How Complaints are Processed

The APMAIF relies upon the assistance of interested parties, such as breastfeeding advocate groups, health professionals and members of the public, in monitoring compliance with the MAIF agreement. Suspected breaches of the Agreement are brought to the attention of the APMAIF by the submission of formal complaints through the APMAIF Secretariat. The APMAIF does not independently audit compliance with the MAIF agreement.

Upon receipt, complaints are assessed by the Secretariat and are classified as being within or outside the scope of the MAIF Agreement. Those considered outside the scope of the MAIF Agreement may include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • an infant formula manufacturer or importer that is not a current signatory to the MAIF Agreement or was not a signatory at the time the complaint was made;
  • retailer activity where there is no involvement by the manufacturer/importer (e.g. price promotions in retail catalogues);
  • infant merchandise (e.g. infant feeding bottles, teats, dummies, etc); and/or
  • infant foods, including milk products formulated for children over 12 months of age (sometimes referred to as “toddler milks”).
The Secretariat advises complainants in writing if their complaints are outside the scope of the MAIF Agreement.

Where a complaint is considered to be within the scope of the MAIF Agreement, or where it is unclear whether the complaint is out of scope, or where more information is required before this assessment can be made, the Secretariat advises the manufacturer or importer of the product concerned that a complaint has been received alleging a breach of the MAIF Agreement. The manufacturer or importer is invited to respond with any evidence or other information it wishes to submit for consideration.

Complaints that have been assessed as falling within the scope of the MAIF Agreement are then considered by the APMAIF at the next possible meeting. Complaints requiring consideration by the APMAIF are summarised by the Secretariat prior to being forwarded to the APMAIF. Summaries are prepared using a standard format to present the key information relevant to making a decision. This includes how and where the complainant obtained the complaint material, the complainant’s concerns about the material, relevant clauses of the MAIF Agreement, results of any inquiries made by the Secretariat (e.g. responses from formula companies or health professionals) and any previous consideration of a similar complaint or relevant guidelines on the interpretation of the MAIF Agreement which have been made by the APMAIF.

The APMAIF considers the complaint and may decide that it does not reveal a breach of the MAIF Agreement or that further consideration is required before a determination can be made. Where further consideration is required, the manufacturer or importer is notified of the APMAIF’s preliminary views and is invited to respond with any further relevant information.

At its next meeting, the APMAIF considers any additional information provided and makes a decision that the conduct that is the subject of the complaint is either ‘in breach’ or ‘not in breach’ of the MAIF Agreement, based on the evidence at hand.

When a decision is made, both the complainant and the subject company are advised of the final outcome of the complaint, including reasons for the decision. In addition, any ‘in breach’ decisions are reported to the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and are recorded in the APMAIF Annual Report.

The APMAIF Secretariat records all complaints received in its Complaints Register, which is used to compile statistics for presentation to the APMAIF at its quarterly meetings.
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The complainants’ identities are not disclosed to the Panel or other parties at any time.

  Brought Forward Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Total
Out of scope 0 2 3 2 0 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 11
Retail - store 6 1 2 2   1               6
Retail - pharmacy     1       1     1       3
Health Professional                           0
Toddler milk   1                       1
Non-signatory                           0
Other                   1       1
In scope 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
In breach 1                         1
Not in breach       1         1         3
Industry-wide action 1                         1
Carried forward                           0
Total complaints 0 2 3 3 0 1 1 0 1 2 0 0 0 13
Complaints 0 2 3 3 0 1 1 0 1 2 0 0 0 12

In 2010-11 the APMAIF received 13 new complaints, representing a significant decrease on the previous reporting period in which 36 complaints were received. Of the new complaints received, 11 (approximately 85%) were assessed as falling outside the scope of the MAIF Agreement.

The majority of ‘out-of-scope’ complaints in 2010-11 were within the category of retail activity. There was a marked decrease in complaints about both toddler milk and conference sponsorship in this period compared to the previous period. A number of complaints were received regarding retail price promotions in popular women’s magazines, and it was noted that price promotion by retailers in media other than weekly store catalogues, such as the internet, may be a new and emerging trend.

In 2010-11 the APMAIF made one ‘in breach’ decision on a complaint carried over from the previous reporting period, where two instances of the same activity had been considered separately by the Panel. Details of the activity and the pending decision were set out in the 2009-10 Annual Report.

Of the remaining ‘in-scope’ complaints considered by the Panel, three were determined to be ‘not in breach’ and one was resolved through industry-wide action.

Industry-wide Action on Electronic Media Marketing

In November 2009, the APMAIF received a complaint about the content of a manufacturers’ website. The Panel gave careful consideration to a range of relevant issues and, in the absence of a precedent for consideration of complaints about electronic media marketing, sought legal advice on how the agreement would apply in this new medium. The APMAIF also sought formal input from MAIF Agreement signatories.

In November 2010, the APMAIF completed its deliberations on this complaint. Given the absence of an interpretation and the complexity of the area the APMAIF decided to provide an industry wide rather than company specific response. It concluded that, in so far as material on manufacturers’ websites is available to the general public, the requirements of the MAIF Agreement regarding information intended to reach parents and pregnant women would apply. The intent is to ensure that material made available on manufacturers’ websites is exclusively informational in nature and includes required material relating to breastfeeding. The full interpretation in this area will be reported in the 2011-12 Annual Report.

The web based material that was the subject of the original complaint has been removed or amended at the APMAIF’s request.

The APMAIF considers this industry wide approach to be a robust way to proceed in the rare case where the issues are complex, no precedent or interpretation exists and the circumstances were not anticipated when the MAIF Agreement was created.