People have raised concerns regarding the relationship of Danone/Nutricia with the charity Baby Lifeline, which provides training courses for health professionals (purchased from Baby Lifeline Training). It also raises funds for equipment for maternity and neonatal units.
We do not wish to undermine the work of Baby Lifeline and have tried to engage with it on the matter of conflicts of interest. Sponsorship by a baby food company would be a violation of World Health Assembly Resolutions and prevent health workers who respect these standards from attending the training events. For example, WHA 58.32 states:
‘ensure that financial support and other incentives for programmes and health professionals working in infant and young-child health do not create conflicts of interest.’
Danone has sponsored some Baby Lifeline courses in the past. Nutricia (part of Danone) has been listed as a sponsor on the Baby Lifeline website and the Managing Director of Nutricia Early Life Nutrition is listed in the 2015 accounts as a member of its Corporate Leadership Forum.
We aim for the highest standards of accuracy in our information and finding the situation regarding Danone/Nutricia sponsorship confusing, we asked Baby Lifeline in 2015 to confirm that the company is not sponsoring any of its forthcoming courses. Unfortunately, Baby Lifeline refused to provide this confirmation and threatened Baby Milk Action with legal action if we contact the Chief Executive Officer again seeking clarification. We have never before been threatened with legal action for asking such questions and have never before encountered such unwillingness to be transparent about sponsorship.
We also asked Baby Lifeline about its sponsorship policy. A Baby Lifeline Trustee told us that it complies with all relevant and appropriate regulations, which we do not doubt. However, Charity Commission guidance specifically sets out that best practice with regard to corporate partners is to highlight ethical policies in charity reports/accounts. We have been unable to locate the ethical policy in the Baby Lifeline reports on the Charity Commission website or in information on the Baby Lifeline website.
UNICEF UK Baby Friendly has produced a guide for health workers on working within the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which includes a checklist on whether it is appropriate to attend a study day. This includes the guidance:
“If you find the organisation is being funded by one of the companies, it is recommended that you go through the checklist shown above, as you would with a directly sponsored study day, to consider what impact attendance might have.”
We brought Baby Friendly guidance to the attention of Baby Lifeline. However, Baby Lifeline told us (17 December 2015):
“Baby Lifeline, as with any other charity, company or organisation, is under no obligation to provide you with details of it’s business practices, it’s partners, it’s sponsors, it’s benefactors nor anyone else with whom it has or has had any kind of relationship other than in certain prescribed circumstances that do not apply in this instance.”
Health workers do need to know who is funding a course or their participation in it given the declarations they should make to their institution. Article 7.5 of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes states:
7.5 Manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of this Code should disclose to the institution to which a recipient health worker is affiliated any contribution made to him or on his behalf for fellowships, study tours, research grants, attendance at professional conferences, or the like. Similar disclosures should made by the recipient.
We are unable to pursue this matter any further with Baby Lifeline given the threats made against Baby Milk Action, but will update this information if Baby Lifeline does provide clarification at some future date.