Remembering Senator Edward Kennedy's role in protecting infant health from Nestlé and others
Press release 27 August 2009
Senator Edward Kennedy, who died on Tuesday 25 August 2009, played a pivotal role in protecting babies around the world from the aggressive marketing of baby food companies such as Nestlé. Though companies continue to contribute to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants through aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes, a senate hearing held by Senator Kennedy in 1978 led to a marketing code being adopted by the World Health Assembly three years later, a vital tool for holding corporations to account. Today over 70 countries have introduced the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions into national measures and where these are enforced, breastfeeding rates are recovering.
The clip below shows how Senator Kennedy put a Nestlé executive on the spot regarding its corporate social responsibility in conditions where formula feeding can lead to sickness and death.
The Senate Hearings held by Senator Kennedy culminated in a call for there to be a marketing code for breastmilk substitutes, a call that was heeded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, which began the drafting process the following year.
Six civil society organisations involved in the first 1979 drafting meeting formed the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) to coordinate their activities. Today IBFAN consists of more than 200 groups in over 100 countries and trains policy makers on the International Code and Resolutions and monitors baby food companies against them.
While many company strategies (such as putting baby pictures on labels) have been stopped, other strategies have emerged (notably claiming formula protects against infection and provides other health benefits - see the Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheets). Nestlé continues to be the worst of the baby food companies, and takes the lead in opposing implementation of the International Code and Resolutions and is one of the most boycotted companies on the planet because of this.
(Right: Nestlé formula in Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries, in 2009. Nestlé claims its formula 'protects', whereas in truth infants fed on it are more likely to become sick and die than breastfed infants).
Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:
The importance of the Senate Hearings organised by Senator Kennedy should be remembered in his obituary. The Hearings are so significant that Nestlé continues to attack them in its public relations strategy against the boycott, currently distributing a pseudo-scientific article that misrepresents what happened. Senator Kennedy helped to bring about the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes which has helped to save lives by stopping corporate malpractice in many countries.
Nestlé is distributing a paper that misrepresents the Senate Hearings held by Senator Kennedy in an attempt to undermine support for the boycott. The paper contains many factual errors and the publishers, the British Journal of Midwifery, gave Baby Milk Action a substantial right to reply - which is not distributed with Nestlé off-print. An exposé, with contemporary documents from the time of the Hearings, can be found in the Your Questions Answered section at: archive.babymilkaction.org/resources/yqsanswered/yqanestle09.html
A new briefing shows how Nestlé has misled George Clooney on the position of the Methodist Church and 'British midwives', untrue claims that Mr. Clooney's office has relayed to those questioning his willingness to work with Nestlé by appearing in Nespresso advertisements.
Baby Milk Action is a not-for-profit organisation and the UK member of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). It is funded by membership fees, merchandise sales and donations, along with grants from development organisations and charitable trusts.
"What do Nike, Coca Cola, McDonald's and Nestlé have in common? Apart from being among the world's most well-known brands, they happen to be the most boycotted brands on the planet. That finding came from this week's global GMIPoll, an online opinion poll that surveyed 15,500 consumers in 17 countries. Nestlé emerges as the most the most boycotted brand in the UK because of what respondents consider its "unethical use and promotion of formula feed for babies in third world countries."
Nestlé won a global internet poll for the world's 'least responsible company' coinciding with the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2005. Nestlé received 29% of the votes. This was more than twice that of joint second Monsanto and Dow Chemicals (of Bhopal infamy), each on 14% ( click here for details ).