Forum: Arts / Debates

Nestle Family Controversy/International Code of Marketing Breast Feeding Substitutes
By MaxwellPremium member
On Mon Dec 28, 2009 09:15 PM

evilslutopia.com . . .

(I know, very openly biased, but it is the best explanation of the whole deal I could find. Also, if you couldn't tell by the title of the blog, some of the posts on there happen to be a bit R-rated. Not this one, but be warned.)

Nestlé recently invited a group of mom and dad bloggers to a Nestle Family event to "learn firsthand the things that are important to them and their families, and to share a little about us and our brands". When some of those bloggers started talking about the event on their blogs and using the #nestlefamily hashtag on twitter, it sparked some responses and criticism from people who started pointing out some of Nestlé's questionable and problematic behavior as a company, especially when it comes to their marketing of baby formula around the world. Twitstorm ensues.


What are the possible ethical issues of promoting formula feeding in developing/poverty-stricken countries, you ask? Also via Evil Slutopia:

What was interesting to me in reading the #nestlefamily discussion on twitter was how quick some people were to get defensive, get distracted with irrelevant issues, or try to reframe the debate into something that it's not. Let's break down some of the most common themes that I saw:

~But I formula fed my babies and they turned out fine!

That's wonderful, but also pretty much irrelevant to criticisms about Nestlé's questionable practices in marketing formula in the developing world. Formula feeding was easier for you because...

•You can afford to buy enough formula so you don't have to water it down.
•You have access to clean water to mix with it.
•You have the tools that you need to sterilize your bottles properly.

•You have access to information and resources to help you make the best choices for your child.

•You can read the directions on the package because you're literate and they're written in your native language.

Many women in developing countries don't have all, or any, of those advantages. Yes, I'm making some generalizations here, and I'm not trying to say that women in the developed world never have trouble affording formula or other challenges with formula feeding. But the point is that sometimes you have to look beyond your own experience with a product/company and think about the bigger picture.


~Women should be able to make their own choice between breastfeeding and formula feeding.

Yes, but they should be able to choose freely, without pressure or manipulation, and with access to unbiased information. Again, it's a good idea not to assume that the experiences of women in developed and developing countries are always very similar.

This isn't a "mommy wars" breastfeeding vs. formula feeding issue. The criticism is being framed by some people as 'well, Nestlé promotes formula feeding around the world and I'm a breastfeeding activist so I don't like Nestlé, let's boycott', but that's not accurate. This is about questioning the ethics of a company that promotes formula feeding among mothers who don't have the resources to do it safely, and about holding that company accountable when they fail to follow the rules - whether we're talking about the guidelines of an international organization like the WHO, the laws of a particular country, or standards of basic human decency.


And according to the World Health Organization's (PDF) International Code of Marketing Breast Feeding Substitutes

The protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding rank among the most effective interventions to improve child survival. It is estimated that high coverage of optimal breastfeeding practices could avert 13% of the 10.6 million deaths of children under five years occurring globally every year. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life is particularly beneficial, and infants who are not breastfed in the first month of life may be as much as 25 times more likely to die than infants who are exclusively breastfed.


Basically, what I'm curious to know from you is:

1. Is what Nestle doing unethical? I can't imagine why anybody wouldn't agree that it is, but just in case, here you go.

2. Are the mother/father bloggers who attended the event, some of whom consider themselves pro-breastfeeding activists, really gross hypocrites for not boycotting? Or is this an opportunity to reach out to the company and attempt to lobby for better practices? Or is there simply not enough information available and media attention given too these practices?

3. (From www.unicef.org . . .)
Sixty-five countries have already adopted the ICMBFS as law. Should all/most/certain countries do this? Some countries have gone even farther:
Unicef wrote:

In Iran, the Government has taken control of the import and sale of breastmilk substitutes. Formula is available only by prescription, and the tins must carry a generic label - no brand names, pictures or promotional messages are allowed.

In India, legislation requires that tins of infant formula carry a conspicuous warning about the potential harm caused by artificial feeding, placed on the central panel of the label.

In Papua New Guinea, the sale of feeding bottles, cups, teats and dummies is strictly controlled, and there is a ban on advertising these products as well as breastmilk substitutes.


Should some/all/most countries adopt laws like these?

Debate away. On the off-chance you couldn't infer it already, I'll come back with my position later.

7 Replies to Nestle Family Controversy/International Code of Marketing Breast Feeding Substitutes

re: Nestle Family Controversy/International Code of Marketing Breast Feeding Substitutes
By moara
On Tue Dec 29, 2009 04:10 AM
I'm not sure I feel stongly for either side of the debate.
But, I think that you missed a valid point in your summary of the topic.
HIV positive breastfeeding mothers do carry the risk of passing down the virus to their children. Because of the high rate of HIV in developing countries, particularly Africa, this means that the third world is legetimately a huge market for a formula manufacturer, like Nestle. Whether or not they are being eithical with the distribution of this formula is much more nuanced than breast is best.
Yes, there are risks to feeding formula, especially when it is fed improperly, but in many cases it is still the lesser of two evils.
I think it is a very fine line that these people walk down. They're given one of two very hard choices. I can see the value of promoting formula, especially where in many of the rural areas where formula is being promoted, people just don't know their HIV status. There's already a huge stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, and if only HIV positive women used formula, then that stigma would be attached to formula as well. I think that advertizing, in part, combats that.
On the other hand, infant mortality due to impoperly prepared formula is also significant in areas like these.
In an ideal world, HIV negative women would breastfeed, and HIV positive women would use clean, full-strength formula. The reality is that that is unattainable at this point. Finding an acheivable balance is a matter of trial and error.
re: Nestle Family Controversy/International Code of Marketing Breast Feeding Substitutes
By Kekoamember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Tue Dec 29, 2009 12:51 PM
Extended breastfeeding(3 years upwards to 7 or 8), while frowned upon in the US, is essential to the survival of these children in third world countries. An HIV positive mother won't necessarily transfer it to the child through nursing, but if a woman can't afford enough formula or have access to clean water to mix it with, that baby will die. I'd have much less of an issue with the whole thing if these women were being guaranteed two years worth of formula and clean drinking water, but when they're being given formula and then they're expected to buy it(the stuff is EXPENSIVE, even some people here in America cannot afford it) after their "samples" run out, that's extremely unethical.

I try my hardest to not buy nestle products, though I doubt they miss my business. They own several big brands, so if I accidently buy something, I think it would be worse to waste it since it was already paid for.
re: Nestle Family Controversy/International Code of Marketing Breast Feeding Substitutes
By Heartmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Tue Dec 29, 2009 08:43 PM
For some reason I can't open any of the PDF files on my computer, so I'm missing a big chunk of the argument. That said, I fail to see how, legally, it's Nestle's responsibility if people misuse their products. I don't think they're responsible for that, third world country or not.

Ethically, it's probably wrong, but I've never cared much for ethics. [insert lawyer jokes here]
re: Nestle Family Controversy/International Code of Marketing Breast Feeding Substitutes
By MaxwellPremium member
On Tue Dec 29, 2009 08:48 PM
Edited by Katydid13 (187431) on 2009-12-29 20:49:22
^Don't you think that's a bit of a stretch for countries where it is literally impossible to use Nestle's products correctly? It is one thing if you live in the U.S./U.K./Canada and just aren't very bright, but if you don't have proper drinking water, aren't aware that your water isn't clean, and can't read, how is it your fault?

I quoted the most important part of the PDF, by the way. I can post more of the text on here if you want it.
re: Nestle Family Controversy/International Code of Marketing Breast Feeding Substitutes
By Heartmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Wed Dec 30, 2009 01:59 PM
But Nestle's products are perfectly safe. They're not selling contaminated milk or anything. Third world country or not, the user is responsible for knowing how to use it - not knowing or being poor or uneducated is not an excuse. Sucks, yes. Nestle's fault, no.

If they are self-promoting their products in those countries, then it's a little iffy. I don't know much about international law though because other countries are boring.

The situation does suck ass... but I don't think it's Nestle's fault it sucks ass.
re: Nestle Family Controversy/International Code of Marketing Breast Feeding Substitutes
By Kekoamember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Wed Dec 30, 2009 02:10 PM
Heart wrote:

But Nestle's products are perfectly safe. They're not selling contaminated milk or anything. Third world country or not, the user is responsible for knowing how to use it - not knowing or being poor or uneducated is not an excuse. Sucks, yes. Nestle's fault, no.

If they are self-promoting their products in those countries, then it's a little iffy. I don't know much about international law though because other countries are boring.

The situation does suck ass... but I don't think it's Nestle's fault it sucks ass.


So by giving products and promoting themselves to families when they know that what they're doing is killing infants, that isn't Nestle's fault? Come on. This isn't some Arkansas hillbilly who got pulled out of school at age 6 to work on a beet farm...these are people who have NO money and NO clean water, so Nestle knows for a fact that what they're doing is extremely immoral because they're providing the means to kill.
re: Nestle Family Controversy/International Code of Marketing Breast Feeding Substitutes
By MaxwellPremium member
On Wed Dec 30, 2009 06:45 PM
Heart wrote:

But Nestle's products are perfectly safe. They're not selling contaminated milk or anything. Third world country or not, the user is responsible for knowing how to use it - not knowing or being poor or uneducated is not an excuse. Sucks, yes. Nestle's fault, no.


I think you are underestimating what poor and uneducated can mean in a third-world country. These are places where young mothers have absolutely NO resources for anything. You really can't be anything but poor and uneducated right now in these countries and there is nothing they can do about it. There's nothing that can be done about the lack of clean water, either. Nestle knows this and they have plenty of money with their business in more developed countries, they do not need to be taking advantage of mothers in third-world countries. Like the report said, if they pulled business out of there, it could help save 13% of infants that would die otherwise.

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