Analysis of baby milk company responses to Save the Children's infant feeding report

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Save the Children launched a report called Superfood for babies: How overcoming barriers to breastfeeding will save children’s lives on 18 February 2013. It shared the report with the main baby food companies prior to publication and their responses has been published on the Save the Children site. Baby Milk Action takes a look at what their responses tell us and whether the company claims stand up to scrutiny. The response from the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) with links to the report and petition campaign is available by clicking here.

All manufacturers and distributors of breastmilk substitutes should ensure their practices at every level comply with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly.

Save the Children notes:

"While some companies have created global monitoring and reporting systems, in many cases they are not being implemented in practice and there continue to be too many examples of violations of the Code by some breast-milk substitute companies."

It gives particular attention to Nestlé and Danone, controlling 23% and 14% of the global market respectively, and is targeting them with a petition campaign. Baby Milk Action analyses how these companies have responded.


Danone states in its response:

"As a global leader in infant nutrition, Danone recognizes that we have an important role to play, both through our support of breast-feeding, as well as contributing to the good health and nutrition of mothers, infants and young children by providing appropriate nutritional education and products.

"We accept that in some cases more work needs to be done with regard to industry marketing practices. Danone is taking a leading role in this area and as a priority we are committed to working with industry partners to establish a global code of ethics for the infant nutrition industry. In the absence of a global code of ethics, Danone has established clear internal marketing policies and procedures that will shortly be made public, as well as having our practices audited, both in country and at head office level by independent auditors."

Baby Milk Action's analysis:

 1. It is not Danone's role to "stand by mums" or to provide "nutritional education", or even to support breastfeeding. It is a food company that sells breastmilk substitutes and a range of other processed products for infants and young children and has a vested interest in selling what it produces.

Danone’s  attempts to reach mothers through so-called education initiatives is a subterfuge to promote the names of its various baby food companies, product brand names and gain contact details. Very quickly the offer of advice on pregnancy, for example, leads to promotion of formula with idealising claims. The International Code is clear in Article 5.5 that companies "should not seek direct or indirect contact with pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children".

A major strand of Danone's marketing strategy is promoting "mother and baby clubs", "parenting clubs" and, as it says in its response, "nutritional education". These initiatives violate the marketing requirements and other measures which aim to ensure that pregnant women and parents receive independent, accurate information through the health care system and mother support groups. Baby Milk Action's monitoring has found that Danone's initiatives targeting health workers also leads to promotion of formula with misleading claims. As Save the Children suggests in its report, policy makers should give attention to improving access to health care independent of the influence of baby milk companies. 

2. It is perfectly legitimate for Danone to market breastmilk substitutes and nobody is calling for it to stop doing so. However, Danone's schemes systematically violate the marketing requirements. Examples are given in the attached profiles of Danone's various subsidiary companies, taken from the Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2010 report. See below. 

3. Baby Milk Action and its partners put a four-point plan to Danone when it took over the NUMICO brands in 2007 (Nutricia, Aptamil, Milupa, Cow & Gate etc), calling for it to accept the validity of the Code and Resolutions and the need to bring marketing practices into line. Danone rejected the plan then and has continued to do so throughout our ongoing correspondence.

4. In response to the Breaking the Rules 2010 report, Danone stated it had taken action to end 50% of the violations in its profile. Clarity is still needed on this as we continue to press it to take action on the remaining 50% of violations. In our ongoing correspondence with Danone it has refused outright to abide by certain provisions of the Code and Resolutions. For example, it has stated its intention to continue targeting pregnant women and mothers. When Danone believes it can pick and choose which provisions to follow, it is not respecting the Code.

5. At the same time, we acknowledge that in contrast to other companies, Danone is more willing to discuss required changes and has made further specific commitments: promising to remove its Immunofortis health claim,  from labels, to stop distributing materials aimed at the public through the health care system and to stop promoting infant formula on websites.

We are aware from monitoring with our partners around the world that it has not yet fully delivered on these commitments, while it continues other violations. Accordingly, we continue to call for Danone to abide by the Code and Resolutions. IBFAN is considering whether a consumer campaign is necessary to empower the public to exert pressure. 


Nestlé is the worst of the baby food companies in terms of the type and scale of violations. It also takes the lead in attempting to undermine implementation of the Code and Resolutions in legislation, in the Philippines at the current time it is leading an industry attack against regulations introduced in 2007 (also in the face of industry pressure).

In response to the Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2010 monitoring report, Nestlé said it would act on just 4 our of the 130 violations it counted - just 3%. This included dropping the claim its formula is "The new 'Gold Standards' in infant nutrition", which it had already promised to do after receiving thousands of emails from supporters of the Nestlé boycott. Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet and the boycott helps to force changes in its policies and practices.

Aside from rejecting reports of violations, Nestlé invests in attempting to divert criticism. For example, it produces Creating Shared Value reports that are dishonest not only in the presentation of its infant nutrition business, but have also been criticsed by experts on its practices in the cocoa, coffee, dairy and water sectors and abuse of labour rights in general - see Nestlé UN Global Compact cover up

Sometimes it uses underhand tactics. For example, Nestlé was ordered by a Swiss court in January 2013 to pay damages and costs to members of Attac Switzerland after infiltrating the groups with spies when it was producing a book on Nestlé malpractice in a wide range of areas, including baby milk marketing. 

We see the same approach of denying the evidence of wrong doing and attempting to divert criticism in Nestlé's response to the Save the Children report.

Nestlé says in its response: 

"We support the WHO recommendation of six months exclusive breastfeeding, and we comply with the WHO Code as implemented by national governments everywhere in the world. In 152 High Risk countries we apply the WHO code, the Nestlé Policy and national legislations, whichever is stricter. We are the only infant food manufacturer to have met the FTSE4Good criteria as a result of our policy implementation.

"Like Save the Children, we agree that breastfeeding is the best start a baby can have in life, and we actively promote the practice. For example, we provide workshops on breastfeeding to healthcare professionals in collaboration with health societies, and we run pro-breastfeeding campaigns using leaflets, posters, videos, and websites. We also promote breastfeeding within the company by providing support for our employees, including breastfeeding rooms, counsellors, and flextime for mothers. We also share our research on the benefits of breast milk.

"It is unfortunate that specific companies are singled out for criticism, yet none are given credit where it is merited." [Continues with misleading assertions about its practices].

Baby Milk Action's analysis:

1. Nestlé only refers to breastfeeding in the first 6 months, whereas the World Health Assembly recommends continued breastfeeding alongside the introduction of complementary foods into the second year of life and beyond. In attempting to replace the strong regulations introduced in the Philippines in 2007, Nestlé falsely claims the Code only applies to products for use to 6 months of age. It also recently weakened its own policies to allow advertising of formula that could not be advertised under its previous policy.

2. Nestlé does not comply with the Code and repeatedly ignores the subsequent, relevant Resolutions, which are equally important as they address new marketing strategies, including conflicts of interest and sponsorship of programmes involving pregnant women and mothers. Nestlé products were seized at the end of 2012 in India for breaking labelling laws. The Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules report documents systematic violations. (see below).

3. Nestlé conflates its claim to abide by the Code with its inclusion in the FTSE4Good ethical investment Index. This is dishonest as the FTSE4Good Breastmilk Substitutes Criteria do not require companies to abide by the Code. When Nestlé was added in March 2011, UNICEF stated: "The evidence available to us suggests that all breastmilk substitute manufacturers currently violate the International Code routinely. We are therefore following the inclusion of Nestle on the index carefully and will be looking for evidence that their marketing begins to comply with the Code." Save the Children's recommendations include: "FTSE4Good should bring its criteria into line with the International Code and resolutions. It should assess company practices in selected countries against the Code and resolutions, as well as the company's own policies."

3. Nestlé states: "we provide workshops on breastfeeding to healthcare professionals". It is not Nestlé's role to train health care professionals. Its events often involve free travel, stays in luxury hotels and more shopping trips than discourse and are designed to forge links with health workers. The Indian Government has stated that events organised by Nestlé for health workers break its laws. FTSE Chief Executive, Mark Makepeace, wrote to Nestlé CEO, Paul Bulcke on 14 November 2011 in the context of FTSE4Good regarding activities that could be regarded as promotional and supporting conference attendance was provided as an example.

4. Nestlé suggests that it deserves credit for its marketing practices. It does not: it deserves to be prosecuted and boycotted.

5. Baby Milk Action has put a four-point plan to Nestlé for saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott. This has been repeatedly rejected by Nestlé as it refuses to accept the validity of the Code and Resolutions as minimum standards for all countries and that it needs to bring its policies into line. If Nestlé did so, then Baby Milk Action would propose to its colleagues that we meet with Nestlé to discuss its schedule for making changes. Without such a basis, meetings serve no purpose other than for Nestlé to claim it is engaging with its critics while continuing with business as usual. Save the Children is warned that Nestlé will press for meetings so that it can use exactly this strategy in the media and behind closed doors when policy makers raise the concerns in Save the Children's report.

Company profiles from Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2010 can be downloaded via the following links:

Nestlé profile

Danone profile and its subsidiary companies: Bledina, Dumex, Gallia, Mellin, Milupa, Nutricia, Sari Husada.