08 May Some lines are not meant to be crossed. There is a conflict of interest when baby food companies promote breastfeeding
Baby food companies appearing as crusaders for breastfeeding is a growing concern, especially when they use such tactics to contact mothers and pregnant women. In Indonesia, Nestlé is establishing partnerships with provincial community clinics that serve pregnant women and children. ICDC has received information that Nestlé has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with provincial governments whereby Nestlé offers training to midwives on exclusive breastfeeding. In return, provincial governments are required to procure midwives and mothers for the programme.
Upon learning about the MOU, ICDC made a complaint to Nestlé. Although Nestlé responded that no Nestlé employees involved in marketing of infant formula will come in contact with mothers and training activities will be conducted by nutritionists and health professionals of the Faculty of Medicine University of Indonesia – ICDC is skeptical. Even if Nestlé is able to ensure strict compliance with Code articles 5.5 and 8.2, the real problem lies in conflict of interest. The company’s main goal is to profit from sale of its products. That cannot be reconciled with the promotion of breastfeeding. WHA resolution 58.32 states that financial and in-kind support for programmes and health professionals should not create conflicts of interest.
Personnel (marketing or not, and in this case, health professionals and nutritionists) and programmes that are sponsored directly or indirectly by Nestlé carry the inherent duty of promoting the company’s interest. Reaching out to mothers through breastfeeding programmes sponsored by a company that profits from failure of breastfeeding is fraught with conflicts of interest to say the least. Additionally, companies are using programmes like these to project themselves as partners with health authorities The goodwill gain from such partnerships is immense and worrisome. The ethical implications of these types of partnership run deep – as deep as the impact of not breastfeeding which puts infant health at risk.