Policy on Acceptance of Advertising and Sponsorship

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In line with the College’s Guiding Principles document, it is considered appropriate to publish our policy on the acceptance of advertising and sponsorship from trade and industry and other external stakeholders.

The role and responsibility of the RCOG in promoting the wellbeing of women and their reproductive health in the eyes of the public should be a major consideration.

Background

The following activities are considered to be covered in this document:

  • direct grants and contributions to the RCOG;
  • advertisement in RCOG publications, including the website;
  • commercial stands at College conferences;
  • the use of identifying material from a company such as a logo on wallets or badges at meetings;
  • sponsorship of educational material;
  • funding for research projects and awards;
  • provision of funds to attend meetings and lectures and hospitality.

The term sponsorship is understood to mean financial or other rewards received from third parties and is often offered and accepted on the understanding of mutual benefit. Although acceptance in itself does not imply that the recipient endorses or even supports the commercial activities of the sponsor, there could be a public perception that this is the case. This is especially so when publicity surrounds sponsorship and the sponsored organisation has a clear set of aims and objectives which are widely known.

Commercial support is widely accepted as playing a vital role in enabling the survival and development of medical journals (ref 1).

The act of accepting sponsorship implies neither condoning nor condemning the activity of the sponsor. Sponsorship may have beneficial consequences in terms of education or research which may exceed any adverse effect in terms of undue influence. However it could be seen to undermine the practice of evidence-based medicine by inappropriately influencing the College and/or our members.

The practice of a profession must be governed by ethical standards. A guiding ethical principle of the RCOG, which underpins it relationship with others, is its commitment to the welfare of women’s health worldwide. In order to achieve this aim it is committed to research to improve knowledge and practice in the care of women.

The women we care for and their families need to have the greatest confidence that their doctors are not influenced in the choice of drug, medical equipment, or nutrition by the receipt of commercial sponsorship. They would want to know that all clinical judgements are based upon scientific principles and that there is no conflict of interest for obstetricians and gynaecologists or their patients and there are no commercial concerns.

College Officers, members of all RCOG committees are requested to sign a Declaration of Interest form. Speakers at RCOG Conferences are asked to declare their interests at the beginning of their talk.

With reference to arms, tobacco and exploitation of women, there is a concern that companies providing sponsorship may not be clearly identified with these activities. Sometimes companies can appear totally appropriate sponsors to the College and their sponsorship is accepted in good faith, yet there may be subsidiaries or parent companies who are connected with unacceptable activities. It is considered that it is only practical to consider the activities of the sponsoring company itself, as it would be difficult to identify all companies which have subsidiary or parent companies which fall into this category.

Formula feeding undoubtedly causes many infant deaths in developing countries where poverty and the lack of safe water do not allow mothers to prepare feeds hygienically. Breastfeeding throughout the world provides a safe method of feeding infants and has definite immunological advantages. For children in developing countries breast milk substitutes, when used inappropriately, undermine the initiation and the continuation of breastfeeding. Breast milk is clearly a lifesaver in those parts of the world and, even in developed countries, is associated with lower rates of morbidity, particularly gastro intestinal disorders. Breastfeeding by mothers infected with HIV is a problem because of the serious risk of infecting the baby. (Extract from the report of the working party of the RCPCH Ethics Advisory Committee on Commercial Sponsorship in the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.)

RCOG recognises the necessity and usefulness of infant formula in certain circumstances however  would always recommend breast feeding as the preferred choice.

Recommendations

1.

No sponsorship or advertising should knowingly be accepted from any third party which produces tobacco, manufactures arms or exploits women. (A separate document exists in respect of the RCOG’s investment policy).

2.

Sponsorship from companies producing breast milk substitutes is only acceptable if the company:

  • does not provide samples;
  • does not use any pictures or text which may idealize the use of breast-milk substitutes;
  • does not refer to a proprietary product;
  • does not distribute to pregnant women or mothers or infants and young children any gifts of articles or utensils which may promote the use of breast-milk substitutes or bottle-feeding;
  • should restrict information provided to health professionals regarding breast milk substitutes to scientific and factual matters, and such information should not imply or create a belief that bottle feeding is equivalent or superior to breast-feeding.
3. All sponsorship received by the RCOG must be fully and transparently recorded in the College accounts and annual reports.
4. All donations, however small, from third parties to the RCOG must be declared in the College accounts and cannot be anonymous. Should an individual donor wish to remain anonymous, the name must be disclosed to the Finance and Executive Committee who may approve the donation.
5. It is prudent, if possible, for activities to receive funding from a number of sources and not to be wholly dependent upon one sponsor.
6. Educational material can include a logo or a notice that it has been supported by a company so long as it falls within this policy.
7. Sponsorship for individuals should be modest and hospitality should not be lavish. The guiding principles should be whether individual Fellows, Members or staff would be happy for it to be generally known that they are receiving support for a particular activity. A hospitality policy has been approved by Council and a register is retained in the Chief Executive’s office.
8. A disclaimer from the College must accompany advertisements in any published material. Sponsors will not be allowed to advertise within an article or guideline that is directly associated with one of their products. Banner advertising on the online version will not be permitted.
9. A disclaimer should always be placed in the programme of meetings where there are trade exhibitions.
10. Manufacturers and advertisers are expected to conform to the British Code of Advertising Practice. Advertisement will only be accepted on condition that the advertiser warrants that advertisements supplied do not contravene the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, the Sex Discrimination Act 1978 and the Race Relations Act 1968.
11. The College reserves the right to refuse any sponsor  that they deem is in conflict of interest with our guiding principles or on subjective grounds of nature, taste, content or positioning.
12. A separate policy exists with regard to the acceptance of supplements in BJOG – An International Journal of O&G. Guidance was taken from the Committee on Publication Ethics ‘Guidelines on Good Publication Practice’ 2003 ~(Ref 2).
13. Research should be encouraged as a collaborative exercise between industry and the RCOG. It is essential that the research should be under the full control of the investigator who must be able to publish results, including negative results without being interfered with or prevented by the sponsor.
14. The importance of a relationship between industry and our members needs to be clearly recognised because obstetricians and gynaecologists must be involved in the development of scientific products for the benefit of women’s health.
15. The RCOG Audit Committee should have responsibility for monitoring this policy.

References

1. Horton, R. Sponsorship, authorship and a tale of two media Lancet 1997;
349:1411-2

2. Code of conduct and best practice guidelines for journal editors. Committee on Publication Ethics
(http://publicationethics.org/files/Code%20of%20conduct%20for%20journal%20editors_0.pdf)

February 2007. Updated April 2012

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