Friday, 9 January 2009

John Lewis, Avent and Code

I've been contacted this week, about a series of 'infant feeding' events being held in various John Lewis stores across the country next week.
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They're being held by Philips AVENT, a known code-breaking company. Avent holding promotions and events to sell their products, in a way that breaks code often, is not a surprise to anyone. What was a surprise, was that it would be done within John Lewis stores.
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John Lewis is usually seen as a very ethically minded company. It is owned by its workers - its partners - and has a written constitution, that requires it to...
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to obey the spirit as well as the letter of the law and to contribute to the well-being of the communities where it operates.. and that they ..must not take advantage of a customer's ignorance, and must do everything reasonably possible to put matters right if it inadvertently does so..
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So you'd think they'd be a bit wary about working with a company so notorious for breaking code on its branding and promotions of bottles and teats.
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The initial promotional info on the John Lewis website, quoted a 'special' demonstration at its Oxford Street store, by a qualified midwife, Saturday 17th January, as an 'educational event'. Now, I'm not an expert on Code, I just go by what I can fathom for myself as I go... but..
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8.2 Personnel employed in marketing products within the scope of this Code should not, as part of their job responsibilities, perform educational functions in relation to pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children... seems pretty to clear to me!
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Other huge areas of concern emerged, as I trawled through the various advert pages, on John Lewis's website, and in discussion with other mothers, I was told John Lewis use a symbol of a baby bottle, on their infant feeding rooms. ? I was also told by other mothers that some stores have direct connections with breastfeeding support agencies, and they felt the company was usually very breastfeeding supportive.
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On investigation, I also discovered that Avent, and bottles, and bottle promotion events, are in a somewhat gray area in the UK. Whilst the promotion of formula itself, under code restrictions, is very clear in the UK, the UK has yet to sign up to the World Health Authority marketing standard for bottles. So whether or not Avent are going to be breaking UK regs on code, depends on what they do next week, in their presentations - more on that in a moment.
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However, what is not in a gray area, is John Lewis's commitment to ethical and responsible trading. So should they be hosting such events, in this manner? The John Lewis promos state that.. John Lewis Baby feeding advisors will be on hand throughout the week, with plenty of invaluable product information to help guide parents through the products they really need and how to get the best from them through product demonstrations. So I was left wondering where the line was... what was John Lewis, what was Avent?
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So I phoned John Lewis. They confirmed that Avent is doing the promotional presentations, and the store was only hosting the events. But that their own Nursery advisers will be on hand to help customers.
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They were very helpful, actually, especially when blind-sided with the sheer complexity of the infant feeding issues. Within minutes of speaking to them, I'd opened up massive potholes in their path, about the ethics of what was going, and specific code violations - such as the 'educational event'.
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There was also issues about stating that an Avent employed 'qualified midwife' would give advice on products etc ... was that ethical? In terms of Code, clearly not ... but what about in terms of the UK midwife professional standards? That one got gray area very quickly too - some cites from the code from the Nursing & Midwifery Code state midwives cannot use their professional qualifications to market products. Even with the cite, (7.2 of the NMC code) I couldn't find those words, only some similar but not exactly that phrase. So another gray area, in which unethical practices are allowed to flourish... another blog post there I feel...
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But to get back to John Lewis.
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I feel they've reacted really well. They actually took "educational event" out of their web promo, there and then, and reworded some of the blurb. I think this is a sign that they are taking the concerns of the ethics of these 'infant feeding sessions' on board. I explained that some mothers will be attending these events, specifically to look for code violations, and unethical marketing by Avent. John Lewis supports any mother who wishes to complain to anyone, and ask that if anyone is unhappy, to also contact them, and let them know of their concerns:
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"... if parents or customers have any questions regarding the in-store event, they should contact the Customer Services team in the relevant branch. We are more than happy to receive queries from customers about any aspect of our business and as a responsible retailer we endeavour to obey the spirit as well as the letter of the law."
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And, as I said, they have also already changed wording on their website (It's not all in place, so I don't know yet everything that might have been changed - but 'educational event' is gone.)
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Beyond this, a huge discussion opened up on their own corporate attitude to breastfeeding. This got very very interesting, and I'm reporting it from my viewpoint - okay? I had an informal discussion with one person at John Lewis, and we talked over a lot of stuff. At no point, am I suggesting that anything I'm about to say here, is representative of John Lewis's opinion, or stating anything in any direction about what they think... but it was a very pertinent discussion.
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Initially, the person I was speaking to, from my press office contact, was keen to state that John Lewis sought to give impartial advice on all aspects of infant feeding - and they supported breastfeeding but needed to be seen as fair and impartial. Mothers are free to choose. This is true. But my point, was that they had an ethical responsibility not to promote breastfeeding as 'equal' to formula feeding, but to protect breastfeeding, as the normal feeding method. Therefore breastfeeding, should be their default, their first line in text and image. So the infant feeding sign in their stores, should not be a baby bottle - it should be the International Breastfeeding Symbol.
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Much of my discussion centred upon this John Lewis web page. Nothing to do with Avent, entirely JL's own. Go look.
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Pretty shocking, ain't it? So very 'balanced and impartial'. I tried to explain to the nice person on the phone, why this page is so NOT balanced, so not 'impartial'. That the token acknowledgement at the beginning about 'the controversy' and then flowing full into picture of a mother formula feeding by bottle, and an assurance that John Lewis would sell you all the products you needed to satisfy a hungry baby was not 'impartial'. Where was the image of the breastfeeding baby? Where was the statements about not needing anything to breastfeed, but you and a baby? Where was the links to finding out more info on breastfeeding, if you needed it?
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Again, this was all taken on board, and discussed really well. I explained I understood very well, that there was no profit in John Lewis telling people they didn't need any products to breastfeed successfully - they just needed a baby and a Mum. They said that wasn't an issue for them, as they never sell a product no one needs, and never attempt to.
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And that struck us to the core with the problem with inviting Avent into their store like this.
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They may not sell a product no one needs... would Avent, a code breaker, do the same?
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Would John Lewis spot them doing it?
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Would the seemingly benign statement.. Hi, we're here to show you everything you need to breastfeed successfully, we have pumps and breast pads and storage bottles and .... slip past the JL staff? Would the JL staff spot the huge issue here, that of sending messages to mothers that they needed all sorts of 'stuff' to breastfeed successfully? We discussed the huge ethical issue of companies such as Avent, saturating the market with the concept that every mother 'needs' a hand pump, and that 'breastfeeding starter packs' with pumps and bottles and teats are promoted as 'baby shower' gifts. We also discussed that pumps are a real sore thumb - not in code as the code's too old, but really, ethically, pump promotion is a huge problem.
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That there is an entire world of subtlety, in the specific undermining of breastfeeding, as the norm. That companies, such as Avent, in my personal opinion, feed into this undermining, by how they promote pumps, bottles and teats as 'breastfeeding friendly'. How they position their product to the mother.
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And that John Lewis, surely, should be protecting breastfeeding from such subtle attack? They should start every line on such pages as the Nursery page, with a comment about breastfeeding, and where to go for help and advice. And only then, having established that breastfeeding is normal and everyday, go on to give support and advice on other feeding methods?
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That breastfeeding, is 'the default'. Anything less, is not protecting it. And, in fact, as we know, not doing this, means you are actually undermining breastfeeding, even if it's never occurred to you that's what you are doing?
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So, for instance, now I look at the 'Nursery page'.. look at this wording:
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There’s been a lot of talk, and quite a bit of controversy, about which is best for baby - breast or bottle. As far as we nursery advisors are concerned, the choice is yours.
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This statement, I'd argue, undermines breastfeeding. It does not state that the NHS and WHO, and UNICEF, recommend breastfeeding. It creates an illusion, that breastfeeding and formula feeding have equal status. It designates the 'controversy' as some argument about mother's choice. There is no 'controversy' in those terms. It's a terrible abrogation of responsibility, on giving impartial advice - for it pretends impartial is somehow about not stating facts and known health advice.
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You don't even have to move into the territory of discussing 'the controversy' to make this statement breastfeeding protective, as opposed to breastfeeding belittling....
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The NHS, WHO and Unicef recommend breastfeeding for the health of you and your baby. Mothers are free to choose to breastfeed, or to formula feed. If you want helpful links on advice on breastfeeding, click here. If you wish to look at some of our breastfeeding support products, such as breast pads etc, click here. If you need help and advice on formula feeding, click here. If you want to look at some of our formula feeding support products, click here. We have highly trained staff in all our stores, able to help you in your infant feeding needs, and we never try to sell you a product you don't need.
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It's not that hard. Put it side by side with a photo of a breastfeeding baby and mother, and you can still have your formula fed baby there too. (Although, I don't know it that's against Code, actually! :-)
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So, two points to make:
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1) John Lewis are aware that some customers have concerns over this event, and their breastfeeding portrayal overall. They have said they take this on board, and they will put work into looking at the issues, and seek to find a way forward that means they operate ethically, and remain fair and impartial to all their customers. Do your bit - let them know what your concerns are, and talk to them directly.
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2) Avent are having stands in John Lewis stores over the next week, starting Monday. And ten stores will have promotional events on Saturday 17th with an Avent 'special advisor'. Do your bit. If you are attending, take notes, listen and pay attention - specifically when pumps and pumping are mentioned. Look for the moments where Avent 'support breastfeeding', and make such excellent statements as "No mother needs any product to breastfeed successfully." and "Some mothers find expressing milk is useful to them. Hand expression is free and quick and easy." and then watch them press 'play' on the hand expression video they've thoughtfully brought with them.
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As opposed to any suggestion that mothers need products, need pumps, tips on how to pump, with no mention of hand expression. Any comments such as "Pumping can free you to go out and do things, and allow your partner to bond with the baby by feeding the baby your milk." In other words, any comments that pumps and their bottle products 'free you up' from the demands of breastfeeding. I know, they would never do that, would they? Position breastfeeding as The Thing You Must Escape From, to have a happy life? They'd never present breastfeeding as restrictive, selfish (depriving the poor Daddy of his feeding time) and something that will impinge upon the mother's lifestyle - and hey presto, they can help by 'freeing' her from the need to hold her baby to feed it! Dang it, I'm so suspicious!!!
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Pay particular attention to any mentions of formula, or follow-on milk. Write notes, take photos if the store lets you. Watch how Avent use the bottles and talk about them in their displays. Especially words that compare their bottles, teats etc, to 'breastfeeding'. Remember, formula fed babies require as much protection as we can give them: mothers don't need to be told a product 'is as good as' or 'close to breastfeeding'. They just need to know if it will feed their baby safely and that they can clean it to a high standard.
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If they do say something you object to, or that breaks code - report it to the Baby Feeding Law Group. And for code violations - Trading Standards.
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And copy John Lewis head office into things. They can't respond to us, if we don't talk to them. I'll leave the final words with Miriam Labbock...
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For optimal feeding to be considered normative behavior we must shift from discussing breastfeeding as a benefit and change to the recognition that lack of breastfeeding is a risk behavior. Babies who are not breastfed are more likely to develop allergies, have lower IQs, die of SIDS, be obese as children and as adults, and have risk factors for cardiac disease in later life. They will have an increased risk of certain cancers, as will their mothers who did not breastfeed. Perhaps, most importantly, these non-breastfed babies will have deficient immune systems, rendering them more susceptible to a wide variety of diseases and less able to fight the infectious diseases that they do experience.
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Miriam H. Labbock,
MD, MPH,
IBCLC
Senior Advisor,
Infant & Young Child Feeding and Care UNICEF (2001-2005)
Professor of the Practice of Public Health in the Department of Maternal and Child Health, University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill
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EDIT:
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ps I'm really glad you're sending me your stories about complaints you've made to John Lewis about breastfeeding symbols etc, in store, and how things haven't changed so far. But really, John Lewis need to see your comments, not just me! Please consider adding your comment below. You don't need to sign up with blogger, send it in under 'anonymous' and just write your name in the last line. You don't need to have an account with either Google, or Blogger to comment. :-)

12 comments:

thereyougothen said...

I think I know how Vicki Scott can work for Avent - it claims she's a "qualified midwife" not a "registered midwife" - if she's no longer registered, so doesn't have to comply with the code of conduct.
fascinating post, by the way!

Anonymous said...

John Lewis have been selling an Avent 'breastfeeding solutions pack' for several years now. They've changed the wording slightly since I first saw it and now only state that: "This pack will help you with comfortable breastfeeding and represents excellent value when compared with the cost of purchasing each item separately. " - but at £127 somehow manages to cost exactly the same as the 'bottle feeding solutions pack".

Amanda

Katherine said...

My problem is that I couldn't actually mention this to (almost) any of my friends who are mums. They seem to consider any suggestion that formula feeding should not be promoted, or that breastfeeding should be seen as the preferred option, as a criticism of mothers who formula feed.

I'm one of those awful militant mothers who does not think that formula is "just as good". I'm sorry to upset anyone, but I don't. It's not. If someone has chosen to use formula, fine, but they should know that it does not give a baby everything that breast milk does. Mothers who express so they can go out should understand the potential risks it poses to their supply.

People, for some reason, trust companies, they trust advertising, and while advertising is perpetuating the idea that formula is "just as good", our breastfeeding rates will never rise.

Unfortunately I don't have a local JL, so I can't do my bit to make sure Avent is behaving.

Morgan said...

I do understand Katherine. We all end up in this double bind that we need to break down the commercial influences on formula promotion, by discussing health and risk factors... but we don't want to upset individual mothers who haven't a clue about even the most basic issues, like salmonella contanimation in the powder. It's a terrible bind, as the formula culture is so entrenched.

Which is, of course, the point!

For my part, I spent time with JL making it clear that this issue isn't about mothers. It's about 4000 dead babies, each and every single day, from the promotion of bottle feeding culture. That JL have a corporate responsibilty to act ethically within the world stage, and this is not about arguing about what a mother does in a nice safe hygiene world - it's about stopping babies dying. That's the whole point of The Code - to stop babies dying due to the commercial promotion of bottle feeding. This is about bottles. :-)

And you can do your bit - write to JL.

Anonymous said...

Why has John Lewis in Solihull removed its breastfeeding mothers' area sign? Its bottlefeeding one is still there...

Morgan said...

A very good question. I'll be sure to ask if I get the opportunity.

Rob A said...

Thanks for this info Morgan.

I have just emailed our local JL and asked who will be providing the BF information, will it be NCT, ABM, LLL or NHS HVs or midwives? hmmmm...

I've complained about the bottle sign for the baby changing room at the High Wycombe store and got a letter in reply saying they saw no need to change it.

And our worst BF-in-public experience as new parents was in a JL where my wife was told not to BF in the carpet section, because it was disturbing the young men! Long-story-cut-short: the staff and corporate reaction was v good, but it was still a shame.

Morgan said...

Rob, I've now been told by five people, that they've complained about the bottle feeding sign in various stores - including getting letters in response.

Now, finding they asked a mother to stop feeding a hungry baby! Don't they know they can be sued under the Sex Discrimination Act? Okay, that's a bit disengenous... no one ever realises they can be sued under the SDA for this, as the Givernment only just mentioned it, 25 years on...

Wonder where all the complaints end up?

Ailbhe said...

Whatever about the SDA, John Lewis policy, over four years ago, was never to ask a breastfeeding mother to stop feeding her baby, wherever she did it. So was Boots'.

Morgan said...

Well, another area where what they so, and what they do, is utterly different then.

Ailbhe said...

I honestly haven't heard of many women being asked to stop feeding their baby in JL - I can't think of any, now, other than the one mentioned here. I did hear of it happening in Boots but the mother knew the policy and was able to refuse easily. One badly-trained member of staff does not a corporate policy make.

But unlike their ethical cotton-sourcing policy, I haven't seen JL's breastfeeding policy in writing, just heard it from a manager.

Rob A - JL link said...

This is more like what we want to see: JL customers knitting breasts (July 08).

Click on Rob A - JL link above.