Friday, May 25, 2007

Don't look at Nescafé, look at the evidence

Here is a link to download the Save the Children report referred to in The Guardian investigation into Nestlé in Bangladesh published last week.

Here is my blog about The Guardian investigation, which links to the article and to Nestlé's published response and my analysis of that:

Someone posted the link to the Guardian article on Netmums, the mother-support site that is sponsored by Nestlé. There is a thread there now running to 91 pages and 1,362 posts. It has been a sometimes heated discussion. Someone posted on my earlier blog saying members have left as a result of the Nestlé link, correcting an earlier comment on the blog saying no-one has left.

While definitely some have left, there are still some members on the Netmums site trying to raise awareness of Nestlé malpractice. Someone posted a link to the UNICEF Philippines film last week. You can watch the film here:

There has not been one comment on the Netmums thread in response to the film link posted last Saturday.

The thread continued with comments about ‘trolls’ and calls for the moderators to lock the thread to stop further discussion with the claim there was nothing new, but not one comment about the new film showing the reality of aggressive marketing and its impact.

I am confused by this. When I looked through the thread and saw someone had posted the links to the Guardian article and UNICEF film I expected the subsequent comments to be alive with debate about what was happening on the ground and what could be done to support mothers and infants – just as on other mother support sites. But no. There are comments about trying out the new Nescafé range and whether people had broken site etiquette or not, but not responding to the links.

Why should it be? Netmums is not defending Nestlé nor censoring the discussion. The coordinators have posted Baby Milk Action’s statement with equal prominence to that from Nestlé and brought it to the attention of users of the forums.

I'm not encouraging new people to join in the thread. And this is not intended as an attack on those willfully ignoring the evidence. I am bemused by the lack of reaction.

This apparent reluctance to look at - or at least comment on - the evidence should concern anyone campaigning to hold corporations to account or considering taking funding from a questionable company. There is probably a research study in here somewhere. It is probably something Nestlé has already researched!

It seems there is something about having the Nestlé advertisement there at the top of each page saying “Netmums is delighted to welcome Nescafé” that diverts attention from the discussion of Nestlé malpractice and whether it is an appropriate sponsor.

Perhaps it just comes down to not wanting to be rude about a guest, so looking away when anyone points to evidence about the guest is contributing to the death and suffering of infants around the world.

Perhaps it is wanting to feel good about the sponsor and think only of the good the money can do to those who use the site, so not daring to listen to people in other countries asking for help.

I don’t know. I'll drop by from time to time to see how the thread continues.

We can, at least, take comfort from the fact that there have been over 40,000 views of the thread, so many people who did not know about the boycott and campaign now do. Baby Milk Action has gained some members and campaign supporters as a result.

Anyway, anyone who does want to look to evidence, can follow the links above and download the Save the Children report.

It refers not only to aggressive marketing in Bangladesh, but in Botswana. It references monitoring conducted by the Interagency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring (IGBM) which consists of 27 academic, church and development organisations operating totally independently of Baby Milk Action and our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). When it published its first report back in 1997, UNICEF stated that IBFAN's monitoring was 'vindicated'.

We have exposed aggressive marketing by Nestlé in Botswana in the past. As the result of one of our campaigns Nestlé said it would change some of the materials it was distributing. See:

This is what the Save the Children report says about Botswana. It refers to companies in general, but it is the Nestlé product which seems to be have gained the highest profile amongst health workers and the public. As far as I am aware, the full IGBM report has not been made public:

---Quote begins
Research in Botswana, supported by Save the Children, has revealed that violations of the Code by baby food companies are still common. Baby milk and food are indiscriminately advertised in the public domain; product labels are not written in the appropriate local language, posing a serious health hazard for babies; and companies still distribute information materials to public health centres and hospitals in open violation of the Code. More than a third of all young mothers and pregnant women in the capital, Gaborone, have seen or heard advertisements for infant formulas and food targeted at babies of less than six months.

Almost 30 per cent of mothers also reported having been advised by either health professionals or peers and family to use infant formula, usually of a specific brand (most commonly Nestlé’s NAN) or other food and drinks for their babies under six months.

Save the Children seeks ways to pressure “Nestlé, the industry’s colossus, to rectify its unethical ways.”

The boycott is one of the tools Baby Milk Action uses. The principal target of the boycott is Nescafé. Which seems to be a more potent brew than I thought.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

I cancelled my subscription to netmums and had been a member for six years. I'm glad at least to learn that the Nestle sponsorship of netmums has raised awareness of the boycott among mothers, Nestle's main target audience. I haven't been following the thread recently but imagine few posters will feel confident questioning the truth of the recent Save the Children's observations or those made by UNICEF in the YouTube clips from the Philippines. Netmums does a lot to support mothers in this country and it saddens me that it can close its eyes to the plight of mothers in other countries, where the luxury of such support is not available. Thank you to all at BMA for the good work you do.