IBFAN Press Release
28 January 2000
January 2000 WHO Executive
Board Meeting in Geneva.
Text of today's intervention
by Dr. Arun Gupta on behalf of Consumers International/IBFAN
Agenda Item 8.2: Infant
and Young Child Feeding.
Mr Chairman, Director General, Members of the Board, friends,
good afternoon. I welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of
the International Organisation of Consumer Unions, which I will
refer to as CI. On the issue of infant feeding, CI is a partner
with the International Baby Food Action Network, (IBFAN) a network
of over 150 citizens groups who have been working to protect infant
health in more than 90 countries, for the last two decades.
We welcome the report of the Secretariat on infant and young
child nutrition and the report of the collaboration within the
UN system especially regarding the ILO Maternity Protection Convention.
We would urge greater support for breastfeeding and maintaining
the right to nursing breaks for working mothers.
Since time is limited, I shall concentrate on 4 issues:
Firstly, the question of new partnerships.
We recognise WHO's desire to develop new partnerships with the
private sector. This effort to encourage social responsibility
by corporations is a laudable motive. However when linked to fundraising,
the dangers that such partnerships will be used for public relations
purposes and dependency are great. For companies, sponsorship
of good causes is a well-known marketing tool, which they often
use to offset criticism.
Companies are experts at PR, and have enormous resources and
some have annual promotion budgets 4 times the size of WHO's total
budget - which they can use to advertise even the smallest reference
to "partnership" with a prestigious organisation such as WHO.
An example, of how public relations is used is this 180 page
book, which is addressed to the Director General and has been
sent to governments, health workers and NGOs all over the world.
The book contains letters from more than 50 governments, which
a company claims testify its compliance with the International
Code. IBFAN had to spend time, energy and funds to analyse this
document and the company has now had to apologise to several countries
for misrepresenting their views. These are not simple errors.
This is not the effective monitoring expected.
UNICEF has also done an analysis and in their letter of 31 December
1999 to the company has stated that in at least 21 countries the
claims of national Code compliance could not be supported and
also questioned the appropriateness of the methodology that has
Secondly and related, the issue of commercial sponsorship and
conflict of interest is of critical importance in infant feeding,
and especially in HIV where so many questions regarding the impact
of different patterns of breastfeeding remain unanswered. We have
the right to expect that the direction and research priorities
of the UN are not influenced by commercial interests. The pharmaceutical
and baby food industry, both have clear vested interests in the
outcome of research into Mother to Child Transmission and are
urging UN agencies to enter into partnerships, allegedly in an
effort to rescue babies but in reality they are hoping to expand
their markets. One US baby milk and pharmaceutical company on
its website, in July 1999 stated that:
"...education also increases sales of HIV products by developing
the HIV marketplace...the returns will ultimately materialise...most
of this HIV market is untapped..."
Should such a company provide information for mothers and doctors
on HIV and infant feeding? Should it be encouraged to take women
to be tested for HIV in countries such as South Africa?
Thirdly, in Doc EB 105/36, paragraph 12, entitled, Progress in
implementing the International Code states that 160 (84%) Member
States have reported to WHO on action taken. This projects much
too rosy a picture. We know that only 21 countries have implemented
the International Code and the relevant Resolutions in their entirety
by enacting legislation while another 24 have sound draft laws
pending enactment. We hope that interference by industry will
not delay the enactment of these drafts at country level.
IBFAN has contributed significantly to national legislation by
training some 400 government officials from 90 countries and developing
the IBFAN Code Handbook, which now exists in 4 languages. Another
important contribution is IBFAN's continuous health worker training,
monitoring, and raising awareness, campaigning and advocacy. Thousands
of health workers and millions of people at grass roots level
are now aware of the Code and Resolutions and are taking action
to protect infant health.
Lastly, we would like to draw your attention to the following
- IBFAN has submitted comments about some of the serious weaknesses
contained in the first draft of the Guidelines for Interaction
with Commercial Enterprises and we strongly urge WHO to take
them into account. We do have copies available for Members.
- We encourage WHO to ensure that its entire staff consistently
uphold the importance of the Code and Resolutions at all times,
and especially when dealing with media and other enquirers.
- The European Parliament has decided to hold regular Public
Hearings, in which the activities of European-based companies
in relation to developing countries will be examined. The baby
food issue is the first item on the agenda. WHO might like to
assist parliamentarians in this endeavour.
- WHO could write to its WRs to confirm, or not, statements
made in the book I referred to earlier.
In a world where health care systems and services are increasingly
being privatised, there is an urgent need for WHO to protect its
status as a truly independent advocate for human rights and public
health. WHO is the highest health policy setting body in the world,
and CI, as well as IBFAN, are more than keen to work with you.
However, we do urge WHO to ensure that its policies, programmes
and research priorities, reflect its mission at all times, so
that our efforts to protect infants, children and their mothers
are in harmony.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak to you today.