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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?

A market for breastfeeding support- The Family Friendly Business Initiative

Supporting breastfeeding as a marketing tactic?

That’s what the Family Friendly Business Initiative is hoping businesses of all sizes will see in their project.  Providing families a way to find local businesses that have pledged to be a supportive space for breastfeeding mothers, the Family Friendly Business Initiative just asks participating businesses to provide a welcoming attitude and a comfortable clean environment for breastfeeding moms.  Companies that agree to participate get listed on the Initiative’s website, marked on a google map display to make finding them easier, shared on the Initiative’s Facebook page, listed in materials given to new moms in the local hospital, and given a decal to display identifying their location as a safe place for breastfeeding mothers.  In addition to the website, there is an app in the works which will make finding businesses in the Initiative an easy option in the palms of breastfeeding moms on the go.  For most businesses, it’s a business growth opportunity that may be too good to pass up.  It’s simple, easy, a medically endorsed community initiative, and full of benefits for the companies that choose to participate in the form of free marketing.

And based on a quick informal poll on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page, there’s a market for it too.

For some women, breastfeeding their child wherever they are, whatever they are doing is no big deal.  They are unfazed by the possibility of being asked to coverup or move.  But each woman has her own comfort level and many would prefer to find a place that is known to be “safe” for breastfeeding moms and where she and her little one can be left in peace.  For some, this challenge can be so overwhelming that they’d rather stay home than risk finding themselves out and about in a potentially hostile environment.  Moms that are afraid to leave the house due to concerns about finding a comfortable and welcoming place to breastfeed their baby are in jeopardy of either lowering their supply if they feel they must supplement which could lead to them not reaching their breastfeeding goals or increased risk of postpartum depression if they feel trapped in their home.

The Family Friendly Business Initiative is helping businesses that fit the bill connect with moms that are in need of breastfeeding friendly environments.  Mothers are a significant portion of the spending demographic, businesses know this, so for them to provide a safe place for moms to breastfeed without fear of harassment or discrimination can provide a boost to not only the family but the business and community as well.

In most states, mothers have the right to breastfeed their children wherever they have the right to be but, unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean they experience a warm welcome from businesses and employees or other customers.  Due to a lack of awareness of the laws supporting a mother’s right to breastfeed her child, some have experienced subtle or overt forms of discrimination and harassment so far as having businesses calling the police on breastfeeding mothers.  Repeatedly incidents make national or even global news where a business has told a mother to stop breastfeeding on their premises or leave.  Such experiences can intimidate mothers who desire to breastfeed into not leaving the house or compromising her breastfeeding goals.  These actions undermine the message health care professionals and scientists are giving moms that there are risks to artificial breastmilk substitutes, society isn’t walking the talk.

As a WIC breastfeeding peer counselor in Ames, Iowa, Jennifer Pitkin knew this reality first hand in her work to support moms in their breastfeeding journey.  Time and time again she heard from women that were afraid to breastfeed in public and would use formula if they had to go out, over time their breastmilk supply diminishing as a result.  For many of them, pumping was much harder than formula (and since not all moms respond well to pumps, not always a viable option) so they would switch for those feeds that happened while doing errands and shopping.  Talking with her local La Leche League and her retail manager husband, Jennifer was inspired to tackle this problem from a different angle and the Family Friendly Business Initiative was born.

Today, a year after this inspired idea to support moms and the businesses that support moms, the grass roots Family Friendly Business Initiative has grown to 4 local chapters and increasing interest from other states.  The participating businesses communicate their status as a Family Friendly Business to their employees including a letter displayed in the workers area explaining laws supporting breastfeeding and a mother’s right to do so in public.  These businesses may or may not designate an area specifically for breastfeeding mothers and the Family Friendly Initiative lists what kind of accommodations are available for families.  At this time 25 out of 28 businesses contacted have agreed to participate and while not all of them initially were sure about the opportunity, after some education most have enthusiastically joined.  It’s fairly simple for a company to be involved with many advantages not the least of which is a positive impact on the economy.  This medically endorsed community project supported by the Iowa Breastfeeding Coalition has been well received by Iowa State University, which is widely displaying the Family Friendly Business Initiative decals supporting both their faculty and their student breastfeeding population.  There is optimism that the Initiative will be well received by not just small businesses but large corporations as well.  Encouragement from costumers for companies to join can help influence these businesses to make participation in the Initiative a priority and make a difference for families in your area.

If you would like to see the Family Friendly Initiative in your area, email familyfriendlybusiness@gmail.com.  Another reference for businesses that welcome breastfeeding can be found at You Can Breastfeed Here.