Should the WHO Foundation follow its own (draft) guidelines and reconsider Nestlé's donation?

This is an onsite edited excerpt of the G|O Briefing newsletter

Already under fire from civil society for having accepted a donation from Nestlé, as we reported last week, we wondered if the WHO Foundation would review its position and policy, especially in light of the FT’s recent revelations that 60% of the company’s food products do not meet the basic recognition of “healthy.” It appears not. A spokesperson for the WHO admitted to The G|O that “it was a huge question, but that we needed to refer it to the WHO Foundation itself.”

We did. “The WHO Foundation is a new and independent organization that raises agile funds to tackle emergencies and health challenges around the world.   We can only do that by working in partnership with a range of donors and organizations, to ensure people can access life-saving healthcare whenever they need it,” the Foundation told The G|O by email.

“For years, Nestlé’s public discourse and narrative have always been about health and wellness. That’s the line the company has been pushing repeatedly for years—at its shareholder's meetings and at the World Economic Forum. I think these revelations have now completely shattered that image,” Patti Rundall of IBFAN UK, the UK chapter of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), told The Geneva Observer.  IBFAN UK posted the following on its website after the WHO Foundation had tweeted its thanks to Nestlé for its donation:

  • For the WHO Foundation to accept and boast about Nestlé funding now – especially for COVID – is beyond comprehension. Nestle is currently exploiting fears of infection, promoting and distributing free formula and misleading advice – claiming that its donations are humanitarian and that they are trustworthy partners.
  • Nestlé’s harmful marketing prompted one of the longest running international consumer boycotts that was a key factor in WHO adopting the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in 1981 – the world’s first global consumer protection code. This Code, now 40 years old has been updated by 19 resolutions of the World Health Assembly and 70% of the world’s countries have now brought at least part of it into law. In terms of reputational risk to WHO’s work on infant and young child feeding and NCDs – this is a disaster for WHO’s integrity, trustworthiness and independence.
  • WHO is involved in monitoring – a critically important function that  WHA Resolution 49.15 demands is transparent, independent manner, free from commercial influence.

In its response to The G|O, the WHO Foundation also pushed back against IBFAN’s and civil society’s criticism.

“All funds received by the WHO Foundation are not an endorsement of the activities, products or services of any company.”

The Foundation also states that its  “working draft gift acceptance policy is in the process of being finalized.” The insistence on the fact that the policy has not been finalized is worth noting. For, as it stands now, the policy contains several exclusions criteria, including “contribution to poor health or diet.” Would Nestlé’s admission mean that its donation might be reassessed? Pressed by The G|O on that very point in a follow-up question, the WHO Foundation replied that “We are not able to provide additional comment at this time. As mentioned below, we are still in the process of finalizing the gift acceptance policy and cannot comment on the outcome or implications until the process is finalized.”