Wednesday, February 28, 2007

UN Rapporteur 'appalled' about Philippines case

The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) is on the cutting-edge of holding some of the world's largest and most powerful transnational corporations to account. Our work on human rights and infant feeding comes to mind with a damning statement issued by the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food about the Philippines case.

We are proud to be the UK member of IBFAN. Part of the reason for IBFAN's success in stopping malpractice and saving infant lives, is because evaluating our strategies is built into how we operate. While continuing with what we know to work, we also look to innovate and use new opportunities. We need to learn and adapt, because the industry we are seeking to regulate adapts and, at present, is fundamentally opposed to changing its practices unless compelled to do so. It puts its own profits first.

We have not achieved total success in all countries partly because of resource limitations, but mainly because of the nature of the baby food industry and its leading players, particularly Nestlé. See my past blog for a reminder at:

An opportunity that IBFAN has been an innovator in spotting and utilising, is the human rights approach to protecting infant and young child health. Our partner in Switzerland, the Geneva Infant Feeding Association (GIFA), has led the way in using the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). GIFA supports national IBFAN groups in including infant feeding issues in the civil society reports - the so-called "alternative reports", that go to the Committee overseeing the Convention. Every year the Committee reviews approximately 27 countries; each signatory country is reviewed every five years. All countries in the world, with the exception of the USA and Somalia, have ratified the CRC and therefore are reviewed by the CRC Committee.

Baby Milk Action has followed GIFA's guidance, submitting comments to the reports prepared by Save the Children. As a direct result, in 2002 the Committee called on the UK Government to implement the baby food marketing requirements in legislation. Current laws are far too narrow and weak. See:

We have since built stronger links with human rights bodies ourselves and included a human rights approach in our campaigning. I was delighted to be able to report on the letter sent by the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food sent to the Philippines UN representative last year. See:

The strong comments in support of the Philippines Government have now been reiterated in a press release on the UN Human Rights Commission website, which I include below. This could be critically important.

Thanks to campaigning action, the Philippines Government now knows it is not alone in facing the pressure from the baby food industry and the US Chamber of Commerce. It knows that whatever the industry may tell it, its efforts to implement World Health Assembly marketing requirements are not unreasonable. Indeed, they are required by its human rights obligations.

Importantly for us, our partners on the ground - health workers, mothers and their families - who began this campaign of defending the regulations - see their efforts paying off. This is now an issue of global concern. See:

It remains to be seen if this, and events still to come, will be sufficient to save the regulations introduced by the Philippines Governments. What you can be sure of is IBFAN will evaluate what happens carefully, to learn for the next time. Unfortunately, it is certain there will be a next time. This is the voice of experience talking.

Here is the UN press release. See:


26 February 2007

Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, issued the following statement today. Ziegler is an independent expert appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Jean Ziegler, is deeply concerned about the current media campaign supporting breastmilk substitutes, organized by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). This commercial campaign, appearing in some of the Philippines's top newspapers is, according to the Special Rapporteur, misleading, deceptive, and malicious in intent.

Mr. Ziegler is concerned that the content of this campaign's materials manipulate data emanating from UN specialized agencies such as WHO and UNICEF, as well as the Filipino Department of Health, with the sole purpose to protect the milk companies' huge profits, regardless of the best interest of Filipino mothers and children. He also expressed his disappointment on the irresponsible and unethical behavior of some medical practitioners and organizations, which have lent themselves to support these companies' selfish interest. The aggressive marketing practices by milk companies contribute to misleading the public by claiming that breastfeeding can not be done by a majority of women and that their products raise healthy, smart, and happy babies.

In 2003 the WHO estimated that 16,000 children under the age of 5 died in the Philippines as a result of improper feeding practices including infant formula. Today, only 16 per cent of children at four to five months of age are exclusively breastfed and 13% of infants are not breastfed at all.

In July 2006, after several years of consultation with industry and community groups, UNICEF and the WHO, the Filipino Department of Health introduced strict regulations in order to implement the 1986 Milk Code. The new regulation includes a ban on the advertising and promotion of milk substitutes for children up to two years old, with an absolute ban on false health and nutritional claims. However, represented by PHAP, the milk companies, appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that the new regulation to implement the Milk Code constituted a restraint on freedom of trade. As a result, the Supreme Court granted a temporary restraining order that is still in effect to date.

The Special Rapporteur reiterates his support to the Government's stand in relation to the regulation to implement the Milk Code and counts on the wisdom of the Filipinos and international organizations to oppose the manipulative and deceptive tactics of milk companies who are guided by their interests and profits. He urges the companies to acknowledge their social corporate responsibility and to take all necessary measures to review their marketing practices related to breast milk substitutes. The Special Rapporteur also appeals to medical practitioners to abide by the ethical rules required by their profession.

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