Children before profits: formula manufacturers should implement the WHO code

  Save the children
This campaign is being delivered alongside Save the Children


As many of you will know, Mumsnet has long refused to run advertising campaigns for formula milk - you can see more about our policy on this here.

More recently, we asked MNers what they thought about the possibility of us getting involved with a specific campaign on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, particularly in developing countries where sanitation, potable water supplies and low incomes can mean that the aggressive marketing of formula results in some terrible health outcomes for babies.
The consensus from the thread was that we should get involved – and so we're working with the fearsome team over at Save the Children to put some pressure on the companies behind the marketing. And we need you to get involved!

What's the problem?

This campaign isn't an 'anti-formula' campaign: for the most part, MNers think that parents should be supported in their choices about how to feed their babies, so long as everyone has the information they need to make a well-informed decision.

What Mumsnetters think about the campaign 
  • I would absolutely like MN to support this. Shocking stuff Carmel99 
  • It's deeply shocking that profits are put before babies' lives. JugglingFromHereToThere 
  • Children are needlessly lost due to this. Dawntigga
  • I would support the campaign as far as developing countries are concerned. And I say that as a committed formula feeder PetiteRaleuse

Unfortunately, in some developing countries, low levels of literacy combine with marketing techniques by formula companies to produce a situation in which parents make decisions based on horribly incomplete information. And this can result in devastating health implications for their children.

The WHO Code on the marketing of breast-milk substitutes

In 1981, the World Health Organization published a code on the marketing of breast-milk substitutes. It recommends restrictions on the marketing of breast-milk substitutes, particularly infant formula, and regulates the marketing of feeding bottles and teats. Specific provisions include:

  • no free samples of formula
  • all forms of product advertising and promotion (for milks aimed at babies under four months to under six months) are prohibited
  • no discounts or special retail displays
  • company reps may not contact mothers directly
  • packaging should include clear statements about the health risks of formula


Despite the Code now being over 30 years old and having been wholly or partially implemented by over 80 governments, Save the Children's research has shown that some manufacturers continue to break the spirit or letter of the code. This is what this campaign seeks to change. You can see more background detail about the problem and the effects on children's health here, and in this Zoe Williams piece.

Justine says:

"We believe in supporting parents' choices when it comes to feeding babies. Nobody should be made to feel bad or inadequate for choosing what's right for them and their family. But in some parts of the developing world, where there's a lack of potable water or public health education, the language of 'choice' becomes inappropriate. Mumsnet has long refused all advertising from Nestle and its majority-owned subsidiaries because our users believe strongly in the rights of parents everywhere to make good, well-informed decisions about how to feed their babies - and untrammelled sales techniques in less regulated markets makes this a great deal less likely to happen."

Last updated: 01-May-2013 at 9:18 AM