The film Tigers has released on ZEE5 and reports are that it is among the top 10 films on the digital platform. Directed by Oscar winner director Danis Tanovic, the film is a true Pakistani story of a former Nestle employee Syed Aamir Raza, who went from being a top salesman to a whistle blower to a man who had to run for his life.
Speaking to The News Tribe by telephone from Toronto, Aamir said, “It has been almost 20 years since my family’s struggle began after I sent them a legal notice, then published the book Milking Profits which details some of the evidence I had against Nestle. Quite frankly I had lost hope that the film would ever be released because of the many hurdles that the corporation had put in place ever since my fight began.”
What was it that started Aamir’s fight with one of the world’s largest corporations?
“In the emergency ward of Memorial Christian Hospital- Sialkot, I witnessed a 4-month-old baby that had died from severe dehydration because the mother had unnecessarily been prescribed formula milk when the baby was just 1 month old. The family and relatives outside were wailing loudly, so I went in to ask the doctor what had happened when he told me that we were killing babies. This shocked me. After doing my research, I realized it was true that babies were dying because of the infant formula I was selling. I resigned from Nestle with immediate effect. Six months later I sent them a legal notice.”
He went on, “Headquartered in Switzerland, Nestle is a company that makes big investments in countries to conduct business activities, so governments support them. At first I was naïve, I thought Nestle would look at the research, sit me down and talk about amending their unethical ways to save the lives of the babies, because that was and is my only motive. Instead, me and my family were verbally and physically threatened by both Nestle as well as the Pakistani authorities.”
When 6 gun shots were fired through the window of his home in Sialkot, Aamir’s family urged him to leave the country for safety. Today he is regretful that he was never able to see his parents again. They passed away while he was seeking safety in Canada.
“The gun shots were a reaction because I raised my voice against their unethical practices. I had first contacted the local authorities in Pakistan before approaching the Western media. Mr. Tariq Aziz, President Musharraf’s Principal Secretary issued a letter saying I was maligning Nestle’s reputation and interests in Pakistan.” However, Aamir received a very positive response from Members of Parliament in the UK and Europe. The Canadian government even sent him a letter saying they were proud of him for his efforts and honored to have him as a citizen when Tigers was screened in Toronto in 2014.
In 2001, Tigers producer Andy Patterson contacted Aamir and signed a film contract for £1 British Pound. “Money was never my motive, even though the company and Pakistani Government alleged that I was blackmailing them. They have no evidence of this baseless claim because I never took any money from anyone.”
Having a conscience in Pakistan is a rare quality, with the amount of corruption at every level. “Out of the 200 doctors in my district that I visited, 190 of them were corrupt and easily bribed with gifts. One of the doctors from the Combined Military Hospital in Sialkot blatantly asked us to install 2 air-conditioners, one for his clinic and one for his house, and to this day I am told he has medical representatives delivering groceries and gifts to his residence.”
“In these poor districts the doctor is the only one educated, and if he is bribed by the multi-nationals to prescribe their products, then what hope is there for the health of these poor people? Formula manufacturers as well as the doctors are robbing the babies of their right to live, and the chance to bond with the mother through breast feeding,” Aamir said with anger.
A former Nestle Sales Manager who asked to remain anonymous, while speaking to The News Tribe, stated “Yes, it is unethical. Though I was educated abroad, I feel that I behaved like an illiterate person because I never questioned what I was doing. I just cared about my job in a big company. Now that I have kids of my own, I realize how wrong we were to molly coddle doctors and obliged them into selling baby formula.”
The News Tribe further investigated Nestle’s current 2018 practices by speaking to a member of Nestle’s Medical Detailing Team, who said, “These days we use Cerelac to open the door with the doctors, and once we get through we push infant formula because the profit on formula milk is 45% for the company. As we are not allowed to advertise formula on TV anymore due to the international WHO codes, the company still spends a lot of money on the doctors. Doctor’s in small towns are easy to buy.”
In a third world country with little or no checks and balances and corruption oozing out of every government department, organizations like Nestle operate with impunity. Though the Musharraf government went out of their way to discredit Syed Aamir Reza, ever since the film has been released, the Pakistani public has appreciated Aamir’s efforts and have sent positive messages to him on the social media platform.
Perhaps, this gives us hope that the Pakistani consumers will wake up to corporate greed and corruption, and will make more informed choices. People have power, buying power can be very powerful if used wisely.
After working as a taxi driver for many years, he now operates a small business in Canada and is a huge advocate of breastfeeding, Aamir says “I just want to promote breast-feeding in all the poor countries where babies are dying. This seems to give me purpose in my life.”