23 Nov The movie Tigers salutes the courage of a salesman turned whistleblower
The 90-minute feature-film ‘Tigers’, directed by Oscar-winning director Danis Tanović, received a standing ovation and resounding applause at its world premiere at the Toronto and San Sebastian International Film Festivals in September 2014. Based on the true story of whistleblower Syed Aamir Raza, it provides a glimpse of corporate power and anger when its profits are threatened.
Aamir was a Nestlé baby formula salesman (a.k.a. “medical delegate”) in Pakistan from 1994 to 1997. When a doctor told him that babies were dying from unsafe bottle feeding, Aamir asked why and the doctor replied, ‘Because of people like you.’ Aamir had been taught to market the company’s products aggressively to doctors and parents. The company provided him with funds and resources to organise baby shows and gifts to doctors to encourage them to recommend his company’s formula. He received bonuses for hitting his formula and baby food sales targets. Aamir learnt that all this was in violation of marketing rules adopted through the World Health Organisation (the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant resolutions of the World Health Assembly). He quit his job, but realised that was not enough. So he tried to expose and stop the corporation’s malpractice. But he was alone and Nestlé was all-powerful.
IBFAN-ICDC’s Director, Annelies Allain, met Aamir back in 1998, at a Training on Code Monitoring in Delhi, India. She examined his evidence, such as, receipts for gifts to doctors, salary bonus slips based on achieving sales targets and more. She concluded that these were violating the Code, that this man was holding a “smoking gun” and that it should go public.
The IBFAN group in Pakistan produced a report on the evidence called Milking Profits, which was launched in Germany in December 1999. Nestlé dismissed the report, claiming most practices were not violations and those that were had been the sole responsibility of Aamir. It also accused him of trying to blackmail the company. The company went on to put pressure on newspapers and on a German TV channel not to release a documentary film they had made in Pakistan. Wherever possible, Aamir’s testimony was minimized by Nestlé.
Tigers tells the story of how that big company went to great lengths to suppress media exposure. Aamir was also under pressure of the doctors he had denounced and moved his family into hiding after receiving threats. He eventually sought asylum while in Canada to promote Milking Profits. It took seven years before his wife and small children could join him and both his parents passed away during those difficult years.
It took 14 years for a brave film maker to reveal Aamir’s story within the bigger story of corporate power and bring it to international screens.
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