We are receiving many outraged reports from people who have seen that Danone is offering midwives grants of up to £1,000 from a fund of £20,000. This sponsorship is branded with the Danone formula name and logo, Aptamil (Danone is also behind the Nutricia, Milupa and Cow & Gate formula brands).
The money is being handled by the charity Tommy's. I would say Danone is using the charity to 'launder' the money in an attempt to make it more acceptable.
Firstly, for Tommy's and midwives to accept funds from Danone violates World Health Assembly marketing requirements.
Article 7.3 of the Code states:
"No financial or material inducements to promote products within the scope of this Code should be offered by manufacturers or distributors to health workers or members of their families, nor should these be accepted by health workers or members of their families."
Danone is promoting the Aptamil formula brand by linking the funding to it. The Aptamil logo features prominently on the charity's webpage and this links to an Aptamil-branded website that promotes the products with misleading claims.
It is not only a concern that Danone's money is linked to the Aptamil formula brand, accepting money from a formula company creates a conflict of interest for health workers. The World Health Assembly has adopted several Resolutions addressing conflicts of interest, such as Resolution 58.32, which calls for measures: "to ensure that financial support and other incentives for programmes and health professionals working in infant and young-child health do not create conflicts of interest."
A baby food company providing midwives with grants creates a conflict of interest, whatever the purported purpose of the grant.
Secondly, aside from these issues, we should not forget that Danone is second only to Nestlé for worldwide violations of the International Code and Resolutions. The only reason that Danone is not the target of a boycott like Nestlé is that after taking over the Aptamil and other brands from NUMICO in 2007, it promised to conduct a 'root and branch' review of marketing practices. All indications are that it has not taken the required action to end violations - quite the opposite. The next global monitoring report from the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), due this year, will inform campaigners whether it is time to launch a consumer campaign against Danone to stop its aggressive marketing practices. The boycott of Nestlé has forced it to change some practices and is currently putting pressure on Nestlé to stop its latest global marketing campaign - click here.
In the UK, Danone brands have rulings against them from the Advertising Standards Authority for misleading parents. For example, the ASA upheld Baby Milk Action's complaints against advertising claims that Aptamil is the 'best follow-on formula' and protects against infection. See our press release from 22 July 2009.
Any health worker that has accepted Danone money is required to disclose this to their employers. Article 7.5 of the International Code states:
"Manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of this Code should disclose to the institution to which a recipient health worker is affiliated any contribution made to him or on his behalf for fellowships, study tours, research grants, attendance at professional conferences, or the like. Similar disclosures should be made by the recipient."
Here is a quote from me, Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator, Baby Milk Action, for anyone that needs one:
"Danone is second only to Nestlé in the global baby milk market and pushes its products almost as aggressively. If it does not deliver on its promise to clean up the marketing for brands it took over when it purchased NUMICO, it will find itself, like Nestlé, the target of a consumer campaign.
"The money on offer is linked to a Danone formula brand name, Aptamil, and so is serving a promotional purpose. It is a breach of World Health Assembly marketing standards for companies to offer such financial benefits and health workers are also in breach of standards on conflicts of interest if they accept them. Even if this was not the case, the fact that Aptamil is promoted with misleading claims, some of which have rulings against them from the Advertising Standards Authority, shows this is a company that puts its own profits before the health and well-being of mothers and babies and its ill-gotten loot should be untouchable by those wanting to protect and support mothers and babies."
You can see examples of Danone violations of the International Code and Resolutions in the UK in the monitoring reports Baby Milk Action produces for the Baby Feeding Law Group.