Update on Nestlé, Ukraine and WHO Foundation

While we watch with horror yet another human catastrophy in Ukraine,  we urge everyone to support  the Joint statement led by UNICEF, the Global Nutrition Cluster and the Infant Feeding in Emergencies Group,  designed to provide at least some protection for mothers and children.  Over the decades we have seen how emergency responses are often characterized by large influxes of unsolicited donations of breastmilk substitutes, bottles, teats, and other baby food and milk products – some from well-meaning people – others are  deliberate strategies by the baby food industry to establish markets while repositioning themselves as partners in humanitarian relief.
Following widespread criticism Nestle has decided to stop selling many of its products in Russia but is keeping infant food and medical and hospital nutrition on sale offering to make humanitarian donations:   “While we do not expect to make a profit in the country or pay any related taxes for the foreseeable future in Russia, any profit will be donated to humanitarian relief organisations …”    We hope that NGOs – and especially the WHO Foundation (see below) will refuse to accept such funding!
NB. Breastmilk substitutes are not included on the Nestlé boycott list because in some instances they can be essential for child survival.


Nestlé’s Policy. Like its main baby food policy, Nestlé’s cleverly written policy on donations for emergencies appears to be code compliant, but close inspection shows that its contrary to the WHA 63.23,  the Operational Guidelines for Emergency Relief Staff and the Joint Statement on Ukraine – that all forbid donations of baby feeding products.  Nestlé’s policy allows it to give donations and any restrictions apply only to infant formulas and formulas for Special Medical Purposes (FSMPs). Its policy states: “the company may respond to written requests for free or low-price supplies of INFANT FORMULAS and/or infant Formula for Special Medical Purposes, to serve social purposes or for usage in emergency/humanitarian situation”.  See also Pages 6-9 of the ICDC analysis of Nestlé’s policies to see how Nestlé policy differs from the WHA recommendations.

The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the 19  World Health Assembly  Resolutions are all the more important in emergencies. Monitoring and reporting Code violations in emergency situations are key components of all emergency responses.

WHO Foundation donation policy  – what do the changes mean?

Last year we were shocked that the  WHO Foundation (WHOF) accepted a grant from Nestlé  – and following complaints from WHO staff we understood that this would not be repeated.   However, the  WHOF door may have opened further.  Alerted by the Geneva Observer  we see that the exclusion criteria in the Foundation’s policy changed in December 2021.  The April 2021 policy was as follows:

2. Excluded Categories (red and orange)
a) Red category
Subject to UN sanctions
b) Orange category
Assessment will be conducted on a case-by-case basis but a general guidance is
offered around the following types of warnings:
I.  Actual or past, non-compliance with laws and/or regulations, for example violation of international conventions, non-compliance with money laundering, tax and corruption laws
II. Reputational issues that negatively impact the SDG agenda, notably:
    • Contribution or promotion of violence (i.e., terrorism, armaments)
    • Contribution to climate change or environmental degradation and destruction (i.e., Oil and Gas, Nuclear energy, Petrochemicals)
    • Contribution to poor health or diet
    • Contribution to violence or discrimination towards any identity group (gender inequality, #metoo-type allegations, racism or pornography)
    • Allegations of poor corporate practice, particularly with reference to fraud & corruption, labour rights, child labour, sexual exploitation and abuse or other safeguarding issues
III. Specific industry practices that may contribute to poor human health

The new  2022 Policy replaces the red and orange categories and any reference to contribution to poor human health or diet with the following safeguards which include non-compliance with policies approved by the World Health Assembly (WHA) or whitewashing of a donor’s image through the engagement with the WHOF:

… the WHOF will ensure that contributions or any Policy Activities are compliant with the following principles:
– to protect WHOF from any undue influence;
– to not compromise WHOF’s integrity, independence, credibility, and reputation;
– to be effectively managed, especially with regards to avoiding conflict of interest and other forms of risks to
– to be concluded on the basis of transparency, openness, inclusiveness, accountability, integrity and mutual respect.
2. Risk assessment
Similarly, understanding what could constitute reputational impact, possible conflict of interests, and risks associated with illegal or otherwise questionable activities of proposed companies and/or individual contributors or counterparty is necessary to protect the integrity of the WHOF. The risk assessment will be done on a case-by-case basis. The objective is to determine if the benefits of accepting a contribution or engaging with a counterparty outweigh the potential risks of engagement. In particular, it is critical to determine during the risk assessment that the principles of this policy, as detailed above, have been reviewed and taken into account before accepting a contribution or entering into an agreement for a Policy Activity. As the risk assessment is made on a case-by-case basis, other criteria in addition to the principles, in particular such as non-compliance with policies approved by the World Health Assembly (WHA) or whitewashing of a donor’s image through the engagement with the WHOF, will be weighed in the risk assessment process and might trigger the non-acceptance of a contribution or refusal to enter into an agreement.
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