On the September 1997 Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet we reported how Nestlé attempted to silence its critics in the Philippines after a TV station broadcast a programme exposing its marketing malpractice. Nestlé sent the station a memorandum threatening to remove Nestlé's advertising.
Nestlé (UK) responded to a letter writer who contacted it as a result of our report as follows:
"In the Philippines Nestlé's practices are fully in line with the requirements of the WHO Code and our Charter... We are also saddened that Baby MilkAction should see fit to misrepresent an issue in the Philippines regarding a television item and even more amazed because the incident occurred over 14 years ago!"
The memo referred to on the action sheet was received by the TV station on 31st July 1997. Evidently, it is not the first time that Nestlé has attempted to manipulate the media in the Philippines. This response also begs the question, if Nestlé (UK) is unaware of what happened in this incident, how can it be so reassuring about the activities of Nestlé staff anywhere?
In the Philippines monitoring by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has revealed that Nestlé has employed new nurse graduates as contractual employees. They are paid a salary of Pesos 4,000.00 - 8,000.00 a month (equivalent to US$ 133.00 - 266.00). The monitoring exercise found that Nestlé "Health Educators", as they are called, visited the homes of the mothers in the survey to persuade them to use Nestogen 1 infant formula and Nestogen 2 follow-on formula. One of Nestlé's "Health Educators" is pictured below.
The majority of mothers were breastfeeding, but the "Health Educators" created the idea that they have to complement breastfeeding with the Nestlé product. One "Health Educator" (name withheld) explained that she gives gifts to mothers, including Cerelac, Neslac, Nescafé and Maggi noodles. The "Health Educators" also conduct surveys to enable better targeting of promotional activities. Nestlé has also attempted to involve volunteer community health workers (known as Barangay Health Workers) in its promotional activities.
Article 5.5 of the International Code states that, "Marketing personnel, in their business capacity, should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children." Article 5.4 bans the giving of gifts to mothers to promote breastmilk substitutes or bottle-feeding.
Write to Nestlé and request that it stops the practice of making direct contact with mothers in the Philippines using "Health Educators" and abides by the International Code and Resolutions.
Over the past few months Nestlé has mounted offensives against implementation of the International Code and Resolutions in a number of countries. These include: Pakistan, Sri Lanka and, in February 1998, Swaziland.
Fortunately Baby Milk Action's partners in the IBFAN Africa office were invited to attend the meeting between the Ministry of Health, Swaziland and Nestlé. As in other countries, Nestlé disregarded the undertaking it made at the Church of England Synod in July 1997 to support government implementation of the International Code and Resolutions and argued for weak controls. It appears that Nestlé's moves were ineffective in this case.
It is understood that Nestlé is now calling for a meeting with the South African Provincial Health Ministry for Gauteng Province, which includes Johannesburg. The Provincial authorities are responsible for implementing and monitoring the national code. The need for strong implementation of the International Code and Resolutions in South Africa was demonstrated recently by the report Cracking the Code, published by the Interagency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring (IGBM) in January 1997. In South Africa IGBM reports that:
Ask Nestlé to support the full implementation of the International Code and Resolutions in South Africa and to stop all violations independently of government measures.