Infant health and women’s rights at risk from corporate interests
| By Inna Michaeli
Parents deserve to make a free and informed decision on how the best feed their children. Now, a new initiative threatens to increase the power of corporate actors in setting and regulating the standards of marketing.
Corporate interests add and often capitalize on pre-existing patriarchal stereotypes that put pressure on women. Those choosing not to breastfeed can be stigmatized in some societies; in others it is the opposite: breastfeeding can be seen as backwards or limiting for women.
Sophisticated marketing strategies can mislead, manipulate and psychologically pressure parents. World Health Organization (WHO) notes that manufacturers and distributors increasingly target health facilities, retail outlets and social media channels.
In 1981, the World Health Assembly adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and has further clarified and extended it through subsequent Resolutions. Its adoption was prompted by alarming infant mortality and illness rates, especially in the Global South, associated with extremely aggressive marketing of infant formula. The Code provides an important international health policy framework. To safeguard against this threat, the Code must be ensured by enforcement of national legislation, combined with independent and transparent monitoring of its compliance.
A new initiative called the Global Monitoring Mechanism (GMM) is about to intervene in the picture - and it brings corporate interests on board. Conceived and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), it aims to “explore new approaches to improving company practices with regard to marketing breast-milk substitutes and enhancing infant and maternal nutrition and health”. Multi-national and national baby food companies are foreseen as members of the project, together with the UN, governments, civil society, donors and philanthropic foundations.
This is alarming and outrageous. Public health and nutrition must be regulated with public interest in mind. Ultimately, governments and public institutions have the obligation to protect public health and implement the Code and national laws.
On the other hand, companies prioritize profit maximization - this is their primary goal. As such, profit maximization and business interest have no place when it comes to the health and lives of millions of infants and their parents’ right to informed decision and unbiased information. All that baby food companies and manufacturers must do is to comply with the Code, the World Health Assembly (WHA) subsequent resolutions and the national laws.
The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has achieved substantial gains in keeping corporate interests out of the political decision-making and to protect the public interest. We invite you to join them in this call for action.
Here is what you can do:
● IBFAN calls on public-interest actors and asks them to join in challenging the misguided Global Monitoring Mechanism initiative of BMGF with the aim of stopping it. To express your support, please write to Alessia Bigi at alessia.bigi @ gifa.org
● Learn and share information about corporate capture and undue corporation influence over domestic and international policy and decision-making.
1The International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes - 2017 Update, Frequently asked questions link