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The ethical issue here is whether formula-milk companies such as Nestle are committing an offense by pressing for their products to be bought and substituted for breast milk.
In order to emphasize the significance of breast-feeding, the World Health Organization (WHO) came up with the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes in 1981. The Code, together with other decrees, advocates for the control on the advertising of breast milk substitutes.
This is aimed at encouraging mothers to breastfeed their babies and avoids improper use of the substitutes, for example, infant formula. The elements of the Code prevent companies from advertising breast milk substitutes that have an effect on mothers, health workers, and health care systems. In addition, labels on the products must uphold the importance of breast milk.
Some key points of the Code include prohibition of the advertising of the products in hospitals, shops, or to the public, prohibition of giving free samples to mothers and health workers, and prohibition of giving inaccurate information. The Code has made exceptions allowing nations to implement it fully or partially as part of their own law. Therefore, the International Code is only legally enforceable when it has been incorporated into the law of a country.
Nestle has been implicated to be involving in less-than-perfect practices concerning the marketing of their breast milk substitute products, especially in developing countries such as Bangladesh. In 1977, campaigners called for an International boycott of Nestle’s products because of this practice.
This prompted the enactment of the International Code. Despite the passing of the Code, campaigners are still flagging up the boycott. They claim that Nestle, as the market leader, and other related companies, have failed to adhere to the statutes of the Code. Analyzing the facts in light of the provisions of the Code will reveal this.
The International Code, which was enshrined in Bangladesh law in 1984, stipulates that information given to mothers by the companies should be objective, stress on the relevance of breast milk, and should not refer to any brand name of a product. However, the situation is different in the country. The formula manufacturers give health workers tear-off pads featuring pictures of their products, for example, Nestle has leaflets with pictures of Lactogen. More so, they do not give any useful information on the importance of breastfeeding.
In contrast to the elements of the code, mothers in Bangladesh are given free product samples and gifts, the companies engage in direct contact with the mothers, and they engage in unfair promotional strategies such as giving of discounts. The Code obliges health professionals to encourage and shield the habit of breastfeeding; however, this is not the case in Bangladesh since they prescribe breastfeeding to mothers without taking care of the future consequences.
Nestle, and other manufacturers, have violated the provisions of the International Code in developing countries such as Bangladesh. Therefore, the campaigners are right in pressing for the boycott of Nestle products that has existed for over thirty years now. The WHO should step up efforts to ensure that the companies adhere to the statutes of the Code.
Finally, since Bangladesh has incorporated the Code in its law, the formula companies should not take advantage of its grey areas in supplying breast milk substitutes to the mothers in the country.