Nestle have participated in many unethical activities over the (very recent) years; formula milk sales in developing countries lead to approximately 1.4 million infants dying, an industry in which Nestle have a 40% share; claiming that “Bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world“, harvesting palm oil in a manner that causes massive environmental damage, not least by further threatening endangered species such as orang-utans and child labour used in the production of chocolate. Some of these have improved or even stopped, others are ongoing in much the same manner as they always were.
We would ask you to join the international movement boycotting Nestle for all of the above reasons, which are explained in more detail later. However, given that many companies are worth boycotting, you may well ask why Nestle though. There are a few reasons that make Nestle stand out. One is the consistency, variety and magnitude of their actions. They have participated in environmental damage, human rights abuses and causing harm to animals. If a company has, for example, been testing on animals, then one could lobby the government and try to change the law. But here, that lengthy process would have to be repeated over and over again for each unethical action they take (not to mention in each country they take it in!). So they need outside pressure to really make them change. They have also been doing such things for such a long time (the boycott started over 35 years ago!) that they clearly haven’t “made a mistake”, they do not care about being a human or decent company. Finally, they have done very well in a number of “most unethical company” polls, as can be seen here and here.
The other reason you may choose Nestle over other companies is to ensure that you are having more of an effect by joining an already large boycott. By focussing on one company we can make them change much quicker and have a much bigger impact. Then, once they are acting ethically they will set an example to other companies (particularly with the size of Nestle, many smaller companies will look up to them), and give us an ethical option to purchase. For example, approximately half the student unions in the country boycott Nestle; if instead ten boycotted Nestle, ten other ones Coke-Cola, ten more Mars etc, the impact would be so watered down that it would have minimal effect. Currently, there are 19 Non-Governmental organisations, like Save the Children and Oxfam supporting the boycott, and in the UK 73 student unions, 102 businesses, 30 faith groups, 20 health groups, 33 consumer groups, 18 local authorities and 12 trade unions, as well as MPS and celebrities.
One of the main points we have focussed on regarding Nestle their attitude to promoting formula milk for infants in developing countries. Here I will explain how they contribute to the 1.4 million infant deaths per year that formula milk use causes.
Originally Nestle started to promote their use of formula milk on the grounds that if the mother of a child has AIDS and breast feeds, there is a chance of this being passed on. However, after this was started, it was realised that the risks from feeding a child formula milk made with unclean water far outweighed these risk of passing on infection. UNICEF has estimated (using data from the medical journal the Lancet) that 15-20% of ALL INFANT DEATHS could be prevented by breastfeeding. On the other hand, the chance of a child being infected if breastfed by a mother with HIV for 24 months is about 15%; obviously if the mother has not got HIV then there is no risk at all!
The World Health Organisation (WHO) have clearly assessed that the risk from dirty water is greater, their recent guidance being to use formula milk only if clean water is available (and even with the guidance of a health care professional etc.). The first time WHO gave any guidance was in 1981, their article “International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes“.
There were many clear points in the article that Nestle have continued to ignore. For example, the code says both that formula milk should not be advertised and should be clearly labelled as being for use of infants over 6 months old only. However, this promotional leaflet, as well as being advertising they said they would not participate in, claims it is appropriate for “the first year of life”. This is despite signing up to the code. This also shows it as being advertised as “suitable form birth”. They also sell it in local, shops with no effort to make sure that people have been advised how to use the formula (never mind being told to use it at all) as stated in the code. There is anecdotal evidence of them still giving branded items to hospitals and healthcare professionals. Even in America they some how seemed to think they could advertise juice drinks (which they falsely claimed had no sugar added) as suitable for infants under 2 years old.
Other problems include the fact that mixing breast milk and formula milk massively increases the chance of contracting HIV, breast milk provides better nutrition and immune defence, many people start using formula and can’t afford it any more – however, as they cannot provide breast milk any more they have to mix the formula to weakly or use formula milk not intended for infants. For some 30 years (barring a brief respite when Nestle claimed they would follow the WHO guidelines in 1981) the boycott has been running. And Nestle have shown some degree of progress, but as they are both the market leaders (they have a 40% share) and as they flout the WHO code more than any other company I feel that they still need to have pressure put on them.
Chocolate production has a well known track record of employing children to harvest coca beans. A panorama report came across two brothers, aged 8 and 11, who were working for a cooperative that supplies Nestle. Companies are quite capable of getting away with this as the production of the cocoa beans is performed in other, normally developing, countries with less human rights laws and with poor people who need money. Nestle continue to either deny claims despite clear evidence or they abdicate any responsibility for what they purchase by saying “the vast majority of cocoa farms are not owned by the companies that make chocolate or supply cocoa and therefore we do not have direct control over coca farming and labour practices”. I would say they could buy their products from someone who doesn’t give kids machetes.
In 2008 Nestle made the ludicrous claim that “Bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world”. Ignoring that fact that they based this claim on lies about how much they recycled, clearly using a tap is better for the environment.
Also, the method of production of palm oil sparked a massive anti-Nestle campaign in 2010 . Palm oil is an ingredient used in many Nestle products, and in 2009 Nestle used some 320,00o tonnes of the stuff. In the process, this destroyed the habitat of orang-utans, a threatened species. Since then Nestle have made some improvement; they have allowed an independent organisation to look at their supply chain and audit it. Of course, some would say that they could start by taking some responsibility for looking at this themselves, and then checking that they had done enough, but something is better than nothing.
If you want more information about Nestle’s malpractices, then KnowMore and Wikipedia are good places to start. Baby milk action (http://info.babymilkaction.org/) has a lot of information regarding formula milk, and the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate” is a good place if to start if you want to learn more about the role of child labour in chocolate production.