Baby Milk Action press release 6 August 2014
World Breastfeeding Week, promoted by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), takes place 1 – 7 August 2014, but this year it is being hijacked by Nestlé in a number of countries. This move by world’s largest baby milk company is described as ‘terribly cynical’ by Baby Milk Action as Nestlé continues to promote its formula with claims such as it is the ‘natural start’ and ‘protects’ babies. Nestlé’s attempt to link with health services to promote breastfeeding have reportedly been rebuffed by some authorities due to the self-evident conflicts of interest. In Portugal, the FNAC retail chain recently removed Nestlé’s First 1000 Days book from stores following complaints. Nestlé was revealed on Monday to be the least ethical company of the last 25 years in a vote of readers of Ethical Consumer magazine.
While undermining breastfeeding with formula promotional practices that break UN marketing rules, Nestlé is running advertisements in several countries claiming to support World Breastfeeding Week and the First 1000 Days initiative. However, presentations to investors show that the underlying aim is to promote its ‘product solutions’ and specifically its infant formula.
While playing lip service to ‘Breastfeeding is Best’ Nestlé tells investors its Lactogen infant formula is a ‘growth engine’. It is promoted with the claim it provides a ‘gentle start’ as part of the ‘Project Happy’ marketing campaign.
Mike Brady, Campaigns Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:
‘Nestlé’s attempt to wrap itself in the messages of World Breastfeeding Week and the First 1000 Days is terribly cynical, but is also a measure of the success of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) in protecting breastfeeding and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) in promoting it.
‘Nestlé executives are increasingly desperate to find ways to contact parents and health workers and to promote their Infant Nutrition ‘Start healthy – Stay healthy’ brand. A growing number of countries have introduced laws regulating baby food marketing practices and restricting the access company representatives have to the health care system.
‘Nestlé executives at the highest level – the Chairman and Chief Executive – have defended these practices and refuse to stop them. When I raised concerns at the shareholder meeting in April this year, the response was the practices comply with Nestlé own policies, which tells you everything you need to know about why those policies need to change. Executives put profits before all else, which is why Nestlé is the target of a boycott and viewed as the least ethical company of the last 25 years.’
Click here to download a poster contrasting Nestlé’s statements in support of breastfeeding with the claims it uses to promote its formula around the world.
Baby Milk Action has exposed that the stated major responsibility of Nestlé Nutrition representatives is to, ‘Stimulate retail sales through the promotion of infant formulas and cereals to gain Healthcare Professionals recommendations’. Tactics include to, ‘Plan, lead and /or participate in medical education events/conferences’. World Breastfeeding Week and the First 1000 Days are being utilised to gain access to health care professionals. It is reported in Ghana this week that, ‘Nestlé is focusing its activities and nutrition education on healthcare professionals (HCPs) as part of its commitment to implement nutrition education programmes to promote good nutritional practices.’
In India baby milk sales are static while they are growing exponentially in China. According to industry analysts Euromonitor, ‘The huge disparity in the retail value of milk formula sales between China and India is mainly due to the significant differences between their official regulatory regimes.‘ It notes, ‘In India, all advertising is prohibited, while in China, TV advertising and the use of celebrity spokespeople are allowed.’
In India, Nestlé has had formula seized for breaking labelling laws and its attempts to sponsor health workers have been described as illegal by government authorities under the terms of the Infant Milk Substitutes Act. Accordingly, Nestlé is promoting its Nestlé Nutrition ‘Start healthy – Stay healthy’ slogan in India this week by means of videos promoting breastfeeding.
This is a global strategy. The example below, also promotes the Nestlé Nutrition slogan through World Breastfeeding Week in Croatia.
It is prohibited for baby food companies to seek direct or indirect contact with pregnant women and mothers of infants and young children, regardless of the pretence used for making that contact. This is just one of the provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly that Nestlé is found to violate. IBFAN’s Breaking the Rules 2014 report was launched prior to the World Health Assembly in May and documents practices used by Nestlé and other companies.
Mike Brady said:
‘Baby food companies spend a fortune on promotion and this is paid for by parents who buy formula. If companies abided by the rules and scrapped these promotional budgets, breastfeeding would not be undermined and formula could be cheaper for those parents who use it.’
An pamphlet free from commercial influence has been produced by WABA, UNICEF and WHO for promoting World Breastfeeding Week.
Concerns in the UK about Nestlé, Danone and Tesco
Nestlé took over the SMA brand in the UK in 2012. Since then the aggressive practices it uses elsewhere have become more evident, particularly targeting of health workers. As it is prohibited by many health facilities from meeting with staff, Nestlé is holding its own events at nearby hotels and inviting staff there.
Nestlé targeted staff at its own Gatwick HQ with the formula-branded SMA Nutrition Careline Team on 5 August. It also announced the opening of a ‘dedicated breastfeeding room’ at the office as part of International Breastfeeding Week. Under the Single Equality Act it is illegal to restrict the areas where mother are permitted to breastfeed.
Baby Milk Action, which aims to protect breastfeeding and protect babies fed on formula, states that the world’s second largest formula company, Danone, is inviting health workers to restaurants in the UK to bypass the restrictions many health facilities have on representatives meeting with staff. Danone has also offered grants to student midwives, advising them not to tell their lecturers. It has recruited midwives to work on its formula-branded telephone careline, offering to do so through an agency so they do not have to declare to their employers they work for a formula company.
Baby Milk Action has found retailer Tesco in the UK has launched a formula money-off promotion for Danone formula during World Breastfeeding Week. UPDATE 10 August 2014: Tesco Customer Services has responded to Baby Milk Action. See below.
It also reports that a marketing company, PI Partnership, has been offering health workers ‘fees’ of £400 to meet with the marketing staff of an unnamed formula company for a day so they can hone their marketing skills. The invitation reassures health workers tempted by the money: ‘We do not contact your place of work’.
For further information contact Mike Brady at email@example.com
Tesco Customer Services response to Baby Milk Action report of money-off vouchers, dated 10 August 2014:
I have followed this up with our Tesco Business Support Team, who have advised me that the promotional vouchers are only applicable on progress milk. Infant milk, as per policy, would be declined at point of purchase if the vouchers were attempted to be used on Infant milk.
Whilst I appreciate your comments regarding the wording on the vouchers Mike, and to be honest I would be inclined to agree that there is nothing to specify the promotion excludes infant milk, I can assure you as policy it would not be accepted.
I have officially logged this with our business support marketing team for feedback purposes for future promotions.
Baby Milk Action does not view this as a sufficient response as the vouchers have promoted an infant formula brand, even if they would not have been honoured at the check out. It has called on Tesco to raise the matter with its legal department to take action over the specific promotion, not just to suggest action may be taken on ‘future promotions’.