Sleeping with the enemy- PAHO of The World Health Organization accepts funding from Nestlé

By Laura Griffin and Jessica Martin-Weber.  This post takes a look at the relationship between Nestlé and the Pan American Health Office of The World Health Organization.  Laura breaks down why this relationship is a conflict of interests, why parents and breastfeeding supporters should care, and what we can do. 

On October 19th, Reuters reported that the Pan American Health Office (PAHO) of The World Health Organization (WHO) had gone against previous policy and accepted funding from industry, including from Nestlé who donated $150,000.  I do not believe that this unsupportive support is going to do anyone any good.  Except maybe Nestlé.  Just as formula companies breastfeeding hotlines are marketing gimmicks masquerading as support, so is Nestlé’s donation to the Pan American Health Office.  Make no mistake, a company as savvy as Nestlé would never give such a substantial donation if they did not believe the dividends would be worth their investment.

Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the world, due in no small part to their serial violation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (WHO Code). The WHO Code was drawn up in 1981 to protect the health of mothers and babies from predatory marketing, pressure, and false claims about infant formula.

formula advertising WHO code violating Nestle

Around the world they have made claims that their formula is good for babies brain development “like breastmilk” and perfect “for the hungry full-term infant”. Nestlé’s has invested countless dollars and hours to market their formula products specifically to women that would otherwise breastfeed, utilizing images and language that implies an “as good as” or even superiority comparison of their product to breastmilk.  They have coerced women in third world countries into formula feeding using sales people dressed as nurses and giving out free samples. The samples run out after the mothers’ milk has dried up and, often unable to afford the formula, they resort to watering it down to make it last longer. There is often no clean water source for these women to use for formula which brings further risks to the health of their children. I am incredibly lucky to live where it is rare for an infant to die of malnutrition or diarrhoea but in these developing countries it is a very real risk, exacerbated by this predatory marketing.

Please, reader, understand that this is not a case of “formula bashing”. I believe that women who need or choose to formula feed should be allowed to do so without lies or pressure from companies who are more interested in profit than health. They deserve to be able to trust the product they use. They deserve to be the foremost consideration of the formula company.  The honorary chairman of Nestlé, Helmut Maucher once said “Ethical decisions that injure a firm’s ability to compete are actually immoral”. Every family, whether breastfeeding, formula feeding, or both, deserves more than this!

This is not the philosophy of a company we want to join forces with the Organization entrusted with our health and that of the most vulnerable people in the world. I personally consider it unethical for PAHO to have partnered with a company who have violated the WHO countless times and have consistently put profit before the health of their customers.  To say nothing of the irony that several, if not all, of the preventable chronic diseases of the world today that PAHO and WHO are supposed to be fighting such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and more are linked directly to the very food-like products that come from Nestlé.

Four of the most prominent chronic diseases – cardiovascular diseases (CVD), cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and type 2 diabetes – are linked by common and preventable biological risk factors, notably high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and overweight, and by related major behavioural risk factors: unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use.

~ Integrated Chronic Disease Prevention and Control from The World Health Organization’s website, emphasis mine.

 

A petition has been started by “Friends of the WHO Code” calling for an end to this partnership and for the return of Nestlé’s money. The petition can be found here.  There has been a call to boycott Nestlé for a very long time for a number of reasons not just limited to their unethical marketing practices of their infant feeding products but also because of known problems within their supply chains of production involving the very worst forms of child labor including harmful settings, abuse, child slavery, and kidnapping.  Standing against Nestlé is advocating for mothers and children around the world far beyond formula, read about the problem with chocolate here.

What can you do?

  • If you feel that Nestlé has no place at the PAHO-WHO table, then please sign and share the petition and share this information with friends and family.  Often, when I explain why my family boycotts Nestlé and their subsidiaries, I receive shocked responses that this company that works so hard to put forth a family friendly face of support is in fact regularly undermining the very people they claim to support.  People simply have no idea.
  • Tweet @WHO and @pahowho using the hashtag #NoNestle to express your concern over this leading health organization accepting funding from a private company known to violate their very own code of ethics in marketing breastfeeding substitutes.
  • Follow @NestleFail on twitter to support the cause and follow the latest information on holding Nestlé and other companies accountable for the predatory marketing tactics.
  • Join the Facebook page “Friends of the WHO Code” to stay informed of this situation and to know how to participate further as a voice for mothers and children.
  • Consider participating in the boycott of Nestlé products as every cent you spend on their products goes toward the profits of a company that repeatedly exhibits questionable ethics and jeopardizes maternal/child health through out parts of the world.
Please understand, this is not about using formula, it’s not even about Nestlé’s formula.  This is about standing together to hold accountable the organizations that are responsible for gathering and distributing life saving health information and to let corporations know that ethical practices and authentic caring for people matter far more than slick marketing and donation gimmicks.  Will you stand with us?
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