Months ago, when I received Save the Children’s research into formula marketing in Pakistan and China, I was shocked by the results. We found that 30 years after the original scandals and campaign that led to the Nestlé boycott around baby formula marketing, there was still evidence of free samples of formula milk products and gifts having been given by representatives of some breast milk substitute companies to health workers and mothers in poor countries.
It went beyond our research. In the Philippines we found women spending more on formula every month than rent. Some skipped meals or couldn’t feed their children because their money went on baby formula – often because they had been told they couldn’t produce healthy milk. It was extremely worrying, and we knew we had to do something about it.
Breastfeeding: superfood for babies
As well as publishing our report, Superfood for Babies, outlining why not enough women in the world are breastfeeding, we launched a campaign aimed at the two biggest baby formula companies reported to be violating the World Health Organization’s international code for formula milk marketing: Nestlé and Danone.
We asked them to ensure the way they market their products never puts child health at risk. And we asked you, our supporters to get behind the cause.
And wow, did you all step up and show these companies how much you care about how they market their products in poor countries. The campaign achieved 15,000 petition signatures, 5,000 emails each to Nestlé and Danone, alongside hundreds of Facebook posts and phone calls – all in the run up to the companies’ AGMs earlier this month.
We’re happy to report that this has made a difference: last Thursday at their AGM, Danone announced plans to publish the results of regular and independent audits of their operations to ensure they align with the international code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes. They will publish the first results of these audits on their website in the coming weeks.
This is a huge victory and shows that Danone is taking our research very seriously. They have also encouraged Save the Children to scrutinise their policies and be clear with them how they can improve. We plan to give detailed feedback in the coming months.
When we asked Nestlé about their plans to respond to our research and report, they reiterated their existing policies. However, they did commit to reading our research in depth and announcing their response in the coming months.
We submitted our petition to Nestlé’s UK headquarters, and will continue to follow up with them to ensure they take our research seriously.
We would not have achieved these responses and commitments to further action without your help. Your voices made sure our crucial concerns about breast milk substitute marketing were heard. Thank you.
Changing entrenched practices is a tough task and we’ll be following up with these companies throughout the year. We’ll be asking for your help again – it’ll be a long road to secure lasting change, but know we can get there together.