In the late 80s and early 90s I attended Monash University in Australia. At this time, you could not purchase any Nestle products on campus (no Kit Kats) because we were protesting the marketing of infant formula in developing countries.
I have never been a fan of Nestle since (and they keep screwing the environment too), but this particular issue is something I’ve always cared about. I once refused to work with another company making these products for the same reason.
Developing countries do not need widespread adoption of infant formula.
To provide some history, here’s some archived information from that time – IBFAN welcomes Save the Children campaign on infant and young child feeding.
If my memory serves me correctly, countries in the developing world went from 80% of children being breastfed to 80% being formula-fed and it happened rapidly. The marketing was excellent and it worked.
But it really worked on a much deeper level – a cultural level. Even though the global suppliers of infant formula had their marketing wings clipped, the damage was well and truly done. Breastfeeding became culturally shameful and this has not changed.
Let’s look around the world today. Only 44% of babies are breastfed. Check out this map from UNICEF and please, look at the statistics in the developing world – Infant and young child feeding.
And if you’re interested, this looks at the pros and cons of both – Infant Growth Patterns | Using the WHO Growth Charts | Growth Birth to 2 Years | WHO | Growth Chart Training.
Now this is OK when women are working and earning money, but right now, guess what’s the number one request I am hearing from women facing extreme food poverty? Yep, baby formula. They can’t afford to feed themselves or their babies!!
Let’s take a look at Cambodia, to illustrate this issue
According to this article: Cambodia’s Working Moms Turn to Baby Formula.
“In 2010, 74% of Cambodia’s infants younger than 6 months were breastfed. By 2014, the most recent year available, Cambodia had gone from having one of the highest rates of breastfeeding to a middling 65%”
They tried to get this under control too Pervasive promotion of breastmilk substitutes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and high usage by mothers for infant and young child feeding. But again, the damage was already done.
How this was EVER allowed to happen in poorer parts of the world is completely shameful!
Because another quote from Cambodia’s Working Moms Turn to Baby Formula: “On average, the 10-week-old baby consumes seven cans of infant formula per month. Each can costs about $12. The minimum wage for garment workers is $182 per month.”
So $84 a month on baby formula, when their total income is $182/month?
And then Covid19 hit, with the double whammy of the economic fall-out and guess what happened to the garment workers in Cambodia nearly 12 months ago? Here’s a few headlines (thanks to Karen Prager for sharing these articles):
(Feel free to raise your voice by not supporting the brands who abandoned these workers to desperation, slavery and more. Shameful.)
Primark was one of the rare shining lights – Primark to pay overseas factory wages after Covid-19 order cancellations – support them!
This is not new
This argument has been going on for decades and hasn’t died down since my days at university, but it didn’t change the outcome. Here’s an article three years old – Why The Breastfeeding Vs. Formula Debate Is Especially Critical In Poor Countries, but hey, it’s a valuable market.
“The global infant formula market size was valued at USD 50.46 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 109.10 billion by 2027, exhibiting a CAGR of 10.6% during the forecast period” Ref: Fortune Business Insights
Here’s another growth predictions: Baby Infant Formula Market Size, Share | Industry Analysis and Forecast (alliedmarketresearch.com).
Capitalism at the expense of all
Capitalism has been out of control for decades and we are facing the environmental consequences of this growth at all costs. It’s not just this industry, it’s all industries. Something I will continue to write about and highlight.
But this specific case is absolutely heart breaking. Women in developing parts of the world are currently being forced to feed their babies water from boiled rice. If you recall a few years ago, it was reported that rice contains high levels of arsenic, so what is the real damage being done to these babies and children right now?
These women have no choice. If you did not breastfeed your baby from the start and are suddenly economically deprived, it’s not like you can activate your breast milk – well not without expensive medicine.
We need to put breastfeeding on the agenda in all countries and tackle the cultural shame that has become so ingrained in societies, because when a woman can feed her baby naturally, at least she doesn’t have this extra burden in times of such great need.
And to all of those companies that have created this desperation, with International Women’s Day around the corner, why don’t you do the right thing, and help the women who have helped your businesses reap in the billions over the years, while ensuring their babies and children don’t suffer developmentally because they are forced to eat food that is nutritionally bad for them and toxic. That would be a special contribution to make right now, if you really care about your customers, women and the future for the developing world.
And mums, I’ll keep doing what I can to help you I promise. But please, put breastfeeding back on the agenda. Please! This is what happens when marketing sucks you in. It leaves you hung out to dry when the chips are down.
It’s time to build a new world my friends. It’s also time for marketing and the negative impact it creates to be reconsidered too. Overtime.
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