Annual Conference speaker series

David Clark, International Public Health and Human Rights Lawyer

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The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes at Forty: Guest speaker David Clark discusses the Code ahead of the 2021 Baby Friendly Annual Conference.

David Clark is an International Public Health and Human Rights Lawyer and was the Legal Advisor for the UNICEF Nutrition Programme from 1995 to 2020. David was instrumental in assisting more than 60 countries in drafting legislation to implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent resolutions of the World Health Assembly (the Code) and in working with the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative to implement the Code into healthcare systems across the globe.

Getting to the 40th anniversary of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes is a huge achievement, given the consistent opposition and resistance from the baby food industry. The Code is as relevant today as it was at the time of its adoption by the World Health Assembly in 1981 – and in some ways, it is even more relevant four decades on.

We have seen the continued importance of the Code first-hand throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Companies have continued to exploit the crisis in order to promote formula products and undermine public health agendas which support breastfeeding, despite evidence-based recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

Over the years, subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions to the Code have provided clarity and guidance, enabling it to meet modern-day needs and respond to new products and ever-more invasive marketing techniques which have increased tenfold in today’s digitised and globalised world.

The 2016 resolution and related WHO guidance on ending inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children helped to clarify the often grey-area topic of conflicts of interest within healthcare systems (e.g. gifts, incentives, and sponsorship of scientific meetings by manufacturers of baby foods). This topic has received significantly more attention in public health arenas in recent years, indicating that people are no longer going to turn a blind eye to companies attempting to create an impression of endorsement by the healthcare system.

It is our duty under the Code to promote, protect and support breastfeeding and put babies before business; companies who violate the Code violate the human rights of babies and mothers.

As we enhance and add to the Code, we will continue to offer increased protection to babies, their mothers and families by regulating the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, setting standards for the labelling and quality of products, and ensuring choices on infant feeding are made based on full and impartial information.


About the Code

The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (the Code) is an international health policy framework which regulates the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and feeding bottles and teats in order to protect breastfeeding and ensure that formula feeding is as safe as possible. It was  adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 and is an internationally agreed set of recommendations which was  developed in response to the unethical marketing activities of the infant feeding industry that promoted formula feeding over breastfeeding, in turn leading to dramatic increases in maternal and infant morbidity and mortality. To learn more about the Code and to ensure your services meets the required standards, see our dedicated resource page. You can also learn more about the Code in a four-part series by David for Alive and Thrive. 


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