Danone attempts to recruit midwives to work in their spare time off-the-books

Danone is attempting to recruit midwives to staff so-called "carelines" used by pregnant women and parents. The "Careline" is promote as a free service associated with the company's formula brand names, including in advertising and on its Cow & Gate and Aptamil websites.

Aware that midwives may have ethical issues from moonlighting with a formula manufacturer, Danone assures the midwives it is approaching that they will be employed through a midwifery agency so there is no direct association with the company.

"Bank midwives would not be employed by Danone directly. They would be registered with a midwifery bank agency. Following a shift or a period of work a time sheet would be submitted and midwives would be paid by the agency. This ensures that midwives remain totally independent and are not affiliated with the company unless of course they want to be."

"Carelines" by baby food companies are prohibited by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (see the Law section) which prohibits seeking direct or indirect contact with pregnant women and mothers of infants and young children (up to three years of age).

UNICEF's legal officer has clarified that: "any form of contact with mothers of children under the age of three years is prohibited, irrespective of the motivation behind the contact... The prohibition is absolute."

Danone stresses in its approaches to midwives that they will not be required to promote products and that the questions relate to pregnancy and birth.

However, the careline "service" is promoted along with brand names used for formula (such as Cow & Gate and Aptamil) and as way to encourage pregnant women and parents to visit these sites. Accordingly, health workers involved with the "careline" are directly involved in a strategy intended to promote formula brands. The strategy also aims to convince pregnant women and parents that Danone can be seen as a trusted source of health information, while it makes claims about its formula that are not substantiated and even have rulings against them from the Advertising Standards Authority.

Danone's email states:

"Currently parents can access the careline completely free of charge in three different ways. The first is by phone parents can call the careline 24 hours a day seven days a week on two free phone numbers. We also have a live chat facility which parents can access through the Cow and Gate and Aptamil Website allowing them to talk to advisors with text from 8am in the morning until 8pm at night, this we hope to extend in the future to make this service also available 24 hours a day. Parents can also send a web question through the websites which we receive and reply as an email."

While product manufacturers should provide a contact number on labels in case a problem is found with the product, there is a conflict of interest in attempting to provide other types of information. As well as the provisions in the Code on seeking direct or indirect contact, the World Health Assembly has adopted resolutions regarding conflicts of interest and sponsorship of health programmes.

Other sources of independent information are available, such a NHS Direct and mother support group phone lines, which do not have a financial interest in babies being fed with specific formula products.

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