Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Pressure in the Philippines

One of the issues I've been looking at in recent days is now public with a press release I've posted on the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) website.

The Philippines updated rules and regulations for its law on the marketing of infant foods. The law, known as the 'Milk Code' had been introduced in 1986. The update to the rules and regulations was necessary as practices had changed. The Philippines had supported new Resolutions at the World Health Assembly and the updated rules and regulations produced by the Department of Health also responded to these.

So a very sensible and necessary step, one would think.

Companies often claim they cannot follow the World Health Assembly marketing requirements unless they are introduced in national measures, so you might expect they applauded this development. Actually, no. Leading baby food companies came together with pharmaceutical companies to challenge the new rules and regulations in court. The companies included US companies Abbott Ross, Mead Johnson and Wyeth. Gerber, which used to be US and is now owned by Switzerland-based Novartis, was also involved.

The industry was trying to stop the rules and regulations coming into force. In July the court refused to do so.

Then within a month the court changed its mind. A restraining order was issued. The companies could continue their promotion until the court case was heard. In other countries such tactics have delayed decisions for years.

What happened to change the court's decision?

Part of the answer seems to be pressure from the US. In a leaked letter dated 11 August, the President of the US Chamber of Commerce, Mr Thomas Donohue, warned President Arroyo of "the risk to the reputation of the Philippines as a stable and viable destination for investment" if she did not "re-examine this regulatory decision".

In other words the US Chamber of Commerce (slogan 'fighting for your business') had put pressure on the government in the Philipinnes to interfere in the court decision. The threat was the country would lose investment unless it did so.

This is an attack on the independence on the judiciary.

This is not an isolated incidence. Gerber was involved in an earlier case where Guatemala was threatened by the US Government that it would lose its 'favoured nation' trading status if it did not allow Gerber to put baby images on its products.

Our partners in the Philippines are calling for help. IBFAN took the case to a meeting an international meeting in Sweden - as reported on the website - to gain signatures for a letter condemning the action by the US Chamber of Commerce. The letter calls for the judiciary to make its decisions independently.

We've exposed other cases in our Campaign for Ethical Marketing. Keep an eye on it. We'll tell you what you can do to support people in the Philippines shortly.

No comments: