Public-corporate partnerships: Dangerous encounters. The case of SUMA-Nutrir in Veracruz, Mexico

Year: 2019

Author: Tenorio, José, Gard, Michael, Enright, Eimear, Macdonald, Doune

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper is nested within a broader PhD research, funded by the ARC project ‘HPE without Borders’, that explores the politics of anti-obesity policies in schools in the Mexican state of Veracruz. This research seeks to understand why these policies have emerged at this particular moment, what political and economic conditions have allowed their creation, and how they are working as mechanisms of government.

In this paper I argue that, in the name of fighting obesity, food corporations have deployed a complex bio-political project to govern the health and lives of Mexicans. Following Foucault and other poststructuralist scholars, I build my argument through the analysis of the program SUMA-Nutrir,a public-corporate venture to promote ‘healthy lifestyles’ in primary schools, developed by the transnational food corporation Nestlé and the Secretariat of Education in Veracruz (SEV) in 2012. Data was generated through interviews with high and medium level education authorities at SEV and through observing the day-to-day functioning of SUMA-Nutrirduring four months of fieldwork in Veracruz, Mexico in 2016.

The data reveals three issues. Firstly, the chaotic political and economic conditions at the federal and state levels have facilitated the expansion of Nestlé's presence across schools. Poorly resourced and lacking government funding, the education authorities in charge of SUMA-Nutrir had to rely on Nestlé’s funds. Secondly, through this program Nestlé has been constructing a vision of health underpinned by a self-responsibility logic, which is aligned with its own commercial agenda. Thirdly, Nestlé has used SUMA-Nutrir as a tool of government where recording the number of ‘covered’ schools and ‘trained’ teachers and students have become vital to make a manageable, disciplined, and ‘healthy’ population. In this public-corporate health promotion partnership education authorities and teachers are, perhaps unwittingly, aiding to expand the corporate bio-political project through schools.