Q. (2 November 2006) On what basis has Novartis/Gerber been included in the FTSE4Good ethical listing if it is still violating the baby food marketing requirements?
A. It has satisfied FTSE it has put management systems in place, which take time to implement. Now it has to make progress or it will be deleted in a future review.
‘We view this as a test case’ says Baby Milk Action
Baby Milk Action has responded to the news that Novartis/Gerber has been included on the FTSE4Good index of companies that meet corporate responsibility standards. Baby Milk Action welcomes the news of a change in company policy, but is concerned that Gerber violations of World Health Assembly baby food marketing requirements continue and will monitor to confirm these do end.
In September 2006 Baby Milk Action’s Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet exposed continuing violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly found on the Gerber website, where feeding bottles are promoted with idealizing claims and no information is given on the recommendation that complementary foods are not used before 6 months of age. Also, during World Breastfeeding Week in August 2006, a few weeks before being listed, Gerber was targeting parents with leaflets encouraging them to sign up to its ‘Mothers’ Club’ in China. Supporters are asked to send letters to the Chief Executives of the companies exposed on the action sheet, a strategy that has had some success in prompting changes to policies and practices in the past.
Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:
“As Novartis has satisfied FTSE4Good that it has changed its policies and management systems we hope to see changes on the ground in the immediate future and a positive response to our current campaign. Will rewarding a company with a FTSE4Good listing prior to it implementing promised changes make it more or less likely to act? We view this as a test case and will continue monitoring with our partners around the world in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). We are writing to Gerber and its competitors once more asking them to support the implementation of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements in legislation to create a level playing.”
Baby Milk Action asked FTSE to clarify why Novartis had been included at this stage and was provided with the following statement:
“The FTSE4Good Breastmilk Substitutes criteria are based on the WHA Code with the added requirement for companies to clearly demonstrate the presence and application of management systems and to report on external verification. This can take time to implement. Companies in the Index are reviewed every 6 months and are subject to deletion if they are considered not to be continuing to make sufficient progress in all the criteria areas."
Baby Milk Action is cautious about accepting company assurances and company-commissioned verification reports following its experiences with Nestlé, the company controlling the largest share of the baby food market. The Nestlé boycott was suspended in 1984 after Nestlé agreed to abide by World Health Assembly measures, but had to be relaunched in 1989 after it was found the company had not delivered.
A four-point-plan put to the company since calls for it to accept the validity of the International Code and Resolutions and that it needs to change it practices. The boycott will only be called off when independent monitoring finds violations have ended. Nestlé has yet to accept this plan.
Save the Children recently published a briefing paper in which it revealed whether companies were engaging with FTSE on the FTSE4Good Breast Milk Substitutes Criteria.
Contact: Mike Brady, firstname.lastname@example.org, 01223 464420 or 07986 736179
Notes for editors
Novartis bought the Gerber baby food company in 1994 at the time the company was involved in a notorious challenge to the Guatemalan Government. Guatemala introduced legislation in 1983 prohibiting baby images on baby foods as these are promotional in nature. Gerber uses a baby face as its logo and this was prohibited by the law. The US Government put pressure on Guatemala and the Supreme Court reinterpreted the law so it did not apply to imported products. Gerber has since complied with bans on its baby logo in countries such as Brazil, but continues to use it widely.
Prior to 2004, companies manufacturing products within the scope of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes were excluded if monitoring by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) found violations. In 2004 the Breastmilk Substitutes criteria were introduced, which look to company policies and reports, rather than monitoring of outputs. Baby Milk Action was critical of this change when it was made. See press release 10 March 2004.
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.
The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 as a ‘minimum requirement’ to be implemented in its ‘entirety’ by all countries. Under Article 11.3 manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of the Code are required to ensure their activities at every level comply, independently of government measures. Subsequent Resolutions address questions of interpretation and changes in scientific knowledge and marketing practices.
According to UNICEF: “Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year“ (State of the World’s Children 2001).