Summary: Information / Discussion
Private Sector, Food, Health and Development
This session addressed the following key questions:
- What is the role of private companies in promoting hygiene, health and development?
- How can private companies contribute to sustainable food production and healthy consumption?
- To whom should this contribution be made?
The panel consisted of representatives from various sectors: private companies (Proctor and Gamble, Nestle), intergovernmental organizations (World Health Organization), and non-governmental organizations (International Baby Food Action Network, Foodfirst International Information and Action Network). The speakers offered varying and often opposing perspectives, engendering many interesting points for reflection and critical debate.
Ms. Nada Dugas (External Relations Associate Director Central Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa,
Proctor and Gamble) and Mr. Niels Christiansen (Vice-President, Head of Public Affairs,
Nestle) both promoted the position that private companies have an important role to play within the areas of health and development, and a responsibility to adhere strictly to clearly defined ethical principles. Ms. Dugas said that Proctor and Gamble, driven by the desire to “improve the lives of the
world's customers”, have put forward a series of initiatives in recent years to benefit civil society. These initiatives include:
- The development of a nutrient drink that improves the growth and development of children in Tanzania;
- Education programmes on women's health issues;
- Water purification campaigns in Guatemala.
Ms. Dugas emphasized that there is tremendous scope for collaboration between NGOs and private companies working
in the areas of health and education, and that the sharing of expertise is the key to a better world for the future.
Mr. Christiansen described a series of contributions that Nestle has made to civil society, such as those concerning food safety standards and the promotion of a balanced diet.
The speakers from Foodfirst International Information and Action Network (FIAN), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and the World Health Organization (WHO) all expressed reservations about the points raised by Ms. Dugas and Mr. Christiansen in their speeches. Ms. Marie Garnier-Raymond from FIAN noted that the programmes and initiatives of private companies are often of limited value, and that the most fundamental concern lies in the strengthening and the protection of measures to ensure self-sufficiency in food production in many developing countries. She said that instead of bringing concrete benefits to local communities, private companies such as Nestle Columbia have often been responsible for destroying local living conditions (e.g. by driving cattle farmers out of employment), and as a result limiting the population's access to adequate food supplies.
Ms. Patti Rundall from IBFAN warned against collaboration between NGOs and private companies in financial or sponsorship terms, advocating instead for independent judgment on the part of campaigners and other NGO workers on health and development issues. Using Nestle's marketing practices in infant-feeding as an example, Ms. Rundall also brought together evidence of the ways in which private companies have violated international codes and practices (e.g. International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and the Convention on the Rights of the Child).
Like Ms. Rundall, Dr. Derek Yach from WHO stressed the importance of private companies complying international laws and standards. In addition, he emphasized that the health and development programmes of private companies (e.g. food distribution programmes) should be carried out in the true spirit of philanthropy, rather than to gain publicity. He concluded by saying that both legal action and voluntary initiatives are needed to regulate the private sector.
Many questions were raised, though most were centred around one topic: the marketing practices of Nestle for infant formula. Ms. Rundall stressed the importance of letting mothers make well-informed, independent choices on infant-feeding issues, free of the influence of corporate advertising, whilst Mr. Christiansen repeatedly defended the crucial contribution of manufactured products such as infant formula to the health and survival of children from around the world (e.g. children in orphanages). A delegate from Nigeria mentioned the situation of mothers infected with
HIV/AIDS in this regard.
A delegate from Germany raised an interesting point that although private companies have continually stressed their adherence to 'ethical principles', they have also been the most prominent in lobbying against government regulations that aim to reinforce standards in health. Ms. Dugas said that such criticism could not be justifiably directed at many companies, including Proctor and Gamble, which has been highly regarded as socially responsible by independent agencies.
Dr. Daniel Warner, the moderator, concluded by saying that when tackling health issues, the role of the public must not be neglected. He also urged the audience to view problems concerning health and the private sector from a more holistic perspective and to look at the relationships between all parties involved instead of focusing on a small number of companies or a narrow range of issues.
Presenters' Documents Available
18.08_dugas_nada.ppt (164 K)
18.08_rundall_patti.doc (34 K)
here for all available presenters' documents
here for all available summaries
read about the summaries