Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Making history

The campaign alert has gone out for our petition of solidarity with the people of the Philippines. New regulations on the marketing of baby foods, intended to stop breastfeeding from being undermined and to ensure substitutes are used safely if necessary, are under attack in the courts and through pressure on the President from the US Chamber of Commerce.

You can sign up to receive email alerts whenever there are significant posting on the Baby Milk Action website using the contact us form or by registering as a supporter of the Nestlé boycott. You won't be inundated with emails and can opt out at any time.

Our partners in the Philippines are great grassroots campaigners and networkers. There are pictures with our Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet of the launch of their national petition on 16 October. This was as part of the global Stand Up Against Poverty event registered by the Guinness Book of Records for most people involved in such a day of action. In the Philippines the coalition of 5,0000 campaigning groups sees the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding as an essential part of this endeavour. They are not alone. Increasing breastfeeding rates is recognised as a significant step in meeting the targets in the Millennium Development Goals (perhaps a topic for another day).

It takes mobilisation at national and international level to succeed in bringing in laws in the face of pressure from the baby food industry. I've written previously about India and how the baby food industry is finding it more..er..'challenging' to hit its growth targets there. Meaning they risk getting banged up in prison for the practices they quite happily use in other countries. Really. There are powers of imprisonment in the law.

But is has been a long, stony road for India to get to that point. India was calling for a marketing code long ago and the Prime Minister, Indira Ghandi raised the 'controversy over the export of baby foods to developing countries' in her address to the Assembly when the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was being discussed. The industry, led by Nestlé, was attacking the Code as 'irrelevant and unworkable'.

Campaigning groups, The Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) and the Association for Consumer Action on Safety and Health (ACASH - an IBFAN partner) launched awareness raising campaigns and held meetings with other groups and politicians. Eventually, in 1986, a bill came before Parliament.

But before it could be passed the Parliament ended its work for the session and the bill lapsed. Back to the drawing board.

So another six years passed until 1992 when a Member of Parliament, Ram Naik, put forward a private members bill. The government decided to take this on officially and the 1992 Act came into force on 1 August 1993.

Got that?

12 years long hard work from when the Code was adopted with a call for it to be introduced in national measures. 12 years of dedicated campaigning by people on the ground, backed up by an international network.

To be effective a law cannot just sit in a draw, it has to be used. And our partners did. Johnson & Johnson left the feeding bottle business after being taken to court using this law, concluding it was inappropriate to promote bottles in a country like India. After a review it stopped selling bottles everywhere. Nestlé put Hindi warnings on its infant formula labels after a legal action was filed, though it is still fighting the case 12 years later. Its Managing Director could go to prison if convicted.

Times change. New strategies are developed. Technology that didn't even exist when laws were drafted becomes a route for company propaganda, such as cable and satellite television. Campaigners succeeded in bringing in a law banning the advertisements there in 2000. In 2003 a law updated the 1992 Act to stop the practices companies had introduced to try to get around its provisions. Again, they had to mobilise to defend the law soon after it was introduced.

As is happening now in the Philippines.

Now we are living through the same story once again. It is time to mobilise. To get people and organisations to sign the petition of solidarity and send messages to the companies. To get this story into the journals, newspapers, radio and television.

As with India, all that will remain of all the effort will be a sentence in the history to be written.

And a law.

And the children who would have otherwise died in infancy for not being breastfed.

All you need to do is sign the petition. Takes 5 minutes. And maybe send a message to the companies. Takes a little longer. But hey! You're making history.

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