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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?

Advocating for mothers and children around the world

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Typically I talk about boobs, breastfeeding, babies, birth, children, parenting, and other related topics here.  This post is going to be about more of the same, it just won’t look like it.  To be really up front and fair: I have an agenda with this post.

In my comfortable first world lower middle class status I have to admit that I have experienced very little true oppression.  I’ve had rough times and I’ve struggled but I don’t have a complete grasp on true suffering.  That’s not to say I haven’t suffered, because I have, and as a mother I’ve experience great heart ache, specifically when 2 of my daughters were sexually assaulted by a close friend.  So I know pain, grief, suffering, but I am really only familiar with it in the context of the first world setting where I live.

Still, when going through difficult and dark times, the care of others, even people I didn’t know, made a difference.  It is because of that support that I choose now to find ways to support others in difficult and dark times, even if they are half way around the world.

In the years that I’ve been active on the internet I have seen people create community, developing global communities where people find friendship, support, information, and the gift of knowing they are not alone.  Babies whose mothers have died have received milk from other mothers.  Families grieving the loss of a child have had funeral expenses covered.  Friends that have never met face to face have journeyed to be with someone during a bitter relationship breakup.  Auctions held to help families that have lost a parenting partner and cover medical expenses.  When my own family went 2 weeks without power following hurricane Ike, my online relationships virtually supported me with tangible gifts of care.  The global community found online extends support where, for some, there would be none.

I am confident that if my brother took my daughter from me and used her for his financial gain there would be national and international attention and online outpourings of support.  I guarantee you, if my child was taken from me by a relative or friend and forced to work harvesting cocoa pods using a machete and having no access to schooling, there would be an organized effort not only locally but internationally by my online friends.

If that community was aware that their favorite chocolate brands used cocoa they were aware could have been harvested by my child there would be letters of outrage, Facebook posts and tweets of fury, and massive calls for boycotts.  Moving beyond promises, without proof of accountability to be sure their supply chain did not contain cocoa beans my child was forced to harvest, these companies would feel heat not only from the media but directly from their consumers to proactively fix the problem.

If it was my child I would not be able to stomach even the thought of eating chocolate that may be a product of their suffering.

If it was your child, I doubt you could either.

If it was our children we would want the world to take note, to stand with us, to fight for our children.

If these things happened we would not be able to stand it.

These things do happen.  For us to have cheap chocolate, this woman’s son was taken from her.

child slavery cocoa, human trafficking, mother human trafficking

And it happens for coffee, sugar, vanilla, cotton, and so much more.  I’m struggling because even the very computer I’m using to write this is suspected of being made under unfair labor practices.  Many products that are staples in the comfortable lives of people through out most of the world have passed through the hands of a working child in dangerous conditions, interfering with their education, and too often through slavery.

One child would be bad enough for public outrage.  An estimated 284,000?*  Are there even words?

About 10 years ago my husband and I became aware of the issue of human trafficking.  We learned, to our shock, that many products we used daily were grown, harvested, and manufactured in dangerous settings by people treated poorly and compensated inadequately.  Worse, some were in a form of slavery.  Still worse, some of those were children.  Children working as slaves without access to education and in dangerous environments were part of the manufacturing line creating products I thought I couldn’t live without.  How we had been ignorant of this harsh reality was a combination of never asking and nobody ever talking about it.

This knowledge would eventually change our lives, how we spend our money, and even how we celebrate holidays or interact with others.  Because we were talking about people being abused, not simply a different standard of living, but the oppression of others.

An oppression that we benefitted from.

Once aware, turning a blind eye was not an option.

At the time of this writing, I serve as the director of a global initiative that brings artists together to speak up for the oppressed.  I see over and over again the ongoing suffering of families ripped apart by the greed of others.  The issue is complex, far more than I am prepared to go into here, but as a family, our personal choice is to not be a part of the chain that enslaves children.  We started by doing just one thing, all of us can start with just one thing.

Please understand, I know that in some cultures, in some settings, child labor is a necessary part of the family’s survival.  What I’m talking about here is child slavery and child labor that violates the standards of the International Labor Organization, child labor that is truly dangerous, forced, and interferes with access to education.  The worst types of child labor.  I’m not talking about a child working on their family’s farm when they get home from school.  No, this is kidnapping, forced labor, restricted or no access to health care, no education, physical and psychological oppression, and controlled movement.

For us, we do with less so that what we enjoy or take for granted won’t cost a child so very much.  We choose to spend our resources on products that at least make traceable, documented, and third party audited steps to not use child labor at any point along the way.  It costs us more.  A cost we would rather absorb than to place on a small child that should be safe with their mother, able to play, and attending school.

It has taken time for us to make this shift and there has been an adjustment period.  Financially we can only afford so much so we started with the big ones: coffee and chocolate.  Shopping at thrift stores for our clothing and other textiles, we feel at least we aren’t buying brand new and can support local charities to some extent with our purchases.

We’ve accepted that less is ok.  In our land of entitled overabundance, we don’t need as much as we think we do.

Could avoiding chocolate produced with unfair labor practices and enslaved children actually create more problems?  Should we wait until there is a viable solution in place?  I don’t think so.

Without pressure that impacts their bottom line, there would be no reason for chocolate manufacturers to create change.  Some of these companies have claimed they are taking steps to ensure their products do not involve the worst forms of child labor but refuse to comply to 3rd party audits and employ diversion techniques such as charitable giving in other areas or launch a fair trade line.  But real progress in their supply chain is not evident.

Chocolate that contains the sweat, lashings, and crushed spirit of a child slave simply does not taste as good.  So we choose to buy fair trade.  Fair trade isn’t without it’s issues and controversy and there is valid conversation about direct trade, and other verification options.  Within an imperfect system we are trying to make the most responsible choice we can buy purchasing chocolate and coffee items that we can verify their labor practices or display one of these symbols:

Within the breastfeeding education and support community there is a strong push back against Nestle and other formula making companies that disregard the Code of Ethics for marketing artificial breastmilk as set out by the World Health Organization.  There has been outrage from many regarding the underhanded marketing of formula in communities where extreme poverty, contaminated water sources, and lack of information highways result in vulnerable infants suffering without breastmilk, sometimes even leading to death.  It is a despicable business practice.

So is abusing humans, enslaving people, endangering children, and prohibiting children from receiving an education.

There are many causes in this life, issues of injustice and importance and none of us can pick up all of them as advocates.  We don’t have to advocate for every cause though, sometimes it is enough to explore how we can respond on a personal level, changing ourselves.

I told you at the beginning of this that I had an agenda with this post and I was serious.  My goal in writing this is to challenge you, to make you uncomfortable, and to take the platform that I have here to raise my voice to speak up for the oppressed.  My agenda was for you to hear it.  What you do with it, how you respond, and if it makes any kind of impact on your choices is completely up to you but I will be able to enjoy my chocolate and coffee just a little bit more knowing I have tried.  Not for you, not for me, not even for my children.

I have tried for another mother’s child.

Will you?

*International Institute of Tropical Agriculture about cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast

_________________________________

I appreciate Kristen Howerton over at Rage Against the Minivan for writing about this issue, sharing more information and links, challenging readers to be aware.  The resources available are growing, I encourage you to explore this issue for yourself, watch videos, read reports, and connect with organizations aiming for fair trade practices.

 

 

Nestlé Boycott Form Letter

Is your family participating in International Nestlé-free Week: 2010?  Mine is.  I had intended to get a post up today I was working on about why my family boycotts Nestlé but for now you can read this from PhD in Parenting or read about what Nestlé did to deserve a boycott here.  Please understand that while part of the reason for the Nestlé boycott does have to do with the way they market their breastmilk substitutes, the boycott is not because they make formula.  Boycotting Nestlé is in no way a judgment on those that use Nestlé formula or any other formula to feed their baby.

So while my post on boycotting Nestlé isn’t up yet I did want to share with you a sample form letter you can use to express your concern to Nestlé and inform them of your decision to boycott their products and brands.  Please feel free to copy this letter and use it word for word or to modify as you see fit and sign your name on the bottom.  Let’s communicate to Nestlé that the world-wide boycott of their products is in no way over even after 30 years and that it has, in fact, revitalized and will continue to go strong until they make significant changes.

Letters may be printed out and mailed to the address below, e-mailed, or through the contact page on Nestlé’s website.

___________________________________________________________________
Peter Braceck-Letmanthe
Nestlé SA
Avenue Nestlé
1800 Vevey
Switzerland
Dear Mr. Brabeck-Letmanthe,
It is with the utmost concern that I am writing regarding your business practices; specifically the regular violations of the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, the use of child-labor by your cocoa suppliers and careless manufacturing practices resulting in environmental damage.  As my family can not support such a lack of responsibility, we have chosen to boycott your products and brands and will continue to do so until independent evidence shows that Nestlé complies fully with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.  Furthermore, we will be actively educating our friends and family via word of mouth regarding the questionable practices and why Nestlé is one of the most boycotted companies in the world.
Mr. Brabeck-Letmanthe, I urge you to raise Nestlé to be a leading company of integrity, setting an example of global responsibility by changing the unethical, unhealthy and dangerous practices currently applied.  Follow through with your claims of being a company that promotes nutrition [1], health and wellness; of supporting the United Nations Global Compact’s guiding principles on human rights and labor with an aim to provide an example [2]; of practicing ethical leadership and personal responsibility [3]; of having a commitment to “protect employees, contractors and others involved along the value chain” [4]; of requiring suppliers, agents and subcontractors to demonstrate honesty, integrity and fairness” [5]; of a commitment to environmental sustainability “at all stages of the product life cycle” and “target zero waste” including “responsible management of the world’s resources by all water users” [6]; and adhere to the guidelines of the WHO code of marketing breastmilk substitutes. When these claims can be verified by independent investigations my family and I will happily return as Nestlé customers.  Until that time we will continue our boycott and encourage others to do the same.
Yours sincerely,

References:
[1] Nestlé Nutritional Profiling System via http://www.nestle.com/AllAbout/AllAboutNestle.htm
[2] Nestlé Consumer Communications Principles via http://www.nestle.com/AllAbout/AllAboutNestle.htm
[3] Nestlé Management and Leadership Principles and Nestlé Code of Business Conduct  via http://www.nestle.com/AllAbout/AllAboutNestle.htm
[4] Nestlé Policy on Health and Safety at Work via http://www.nestle.com/AllAbout/AllAboutNestle.htm
[5] Nestlé Supplier Code via http://www.nestle.com/AllAbout/AllAboutNestle.htm
[6] Nestlé Policy on Environmental Sustainability, Nestlé Policy on Environmental Sustainability, and Nestlé Water Report via http://www.nestle.com/AllAbout/AllAboutNestle.htm

___________________________________________________________________

Nestlé tries to deny that the boycott has been going on for 30+ years.  They also assert that they are a responsible company but their track record and independent analysis indicates otherwise.  In an effort to recast their image, Nestlé has filled their website with green, health, and human rights buzz words but don’t be fooled, they talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.  Together we can hold Nestlé accountable.

Tomorrow look for more on the Nestlé boycott and how this will impact my family’s Halloween as well as alternatives to Nestlé products and links with more information and brand lists.