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Questions for the #noNestle Boycotters: My Response

There has been a lot of talk about the Nestle boycott as part of International Nestle-free Week and as a follow-on to last night's #noNestle twitter party. A lot of people have been asking questions about the boycott and I'm happy to answer them. Today, Kathleen from A Moment 2 Think, put up a post called Questions for the #NoNestle Boycotters. Her post provides a lot of context leading up to each question, so I would encourage you to read it. Here I'm going to post the questions and my answers to them.

Question1: So why boycott Nestle and not all these other companies? Why not turn the Nestle boycott into a boycott against all the worst of the worst unethical companies? (Although with the challenge of all Nestle’s brands causes to even know what your buying, could you imagine multiplying that by 10 or 15 or 50 companies?)

Nestle is the only company that I actively boycott.

However, that doesn't mean that I am running out to buy Abbott Labs products (the maker of Similac), McDonalds and KFC, Coke and Pepsi, and other unealthy or unethical products. In fact, the more I learn about these companies (and many more), the more I write about them on my blog (in a negative light) and the more I avoid their products. The total amount of money that I give to soft drink and bottled water companies, for example, probably averages out to $2 per week, which is significantly less than last year or even a few years ago. I used to love Toblerone chocolate, but since I've learned that its ethical and environmental violations in the chocolate industry are about as bad as Nestle's, I've vowed to stop buying it and we've been purchasing a lot more fair trade chocolate or at least mainstream brands with a better record. I do a lot more label reading and I have significantly cut back our purchase of foods with high-fructose corn syrup, with high levels of any type of sugar, with unhealthy fats and with high levels of sodium. The more I learn, the more I adjust my buying habits and the more I educate others.

So why do I boycott Nestle? Nestle isn't just one of many infant formula companies that breaches the WHO Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. It is the largest infant formula company, controlling between 30% and 40% of the world market and monitoring has found it to be responsible for more violations of the WHO Code than any other company, and it continually comes up with and implements new ways of breaching the WHO Code. Nestle isn't just one of many companies whose chocolate is made with cocoa harvested by child slave labourers, it is one of the largest (if not the largest) purchaser of cocoa in the world and it is ranked in the group of the worst companies in the chocolate industry as it relates to social and environmental responsibility. Nestle isn't just one company that is marketing unhealthy foods to children, it is the winner of the 2010 Salt Lick Award for having higher levels of sodium in its toddler foods (which it claims are "healthy") than any other company and yet it teams up with the AAP to tell parents that they aren't feeding their kids a healthy diet (pot calling kettle black). Nestle isn't just one company hurting the environment by selling people something that comes out of their tap, it is the largest bottled water company in the world and in the United States, continues to buy up brands and buy up water sources, using extremely aggressive, predatory and environmentally unsound practices along the way, in the United States and in other countries.

In almost every area where Nestle has been criticized for unethical business practices, it is also the biggest and the worst of the companies out there. In my mind, that means two things. First, it needs to be knocked down a notch more than any other company out there. Second, as a market leader, if we can convince Nestle to change for the better, then its competitors will be forced to follow suit. If Nestle doesn't change, its competitors will claim that they cannot change because they won't be able to compete with Nestle if they do change.

Question 2: Why shift the blame from lack of support for breastfeeding Moms (adequate maternity leave, access to lactation consultants, ect.) to a company that makes a product? Does the Nestle boycott not take our focus on what really needs to change? Their marketing wouldn’t be as successful if we cut the supply. Their methods work because so many women struggle to breastfeed and don’t have the support to make it work.

This isn't about shifting blame. There are many, many societal barriers to breastfeeding and the formula companies marketing practices are only one of them. This isn't an either/or issue. All of the barriers need to be addressed.

Question 3: Who is a Nestle boycott-er? What similarities unite those that boycott and what does it mean to say you are a Nestle boycott-er? What personal statement are you making?

I know a lot of people who are Nestle boycotters, from breastfeeding advocates to environmentalists, from children's rights activists to doctors concerned about obesity and heart disease. Most boycotters though are ordinary citizens with a conscience who believe that companies like Nestle do not deserve their hard earned money, who want to teach their children about making ethical choices, and who hope that consumer pressure will continue to force Nestle to make changes (as it has in some cases in the past...though there is still a long way to go). The personal statement I am making is that they will not get my money until they clean up their act.

I hope that answers your questions, Kathleen. If you have any follow-up questions, please let me know. For anyone else who happened across this post, I have a summary of Nestle's unethical business practices and links to some of my past posts here.
« A booby-trapped breastfeeding prize | Main | International Nestle-free Week 2010: Join Us »

Reader Comments (14)

Speaking for myself, I boycott Nestle as a symbol. There are many, many companies that do things I disagree with, it's true. And as I become more aware of their practices, I'm less inclined to give them my business. I seek to make choices that I feel are healthier and more ethical. But by choosing one company to single out, which is the biggest of them all, I'm hoping to send a very targeted message. And hopefully, Nestle and other companies will hear it and make changes.

I think there's an important point here, and that is that I don't expect that everyone will boycott Nestle. If you don't choose to, I won't think one thing or the other about it. We all have the freedom to make our own decisions. You don't have to agree with mine - heck, even I regret some of my own decisions - but I hope that you'll respect my right to make them, and understand that my decisions are mine and mine alone.

October 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Excellent, well-researched response. Thank you.

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrittany

Thank you for this post. I was recently forced to defend my position in the boycott, with ever answer given highly scrutinized. So it's nice reading your answers and being able to refer people here where all the research is laid out in such easy to understand terms - and with links taking us to the actual research itself.

Thank you for keeping us so well informed!

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin W. / Beatnik Momma

What she said.

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle Friedland, CLC

Hi Annie,

I really appreciate you taking the time to provide answers to my questions. I do think you make a good case and I appreciate your perspective on this.

I really hoped that my post would generate discussion, as I think it is important to be really aware of why we make the decisions we do and what messages those decisions send. I am still contemplating and considering what decision I will make in regards to this boycott, but I do think you have provided me with a lot of food for thought (pun intended) on the issue.


October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen (amoment2think)

[...] PhD in Parenting has written a post responding to my questions. (Thank you Annie!) Check it out here. I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on it, as well as the questions I presented. If you [...]

I actually don't buy nestle products at all, but not because I was boycotting on purpose. Rather than trying to avoid 10, 20, 50, or however many products, I prefer to just focus on buying things I trust. Now, this doesn't always work, but I find it's much simpler to wrap my brain around to focus on the positive :)

October 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Not that I think there's anything wrong with boycotting :P

October 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Thanks so much for this. Most of the individuals I work with everyday- Heathcare professionals of all levels- do not understand the WHO code much less the Nestle Boycott. I have been at a loss sometimes to explain it well enough. You have done such a great job that I have referred them here.
Thank you!

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStorkStories

I just got to inform an employee of our local grocery store about the Nestle boycott. I wanted to buy canned pumpkin that wasn't made by Libby's (which is owned by Nestle), and apparently there is none to be found in my entire town! But she was intrigued and said she wanted to learn more about the boycott, so yay!

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin

YES! Perfect response. I FB this and hopefully others will choose to boycott nestle as well.

October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohnnieMG

Great Post , Annie ! I think the issue of boycotting Nestle for some people seems overwhelming. The amount of products they have their tentacles attached to is MASSIVE. I feel that most mothers(yes, fathers grocery shop too) are bombarded with soo many messages while shopping already - the mere thought of reading every can, bottle, bag or box while keeping the baby in the buggy and the toddler from knocking down the display is too much. But it's really NOT if you whittle away at it :)
How about a 'Do your Best to Boycott Nestle' Like have a look around your kitchen and flag products that you currently purchase that are Nestle and next time you shop you choose a lesser evil. Doing the best you can is ALWAYS better than nothing.
Have you ever listed all the brands under their umbrella or does someone else ? I'm a 16 yr long boycotter and I choked on a bottle of Pellegrino last week after being smugly informed by my sister that 'Hello! That's Nestle!' Ultimately Nestle doesn't care about you, your family,your health, your country's laws, the environment and much less the people that grew their products.Why support them? They.don't.deserve.your.money.

November 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarisa

thanks for the informative links... off to check them out!!

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTara

Thanks! I boycott too but I am not as articulate as you. Thanks for helping me by spelling it out. Somnetimes I wonder if it is worth it when I can't even explain it to people who ask. Thank you for being my positive peer group on this issue

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterstef

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