Update 11 July 2017: Unilever has withdrawn its advertising campaign, according to campaignlive.com. Thank you to everyone who contacted the company. (Unilever has so far only sent Baby Milk Action a standard email defending the campaign – let us know if you receive an update and apology.) Also see the bottom of the page for links to some of the negative media coverage UNILEVER’s campaign received.
UNILEVER, the company behind brands such as Walls ice cream, Knorr and Dove, has given commitments to the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative on breastfeeding that are being seen in a different light following an advertising campaign supporting those who object to breastfeeding in public in the UK.
According to its statement on the Sun Business Network website:
“Unilever is committed to scaling up nutrition in support of the SUN Movement. This includes improving the nutrition of our 171,000 employees through our workplace wellness programme. It also means and improving the health and well-being of over one billion people by 2020 through improving the nutritional quality of our products, delivering safe drinking water and changing the hygiene behavior of their consumers.”
It specifically states its companies:
“will seek to improve corporate policies on maternal health including support for breastfeeding mothers.”
The approach of SUN to work with corporations to encourage them to change voluntarily have already been questioned. The hollowness of such commitments are again demonstrated by a controversial campaign in the UK, where Unilever highlights objections to breastfeeding in public.
There have been so many instances of mothers being asked to stop breastfeeding in restaurants and shops and on public transport that it is now a criminal offence to discriminate on the basis of maternity, including on how a mother feeds her child (with breastfeeding specifically mentioned in the Single Equality Act (2010). Details on the Baby Feeding Law Group website.
Yet far from defending the right of mothers to feed their children as they wish, Unilever’s campaign states it supports people whether they are for or against breastfeeding in public. The campaign is part of a marketing campaign to promote a Dove skin cream. It states on the product website:
“Using our baby products that gently nourish and care for your baby’s delicate skin is a more caring way to do it your way. Our mild and hypoallergenic baby products are even suitable for looking after your newborn. So whether you’re among the 66% who think that breastfeeding in public is fine, or the 34% who think otherwise, whatever choice you make, we are with you every step of the way.”
There is also a poster campaign:
The origin of these statistics (which are different on the poster and website) have been questioned.
In a response published in the Metro newspaper (which included the above example of the advert), Unilever stated:
“Our campaign simply aims to celebrate the different approaches and opinions around parenting, including whether or not mums choose to breastfeed in public, recognising that it’s ultimately what works for you and your baby that matters the most.”
This reply seems as disingenuous as Unilever’s commitments to SUN. It is not supporting mothers in their infant feeding choices, but the 25% (or is it 34%?) who object to breastfeeding in public. This is to condone discrimination (and it is no defence to say Unilever also supports those who approve of breastfeeding in public – that is as misguided as it would be if a campaign said it supports people whether or not they discriminate on basis of race).
This campaign is intended to promote the Unilever and Dove brands, and the skin cream in particular. It is said that all publicity is good publicity, but cynically attempting to create controversy by playing on the abuse all too many mothers receive is indefensible – as well as a breach of Unilever’s stated commitments and undermining of the Single Equality Act.
Who at Unilever thought this was a good way to shift products?
Unilever has yet to withdraw the campaign. You can contact it here via its Dove brand on its website.
Baby Milk Action has posted information on social media about the Single Equality Act highlighting that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of how a mother feeds her child and we hope people will not be intimidated by Unilever’s campaign.
Baby Milk Action’s posts on social media have been picked up by the BBC and other media.
Also see the excellent interview that Emma Pickett, Chair of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, gave to the BBC – posted by someone to Facebook here.