One simple man from Sialkot had the guts to take on a murderous multinational like Nestle. Here in Lahore, MBA-holders from “prestigious” institutions, such as my alma mater LUMS, feel proud to work for the same company.
A respected company
Syed Aamar Raza joined Nestlé Milkpak as a Medical Delegate in December 1994 at the age of 24. It was a dream come true to work for a multinational company and he was quickly indoctrinated with Nestlé’s “Be the Best” slogan.
Aamar was responsible for promoting breastmilk substitutes and infant cereals. One of his first tasks was to run a baby show, already organised by the Area Detailing Executive. Baby shows were popular with health workers and mothers and provided an opportunity for marketing staff to make direct contact with both and to display the company’s range of breastmilk substitutes and discuss them. Such activities are banned by Article 5.5 of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and Nestlé’s own “Charter”.
Aamar says he received no training from Nestlé on the International Code. But in December 1996 he received a copy of Nestlé’s weak version of it – known as the “Charter”.
“I was confused when I read the ‘Charter’. It said Nestlé does not give gifts to doctors, but we did this. My bosses signed the cheques. It said we did not make direct contact with mothers, but we held baby shows and in clinics we used Cerelac samples as a way of striking up conversations to push the milks. The “Charter” says Nestlé does not pay staff by incentives, but my salary revisions signed by Mr. Roland, Marketing Manager, includes incentives. Infant formula received the most points in the scheme.
“By bosses told me to do all these things which the ‘Charter’ says we do not do.”
Some of the Nestlé Medical Delegates at an annual sales meeting. Minutes reveal that breastmilk substitutes receive most points in the company “sales incentive scheme”
Crisis of conscience
Several months after first seeing the “Charter” Aamar was visiting one of the 200 doctors on his circuit. This doctor was one of the very few who refused the gifts offered by Nestlé. The doctor was called from his office to attend a sick child, a child he could not save. “This is the result of marketing by people like you,” he told Aamar when he returned to his office. He explained that the child had been breastfed for just one month and then a doctor had prescribed infant formula. Two months later the child was sick with diarrhoea. A month after that he was dead.
Aamar says that during training he had been told to quickly say “breast is best” before launching into his sales pitch, but the risks associated with bottle feeding had not been explained. Leaving the doctors clinic, Aamar understood that unsafe bottle feeding could kill – had killed the child of the distraught parents he saw grieving outside the office.
Aamar returned home to his 2 year old son and pregnant wife and began to think about what he must do.
Aamar’s first action was to resign his well paid and prestigious job with Nestlé. He returned his motorbike, but he kept copies of the documents relating to his job. These had been gathered following instructions from his superiors. He had been instructed to maintain records of incentives to doctors so that he could later use them to pressure the doctor into prescribing more Nestlé products. He also had to keep copies of the instructions he had been issued. Aamar realised that he held irrefutable proof that Nestlé was systematically breaking the International Code and its own “Charter.” It was not enough to resign his job, he had to do more to stop the unnecessary death and suffering to which Nestlé contributed by such activities.
Please share with friends and family, protect your loved ones.