Wednesday, September 30, 2009
My 2 cents hasn't been able to buy a candy bar in more than 30 years
I was drawn into a Twitter debate over some bloggers' attendance at a Nestle conference that has bubbled into a bitter brew of a chocolate (that incidentally, my mother never let us eat because of the company's sales practices in Africa), which really has little to do with either of the ongoing wars on breast vs. bottle or the ethics of manufacturer-supported blogging.
At the heart of this issue for me is the company's continued practice of selling infant formula in parts of Africa in apparent conflict with the World Health Organization's and, according to some accounts, it's own guidelines for sales of breast milk substitutes in those countries.
While I agree this issue has been a difficult one that has gone on for decades, and one that sparks great consternation among proponents of breastfeeding and those who support choice in all feeding methods (philosophies I don't believe have to be mutually exclusive), I truly believe this is ultimately a business ethics issue. And as such, consumers have every right to demand answers.
Here's some background information.
Some people think that Nestle has an obligation to provide formula when it is asked by hospitals in third-world countries. How could someone say no? Others think it is promoting its product to doctors and directly to mothers. One thing seems clear, to me, however, Nestle should abide by WHO guidelines in all countries, even those that don't enforce them.
At issue -- besides any overt nafariousness -- is a difference between providing a substitute and a suppliment. With HIV infection and studies changing results on issues such as breastfeeding with tennis match speed, it seems difficult to parse "best practice" for sales of formula preparations. Especially in places where poverty and and santitary conditions are so dire.
Now, some have said that it is wrong to think a company can't be pressured to change, especially now that the wheels of marketing spin as fast as 140 characters gets pecked out on keyboards that are now globally webbed.
I don't believe things can't change. But changing an unpopular marketing campaign style such as Motrin isn't the same as changing a sales practice that's been in effect for nearly 40 years. I don't think it's nestle's job, nor should anyone seriously expect them to promote breastfeeding in Africa. But if they are really going to "help" Nestle should make a product for Africa that would ensure mothers there have the same security we have when we feed our children formula. Mothers around the world really do want the same thing: We want to watch our babies grow up unaffected by preventable diseases.
I bet each and every one of us would give a little of our expendable income to further that end.
And there's the catch. We shouldn't need to. Breastmilk, for most women, is the best and cheapest alternative. And in impoverished nations, to promote anything else may really be promoting infant mortality.
What we forget is charity that isn't appropriate or safe isn't charitable. And what we lose sight of is that profiting off of someone else's suffering will be and should be viewed with suspicion.
Seriously? I'm listening to Nestle. I'm just not hearing them.
My worry is that they ARE listening to me, but instead of doing the right thing at the expense of profits, they are using what they learn to devise better ways to get away with murder.
Maybe it's time for Nestle to listen to those of us who don't already have its ear.