Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet. The print media is perhaps more susceptible as advertisers can have a lot of clout and little seems to have got past the editors so far. So we need international coverage as well.
Perhaps backed by an event. Something like a giant card covered with the messages of support that have been coming in. Now there's a thought. Hmmm.
If you've not signed the petiton, please do. If you have, you can also download a petition sheet to print off with the action sheet so you can gather signatures from friends, family and workmates.
Here's some of the messages that have come in and winged their way to the Philippines. Don't worry if you don..t see your message below. They are certainly being passed on and will be included in this greeting card type thing that is materialising in the back of my mind.
Jenifer, England: "The health of the children of the Philippines is of far greater importance than the accumulation of profits by baby milk companies. It is shameful that companies and individuals should undermine the health of babies purely to make money."
Veronica, Ireland: "Each baby deserves the best start in life,woman are undermined every day world wide by the actions of the multinational companies. Keep up your good work you will make a difference !!!!"
Madeline, USA: "Let's let moms breastfeed babies. That saves lives."
Elaine, USA: "Support people, not corporations. Do not let yourself be bullied by these outrageously inhuman beings. They are not supported by the citizens of their countries."
Ron and Pauline, Canada: "We're thinking of your country and protection of breastfeeding for your children."
Evelyn, Canada: "Invest in the health of your babies, not American companies."
Marie, France: "Breast is best everywhere in the world."
Margarete, France: "I would appreciate if your first and main concern are the children and their well-being and not the economic interest."
Mary, England: "From my work in a "bustee" health project in Pakistan some years ago, I know how vital it is to support and encourage breast feeding of infants. I fully endorse this protest."
Alex, Wales: "Breast milk is a priceless commodity that must safeguarded at all costs. Large business organisations could earn real prestige by publicly supporting this campaign and cheerfully embracing any fall in profits - a fall that would reflect their moral and ethical standing in the world."
Caleb, New Zealand: "Do the right thing."
Leslie, Canada: "I admire the Philippines taking this strong action to protect infants. Infant health should always take precedent over corporate interests."
Jacqueline, France: "Please do the right thing and put babies and their mothers before company profits."
Sofia, UK: ..Please protect your infants - they are your future!..
Kym, USA:"..Please save the precious babies and educate mothers to know how to breastfeed. God's perfect design, there is nothing better on this earth for the children."
Theresa, Canada: "The health of children should come before the profits of any company. This should not even be an issue. Protect Filipino children's right to be breastfed."
Vanessa, USA: "My son is 5 months old and exclusively breastfed. Say no to pressuring formula companies. Breastmilk is best for our babies, and it's free."
Jean, USA: "Please do not let yourself be threatened by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce interfering with the health of Filipino babies and mothers for the sake of the profit of U.S pharmaceutical/formula companies. Continue to keep in front of you the best interests of the physical and mental health of your future citizens."
Helen, Canaada: "Please do not be influenced by people who are only interested in making huge profits. They do not care about the health and well being of your children. Breastfeeding is normal, natural and the healthiest way to feed, nuturenddn bond with your child. We should not allow the Formula companies to influence policy of governments so that they can undermine breastfeeding and add to poverty, sickness adn death in children."
Adrian, UK: "Good luck and stick to your principles!"
Philip, UK: "Don't give in, keep fighting."
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
There is a whirlwind of activity in the Philippines at the moment - my colleague has just presented evidence at a meeting in Congress. I'll say more about that soon. Of course, while all this is going on, we still have normal activities, requests for information etc.
And news coming in. Today the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published a ruling on a formula advertisement from NUMICO for its Cow & Gate brand of formula.
The ASA is a self-regulatory body, funded by the advertising industry. It is endorsed by the government and promoted as an alternative to independent regulation. It has just been announced that a former government Minister, Chris Smith, now Lord Smith, is going to take over the role of Chairman next year. Lord Smith said:
"The ASA is an example of self-regulation working at its best. It has a distinguished record of keeping the work of advertisers and advertising - one of our most important creative industries - on the right road. I look forward to taking forward its important work."
Hmmm. Well, we see a rather mixed record and have questioned in the past the self-regulatory approach.
An advantage is you can file a complaint without necessarily having the expense of lawyers. If the ASA decides there is a case to answer, they conduct their own investigation. We have filed many cases. Our complaint against a Nestlé anti-boycott advertisement in which the company claimed to market infant formula 'ethically and responsibly' was one of the longest ever investigations conducted by the ASA. It took 2 years for them to come up with a ruling as Nestlé repeatedly challenged it - and did use lawyers to try to win its case - exhausting every part of the ASA's appeal procedure. The ruling published in 1999 upheld all of our complaints. Nestlé has effectively 'been branded a liar' over its formula marketing claims the media reported. Earlier we had been challenged over a boycott advertisement and all complaints were rejected.
So thank you ASA.
In a ruling today the ASA has partially upheld a complaint against a formula magazine advertisement from Cow & Gate that said: "Not sure how to help build your baby's natural defences if you're not breastfeeding? That's why Cow & Gate are here to help ... Important notice: Breastfeeding is best for your baby. Cow & Gate follow-on milks should be used as part of a mixed diet and not as a breast milk substitute before 6 months ... Our range of follow-on milks all contain a bunch of goodies called prebiotics to help build natural defences. Prebiotics are the special ingredients naturally found in breast milk, which of course is the best form of nutrition you can give your baby. But if you're not breastfeeding, our follow-on milks can still help your baby build strong defences..."
The ASA did not agree that this is idealizing formula by suggesting similarities with breastmilk. And although it found one company study presented by NUMICO of value it upheld the complaint that there was insufficient evidence for many of the health claims made about the health benefits of prebiotics. It concluded:
"Because they had not sent evidence to show a direct link between an infant taking their formula and it helping to build defences against a number of everyday illnesses or conditions to which they were susceptible, we considered that Cow & Gate had not substantiated the claim. We told Cow & Gate to amend the ad to make clear that the product could help build "some" and not "all" natural defences."
So one cheer for the ASA. But not three. And certainly other countries should not look to this as "self-regulation working at its best" as Lord Smith suggests.
Consider this. Such advertisements are prohibited by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Companies should not be promoting these products to the public at all. It is for health workers to advise parents.
We have argued this point with the ASA many times. It says it has to be bound by the UK Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995, which prohibit the advertising of infant formula, but not follow-on formula.
NUMICO placed an advertisement in The Independent newspaper last year. It was headlined: "Why breast milk is the best start for you baby. Why our milk is the very best alternative to breast milk." The advertisement was headed 'Aptamil', the name of a NUMICO infant formula. Following protests that the advertising was illegal, it was changed. Future advertisements were headed 'Aptamil Forward', the name of the follow-on milk. Nothing else was changed, but now on the ASA's interpretation of the law it was not prohibited.
We argue that even with the addition of the word 'Forward' such advertisements are de facto infant formula advertisements and so illegal under current legislation. They promote the same brand name. They direct readers to websites for further information that promote infant formula. The ASA refuses to consider website content even if it is an intrinsic part of an advertising campaign. It claims sites are 'editorial' and people choose to visit.
There is a legal precedent that an advertisement does not have to specifically refer to the infant formula by name to be illegally advertising infant formula (Birmingham Trading Standards v. Wyeth Brothers (SMA), 2003). But the ASA refuses to even investigate whether advertisers are crossing this line. It sticks to its own narrow interpretation of the law.
Yet the Advertising Code the ASA is supposed to enforce requires advertisements to be 'legal, decent, honest and truthful.'
We have argued that the ASA should not restrict itself to a narrow test of legality when considering whether formula advertisements should be permitted. Article 11.3 of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes states:
"Independently of any other measures taken for implementation of this Code, manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of this Code should regard themselves as responsible for monitoring their marketing practices according to the principles and aim of this Code, and for taking steps to ensure that their conduct at every level conforms to them."
So shouldn't the advertising industry's self-regulatory body ensure conduct does comply with the provisions of the Code? Which means no advertising of breastmilk substitutes, be it infant formula or follow-on formula, or feeding bottles and teats? And no advertising of baby foods labelled for use before 6 months of age?
Wouldn't decent, honest and truthful advertisers look to Article 11.3 and comply with the Code's provisions instead of hiding behind a narrow interpretation of a weak law?
No need according to the ASA. This argument cuts no ice at all. Strict legality is the test.
Though we do see the occasional ruling requiring a tweak to the idealizing wording in an advertisement that should not have appeared in the first place.
Perhaps Lord Smith will take it forward down the right road and encourage a more responsible approach.
Until then, just one cheer for ASA. Hip, hip, hooray.