BOTTLE BABY DISEASE, THE
ILLNESS CAUSED BY INAPPROPRIATE ARTIFICIAL FEEDING, IS ESTIMATED BY UNICEF
TO KILL ONE MILLION BABIES PER YEAR WORLDWIDE. THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE SHOWS
THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN NESTLE, THE WORLD'S LARGEST FOOD MULTINATIONAL,
AND THE CAUSE OF BOTTLE BABY DISEASE. ALTHOUGH THE ORIGINAL BOYCOTT OF
NESTLE, LAUNCHED BACK IN 1977 WAS PROVISIONALLY ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL
CONSUMER CAMPAIGNS, ENDING AFTER SEVEN YEARS, THE COMPANY HAS SINCE TURNED
THEIR BACKS ON THEIR PROMISES RESULTING IN A FURTHER BOYCOTT CAMPAIGN BEING
RELAUNCHED. THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE SHOWS WHY THE ORIGINAL BOYCOTT WAS CALLED
FOR AND WHY THIS HAS BEEN RENEWED MORE RECENTLY. IT IS ALSO A GOOD EXAMPLE
SHOWING TGE LENGTHS MULTINATIONAL COMPANIES WILL STRETCH TO IN ORDER TO
SELL THEIR PRODUCTS.
MILK VS. BREASTMILK?
Given the right help and
support, 99% of mothers can breastfeed. Breast milk is the perfect food
for human babies. It contains the correct nutrients for the baby and it
changes in content and quantity according to the baby's needs. It is always
clean, fresh and free. Providing vital antibodies which protect against
In contrast, artificial milk
contains no antibodies,and when made up with unsafe water, is an inevitable
carrier of infections such as diarrhea which is the biggest killer of children
In poor countries, artificial-baby
milk often costs more than half the entire household income. Even a doctors
weekly salary is not enough to buy the two tins of formula needed to feed
a baby for one week. Poor mothers trying to make the milk go further may
overdilute the powder resulting in a vicious circle of malnutrition and
The companies used every
method possible to persuade mothers to use their products, especially by
using the media to their advantage- radio jingles, TV/newspaper advertising
and "milk nurses" (who were Nestle employees dressed as nurses, manipulating
mothers into consuming their products).
Nestle were proud of their
innovative marking skills,"Their
strategy was formed around
the idea that mothers had better things to do than nurse their babies...the
idea that if you nursed your baby you might suffer from "bosom sag"..(quoted
from a former marketing expert for Nestle).
No real changes were made
until consumer activists eventually got involved. A consumer boycott was
called in the USA in 1977 eventually spreading to several other countries.The
demands of the boycott were that Nestle should halt all promotion of Baby
milk. This meant no free samples, direct advertising or company reps dressed
as milk nurses.
PREVIOUS ACTIONS AND THE ORIGINAL BOYCOTT
The commercial production
of artificial baby milks grew at the turn of the century, when the manufacturer's
selling techniques began to deliberately undermine women's confidence in
the traditional method of feeding their children - breastfeeding. Infant
mortality rates rose in the USA and the UK as bottle feeding spread Incorrect
Western medical practices, such as separating mothers and babies and strict
feeding routines, combined with commercial and social pressures have led
to a dramatic fall in breastfeeding which spread all over the world.
After World War II, aggressive
promotion increased to such an extent that doctors, confronted with the
devastating effects of bottle baby disease, appealed to the companies for
Towards the end of the 70's
the activists formed a loose
coalition called IBFAN -
the International Baby Food Action Network. IBFAN members were not only
involved in the boycott, but were also involved in educating health workers
and lobbying governments to take effective action to solve the problem.
IBFAN members were influential
in the formation of a new code of practice, the WHO/UNICEF International
Code of Marketing of Breast- milk Substitutes, that was drawn up. This
code was designed to protect and promote breastfeeding and to be a code
of conduct for the baby milk and bottle manufacturers. 118 countries voted
for this Code to be adopted as a minimum requirement for all countries
at the 1981 World Health Assembly.
The baby food manufacturers
involved in the codes formation did all they could to undermine its effectiveness.
Nevertheless, the Code provided a good basis for change and became the
focus of the campaigners demands.
Nestle issued an ambiguous
statement of support for the aims and principles of the code stating that
they would consult with individual governments on specific measures. This
tried to pass the responsibility for code implementation to governments,
even though the code states the companies have a duty to comply regardless
of individual government action.
The consumer boycott grew
in strength. Nestle responded by issuing inadequate guidelines for their
employees and presenting to the public the image of a company that was
doing everything possible to control the problem. They claimed that the
problem lay with governments who were slow to implement the code. Nestle
had stopped their most blatant promotion - mass media advertising of infant
formula and the milk nurses,
but the code called for an end to all tactics.
Nestle were reluctant to
give up these and instead, tried to discredit the boycotters. They also
led a new "low-profile" strategy using the conservative business press
to discredit the boycott and accusing activists of being "Marxists marching
under the banner of Christ!"
By 1984, the boycott was
spreading across Europe, Nestlé's most lucrative market. Nestle
gave in to the pressure and eventually signed and agreement with the International
Nestle Boycott Committee in which they promised to abide by the Code. The
Boycott was ended when worldwide monitoring indicated that Nestle had indeed
cleaned up their act.
THE MORE RECENT BOYCOTT?
In a 1988 monitoring survey,
in Asia, shocked the campaigners and caused them to renew their focus on
Nestle. Film and documentary evidence showed that Nestle had broken their
1984 promises and had shifted their promotional emphasis to much more devious
methods of marketing. Firstly, they were now using a most effective strategy,
giving free supplies to maternity hospitals. This has the advantage to
the company, of appearing to be an act of charity. It is fact a
highly effective way of
getting babies hooked on the bottle. Nestlé and other companies
are currently giving maternity hospitals in more than 45 developing countries
enough artificial baby milk to feed all the newborns.
Health workers, trained from
Western handbooks (with damaging breastfeeding advice), in hospitals built
to Western design (which separate mothers and babies), assume that routine
bottle feeding is the Western "norm" and may even give excess supplies
to mothers as take-home samples. Mothers leave hospital with their breast
milk unstimulated, their babies accustomed to a bottle, and with a product
apparently endorsed by the medical system. Once mother and baby leave hospital,
ironically the milk is no longer free and deprived of the antibodies in
breastmilk, the baby is vulnerable to infection and death from bottle baby
Free supplies are allowed
under the International code only for those babies, such as orphans, who
must be fed on breastmilk substitutes and only for as long as the
baby needs them. The code clearly states that free samples should not be
used for promotion. A World Health Assembly Resolution, adopted in 1986,
practice urging that all
milk needed for those rare babies who cannot get breast milk should be
paid for in the same way as any other hospital item. Even though they had
agreed to accept the WHO/UNICEF clarifications, Nestle have ignored this
Because of the intense competition,
companies are prepared to give huge amounts of free or low-cost supplies
to health-care facilities, knowing that up to 95% of mothers keep
their babies on the brand they are given in hospital. Winning the support
and confidence of
health professionals is
crucial: as one salesman admitted, "If I sell my product to a mother I
get six months of sales. If I convince a health worker, I get forty years
of recommendation to mothers." Companies who donate nurseries, or have
a hand in the design of new hospitals, are helping to ensure that bottle
feeding is built into the infrastructure of the health care facility.
When the Filipino government
introduced a bill in 1989 to ensure that all newborns were kept in or next
to their mothers beds, a policy which is known to encourage breastfeeding,
Nestle and it's competitors responded with the fabricated claim that this
would increase infection. In fact, scientific evidence proves the opposite.
An even more insidious practice
is that of appearing to promote breastfeeding and in doing so, to sabotage
it. Much breastfeeding literature produced by baby milk companies gives
incorrect or leading advice. Many pamphlets advise mothers that to breastfeed
successfully, they must eat a diet completely beyond their means.
This is not only untrue,
but women in poor societies who do not have access to such food may be
convinced that they are unable to breastfeed. Even undernourished mothers
can produce enough milk for their babies. Companies also give incorrect
advise on nipple care, and worst of all, teach women to position their
babies incorrectly on the breast. If a baby is not correctly positioned,
it will not get enough milk. Furthermore, it will be painful for the mother,
who may then turn to the bottle.
By providing equipment and
health information, companies ensure that governments and health professionals
remain dependent on them. In this way the companies escape criticism and
manipulate the health care systems to their advantage. They also influence
the decision makers in governments so that weak laws and recommendations
are passed that will do nothing to stop the expansion of the baby food
In October 1988 the second
Nestle Boycott was launched. Experience has shown that a boycott is more
likely to succeed if a single brand name is targeted, so the current boycott
focuses on Nescafe, Nestlé's best-known, highest profile and most
heavily advertised product. However an increasing number of supporters
have chosen to boycott all the company's brand names.
The campaign is growing.
Some individuals in the Nestle company now admit they are a problem - which
is obviously a sign that the boycott is taking effect. If more people joined
the boycott now and cut out all Nestle products, the company will be forced
to put their words into actions.
Dr Cicely Williams in a speech
entitled "Milk and murder" declared, 'If your lives were embittered as
mine by seeing day after day this massacre of the innocents by unsuitable
feeding, then I believe you would feel as I do - that misguided propaganda
on infant feeding should be punished as the most criminal form of sedition,
and that those deaths should be regarded as murder..."