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Tuesday
Sep292009

An open letter to the attendees of the Nestle Family blogger event

Dear bloggers,

I learned about the Nestle Family blogger event with dismay when a friend e-mailed me about it. I was happy to hear that she had declined their invitation and hoped that many of the other mommy bloggers that I hold in high regard would follow suit. When I later saw the list of people who were attending, I was distressed to see women who I respect and women who are breastfeeding advocates had accepted the invitation. I wanted to believe that they must just not be aware of Nestle's unethical business practices and that once they found out that they would, of course, decline the invitation and boycott the event. That was not the case. Some of you heard the concerns and said that you didn't care. Some of you heard the concerns and said you would go anyways because you felt a dialogue with Nestle would be more productive. You are all skilled communicators. But having followed the Nestle fiasco for a long time, I know how ineffective dialogue has been in the past and I know that their public relations people will tell you a good story and try to take you for a ride.

That said, you are going. I can't change that now. Many of you were tweeting this morning about packing your bags and heading off to the airport. So, in a last ditch effort to help you make a difference, I am writing you a letter outlining the things I would like you to know.

How formula marketing kills

Let me be clear. This is not about what you chose to feed your babies. If you formula fed, whether by choice or by necessity, that is none of my business. That said, the marketing and advertising of formula has been linked to the deaths of millions of babies every year. According to the World Health Organization:

The protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding rank among the most effective interventions to improve child survival. It is estimated that high coverage of optimal breastfeeding practices could avert 13% of the 10.6 million deaths of children under five years occurring globally every year. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life is particularly beneficial, and infants who are not breastfed in the first month of life may be as much as 25 times more likely to die than infants who are exclusively breastfed.


In developing countries, the difference between being breastfed and being bottle fed truly is life or death. When women choose to formula feed in developing countries, their babies are at significant risk. They do not have the financial means to keep buying formula, so they water it down and give their babies less than they really need. There is often a lack of clean water, so formula gets mixed with dirty water, which can lead to infections, disease and death. In the developed world, formula feeding isn’t as likely to kill a child, but not breastfeeding does come with a whole host of health risks for both the baby and the mother. It can lead to deaths as well as increased health problems and increased health costs (whether you have a public system or a private insurance system, you do pay for other people’s health care to some extent). Around 1.4 million lives could be saved every year with improved breastfeeding.

Advertising formula and providing free samples to women in developing countries could be likened to advertising free c-sections with a dirty knife and untrained medical staff. Infant formula and c-sections can both be life saving under specific circumstances. But marketing them to the general public as an equal, better, or even close to as good alternative is dangerous, especially in countries where they do not have the means to use it safely.

The International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes

In order to reduce the negative effect of formula marketing and save lives, the World Health Organization developed the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (World Health Organization), which restricts marketing and related practices of the following products:


  • breast-milk substitutes, including infant formula, other milk products, foods and beverages, including bottle-fed complementary foods

  • feeding bottles

  • teats, like bottle nipples and pacifiers


Governments in more than 60 countries have adopted the Code and made it law. Some countries have gone a step further by making formula available only by prescription or requiring warnings on labels. In the absence of legislation, the Code encourages manufacturers and distributors to comply with its provisions. Some do so voluntarily. Some pretend that they do, but instead blatantly lie (Nestle), do not fully disclose ownership (Lanisoh), or make other choices that compromise their compliance. Others just don’t care at all about compliance and care only about profits.

How Nestle lies, cheats and deceives

What is Nestle's role in this problem? According to INFACT Canada, Nestle controls 40% of the worldwide market for baby food and is active in 80 countries. It is the biggest player in this market. Other companies are unethical too, but the size and reach of Nestle makes its violations of the Code especially problematic and especially risky for moms and babies. Nestle has been characterized by experts in the field as the worst of the baby food companies in terms of its breaches of international standards.

Some illustrations of Nestle's unethical practices include:


  • Nestle has an Infant Formula Marketing Policy that it says complies with the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, but its scope is much narrower, covering only infant formula (instead of all breast milk substitutes) and covering only developing countries (instead of all countries). Read more here and check out a detailed chart comparing the two here.

  • Nestle invests in public relations initiatives to divert criticism, instead of making changes to bring its practices in line. Read more.

  • Monitoring of the baby food industry by NGOs has found many areas where Nestle's advertising and promotion practices violate the Code. Look here for 13 pages of illustrated and annotated examples of violations.

  • Nestle systematically violates its own policies as brought to light by a senior Nestle employee in Pakistan who resigned and then wrote a scathing, detailed and well-documented whistleblower report on all of the violations that were both allowed, encouraged and ordered by his superiors. He is pursuing legal action against the company. His family has been threatened.

It is important to note that Nestle will try to tell you that all of this is in the past. That has been their approach all along. According to Baby Milk Action's report on Nestle's PR machine, "Nestle's strategy is to admit to malpractice only years in the past, even though it denied it at the time".

Beyond the marketing issue, there are other business practices related to its infant formula that have come into question. For example, apparently Nestle is purchasing 1 million litres of milk per year from Grace Mugabe, the wife of the President Robert Mugabe, despite sanctions due to human rights violations by his government and despite the fact that these farms were seized from farmers by Grace Mugabe. As per its usual practice, Nestle came up with some weak excuses for why this was not a problem.

There is so much to say. I feel like there is no way I can do it justice in a few short paragraphs.

What I would like Nestle to do

I think there is an opportunity for Nestle, as a leader in the food industry, to take a leadership role on this issue. At a minimum it should start abiding by the law in all countries where it operates and not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law. But ideally, in order to rectify some of the damage that its past practices have caused, it should go above and beyond what the law requires. Nestle should:


  • Commit to abiding by the  International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes in all countries worldwide for all products covered by the Code

  • Ensure that all of its packaging includes information on:

    • The risks of formula

    • Where people can go for breastfeeding help from trained lactation professionals (not Nestle staff)

  • Provide funding for lactation programs in developing countries and in low income neighbourhoods in the United States as part of its corporate social responsibility program

I think a complete about face is required here. Nestle should shift from trying to circumvent the law and the Code to proactively trying to encourage the safest nutrition for infants.

What I would like you to do


At a minimum, while you are there, I hope you'll listen with a critical ear and not take everything at face value. Nestle's public relations machine is well oiled and they will find a way to "address" your concerns without really doing so. I would like you to tell Nestle in no uncertain terms that you do not support its unethical business practices. I would like you to tell them that you will not be using your blog, your twitter presence, or any other platform you are on to help market their products. I would like you to tell Nestle that you are going to boycott its products and ask your friends and family to do so too. Above all, I would like you to ask yourself how you feel about supporting a company that puts profits ahead of the lives and health of babies.

I'll be watching your blogs with interest and a critical eye following this event.

Safe travels,

Annie

Important Note

Following the event, I posed a number of follow-up questions to Nestle via e-mail. As they respond to them, I am posting their responses and posting a reply to their responses in separate blog posts. You can access an index of the questions, and the blog posts with the responses here:

Follow-up questions for Nestle

« BlogHer Listens and Acts - Check out my WHO International Code Compliant Ads | Main | Sharing the Babwearing Love »

Reader Comments (279)

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

Bad Mummy, you bring up the one point that makes me someone dubious about boycotts of any very large corporation. I remember a boycott years ago (15 or so) that was spearheaded by groups in the states against Disney and I thought it was ridiculous. They had just been bought by ABC (or did they buy ABC?...anywho). The point was that even if you watched a show on NBC or any number of cable networks, it may have been somehow linked to ABC/Disney or one of its many, many divisions, subsidiaries, whatever. The boycott was completely ineffective. Personally, I'm unclear as to what is being boycotted at Nestle - everything or just the baby products? If it's an all-inclusive boycott, this group better be doing their homework to find out every little place Nestle has products/influence. My guess is that isn't going to happen.

I've been watching this unfold all day today and I understand the overall issue. However, prior to this day - yes, TODAY - I had never once heard of any issues with the ethics of Nestle's marketing baby products in third world countries. Admittedly, I'm fairly new to the parenting game and all the inevitable products and issues, since my son is only 18 months old. Nevertheless, I bet if I checked with my friends who are moms, they wouldn't know about this either. Clearly, the general public isn't getting word of these problems en masse. That seems like a more worthy goal than staging a boycott, IMO.

I checked into the research that Carol mentioned and yes, there is some that supports breastfeeding being healthier for babies whose mothers are HIV positive, but it's not a black and white blanket statement. It depends on each individual mother's situation and if those orgs in Canada are factoring that in to their supply process, then they are doing nothing wrong!

I admire the passion behind this pursuit of purity in ethics and defense of women who may or may not be fully informed in third world countries. I find the aggressiveness and hostility disturbing though. I get that it's been happening for a long time with no perceived changes. Honestly, though, if we boycotted every corporation that didn't conduct their business affairs with integrity and ethically, we'd never buy anything at all!

What I haven't seen in any of this discussion is proof of whether women are truly being coerced into using formula (any more so than we are in the western world), or if they have physical reasons they can't breastfeed, or consciously choose not to regardless of the marketing of the products. When formulas came on the market, there was an enormous swing away from breastfeeding in North America. Could the same thing be happening there? Women attracted by the possibility of being able to feed their babies without having to be there themselves? Perhaps another step in this crusade is education for mothers in these countries - similar to the campaigns encouraging mothers to breastfeed here in North America.

I think I'm rambling now, but I feel that there's some who genuinely care about this who are growing the problem to the point of being irrational and completely dismissing anything that Nestle says. Sure I'm new to this, but I'm going to stay open to BOTH sides. But as to a boycott...I have to agree that ferreting out and avoiding every Nestle connection/product is more complex than I would want to try to pursue. Getting the word out about Nestle's misdeeds - in a rational, respectful and fully comprehensive way - seems to be a more effective idea. Aggression and attacks won't win anyone over to join/support the cause.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren W.

Yeah, what if you can't afford the formula and need it? Do away with those free goody bags and that's one less source of formula for a child who needs it.

I don't find that a questionable practice in the least. I actually tried to get formula companies to send me free formula by registering on their sites. For some reason, they never sent it. As someone who was physically unable to BF, and with money tight after having a baby, that one can would have helped us just that little bit.

To me, the logical action is to bolster breastfeeding support and education. There are women who want to breastfeed and run into problems only to give up. Were they able to afford a lactation consultant, perhaps they wouldn't have turned to formula. Many women don't understand the difference between breastfeeding and formula - teach them. Sure, the information is out there, but is it reaching those who aren't looking for it? I doubt it. It was through a talk I had with my good friend that she even decided to consider BFing. She was just going to go the formula route because it would be easier in her circumstances and she didn't see why not. After encouraging her to research it and keep an open mind, she ended up BFing. THAT's what needs to happen even in the third world countries.

It's a big stretch to me to say that there is anything nefarious about offering a new mom a can of free formula. Sure, it's a marketing thing. I got free formula when I was in the hospital and the nurse even slipped me a few jars when we left since she knew I wouldn't have any. I'd planned to BF, so that bit of formula was a huge help to us for the first couple of days. I even ended up going with that brand (not Nestle) b/c I knew my son took it well...why change. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that!

I'm not saying Nestle isn't guilty of anything they are accused of, but I have a really hard time understanding why this particular practice in North America is such a big issue.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren W.

Annie,

I almost don't even know where to start other than I think you were very brave for bringing up these issues.

That, and kudos for removing your ads. That speaks volumes.

Lynn

Just wanted to stop by and thank you for this post. Pretty much anything I'd want to add has been mentioned in the comments already, so I will keep this short and sweet by just saying thank you for the well-written, well-documented post. I will be an avid follower of you on Twitter and reader of your blog now!

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Greg, I'd say the same about any company that chose to interact with the public to respond to questions and concerns. I'm glad they're open to dialogue, but expecting a "debt of gratitude" is a little much. Nestle is a for-profit company; it needs its customers more than we need its products. Addressing potential customers isn't something they do out of the goodness of their hearts, it's good PR. I think they could have avoided a lot of this by doing their due diligence before the event; now it's damage control time. For the record, while I saw a lot of "shouting" on twitter, I also saw people patiently waiting for questions to be answered, interacting, etc. Sure, there were some jerky apples in the bunch on both sides...I guess that's to be expected. That said, I don't think Twitter is the platform for this kind of discussion--140 characters isn't long enough to ask or answer in-depth questions.

No, Nestle doesn't have to interact with the public. And the public doesn't have to buy its products or shut up about the company, either. Nobody owes anybody anything, really. But that doesn't mean the people involved can't hope and push for more.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeagan Francis

Good point. I think many times mom bloggers see "free trip" and get stars in there eyes and that is all she wrote. I find it very sad that mom bloggers promote Nestle, Johnson & Johnson, processed foods, etc... all in the name of some free booty. Every time I get one of these offers I respond with an email or call outlining all the reasons I will NEVER let my name be associated with their company.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

[...] moms would be really dissapointed by this. Nestle is a lot more than cookies and coaoa. They also control 40% of the worldwide market for baby formula and some of the attendees are breastfeeding advocates. They also have NUMEROUS unethical marketing [...]

First of all, I NEVER said they shouldn't have done it. I just don't see why we should be "thankful" that a company is doing damage control.

They did that not out of respect for the bloggers there or for the people protesting--they did it for their company. Not saying that is bad. You may be surprised to hear that I am actually a fairly conservative person who often disagrees with Annie on political issues and am probably considered too pro-corporate by a lot of the activists. But to be grateful because they are trying to put out fires? THat just confuses me.

SECOND, they DID evade. Were you watching the same twitter stream? They picked a couple of fairly low-stakes questions. And even then, their answers were evasive.

I engaged, I engaged respectfully...and what they gave back was a lot of double-speak.

Here's the thing, Greg, when we're talking about misleading medical claims that result in infant death or slavery or illegal activities, the only acceptable answer is to either prove they aren't doing that at the corporate level or to stop it and take steps to fix the damage done.

Look at the "breastfeeding hotline" example (innocuous enough but the only one I have direct access to)...I am not saying Nestle SHOULD have a breastfeeding line...but to tell you they do is disingenuous. It isn't. It is a baby nutrition hotline. Most of the people answering the phones do not have degrees in nutrition and none of them are trained or certified lactation consultants. Most of them have taken a week-long course in children's nutrition. While that may be useful, it is not the "breastfeeding support" they sold to you and others.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

And I just wanted to add...I'm still confused as to why you think people want you to act as a conduit between those who are protesting Nestle's practices and Nestle?

I won't speak for others, but I'm not asking you to do that. I'm asking you to think critically about the charges and Nestle's practices and then take your conclusions into account when you write about Nestle in the future.

I understand you need time to return from your trip, unpack, research, think about it, and process. I am not demanding anything nor am I insisting you must do this right away. I am just asking that you do this.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

"I don’t understand why people on Twitter are so venomous…no way they’d act like this in public forums. ... Some of the things being said on Twitter have no place in the discussion."

I agree. I've had a really hard time trying to dismiss the personal attacks on Twitter as being the result of passion. It's okay to question people's motivations I think, but once it reaches the point where people are being attacked (instead of the company's business practices) the argument loses validity.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTatiana

[...] blog post and the Twitter activity by PHDinParenting seemed to be the spark that started [...]

@Candace: I have asked for an e-mail address to send questions to. My questions will be specific and I will expect specific answers. I will then post my questions, their answers, and my response to their answers. I hope that will shed some more light on the issue.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I cannot wait to read it!

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

@Karen, Something you said interested me. You are talking about not seeing proof of coercion. I don't know how long you have been aware of the issue so I don't know if you are new to the discussion or you are an old hand and trying to make a point about how those opposed to Nestle could better make their argument. The marketing practices and actions of Nestle in the developing world have been well and thoroughly documented by may people and organizations and if you aren't seeing this it's because you either haven't drill down far enough yet or you haven't been participating in the general conversation long enough. Go to

http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/Pages/index2.php?iui=1

or

http://www.babymilkaction.org/

and have a look around. It's eye opening. It's also cheaper than a plane ticket to see Nestle in action for yourself.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

Thank you Matt.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhillary

I agree. I feel like ppl just jump on ship and aren't realizing that they are playing into big business hands, often times without realizing they are know participating in things way bigger than they know or can control.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhillary

This is a great opportunity to effect change. Let's keep our heads and work this out united. We all want what's best for our ourselves and our families and what is best for our families is always what is best for the global family. This needs to change and we can make this happen.

http://infinitelearners.com/dear-nestle-its-over-we-want-change/

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhillary

"They never hid from a question, skirted a question, or said no comment." Actually, this is not the case. I asked several questions, and only one of them was answered (and no, my other questions were not duplicates of other questions being asked and answered). The answer I was given was factually wrong.

So, yes, I am going to go ahead and say that while it was commendable of them to try to get someone doing damage control, it was very poorly done. They did, in fact, lie and obfuscate on a number of questions asked by concerned folks. And this is, in fact, a pattern with Nestle and all large corporations dealing with criticism; rather than directly engaging, they ignore, obfuscate, and lie because they are well aware that they can afford to lose a few concerned consumers (I haven't bought a Nestle product in 10 years).

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermeloukhia

I actually specifically stated how long I'd known about this - I learned yesterday. Recognizing that it is difficult to communicate with the written word because the actual inflection is lost, I gotta say I'm a little put off by the tone of your comment.

That aside, The first site you recommend is openly advocating breastfeeding, so they have their own agenda and look at Nestle's practices from a perspective that is bound to be influenced by the stance they take in that. I have read the kind of proof that I was looking for here: http://www.mcspotlight.org/beyond/companies/nestle.html which doesn't muddy the issue by also presenting the information through the filter of an organization that doesn't advocate the use of formula in the first place. As many have said, this is not a breastfeeding vs. formula issue - it's about ethical marketing practices. Therefore, I want independent verification of the information from a source that doesn't have an agenda that counters Nestle's right to market and sell a product.

I have to end this by saying that I'm kind of sorry I ever saw this information. I've been open to hearing what both sides would say, but it's turned so ugly that I'm tired of hearing about it at all. The snarkiness, the "I'm right; accept it" attitude, the belittling comments are unnecessary and make it impossible to have a civil, rational discussion. For those who are trying to get Nestle to change, I hope the people who are being so aggressive and argumentative tone it down or people like me who may actually agree with you - once we're given a chance to figure out all the facts - are not going to participate in such a negative campaign.

I will also say that I will never believe something that someone puts forth without properly researching it and asking questions. This is what I will teach my son and I'd be disappointed if he took the things that people say at face value. I hope he adopts a devil's advocate mindset so that he can get all sides of a story - that's what I attempted to do and clearly it's not understood.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren W.

I will also say that I will never believe something that someone puts forth without properly researching it and asking questions. This is what I will teach my son and I’d be disappointed if he took the things that people say at face value. I hope he adopts a devil’s advocate mindset so that he can get all sides of a story – that’s what I attempted to do and clearly it’s not understood.

This is exactly what I am asking the Nestle Family bloggers to do. Many of them appear to be taking what Nestle is telling them at face value. They think if they ask a question and Nestle gives them a nice sounding answer that that is good enough and the end of the story. Do get all sides of the story. I guarantee if you do that you will see Nestle is in the wrong.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

@phdinparenting I've been reading as much as I can and it's clear that Nestle has questionable practices. Most of what I've seen so far - which may only be scratching the surface - is statements and rebuttals without actual data or reasoning. I'll share some examples of questions that I have based on the reading I've done and if someone has a place I can go for answers, then awesome.

For example, with regard to the claim that free formula is given out to new mothers, is it given out across the board? Or is it based on need/request? Need being a baby that needs supplementation or for a mother who can't produce enough milk or any at all and, of course, those moms who are advised to formula feed due to HIV.

Are mothers making a conscious decision to formula feed (a right that they should have) or is the assumption that these moms are "coerced" due to Nestle's marketing practices and the free formula they receive?

For me, because I did get free formula in hospital because my son needed supplementation, I look at that as a service that is good for new moms. However, I got formula based on NEED. My intention was always to breastfeed and despite trying very hard, it just wasn't possible. Having that experience perhaps skews my own view of the practice of giving out formula, but if it's being given out to every new mom across the board with encouragement to use it over breast milk, then I agree that practice needs to be stopped.

I hope this is a clear explanation of why I still have questions after reading through the information that is out there. There's a lot of it, but when I look at sites like http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/, I'm overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information. Then you start reading and it's overwhelming to process the unending list of issues and grievances against Nestle. That's why I like http://www.mcspotlight.org/beyond/companies/nestle.html to get an overview, but it's not at all comprehensive.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren W.

As I said way, way above in the comments, I just knew their answers were going to be met with negativity. I never promised the right answers, satisfactory answers, or transparent answers. I simply promised to ask them.

I've tried to remain open-minded to both sides and I have both sides saying to "check the facts". It is now 48 hours old to me yet it's a whirlwind for me, with 4 flights in that time, and lots of activity. So give me time. I am concerned by the allegations made but I don't have a formed opinion on either side.

I am not boycotting Nestle for I haven't had time or opportunity to read. I get turned off by the "believe us, or you're a baby killer" attitude by some out there. It doesn't help your message. I tried to reason with someone on Twitter (name reserved) and every Tweet back had "Nestle kills babies" in it. That is uncalled for. I also didn't like the insinuation that by refusing to boycott based solely on YOUR information meant I supported "baby killers", "dog killers", and "rural community killers". It wasn't from you, phdinparenting, it was from someone rallying around your cause.

There comes a point where this over-the-top browbeating borders on extremist activism and it turns people off. You will lose the opportunity for open dialog if the only position taken is one of trying to strongarm people.

Provide the information, let them research, but don't belittle those who don't take your word for it. I don't see Nestle calling people crackpots, morons, or nutballs. They respected the opinions and were open to discussion. From this side? Name calling, insults, and accusations of the attendees having no morals, no integrity, and no compassion for babies. This is flawed and it's hurting your position because people WILL tune it out.

Obviously, motives and agendas will shift the content accordingly. The difficult part is weeding through biased reporting to truly make your own opinion. So, give people links to stay objective.

I'll say this in closing...if the truth is what you say it is then none of you needs to insult the ill-informed to bully them into your beliefs. The truth should be enough. Any more nonsense that is unhelpful to the issue at hand, and quite frankly, it's time to throw up my hands in futility.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg - Telling Dad

@Karen: You might find this useful in understanding more about the formula marketing bags that are given out in hospitals:

Research has shown that breastfeeding mothers who receive commercial discharge bags—even bags from which the cans of formula have been removed—are more likely to begin using formula earlier and to breastfeed for shorter periods.1-9 Many parents and health-care providers don't appreciate the effects of formula-marketing strategies, and say they are too smart to be manipulated. But multiple studies show an association between the distribution of free commercial-formula discharge bags and lower rates of breast-feeding. Whether or not these bags actually contain samples of formula, mothers who receive them have difficulty adhering to the medically recommended regimen of exclusive breastfeeding for a child's first six months. At all points measured in that period, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding of mothers who have received discharge bags is lower.10, 11.

While parents and health-care providers are deluded into thinking that discharge bags are merely gifts, in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the federal government treats the distribution of infant formula bags as a form of marketing.12 Formula companies also consider the bags a marketing tool, and note that most US hospitals provide formula discharge packs to new mothers.13 Hospitals distribute the bags not because they have any therapeutic value or because the formula has been specially selected for an individual baby, but because the hospitals are paid by formula companies to do so. This payment can be in the form of free formula for use in a hospital's nursery, free educational programs for nurses, free supplies or equipment in other areas of the hospital, discounts on drugs, or even cash.

Read more (and access references): http://www.mothering.com/ban-bags" rel="nofollow">Ban the Bags on Mothering.com

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

@Greg - This is well said and needed. Thank you for your efforts!

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren W.

@Greg - Telling Dad: I have tried to remain professional about this and I respect the fact that you recognize that. I have, however, almost gone over the edge multiple times when faced with tweets by people saying things along the lines of "well it isn't my baby that is dead, it is just babies in Ethiopia, and I love my Nestle chocolate". I hope there are enough of us, on both sides, that are keeping this professional that we can have a conversation and also motivate some change in behaviour (not just better messaging).

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Hi Karen,

I sympathise with the amount of information on my blog! It is a daily(ish) look behind the scenes of the campaign, and some of the posts are on very specific issues that arise and warrant a response. Such as the nestlefamily event:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2009/09/nestle-family-twitters.html

If you are new to the issue for an overview try this page:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/resources/boycott/nestlefree.html

Anyone interested in promoting the boycott will find code to add logos declaring your site a Nestle-Free Zone that link back to the page. The banner ad automatically updates with latest news, currently the forthcoming campaign to boost the boycott: Nestle-Free Week, 26 October - 1 November.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brady

@Karen, You are right, it was not my intention to sound the way you heard me. You did indeed say that you had just heard about the issue that day in the post I was responding to. I did not remember that while replying. I was trying not to assume in my response - which is a poor excuse for the gaffe. You have my apologies.

Can I ask you something? Both links I gave you were to organizations that advocate breastfeeding. I understand being a cautious consumer of information. I try to be one as well. I also understand not investing a resource with a lot of weight just because someone told me about them on the internet.

Do you think that your resistance to the first link I shared and your easier acceptance of the McSpotlight.org link is influenced by the sheer volume of information out there avalanching on top of you? I'm asking because the best resources for many issues are often from the watchdog groups and while I will certainly share your McLink forward in the future I come from a position of investing more weight with IBFAN and Baby Milk Action.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

I can honestly say my resistance to those links has nothing to do with the volume of information. I was honest when I said that I prefer independent verification. Now, perhaps the information/data on those sites is from third parties, but the way it's presented is STILL going to be slanted to support their agenda which is support for breastfeeding. I have no issue with that agenda - it's a good one. However, a lot of the questions I have may not be answered if it softens the stance against Nestle. I would be more inclined to look at data from a consumer watchdog group that doesn't advocate breastfeeding, because that would reinforce the mantra that this is not about breastfeeding versus formula feeding, IMHO.

The link I shared gave a straightforward run-down of the major issues (admittedly without much explanation), but it's a good starting point. My biggest hangup with being 100% behind a boycott of Nestle is due to the questions I have that I can't really find answers to - at least not easily - in the links being provided. I think that my questions are valid and relevant to weighing out my own opinion on this issue. I thought them through for hours before actually posting about them.

The thing is, if Nestle's giving out formula across the board, then there's really no justification for that and the practice should cease. However, I'm more open to them giving out formula to mothers who need supplementation for their babies. The issue changes for me depending on the implementation of the giveaway.

I may regret saying this in this forum, but hopefully it's okay because @phdinparenting posted something similar on Twitter regarding this post: http://bit.ly/k7eBE. I think I tend to like where she's headed with this idea. I don't think Nestle is the sole problem here. A symptom? Perhaps. Irresponsible? Debatable (just IMO, b/c I'm not 100% there). But if those mothers are fully informed about the benefits of breastfeeding and still choose to formula feed, it is their right to do so and at that point, Nestle is absolved of any responsibility. That said, it's third world countries we're talking about, so it's unlikely that anyone has the resources to run and maintain widespread, effective breastfeeding education campaigns. AND, if a mother still doesn't want to breastfeed, then raising awareness about the pastuerized breast milk - I saw that as an alternate option as well.

Perhaps Nestle and other formula makers who are pro-breastfeeding should fund an independent and autonomous foundation to accomplish these goals.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren W.

@Karen - I actively tried to keep myself from receiving formula samples. I did not sign up on any email lists at the maternity stores, I had a home-birth, so nothing from the hospital there - yet, what do I receive in the mail when my son is about 2 mos old? That's right, a case of formula. A CASE of formula. I did not ask for it, I have no idea how they got my information. I called them and asked them to remove me from their mailing list, the next month, I got another CASE of formula. Arghh!! They are insidious, and sneaky and persistent.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay @ Kickypants

Nestle, as in the official Nestle, certainly didn't throw namecalling into the mix. But several of the bloggers attending the event most certainly did call anti-Nestle folks "crackpots" and "morons" and a variety of other colorful and insulting things. I certainly received a handful of tweets with some very nasty things in them.

As phdinparenting says, there was some ugliness on both sides. But there was also a lot of generally civilized discourse; I didn't let nastiness from people attacking me colour my opinion of the bloggers at the event, and they shouldn't have let nastiness from people supporting my cause colour their opinion of me.

The takeaway: let's not pretend that either side stayed consistently courteous, polite, and on-point.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermeloukhia

I always try to keep in mind that I can only assume that the people I encounter on the internet are who they say they are and believe what they say they believe. There are trolls aplenty on the internet and this issue is chum in the water.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

[...] been a bit of hoo ha on the internets recently about Nestle, (see here and here for some background), and I was reminded of something I saw in an Indonesian [...]

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDisco Knitter » Blog Arc

The Nestle boycott isn't new, I've been involved in the boycott since childhood. I think it was started in 1977 or 78 and the only thing they've changed is their public relations tactics. Today Nestle wants mothers to believe this is a breastfeeding vs formula debate. In 1978 there wasn't even a term for lactivism.

This is not about breast is best. The Nestle boycott has never been about breast vs formula. It is about immoral corporate behaviour in trying to maintain their business selling formula. In the 70's doctors and mothers started questioning why they'd been told since it's introduction that formula was superior to breastmilk. As breastfeeding rates began climbing back up Nestle's sales began falling off. At the same time, it became clear that the baby boomers weren't going to have as many kids as their parents did.

So they went into the developing world and created a market for breastmilk where it had never been before. They did this fully cognizant of the limitations in sanitation that made it so dangerous. The Corporation is only concerned with its bottomline. They do not care that their illegal and dishonest marketing leads to the deaths of so many children. The only thing that matters to them is money.

They'd be very happy to see this boycott relegated to just another mommy blogger war item. They'd love you to think this is new, not to dig deeper and see that this boycott has been in effect since before many of these bloggers were born or had stopped nursing (from breast OR bottle).

To the bloggers who advertise for them: Yes in my mind you are complicit, and with this little twitter war going on you have no "I didn't know" excuse any more. Educate yourself.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermudmama

I'm so glad I clicked over to read this post. I really had no idea. I used Nestle Good Start Soy formula with my first child, who is healthy and will be 4 yrs old this month. I now have a 3 month old who I am breastfeeding but starting to transition to formula. It's been on mind to use Nestle again but now I absolutely will not. Thank goodness for valuable blog posts like these and all of the comments.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I hope that anyone who does attend the event, who learns these things about Nestle will blog about it, and reveal to their readers what they learned, regardless of how they feel about Nestle themselves. I think it's about standing back and stating the facts and letting other people choose for themselves. It's what I had to do with my Lansinoh review. I thought Lansinoh was great and then the day I posted Part One of my review I found out that they are owned by Pigeon, another Who Code violator. Lansinoh! An obviously pro-breastfeeding company! What a shocker! So what did I do? I finished m y review, made sure it was unbiased as far as the product review went, but didn't hold back when it came to sharing links about the violations of its parent company, a company who reaps the rewards of Lansinoh's profits.
So I hope these attendees do the same. I don't think it made me an unethical blogger by continuing my review for Lansinoh, I think it showed that I have integrity. (I hope it did anyway). So I have no negative feelings towards bloggers who went, unless they knew beforehand about Nestle. And then if they did, like a few I saw going who I ASSUME knew (the breastfeeding advocates), I hope they went there to give Nestle a piece of their mind. And I hope they blog about it so their fellow breastfeeding advocates can understand why they went. But basically I just wanted to say I hope the bloggers who only know this stuff now can write an unbiased blog and present all the information about the event so readers can make up their own minds.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

[...] herself closely with a brand, the same problem exists. Case in point: I’ve been following PhDinParenting’s excellent expose of Nestle and her questioning the attendance of many breastf... at the recently-concluded NestleFamily blogger event. Like many, I’d heard of the Nestle [...]

I'm not a twitterer but I sat and read some of the tweets at the nestlefamily twitter link. I'm horrified by the rationalizations and naivety I'm reading.

Do mommybloggers really think going to a Nestle sponsored advertising session (they want you to tweet them and blog about them) is giving them a voice to make any kind of positive change???

Nestle doesn't listen to the WHO or the UN, or healthcare professionals and policymakers around the globe, why do you think their smooth talking ADVERTISING executives are going to listen to you?

Go home and post how wonderful their products are and feel great cause an employee agreed with you that breast is best, yeah you really changed their mind and their going to stop promoting their product in dangerously dishonest ways in the developing world.

I hope you all follow up on this, I know how short an attention span the blogosphere has.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermudmama

Well, I've come to the realization that it's time to bow out of this thread. The comments are repeating themselves and even with my sincere efforts to try and communicate the message here, nothing is ever good enough.

The event was never about this issue yet the last two commenters want the attendees to come back and share what they've learned. None of this was ever on the agenda. I asked the questions many posed and reported back the answers. It was met with complete cynicism even though I repeatedly said that I'm only reporting what I was told and wasn't sharing the information as FACT. I don't think anything said can quell the negativity and I'm done being mired down in it.

@mudmama...you wrote:

"Do mommybloggers really think going to a Nestle sponsored advertising session (they want you to tweet them and blog about them) is giving them a voice to make any kind of positive change???"

...Uh, no! None of us were naive enough to think we could institute change. I never promised that either. What I said is that I requested a sit down to ask questions that bloggers were posing. I then promised to report back. Nothing more. You're implying that 20 bloggers think they're able to change the world and reverse years-long policies over a 2-day session on completely unrelated topics. This is just more blanket negativity.

"Nestle doesn’t listen to the WHO or the UN, or healthcare professionals and policymakers around the globe, why do you think their smooth talking ADVERTISING executives are going to listen to you?"

...They did listen and they answered. Never once did I say the answers were facts, with merit, or transparent. No matter their answers, they're chalked up as lies, so why bother asking questions?? I dunno, I'm missing something. :)

"Go home and post how wonderful their products are and feel great cause an employee agreed with you that breast is best, yeah you really changed their mind and their going to stop promoting their product in dangerously dishonest ways in the developing world. "

...This is the pervading cynicism that makes me want to throw in the towel. I'll read on as promised but I'm done with dialog. I have too many positive things to focus my energy on and beating my head against the wall as I try to convey my feelings is becoming pointless and futile.

It's all just anger, negativity, and disbelief no matter what is written. I just don't get the impression that it's a two-way street. Even as some chose to ignore this post and the fray, I felt it important enough to participate. But it's just draining me now because nothing is ever seen as a step forward.

I was urged to ignore it and just let you all ramble and rant. I didn't think that was beneficial. But, as time has passed, I feel everything I say is a trap door. On another post it was insinuated that I didn't care about racism because I didn't specifically address it in my comment. It's absurd and I honestly feel that some people read these comments just searching for opportunities to pounce. I'm not going to let my words or intentions get mangled and twisted.

I wholeheartedly wish you the best in your mission to educate and I think it could have evolved into a positive discussion. But always being on the defensive, and being forced to accept all criticism as fact, is just too taxing. If what I've written above hasn't demonstrated my position then nothing I say from here on out will do anything to change opinion.

Annie, I think you have a great post and you raise a lot of awareness. I hope you see the results you want and I'd love to see a steadfast mission of global social responsibility enacted, but I do think those who supported you via the spread of almost fanatical comments/tweets hurt the message.

Best to you and thank you so much for the platform.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg - Telling Dad

Thanks, Annie for providing such a thoughtful response to this - as always. The test of this exercise in terms is just starting (I know, we're all ready for a rest). Here's are my hopes:
The bloggers involved now get to show their readers (parents and consumers) whether the credibility they're given is deserved. I hope it is - and know that where it's not, readers will vote with their mouses.
The activists (for whom this Nestle stuff is old hat) are going to be tested in their ability to speak to a wider audience. "Ordinary" parents can and do talk with their wallets - they're as capable as any activist of seeing egregious corporate behaviour and acting on it. Treat them that way.
Nestle will finally "get" that PR didn't get them into trouble and it won't get them out. They'll use their massive clout to effect market-wide changes to stay alive and force their competition to play on the same playing field that they do.
Governments will take the opportunity to legislate the international obligations they have already accepted through the Code.

So, let's get on that, shall we?

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle @ doudoubebe.com

Thanks again for witing this- I posted my thoughts on this and blogging responsiblity here: http://amamasblog.com/2009/10/01/nestle-family-and-blogging-responsiblity/

October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterA Mama's Blog- Heather

[...] Some of us did that, providing links, stats, posts and concise ideology supporting our disdain for Nestle’s practices with specific concern for their see-no-evil cocoa trading habits – which is linked to child slave labour – and aggressive (and irresponsible) marketing of baby formula – which has ultimately been linked to infant deaths numbering over one million. [...]

[...] that some of the attendees were people she respected, PhD in Parenting wrote a long post entitled ‘An open letter to the attendees of the Nestle Family blogger event’ which reminded a lot of people about the many issues with Nestle as a company, including their long [...]

Greg I often find the people concerned with keeping debate "positive" are the ones on the wrong side of it. I don't think very much that has been said about Neste is radical or extreme.. just the bare naked truth. There are two sides to this story... capitalism and human suffering. It is very black and white. Perhaps some feel fanatical that we shouldn't even be debating the "positive" side to human suffering.

I was saddened that mom/dad bloggers decided to go to an event such as this but then again I was saddened when I saw Walmart Moms, Frito Lay Moms, Kraft Moms, Johnson & Johnson Moms... it seems MOST of the products pushing for mom blogger support are bad for your health or they are just a bad company. They want to USE the bloggers to influence other parfents and the bloggers are allowing it, in exchange for booty. I would have no issue with it if the companies and products were ethical and good but that is not what we are seeing. I guess the ethical companies don't have the money to whine and dine.

I don't think the bloggers who went to Nestle deserved to be attacked but they should face up to the tough questions... aka WHY are you letting a company like Nestle label you one of their "family". And of course it is a stretch to believe that break and bake cookies and Nestle Quik add value to our lives and deserve the attention of blog readers.

October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

@Karen: I think Nestle is absolutely irresponsible. There is no question of that. The reason I posted the link to my other post is that there are other stakeholders that enable Nestle's bad behaviour. If publishers refused to publish their ads, that would be a good first step in limiting the damage that they can do.

October 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

@Karen W.

Here is another link you might find useful from an organization that has no "agenda" other than to generally watch over the ethical behaviour (or lack thereof) of corporations): http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=240" rel="nofollow">Nestle SA: Corporate Crimes.

It has information on each of the following topics:
* Unethical Marketing of Artificial Baby Milk
* Exploiting Farmers
* Union Busting
* Promotion of GM Food
* The Ethiopia scandal
* Illegal extraction of groundwater
* Pollution
* Pyres of Burning Animals
* Fraudulent Labeling
* Perpetuating Sexism
* Promoting unhealthy food
* Promoting untested nano-technology
* Backlashing against Fairtrade

October 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] week to attend a sponsored event, a social-media firestorm was probably the last thing it expected. PhD in Parenting launched the first volley with a post decrying the company’s unethical business practices, [...]

October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterInhabitots » Nestle Inci

[...] What do you think about the recent Nestle/Family Blogger Event? An open letter to the attendees of the Nestle Family blogger event | PhD in Parenting __________________ Maiden of Wind Let your mind focus, and move ahead with clarity and purpose. [...]

[...] companies pretend to listen, but 30+ years of inaction and public relations spin demonstrates that those words fall on deaf ears. Other companies actively solicit input and act on that input. While Nestle firmly fits in the [...]

I agree also, it is similar to a 'pack'. Kill off the weakest link. No?
As studies have shown that it is the 'weakest link' (using the term loosely eg: uneducated, poor etc) that use formula. And the use of formula lowers IQ, wastes money that needn't have been spent and could have been used on education or housing etc, increases health probems etc.

Just more theorys....

October 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCJ

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