Friday, June 29, 2007

Converting opportunities into health professional recommendations

Further proof of how Nestlé's aggressive marketing of baby foods is systematic and institutionalised. Today, what Nestlé expects of its infant formula marketing staff.

What I am about to report adds to the recent film from UNICEF Philippines and the Guardian investigation of Nestlé in Bangladesh. These show the tactics Nestlé and other companies are using at the present time to push their products. See:

We are running campaigns to stop the malpractice. As I reported here last week, Nestlé has indicated it will continue distributing promotional fliers for Lactogen infant formula to mothers in Bangaldesh through the health care system. This is a flagrant breach of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements, so Nestlé tries to mislead people as to the provisions. See:

Further evidence of how such aggressive marketing practices are institutionalised comes from Nestlé Australia.

In Australia Nestlé is recruiting Nutrition Advisers. These will have: "full responsibility for building the image of infant nutrition products ethically across the state."

Ah. Ethical promotion. What could that entail? Monitoring evidence gathered by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and the recent independent investigations find company reps. trying to endear themselves with health workers through gifts, such as air conditioners and travel tickets. Doctors are classified depending on their ability to influence mothers. Cards are kept with personal details such as birthdays for them, their spouses and children so presents can be given.

Here is how Nestlé's job advertisement describes these duties.

---Quote begins
Your ability to communicate effectively at all levels will ensure health professionals warm to you as you gain their trust as an expert in this dynamic field. As a result, you’ll be able to identify and convert opportunities within hospital and community health settings to health professional recommendation.
---quote ends

Former Nestlé Pakistan employee, Syed Aamar Raza, has provided documentary evidence of the system used for targeting health workers. His bosses approved payments for large items, on the condition that sales increased. His pay slips showed the bonus he received for hitting his sales targets, again a clear breach of the provisions of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements.

Another former Nestlé employee from China spoke out at a conference organised by WHO and UNICEF in the Philippines just last week. This was reported in Christian Science Monitor, which interviewed the former employee by telephone. See:

Remember that the Code specifically prohibits company reps. from making direct or indirect contact with pregnant women or the mothers of infants and young children.

---Quote begins
Ms. Ding, who spoke by telephone from the UNICEF/WHO conference, said the Swiss company told expecting mothers attending antenatal classes that Nestlé's Good Start formula was superior and that many of them would be unable to produce sufficient breast milk for their baby.

"The company told the staff that infant formula is better. It didn't tell us that mother's milk is enough; they couldn't tell us the truth," she says.

Ding quit her job last year and now runs a breast-feeding website and volunteers on weekends to teach new mothers how to nurse. She says young women in Chinese cities are misled by false advertising and their own doctors, who are paid by formula companies to give out information sheets and free samples of their products.

---quote ends

In its policies and practices Nestlé targets mothers. It uses a strategy of denials and deception to try to divert attention and to undermine campaigns such as those Baby Milk Action runs.

Nestlé puts its own profits before infant health and mothers' rights.

But you can do something about it. Especially next week, which is International Nestlé Free Week. See my blog yesterday for news of preparations in some of the countries taking part.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike
Thanks for the 'heads up'. There is a parliamentary inquiry into breastfeeding currently taking submissions here and I am sure they will be interested in seeing these ads.
I would like to say that I am suprised by Nestle's conduct here - but I am not. We see less direct advertising of infant formula products here (but much more agressive promotion of 'toddler formula' - for infants over twelve months, which only seems to exist in regulated markets). I have long since thought that IFMCs are happy to forego advertising to mothers in favour of advertising to their health care providers - who are woefully undereducated in the importance and management of breastfeeding. In Australia, most infant formula manufacturing companies are members of the Infant Formula Manufacturers' Association of Australia. IFMAA members have signed an agreement called the Marketing in Australia of Infant Formula Manufacturers' and Importers' Agreement 1992. It's scope is extremely narrow, even compared to the original International code. It provides that industry is required to profide health professionals with 'educational and informative materials'!! Thus IFMCs here have unfettered access to health professionals ... in theory they are not allowed near hospitals but we have few Baby Friendly Hospitals here and most hospitals accept subsidised branded product for distribution to mothers. Even Baby Friendly hospitals accept subsidised product for use in their Special Care Nurseries routinely.
Pharmaceutical advertising is regulated with reasonable rigour here (although it is argued that it could be restricted further) in that all claims made must be supported by the weight of evidence. When our HPs see infant formula advertised alongside anti-depressants, they assume that the claims made in the formula ad are as rigourously scrutinised as the claims made for the drugs. As they have had no education to the contrary and do not have time to be checking references for sponsorship or design flaws ... they and the mothers they care for are very vulnerable to the efforts of IFMCs to 'convert opportunities into health professional recommendations'.
There is still much to do here.
Nina Berry
PhD Student