In the late seventies, baby formula salesman Syed Aamir Raza, who was from Pakistan, blew the whistle on international food behemoth Nestlé for practices which, he had discovered, were causing the deaths of potentially hundreds of thousands of infants born in developing countries.
Raza's story has now been memorialized in a new feature film titled Tigers, which opens at the Zurich Film Festival on Wednesday and had its world premiere last month at the Toronto Film Festival.
International public health groups such as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and Save the Children have long criticized baby formula companies including Nestlé for promoting their products in a way that undermines breastfeeding, which they say has led to dangerous health problems in infants in less economically developed countries. Not only are the infants deprived of the natural benefits of breast milk, the groups charge, but parents in developing countries are often either forced to mix the formula with unsafe drinking water or buy bottled water—another Nestlé product that has been heavily marketed in these countries.
Further, the groups note that Nestlé's marketing practices also routinely violate the World Health Organization code that regulates that advertising of breast milk substitutes. The international public health group says: "Globally, breastfeeding has the potential to prevent about 800,000 under-five deaths per year if all children 0–23 months were optimally breastfed."
IBFAN estimates that in areas with unsafe water a bottle-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhea.
Tigers, which was directed by Oscar-winner Danis Tanovich, tells the true story of Raza who, along with his wife Shafqat and the support of IBFAN, attempted to expose Nestlé's malpractice.
"The mission we began in Pakistan was on a very small scale, but thanks to the filmmakers it has come into a very powerful medium to reach people all around the world," said Raza, who, because of the ordeal, was forced to leave Pakistan and now works as a cab driver in Canada.
Mike Brady, Baby Milk Action Campaigns Coordinator, who had worked with Raza to expose Nestlé, said that the film highlights the "power of corporations and the challenges campaigners and journalists face in exposing them."
Emraan Hashmi, a Bollywood star who portrays Raza, told the International Tribune that he wants the film to be released in Pakistan because "it’s highlighting Pakistan’s own hero."
"This is my humble request to the Pakistani authorities and the censor boards," Hashmi said, "not only because it’s a good film but also because it highlights an issues that is still rampant in developing countries."