Monday, 29 September 2008

Oxfam - Not In My Name

. Oxfam should die of shame.
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There is a global campaign, to help end world poverty, called In My Name. It's a very laudable attempt to get ordinary people to put their name to a petition, asking for the various Governments around the world to ensure the Millennium Development Goals are implemented. Millennium Development Goal #1 is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
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As part of their campaign, Oxfam have launched a pop video by will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, involving an engaging song with lots of ordinary people, and various celebrities, encouraging every one to act, and add their name to the campaign. People going about their daily business, adding their name to the campaign, and building to a sense of individuals becoming a community, untied in making a difference to the hungry of the world. Even some lovely shots of children sitting waiting for food aid to be given to them.
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This all sounds wonderful, doesn't it?
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Well it is, until you get 1 minute and 58 seconds into the video and find... Mel B putting her name on a baby bottle containing white liquid, and the camera doing an extreme close up of the baby bottle taking up the entire screen, with her holding it.

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A baby bottle.
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Just like the baby bottle in the mouth of the baby just about to die, in the picture above us. A baby bottle, just like the one here, picturing a starving and sick baby in it.
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A baby bottle. To show Mel B gives her signature in a campaign to end world hunger.
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A baby bottle.
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Like many things I cover in this blog - you couldn't make it up. Oxfam, wants people to support ending world hunger... and so produces an image of a rich and powerful female pop star - a black female pop star to boot - and puts a baby bottle in front of her? Those self same bottles kill four thousand babies every day. Each and every day. By the time I've finished writing this blog, a couple of hundred babies would have died from being bottle fed. Most of them black. And here's will.i.am and Mel B showing us how to support the cause of ending world hunger... by showing us a baby bottle.
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It gets worse, you know. Honest.
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Oxfam have a blog site, to publicise and promote their activities. On being passed on the info on the video containing this obscene image, I commented upon the horror of finding the video containing images of the very thing that kills so many babies every day.
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Oxfam responded. They didn't publish the comment, which was polite, literate and cogent - but they did respond. And in their response, they stated the bottle was there to represent motherhood:
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Hi Morgan
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Thank you for your comment on the Oxfam blog. It is always interesting to hear people's views.
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The bottle in the video was used purely as an object that represents motherhood, not as promotion of how people should feed their babies. There is nothing in the video that indicated that the milk in the bottle is formula. It could have just as easily been expressed breast milk or cows milk (something that is often introduced after breast-feeding when the baby is older).
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I am sorry if this video has angered you, but I can assure you it was not our intention. Oxfam does not promote formula milk.
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With best wishes
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Emily Subden
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Interactive Campaigner
Oxfam works with others to overcome poverty and suffering.
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Now, you weren't expecting that, were you? You were expecting an apology for the oversight, or an explanation that Mel B had done this bit, and no one wanted to offend her. You expected some sense of "oops, we got that wrong, better do something quick!"
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You weren't expecting to be told it had been a deliberate use of iconography. An actual selection on how to convey a meaning in images - a semiotic construction.
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And if you're anything like me, you certainly weren't expecting the semiotic construction to be that a baby bottle... signified motherhood.
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Their answer, that they knew what they were doing, and that they did it with the thought of motherhood in mind.. just makes it all so much worse. As does their pat avoidance of the issue by stating you don't know what's in the bottle - which type of milk. How much more insulting can they get? End world poverty, by showing a rich mother with expressed breast milk in her bottle? Because she has the money for clean water, an electric pump, bottles, sterilisers and teats? Because Oxfam, I have news for you. The hygiene conditions that kills 4000 babies every day, from bottle use, means the baby is at risk from expressed breast milk too. And further, the pathetic reference to cow's milk... babies shouldn't get cow's milk for at least 12 months, and by then, they would not be on a bottle. They should be on a sippy cup, or even a cup.
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In other words, your pathetic excuses for making this image in the way you have, just drives you deeper into the mire.
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Motherhood is not about bottles. Bottles are about profit and separating mothers from their babies. Pumping culture exits mainly in countries with no proper paid maternity leave, and it's a huge sacrifice that many mothers make - pumping and sending their expressed breast milk to their babies in day care, whilst they labour on. Using this lack of paid maternity provision and the resultant struggle by mothers to get their milk into their absent babies... as the excuse to uphold your image of Mel B and this bottle... just further adds to the obscenity.
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As does the reference to cow milk - raw animal milk is the worst possible food for young babies. It's fifth of five options outlined by the World Health Organisation and Unicef - below formula And cavalier comments that Mel B could be holding cow's milk in that bottle just further degrades your message about ending world hunger. Because of bottle feeding culture, babies do get given raw cow and goat milk in resource poor countries, in dirty bottles, and they die from it.
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Four thousand babies, every day.
Four thousand.
Four thousand bereaved mothers.
Four thousand fathers digging a dirt grave.
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Four thousand.
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Four thousand baby bottles.
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Baby bottles do not signify motherhood. That's a formula exploitation message. Baby bottles signify greed. They signify exploitation. They signify baby deaths. Baby bottles are an image based on corporate exploitation of the poor, whether it be in resource rich areas, or in the shanties of the world's destitute. Baby bottles signify crippling debt and lack of proper medical care and support. Baby bottles carry connotations of death, disease and dirty water. Baby bottles contaminate lives.
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And Oxfam is contaminated by this use of such a low and demeaning image. Contaminated by their assertion that the act of separating a hungry baby from its mother's breast by an artificial feeding device represents what it is to be a mother.
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Looking for an image that signifies motherhood, Oxfam? Try this one:
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What can you do? Well, you can follow in the footsteps of a lot of mothers today, and complain to Oxfam. Emily Subden, Interactive Campaigner, can be emailed here. You can leave polite, moderate but passionate complaints on their blog. Be warned 'tho, that many mothers have done so today, and none have been published. But they need to hear your voice too. You can complain directly to your own countries Oxfam International office, and can find a list of eddress and contact phones numbers here. You can write your polite and reasoned messages on their Facebook website.
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edit: You can also contact the global In My Name blog directly, and point out how vital breastfeeding is to every single Millennium Goal, and how they need to be supporting breastfeeding, not glorifying bottle feeding. Comments are moderated, so it will be interesting to see if any are published here either.
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edit 2!: Wonderful! The whiteactionband blogsite has more courage than Oxfam! It is allowing appropriate comments about the baby bottle image to be published. Well done whitebandaction - you rock!
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You can email will.i.am asking him to edit out the offensive image on the video here (you have to register) and you can email Mel B and ask her to distance herself from this message, and perhaps reshoot her signature in a more appropriate way, here (click 'contact' at bottom of page).
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You can also leave comments on the YouTube video site, although again, many have been left today and none published so far. But someone has to be listening....

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Double click on the video image, to get to the YouTube site.

edit 3! You can also make your own 'signature' video of you and your breastfeeding baby, and send it to whitebandaction for inclusion on their web videos. You record you and your baby breastfeeding, with both your names clearly visible, and then upload the video to In My Name on YouTube. You could wear a name tag necklace with your baby's name scrawled on the back of its chubby little hands as it breastfeeds. You could sit on a beach, and write both your names in wet sand as baby feeds. You could film your baby breastfeeding, whilst you help your toddler spell out all your names in spaghetti letters. You could draw your names on hopscotch letters on a grid in the playground, and film your baby breastfeeding as your older kid plays hopscotch on the letters! You could write your name in magnetic letters of the fridge! You could.... let me know what you've done. I'll post any such videos sent to In My Name, here. Good Luck! Make A Difference!

edit 4: Oxfam responds and blames Mel B

"In my name is a campaign action recently launched by GCAP - the Global Call to Action Against Poverty of which Oxfam is a part.
Many celebrities, high profile people, activists and others worldwide have already given their name, photograph or video. Those photographed or videoed have chosen the way they would like to sign their name, Mel B chose to sign on a baby bottle. This is in no way intended to promote bottle feeding or formula milk, many mothers use bottles fo feed their babies after a period of breast feeding. This is the case with Mel.
Oxfam believes that breast feeding is the best nourishment for babies in their early months of life. Not only is it nourishing, nutritionally balanced, safe and free, but it also contains protective elements which help infants fight illnesses. Such qualities are not available in any so called substitute. Breast feeding should be continued with the introduction of solid food as the baby is growing.

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Poor Mel B. There she is, doing her best, and she's let down by the very people supporting her. No responsibility at all, for those whose job it is to provide ethical support and advice to their celebrity endorsers. And Oxfam hang her out to dry like this, the very day after they stated the bottle shot was to represent motherhood. I hope no one here uses Oxfam's statement against Mel B. As this very response makes it clear she has not been given any ethical, or compassionate, support at all. Let's hope someone with a real ethical conscience at GCAP takes the time to engage Mel B, and will.i.am on these issues appropriately, and this image is removed quickly.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Morgan,

I am very offended at Oxfams comments and will be emailing them to let them know.

A bottle to represent motherhood? That upsets me so much, I longed to be a Mother, I think I am am good Mother but it's one of the lsat symbols I would choose to represent me. No.1 Son had 2 bottles of ABM. No.2 Son never had a bottle. I abhor the association of babies and bottles (and dummies) - Why can't they promote the natural and best way of feeding?

Will be contacting Oxfam when I have calmed down!

Liz -

kindredliz@hotmail.com

Linda said...

Wow, their response is just absurd. They honestly believe that people living in abject poverty have the luxury of affording supplies to pump and safely store their milk for bottle-feeding? And of course, as you've pointed out time and time again, feeding babies by bottle in poverty-ridden areas is dangerous. Either way, it's an enormous mistake on their part, and their continued cluelessness is amazing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Morgan,

I was moved by your blog to post on Oxfam's site the following

I am saddened by Oxfam's decision to include a baby bottle in the video to promote ending hunger. Some of the children that die from drinking contaminated water are drinking it from a bottle mixed with formula milk. Including a bottle was a misguided idea and should be removed from the video.

I realise the bottle could contain expressed milk (how many 3rd world mothers have money to buy a breast pump and sanitary conditions to store the milk properly or sterilse the pump prior to use) or cow's milk (babies can die from drinking cow's milk both from intestinal bleeding as it is not a suitable drink for infants and from diseases passed in the milk).
Not in my name, indeed.

I hope this comment helps people see sense!

Verity

Beatmaster B said...

I left a comment on Oxfam's site.

Morgan said...

Sadly, Oxfam haven't the courage of their convictions, and have not passed any of the reasoned and responsible comments that have been made to them. Thank goodness for the integrity and the honesty of the actual whitebandaction/In My Name blog site, who have allowed all such comments to be posted.

At least we know whitebandaction act with honour, unlike Oxfam, in this matter.