Breastfeeding advocate Baby Milk Action (BMA) has accused the Danone Group of attempting to “whitewash” the activities of its Nutricia India business, which is facing allegations it approved illegal payments to doctors.
Commenting on claims by a whistleblower that the Danone Group directed the course of an August 2013 external review of Nutricia India’s marketing practices, Patti Rundall, policy director at BMA, said it was “simply unacceptable that Danone should tinker with the audit.”
The audit, which reviewed payments made and invoices received by Nutricia India between March 1 and August 31 2013, was ordered nearly twelve months after the Danone Group acquired Indian firm Wockhardt’s nutrition business - a deal that enabled it to officially enter India’s infant nutrition market.
In a document outlining the audit findings, Audit on Baby Ethical Marketing, auditors said they “did not identify any payments made to doctors” by Nutricia India employees.
Criticizing the audit, the whistleblower claimed auditors chose not to cover the five-month period following the deal with Wockhardt. It was during this handover period, our source claimed, that payments - in cash and gift form - were being made to doctors.
Building on these allegations, Rundall said that the Danone Group "seems to be using the audit as a cover."
Danone Green Book
“This cover-up seems to illustrate the stark difference between a truly independent audit and one that is paid for (and directed by) the entity under investigation,” Rundall told DairyReporter.com.
“Danone is clearly trying to whitewash its activities."
When approached with Rundall's comments, the Danone Group referred DairyReporter.com to its Green Book.
"As we already mentioned to you Danone's business principle are published on our company website, and they include our Green Book, which governs the market practices of the Early Life and Medical Nutrition divisions, across all markets," said an emailed statement.
Danone’s Green Book, which is also known the Danone Policy for the Marketing of Foods for Infants and Young Children, states: “Danone provides, conducted through external audits by a suitably qualified expert, evidence that the compliance management and monitoring systems regarding this policy are functioning properly.”
"Thanks heavens for whistleblowers"
Allegations that Nutricia India approved illegal payments to doctors across the country to promote and prescribe its infant nutrition products were first reported by DairyReporter.com in January 2014.
While the integration audit did not identify any payments to doctors by Nutricia India employees, it acknowledged there is “still a risk of non-compliance” with the Indian Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods Act 1992 as Amended in 2003 (IMS Act), which prohibits the payment of health officials by those involved in the supply of breast milk substitutes such as infant formula.
Violations of the IMS Act are punishable by up to three years in prison and/or a fine of up to 5,000 Indian Rupees.
The Danone Group has to-date declined to comment directly on any of the allegations made by the whistleblower.
On the Danone Group's relative silence, Rundall said: “We find it simply unacceptable that Danone should tinker with the audit and has ‘no comment’ to offer.”
“Thank heavens for whistleblowers," she added.
Based on the allegations made by our source, the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI), one of several organizations tasked with monitoring IMS Act adherence, has called for an investigation by the India government.