Hypocrisy at WHO?

Are your gift policy guidelines too restrictive to accept funding from a controversial donor or industry? No problem; weaken them.

WHO claims that the baby formula industry practices unethical marketing. That doesn’t prevent its Foundation from accepting the industry’s money: It has weakened its own guidelines to accept it.

Are your gift policy guidelines too restrictive to accept funding from a controversial donor or industry? No problem; just weaken them. That, it appears, is exactly what the WHO Foundation (WHOF) has done, by dropping an exclusion criterion from its initial guidelines that could have forced the Foundation to reject funding from companies that do not contribute to “a healthy diet.”

Following its launch in April of last year, the Foundation received a CHF 2 million donation from Nestlé, immediately prompting a swift pushback from global health experts and food activists. That was even before it was revealed that about 60% of Nestlé's food portfolio failed to meet the generally accepted definition of “healthy.” The revelations by the Financial Times put Nestlé in clear contradiction with the WHOF’s draft Gift Policy Guidelines (dated May 2021), which listed “contribution to poor health or diet” as one of its exclusion criteria. The reference to “poor health or diet” has now been entirely dropped from the final version of the guidelines adopted by the Foundation board on December 21.


On February 23, the organization published a new report accusing the baby milk industry of using “systematic and unethical marketing tactics” to entice mothers to substitute breast milk for formula milk, in breach of international standards on infant feeding practices.

Asked to comment on its new guidelines, the WHOF told The G|O that it was prevented from doing so by the emergency situation created by the war in Ukraine. Insisting previously that its guidelines had not been finalized when the “healthy diet” clause was present, the WHOF has never answered that specific point in repeated exchanges with The Geneva Observer, limiting itself to broad disclaimers. “[None of the] funds received by the WHO Foundation are…an endorsement of the activities, products or services of any company,” a spokesperson for the WHOF told The G|O last year.

WHO, for its part, conceded last year that “it was a huge question” that had to be addressed by the Foundation itself.