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Nestle Answers: Canada being a signatory to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes means nothing

This is one of a series of posts that features Nestle’s answers to my questions that came out of the Nestle Family event. To access the other questions and answers, go to follow-up questions for Nestle and click on the questions you are interested in. Answers will be posted as they are received and analyzed.


You say that you comply with the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes in all countries that have adopted the code. Canada is a signatory to the Code and the Canadian government actively encourages companies to comply with it. However, despite Canada being a signatory to the Code, you do not comply with the code in Canada. When you say “adopted” is it fair to assume then that you mean “legislated” and that you will not comply with a developed country’s will unless it puts regulations in place to force you to?

Nestle's Answer

The WHO Code was adopted by the WHO Member States as a recommendation to governments, which are required to implement the Code as appropriate to their social end legislative framework. Nestlé universally follows all countries’ implementation of the WHO Code. [emphasis mine]

In addition, Nestlé decided over two decades ago to voluntarily and unilaterally apply the WHO Code in all developing countries, whether or not they have implemented it in their own legislative framework. If the local legislation is stricter than the Code, we apply local legislation.

My Response

On September 30, in response to a tweet by @momslant from The Mom Slant, Nestle Family said:


There is some hair splitting going on here. Canada is a signatory to the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. In my mind, becoming a signatory means the same thing as adopting. The Canadian government put its signature on the dotted line and said this is something we support. Nestle on the other hand obviously has a different definition of adopt. In its answer above Nestle is essentially saying being a signatory to the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes means nothing. Nestle will do whatever they want unless a country uses legal means to force them to comply with the code. Let me explain...

The responsibility of governments

As Nestle states in its answer, the WHO code does put some responsibility on governments.Article 11.1 of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes states that:
Governments should take action to give effect to the principles and aim of this Code, as appropriate to their social and legislative framework, including the adoption of national legislation, regulations or other suitable measures. For this purpose, governments should seek, when necessary, the cooperation of WHO, UNICEF and other agencies of the United Nations system. National policies and measures, including laws and regulations, which are adopted to give effect to the principles and aim of this Code should be publicly stated, and should apply on the same basis to all those involved in the manufacture and marketing of products within the scope of this Code. [emphasis mine]

The United States has, for the most part, completely missed the boat on this one. Canada, however, is in a different position.  Canada is a signatory to the Code. The Canadian government also made amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations pertaining to nutritional labelling, nutrient content claims and diet related health claims, which came into force on December 12, 2005.  In 2007, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency outlined, in a letter to industry, its Requirements Related to Nutrition Information and Health Claims for Infant Formula.  Among other things, the letter clearly states that:
It is the responsibility of all manufacturers, importers and distributors of infant formula to ensure that their products comply with Canadian legislation.  The CFIA and Health Canada also strongly urge the infant formula industry to support and implement the principles of The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. [emphasis mine]

This last bit in bold is not a law. However, Canada is a signatory to the Code and via these guidelines to industry is using a social framework/other suitable measure to seek the industry's cooperation in implementing the Code. However, Nestle and other formula manufacturers are doing a good job of proving that this is in fact not a suitable measure since the industry refuses to go along with the strong urging of the government.

In Canada, Nestle and other formula manufacturers aggressively promote their infant formula using traditional and online advertising, samples, sponsoring conferences for health professionals, wining and dining health professionals, coupons, promotions, and so on. Quoting again from the Canadian government's letter to industry:
Comparing infant formula to breast milk, including comparisons of the levels of a nutrient in infant formula to the levels of the same nutrient in breast milk, is contrary to the message embodied in the Code. While the Code has not been incorporated into Canadian domestic legislation, the infant formula industry is encouraged not to make a reference to breast milk on a label or advertising of infant formula, other than a statement regarding the superiority of breastfeeding or that breast milk is the optimal method of feeding infants.

Also, highlighting an ingredient in infant formula as a key component of breast milk is considered misleading and is contrary to section 5(1) of the Food and Drugs Act as many components in breast milk are equally important.


The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes also recommends that labels do not carry pictures of infants on the container or label of infant formula. The infant formula industry is encouraged to support the Code and refrain from displaying pictures of infants or young children on labels or advertisements for infant formula. All other pictorial representations should meet the guidelines set out in the 2003 Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising.


All advertising for infant formula should comply with all the above provisions. This includes advertisements in magazines, websites, advertising flyers, shelf talkers, and advertisements and pamphlets displayed in physicians' offices and hospitals.

That is what the Canadian government has set out as a social framework that it perceived as a suitable measure for obtaining the cooperation of industry. But then Nestle has ads like this splattered across its own Canadian website and magazines (like Today's Parent, Canadian Family) and who knows where else:


Anyone want to count how many of the above provisions this ad violates? Comparing to breastmilk. Insinuating that they have copied the ingredients of breastmilk. Includes images of infants in formula ad. Is advertised in a variety of different media.

Nestle is not the only company that does this. For example, Enfamil has ads with smiling babies splattered all over websites right now. But that shouldn't be an excuse. Even my five year old understands that saying "but Johnny did it too" doesn't hold any water.

The responsibility of manufacturers and distributors

It is ironic that Nestle chooses to pick at Article 11.1 of the Code, while at the same time ignoring Article 11.3, which states that:
Independently of any other measures taken for implementation of this Code, manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of this Code should regard themselves as responsible for monitoring their marketing practices according to the principles and aim of this Code, and for taking steps to ensure that their conduct at every level conforms to them.

The Code clearly states that manufacturers and distributors are responsible for complying with the Code even if countries have not taken any measures to implement it. So Nestle's statement that it "voluntarily and unilaterally" applied the Code in developing countries, essentially means that it chose to only partially comply with Article 11.1. This is not an altruistic step by Nestle. It is a half-assed job.


In conclusion, let me reiterate in simple terms. Nestle does aggresively promote formula in countries that are signatories to the Code and that have explicity requested that formula manufacturers comply with the Code. Nestle has also chosen not to live up to its responsibilities under Article 11.1 of the Code.
« Are people who don't get the H1N1 vaccine idiots? | Main | Nestle-Free Week: October 26 to November 1 »

Reader Comments (24)

[...] 4. You say that you comply with the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes in all countries that have adopted the code. Canada is a signatory to the Code and the Canadian government actively encourages companies to comply with it. However, despite Canada being a signatory to the Code, you do not comply with the code in Canada.  When you say “adopted” is it fair to assume then that you mean “legislated” and that you will not comply with a developed country’s will unless it puts regulations in place to force you to? ANSWER HERE [...]

Excellent analysis.

Targeting of health workers also happens in Canada. Last year two breastfeeding experts resigned their jobs in protest at Nestlé wining and dining health workers. See:

Even Nestlé's claim to abide by the Code in countries of its own choosing is misleading as it is the Nestlé Instructions that it promotes to staff and is audited by Bureau Veritas, which are narrower measures - and are also broken. There are many examples. A well documented case arose in Pakistan a few years ago, which illustrates the lengths Nestlé goes to in trying to defend its violations of the Code.

When a member of Nestlé's staff in Pakistan, Syed Aamar Raza, received a copy of Nestlé's Charter setting out for public consumption what Nestlé claims is its marketing policy, he couldn't believe it as he was trained to do many of the promotional practices Nestlé claimed it did not do - and paid bonuses for hitting his formula sales quotas for his area. When he went public, he was threatened. Nestlé managed to stop a television programme about this from going out in Germany by putting pressure on the television channel (though an article was run in Stern with no legal problems). The former Nestlé representative did not see his wife and 2 children for 7 years and he never saw his parents again as they both passed away with him being unable to return to Pakistan as he feared for his life. Nestlé recruited a member of the UK House of Lords to conduct and 'independent investigation' - it only coming out two years later that Nestlé organised and paid for his trip and had taken him on as a paid consultant. You can listen to a radio interview with Baby Milk Action and Lord Ahmed on the BBC Asian Network from 2002 via the link below. Lord Ahmed dismissed the documentary evidence of practices such as the bribing of doctors and continued to defend his employer, claiming Aamar had taken his action so he could live in Canada :

This is how Nestlé abuses its power.

Today Nestlé is defending its untrue claim that its formula 'protects' babies - this in developing countries where it says it follows the Code - as has also been exposed by PhD in Parenting. This not only endangers infants, it is a blatant violation of the Code. For further analysis and to remind Nestlé of its responsibilities under Article 11.3 of the Code see:

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brady

ugg! The USA didn't even sign it. Not that that would matter apparently.

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi

Thanks Mike. I updated the post with a link to the info on the targeting of health care workers. I was aware of that but forgot to include it.

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

That particular Good Start ad caught my eye (well, actually, I couldn't miss it across the top and down the side of an article I was reading) just the other day. If you scrolled over it, a little comparison checklist came up, and the only check Good Start didn't get in comparison to bm was "optimal feeding method". No mention of course of formula lacking antibodies, or that formula comes with increased risk of cancer, allergies, obesity etc. etc. It is no wonder so many people actually think formula is basically the same as bm when misleading ads like that are plastered all over the place. And yes, I'm in Canada, and was reading a Canadian website -- in fact I believe the article was about the H1N1 vaccine and pregnant women...

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

The USA has supported all Resolutions since 1994, which all reference the 1981 Code, so it is wrong for Nestlé to claim the US does not support the Code. Legislators haven't implemented it, but under Article 11.3 Nestlé should abide by it independently of government measures.

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brady

Yes, yes, yes, and yes!

Nestle sent me a free formula sample, unsolicited, during my last pregnancy when my mother-in-law entered a 'contest' at a maternity store on my behalf. How can that be anything other than aggressively promoting infant formula? It can't, plain and simple. And we are all in Canada, so they are ABSOLUTELY violating the code. This is really my biggest beef with Nestle - they way that they so flagrantly ignore the rules and quibble over the technicalities. How can they have any other purpose in mind but to convince more people to formula feed with Nestle formula?

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Annie, thanks again for continuing to post these replies from Nestle. Sadly, I'm not surprised by anything you've written. I am, however, confirmed in my resolve to not give Nestle a single cent of my hard-earned money.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Who is responsible for monitoring the companies in question and enforcing the Code in each country that's adopted it? Shouldn't they be taken to task as well as the companies who are breaking it?

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCondo Blues

@Condo Blues: That is the challenge. Unless the country has made it into a law, there is not that much that can be done in terms of enforcement. There are NGOs that monitor it, but that is about it. I think it is unfortunate that countries have to go as far as legislating it in order to get companies to act ethically. Guidelines and recommendations get ignored. Strong laws and hefty fines are evidently needed.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Wow. You really need to focus on making the world a better place. Try volunteerism... peace.. you might like it!

October 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterA Concerned Citizen

I though Mike Brady is a paid journalist.. hmmm.. i wonder if a person who accuses others of lieing is in fact himself have questionable ethics. You really should check into other people's backgrounds before posting their responses. Makes me wonder about you?.... hmmmm

October 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterA Concerned Citizen

I am employed by Baby Milk Action as Campaigns and Networking Coordinator. You only have to click on my name for a clear declaration of that. But you can't click on 'A Concerned Citizen' to see who they are.... hmmmm.

Regarding who is telling the truth, we have taken Nestlé to the UK Advertising Standards Authority over an anti-boycott advertisement in which it claimed to market infant formula 'ethically and responsibly'. All of our complaints were upheld and Nestlé was warned not to repeat the untrue claims again. Unfortunately the ruling only applies to advertising in the UK, not Nestlé websites or message posted to this site, which contain similar untrue claims.

Baby Milk Action was also called on to defend its claims before the Advertising Standards Authority about Nestlé made in one of our boycott advertisements. We did so successfully. The ruling notes the help of WHO in doing so. For this history see:

The simplest thing though is to judge for yourself. Look at what Nestlé does and how it attempts to justify it. Then look at what the Code says. PhD in Parenting has been providing great assistance in that. For example, do you really think it is fine for Nestlé to be claiming its formula 'protects' babies when those fed on it are more likely to become sick than breastfed babies and in conditions of poverty more likely to die? If not, then you can do something about it by supporting the boycott and writing to Nestlé - we are often able to force changes with enough pressure.

While 'A Concerned Citizen' warns about checking into people's backgrounds, this is an anonymous posting. Which brings to mind this article in The Guardian from a few years ago: "The fake persuaders: Corporations are inventing people to rubbish their opponents on the internet."


I don't know if this applies to 'A Concerned Citizen', but as you say.... hmmmm.

My latest blog shows one of the tools that helps corporations track what people say about them online - and also has news of a new book (only in French at the moment) about Nestlé spying on a Swiss organisation. Questionable ethics indeed. See:

October 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brady

This is volunteerism and I like it! :)

October 31, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

1) By promoting breastfeeding and questioning formula feeding, I believe she is making the world a better place.
2) Perhaps you might consider taking your own advice.

October 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStrawberry

[...] Nestle claims that it only needs to comply with the Code (and only its version at that) in certain countries of its own choosing. However, the Code indicates that it is applicable everywhere even if individual governments have not taken specific action to adopt it. Despite that, Nestle continues to do whatever it wants in absence of strong legislation and strict penalties. Even in countries that are signatories to the Code and that have outlined their expectations of the industry, Nestle continues to ignore the Code and the wishes of the government. I clearly demonstrated that this is the case in Canada. [...]

[...] field. I understand why Nestle likes a level playing field. If it were, for example, to stop using advertising in Canada that blatantly violates the WHO’s International Code of Marketing ..., but Enfamil continues with its pervasive and ever-present ads and Heinz keeps putting $10 off [...]

[...] Nestle does not restrict its marketing of breast milk substitutes in places like the United States, Canada, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong (last time I checked, Hong Kong was part of China, [...]

[...] to the Nestle Family bloggers, or directly once they joined the conversation themselves on twitter (like the example captured in this post), it was nothing more than a bunch of half-truths and double [...]

[...] by phdinparenting on January 12, 2010 Hello there! If you are new here, you might want to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates from my blog.Powered by WP Greet Box WordPress PluginCanada has signed the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. The Canadian government encourages the infant formula industry to comply with the Code, which means not marketing or promoting infant formula in any way. I explained this and more in my post that concluded Nestle and other infant formula manufacturers do aggressively promote infant .... [...]

[...] their products in order to increase their profits. Nestle, for one, has made it clear that it does not even attempt to comply with the Code in developed countries (like Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia and others) and it falls short in developing [...]

[...] signatory to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes means nothing, the same Concerned Citizen wrote: Wow. You really need to focus on making the world a better place. Try volunteerism… peace.. you [...]

[...] Has signed but does not enforce the WHO Code of the Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes [...]

Have to comment on the Good Start ad, because even the subtle stuff matters. The bottle feeding mom is posed with her hair done up, and much more light is coming into the room. The background looks less "bedroom-y" than the breastfeeding picture, which shows mom with her hair down and loose, sitting next to a crib with a blanket thrown over the rail. This was no accident. It's all part of the sell.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

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