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Monday
May312010

My BlogHer Accountability Post


I'm disappointed and angry. I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have an amazing opportunity to tell women why they should and how they can be taken seriously as advocates of important issues. But that opportunity is now being sponsored by a couple brands owned by Nestle, a company that I protest against and boycott, and a company that I have criticized others for being involved with.

The Nestle Family Affair


In September 2009 a group of mom and dad bloggers were invited to Nestle's US headquarters in California to learn more about Nestle and its brands. It was an all expenses paid trip, with lots of goody bags full of Nestle product, and Omaha steaks sent to feed their families back home. The Nestle Family event web site, which features photographs, twitter handles, and blog URLs for all of the attendees, had this as an introduction:
Welcome to the Nestlé Family Bloggers Twitter Homepage
Nestlé understands the importance of listening directly to parents. That’s why on September 30 and October 1, we’ve invited 20 Mom and Dad bloggers to our U.S. headquarters to learn firsthand the things that are important to them and their families, and to share a little about us and our brands. Check out what they are saying by following the conversation below from Twitter. Visit this page daily from September 23 through October 7, to learn more about them, their families, their busy lives, and to hear about their experiences at Nestlé. Check out their blogs, too.

Nestle wanted to find out what is important to them and their families, to sell them on their brands, and hoped that they would say wonderful things about Nestle on twitter and on their blogs.  This event was all about how Nestle could make its products more appealing to the mom and dad blogger community.

At the time, I wrote an open letter to the attendees. I said, among other things:
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.

After presenting evidence of a handful of Nestle's many unethical business practices, I concluded by saying:
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 stand by those words to this day. Both the words about how ineffective dialogue is with Nestle, which I proved by asking Nestle 18 questions and then posting their answers full of lies and doublespeak on my blog, as well as the words about what actions I would have liked the Nestle Family bloggers to take. As far as I know, some of them asked questions about Nestle's unethical business practices, a few of them didn't tweet or post anything positive about the company, but quite a number of them did post and tweet positive things about Nestle.

Speaking at BlogHer '10: Change Agents


In the fall of 2009, I purchased an Early Bird ticket for BlogHer '10, a conference that brings together more than 2000 primarily female bloggers to network and learn from each other.

While I had attended in 2009 and found the conference to be extremely rewarding both personally and professionally, the decision to attend again in 2010 was sealed when the Call for Ideas came out in October and noted that one of the six programming tracks was going to be on Change Agents:
Change Agents: Politics, activism, social causes, social change. Last year we learned specific skills to help us raise our voices. And then we saw how some bloggers are putting those skills into action with a series of inspiring case studies, both international and domestic. This is track to talk about what you are doing to change the world. On any kind of scale. Locally. Nationally. Globally. It's also the track to talk about what we could be doing to change the world.

This track is what my blog is all about and what I want it to be about. I knew right away that having this track at BlogHer '10 was a huge opportunity for me to share what I do and why I do it and to try to convince more women to become advocates. I also knew that it was a huge opportunity for me to learn from the other inspirational change agents in our community.

In January 2010, BlogHer invited me to be a speaker on one of the panels in the Change Agents track and I accepted. The panel I am on is called Radical Blogging Moms: Don’t Even Think About Not Taking These Moms Seriously:
We’ve explored how “mommyblogging is a radical act,” but what happens when truly radical moms blog? For these bloggers motherhood isn’t the topic, it’s a catalyst for a new level of activism. Does naming motherhood as a fundamental part of these women’s identities impact how seriously they are taken? At the intersection of motherhood and activism, you’ll find these bloggers raising their voices, raising the roof, raising a stink and raising the visibility of their target issues, all while raising their kids.

When I originally purchased my ticket (in the Fall) and when I agreed to be a speaker (in January), the sponsors of the event had not been announced and I know that BlogHer was (and possibly still is) actively seeking sponsors in the Spring of 2010. In discussions with BlogHer, I asked if there were going to be any sponsors for the speaking tracks (as there were last year). The organizers told me that there were no planned sponsors at that time for my panel, but that there could be. They asked me to provide a list of companies that I would deem offensive, and I did so. They agreed that it would be in everyone's best interest to avoid having a company sponsoring a session that featured a detractor and said that it shouldn't be an issue to make sure neither Nestle nor any baby formula company sponsored the panel I am speaking on. I didn't ask about broader conference sponsorship (but probably should have).

Nestle Sponsorship of BlogHer


A few weeks ago, I remember looking at the BlogHer sponsor list because I was thrilled to hear that Bloganthropy, an initiative that I support, was going to be a sponsor. At the time, I don't think that there were any Nestle brands listed on the sponsor page (but I can't be 100% sure). I first learned about Nestle brands sponsoring BlogHer when I read Mom Spark's blog post called Stouffer’s Sponsors BlogHer 2010. Will They Be Judged? (written on May 24, 2010 and pointed out to me on May 29, 2010). I was disappointed and angry that BlogHer would accept Nestle as a sponsor, but not surprised given that they have accepted advertising from Nestle on the website in the past.

I later learned, through e-mails exchanged with BlogHer that Stouffer's and Butterfinger, both Nestle owned brands, would be sponsoring BlogHer (although Butterfinger still isn't listed on the sponsor page as of May 31, 2010, further evidence that sponsors are being added at all times). Their sponsorship of the event will involve having a booth on the exhibition floor, putting some coupons in grab bags, and being listed in some newsletter items.  They will not be sponsoring sessions, they will not be hosting big on-site parties, they will not be serving us a sponsored lunch, and they certainly do not get the opportunity to speak at the conference (nor does any other sponsor) as a result of writing a cheque.

The Meaning of Boycott


I do consider myself a boycotter of Nestle and have called on others to boycott too. There are a great many definitions of boycott in different contexts and many of them are pulled together and listed on the Answers.com Boycott page. One of them that I thought was fairly clear is:
An orchestrated way of showing disapproval, such as by not attending a meeting or avoiding a country's or company's products, so as to punish or apply pressure for change of policy or behaviour.

However, what I thought was more useful was the list of antonyms. The opposite of boycott is buy, encourage, support, use.

For me, boycotting Nestle means that I attempt not to buy, encourage, support or use their products. I am aware of the list of brands that they own and that I do not knowingly purchase them. I would never accept an offer to promote or support Nestle to my friends and family, on my blog, on twitter, or in any other business of personal dealings that I have.  Essentially, I would not knowingly send any money Nestle's way or accept any money from Nestle.

That said, I do not bring my list of Nestle brands with me to every restaurant I go to and ask the server to verify with the chef to ensure that none of their products slipped into the ingredients (but if they had a "we serve Nescafe" sign, I wouldn't order coffee). I did not get on the next plane and fly home when I found out that the ice cream at the all inclusive resort that we went to was from Nestle. I didn't drag my children kicking and screaming away from the zoo after I realized there was a Nestle logo printed on the back of our ticket. I don't ask before biting into homemade cookies at a birthday party whether they contain Nestle chocolate or not. I do not refuse to shop in stores that carry Nestle brands (but I certainly don't purchase the Nestle brands when I am there).

Other people may go further than I do in their protest and I applaud that. Some people say that my protest is not really a boycott because it is not a pure boycott and perhaps they are right. I'm not that hung up on the semantics of it though. It is more actions and perceptions that concern me. Am I giving money to Nestle? Am I promoting Nestle products? I feel that, on the whole, the significant advocacy work that I do in protest of Nestle, which includes a personal pledge to avoid their products, more than balances out any regrettable minor slippage of Nestle junk into my life.

The difference between the Nestle Family event and the Nestle Sponsorship of BlogHer


In my mind, there are a number of differences between accepting an invitation to the Nestle Family event and going to a partially Nestle-sponsored BlogHer.

First, unlike the Nestle Family event, BlogHer is not just about Nestle and its brands. It is about our community.

Second, I am not going to BlogHer under any pretense or false hope that a dialogue with the Stouffer's or Butterfinger representatives could result in any change in the company's business practices.

Third, there would have been no way for me to attend or speak at the BlogHer event if I had waited until after the sponsors were announced to get a ticket. The tickets were sold out and the agenda was finalized months before the sponsors were announced. This is, obviously, different from the Nestle Family event where the attendees knew from the first moment that they heard about it that it was being paid for by Nestle.

Fourth, I have not given permission to the BlogHer sponsors to use my name and picture in their promotional materials.

The unfortunate commonality between the two events is that Nestle Family attendees and BlogHer attendees are getting something of value from Nestle in return for it having an opportunity to push its brand on them. In the case of the Nestle Family event, it was an all expenses paid trip to California and tons of free product. In the case of BlogHer it is covering a small portion of the ticket price for each person who is attending.

Accountability


I cannot, in good conscience attend BlogHer if I am going to be benefiting financially in any way from Nestle's contribution to the event. I would like, ideally, for BlogHer to tell them to get lost and to not accept sponsorships from unethical companies. I know, however, that they are not likely to do that. I should, ideally, rescind my Speaker's Agreement and refuse to attend the conference. However, BlogHer is not about Nestle. It is about us: the blogging community. I feel that if I refuse to attend BlogHer, Nestle will have won because it will still be there and yet my opportunity to tell my fellow bloggers why advocacy is important will be missed, as will my opportunity to learn to improve and strengthen my advocacy. I feel like I can, due to the nature of BlogHer, attend the conference and still protest Nestle's presence there (there will be no muzzle applied as I walk through the door).

There are 2400 attendees at BlogHer this year. Attendee registration fees generally cover about 1/3 of the true cost of attending BlogHer. The other 2/3 is covered by sponsors. According to e-mails exchanged with Blogher, the true cost of attending BlogHer this year is $600. That means that approximately $400 per person is being paid for by sponsors, for a total of around $960,000 in sponsorship funds. In my case, as a speaker, the full $600 of the cost of my attendance is being paid for by sponsors. There are currently 37 sponsors listed on the BlogHer '10 sponsor page. Although I do not have the exact figure that Stouffer's and Butterfinger paid, based on where Stouffer's is listed on the page (Bronze sponsor) and what I know about the extent of their sponsorship, I would say they are probably in the middle of the pack when it comes to the dollar value of their sponsorship. I also assume that, like Butterfinger, there are probably a few more sponsors still to be added to the site. So, if we assume there are about 40 sponsors and that Stouffer's and Butterfinger are both "average" sponsors, that would mean that they each account for 1/40 (or 2/40 together) of the sponsorship funds. That means that they spent about $24,000 each or $48,000 total to sponsor the BlogHer event. It also means that Nestle brands are contributing about $20 towards the attendance of each BlogHer attendee (or $30 for me as a speaker).

So what am I going to do? I plan to make a series of charitable donations totaling $600 (the full cost of my attendance at the conference) to organizations that are focused on breastfeeding, children's nutrition and family nutrition.

But I need your help in a few ways:

  • I would like your suggestions for charities that you think are most in need that fit the description that I gave above (both Canadian and US charities). I have a few ideas of my own, but am looking for others too.

  • I would like to encourage others who are attending to make a $20 donation (or what ever amount they can) in protest of Nestle's presence at BlogHer and in support of these causes.  I would love to set up an anonymous mechanism for tracking those donations, but am looking for suggestions on how to do so (i.e. get a total dollar figure and number of participating attendees, without requiring individual people to tell me how much they pledged if they don't want to). Does anyone have suggestions?


Please leave a comment if you have suggestions on either front and I'll put up another post (probably sometime next week) once I've had a chance to mull over the best way to do this.

And more...


This is not the end of this issue, it is the start. This post was about my own personal accountability in this very unfortunate situation. Beyond refusing to be quiet and making a charitable contribution to cover off any personal financial benefit that could be coming from Nestle (or other potential sponsors that I disagree with), there will be more actions planned. I have some fires burning, so for those who are interested in a clear yet respectful protest of Nestle's presence at BlogHer '10, please stay tuned.

Image credit: rock and hard place by Leonard John Matthews on flickr
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Reader Comments (174)

I don't envy your position and in Mom Spark's post I mentioned my view of boycotts. I do believe that the choice of BlogHer to allow this sponsorship is in poor taste after that recent storm eruption. I may not agree with you (most of the time) but I do commend you for finding a way to hold your ethics high and use this opportunity to highlight something - in a positive way.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterniri

I think life is full of rocks and hard places and the difference is the transparency with which we live and act upon. Thanks for openly sharing this process with us as you navigate these choppy waters. I wish I could go and meet you--but have decided to keep my 4 week postpartum self at home ;)

Good luck!

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhillary

I admire the thought you've put into this, Annie. You always speak your mind with such class and intelligence.

You don't owe anyone an explanation. So it's very cool to me that you have explained so much here, and in such detail. I hope those that don't necessarily get this are at the very least appreciative of the time and effort you've spent detailing your stance.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

I think your ultimate explanation & decision is an honorable one. I am so thankful I am not put in this situation, and I think it's an unfortunate set of circumstances, but you know now people will for sure have more awareness about Nestle practices. I hope all debate and discussions remain civil and pleasant. And I do wish you the best as you continue to make a difference.

Steph

I'm still processing this post; my gut is that you're making the best of this unfortunate situation and handling it well. Kudos for your thoughtful response.

I'd suggest Best for Babes for the donations! Anyone who hasn't heard of BfB can read our Credo & Mission here: www.bestforbabes.org :)

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy (@HappyMomAmy)

You've handled this with such class and thought. Kudos. You're turning a tragedy (Nestle sponsorship and in a larger sense Nestle's DEADLY actions) into hope and will help so many. Sometimes, we can't control life's circumstance, but we can chose to let that tragedy multiply into multiples of good. That's what you're doing. I'm sure you've thought of it, but a donation to Best to Babes would be awesome. And, why not get creative and look for off the beaten path opportunities to make a difference, sponsor a mom to visit Washington and speak to her representative about breastfeeding legislation, or work with an organization to set up online breastfeeding consultations, or find an organization working in the countries that feel victim to predatory Nestle marketing and send a lactation consultant there to work with women.. I can't wait to see what you come up with.

I'm not sure that the "If I don't go Nestle will have won" line of thought holds up to philosophical scrutiny to justify attending. Let's find out.

(1) What you want is to not benefit from Nestle dollars.

(2) What you want is to not contribute to Nestle's products being purchased or supported.

(3) What you want is to apply, organize, or participate in pressure on Nestle to change their behaviours.

1 and 2 are about what you want, personally, and what you can affect, directly. Neither of these is compromised by your participation in BlogHer despite the Nestle sponsorship (although 2 would be if I weren't certain that as part of your speaking at BlogHer you'll be trying to counteract the positive image Nestle will portray at BlogHer).

But 3 is a group goal, and part of holding 3 in your heart is being committed to group action even after all of the personal actions and costs have been balanced out. You DO sacrifice 3 if you attend BlogHer because no matter the personal choices you make afterward (donating money, articulating anti-Nestle messages to a broader audience) you choose to sever your connection with the group boycott.

Maybe in the end you disagree that concerted action is the best way to pressure Nestle into changing their behaviours. Maybe you think that you, as an individual, can do more to pressure Nestle by speaking at BlogHer than by not attending. But one thing you can accomplish by not attending that is over and above the personal action of not receiving money from Nestle or otherwise supporting them is to inspire others to also not attend. A group effort does require inspiration, and it's hard to inspire a group to do something other than what you yourself are doing. Even if you think you are personally, and subtley, not supporting Nestle by attending, there is no insipiration in a call to subtlety.

How powerful is the voice of a speaker who refuses to be bought? I think it's more powerful than the voice of a speaker who itemizes their deductions from the devil.

(N.B. I don't care about Nestle or the boycott.)

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBackpacking Dad

Consumer boycotts do not mean that every recipient of the target's funding for advertising needs to be boycotted in order to be ethically consistent, and I'm glad to see a higher level of thinking than a superficial all-or-nothing notion. I hope people continue to think about this issue in deeper ways. You've done a great job of defining the differences between a Nestle-corporate event and an event of which they are one advertiser of many, and you've distilled a pricetag to each set of BlogHer attendee eyeballs on the conference commercial they have bought. Thanks for that, it is very helpful. And the idea of going above and beyond by creating a sort of carbon emissions fund to benefit maternal and infant health? I'm very excited about that. My most recent charitable donation was to Oxfam, but I'll gladly contribute to whatever group of funds you identify.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeb Rox

@BackpackingDad --- There are many goals to consumer boycott that you didn't state, including public awareness and decentralizing power, including their power to dominate media through buys.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeb Rox

I too was going to suggest BFB

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOur Sentiments

Wow, this sucks. I think it will be helpful for others to understand your process in making your decision, but in the end, it's YOUR decision. Your transparency and authenticity are very revealing though...thanks for sharing your thoughts.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHolli

Quite a tough position! I know you asked for US and Canadian charities, but may I suggest an alternative? I live in Chile and am part of LLL. This year, there is a leaders' conference in Cordoba, AR. We've never been able to afford to send a leader, but it's so close this year that we're working hard to do so, but funds are tight all around. If you'd consider sponsoring a leader, that could really help us and our community. I've blogged a bit about a Nestle campaign in Chile here:http://elyisoutofmybelly.blogspot.com/2010/05/visit-your-pediatrician-starring-scp.html

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEly's mom

It is definitely a case of being between a rock and a hard place. I appreciate your thoughtful response. I have been thinking about this ever since I read Mom Spark's post. I am not attending BlogHer and am not sure how I would feel if I were... I have participated in some form of boycott since I was in elementary school, although I have learned much more and attempted much more as I've grown older. That includes what would be ideal and what is practical. There is often no good solution to certain situations, and this, I think, is one of them. Go with your conscience and that is all anyone can do.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrenna

Wow, this is a very thoughtful good point, Backpacking Dad...

Steph

First I just want to say that I think that what you are doing is great. I think all the work you do in educating people about the practices of Nestle is commendable. Personally, I like this charity - Merlin - http://www.merlin-usa.org/Where-we-work/Ethiopia.aspx They work in Ethiopia to help the health conditions. Among other things they work with lactating moms at keeping them healthy and at educating all women that breastfeeding is best for their baby. And as you know Nestle works to convince moms of just the opposite - I just spoke to a woman who said the ad I saw is still there and roughly translated it says "Breastmilk is best for healthy women - for the rest NAN provides baby with a healthy start." I know they are talking about AIDS (and maybe that is actually what it says as the woman I spoke to said she could not be sure if healthy would translate to HIV-) but still.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUpstatemomof3

Our family donates to the Dr. Jack Newman Breastfeeding Clinic in Toronto, Ontario when we have the funds. This is an unbelieveable service and he even supports mothers via email, answering evenings and weekends as well!

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLee

I'm so sorry you are in this position. I agree with backpacker dad but I don't envy you the difficult choice. I think that BlogHer would have to take notice if their speakers started dropping out due to unethical sponsorship. That would send a huge message.

Either way, PayPal has a charity function that would allow you to take donations and then send them to worthwhile organizations. This would let you know how many and how much was donated.

Good luck.

I agree with your reasoning and I'm glad that you've decided to go to BlogHer. I thought your Nestle posts were great - your open letter helped inspire me to learn more about the Nestle boycott and write http://evilslutopia.com/2009/10/getting-to-point-of-nestlefamily.html" rel="nofollow">
my own Nestle post. So if you had decided not to attend, I would have totally understood your decision but also would have felt like a really valuable voice was being silenced.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJezebel

For donations, I like to support Jessie's/June Callwood Place. http://www.jessiescentre.org/
They are a great pro-choice resource for teenage moms and their famillies located in downtown Toronto.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

There has to be some way to convince BlogHer to drop them from sponsorship.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArtemnesia

I think this is a great compromise to an unfortunate situation. It sounds as though you've put a lot of thought into this. My first reaction was "oh no, she'll decide not to go," but I'm glad you've found a way around it and I like your idea of donating $20 to a charity. I vote for Best for Babes or the National Milk Bank.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

I think this is a very thoughtful post. And I say this very respectfully and gently. But, do you think it's possible that you really want to go SO very badly, that instead your powerful human brain is trying to figure out ways to justify still attending? Because if there is one thing we humans do really well, it's justify our choices to ourselves. Raises hand. Guilty as charged. (Witness people who still are actively buying Nestle products... there are myriad reasons they can give you why they do, even after they are told of why to boycott)

If such a big blogger name such as you were to announce she were not going, who else might be inspired to also be brave, suck up the plane ticket booking or whatever, and do something REALLY REALLY HARD, for the good of the suffering babies. It's not really that hard for those of us who are privileged women to just buy a different brand of coffee or chocolate bar. Probably a mild annoyance, at best, to try and remember the various brands. But gosh.... how HARD would it be to not go to the BlogHer conf? I agree, it would be very hard. But would it be RIGHT? That is the question.

With great respect for you and the work that you do.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKJ

I disagree. Nestle wouldn't care a bit if phdinp didn't attend--it would make no difference at all except perhaps to please those who already believe in the boycott. By attending and speaking out phdinp can use Nestle's own money to promote this boycott and other acts of advocacy. She is emphatically not severing herself from the group action, and she is taking great care to keep herself clean, so to speak.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterysadora

I definitely don't envy your position, and I support your decision. While KJ has some interesting points, I feel like your presence and associated Nestle protest will speak louder than your absence.

Regarding charities, my suggestions are:

Newman Breastfeeding Clinic and Institute: http://www.drjacknewman.com/ Although those who attend the clinic itself are primarily from Toronto, the Institute trains Lactation consultants from all over, and the online information and support is available to anyone.

Second Harvest: http://www.secondharvest.ca/ Also based in the Greater Toronto Area, so maybe not as far reaching as you'd like, but I love that they both reduce waste and promote nutrition by providing fresh surplus produce to those in need.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Okay, I can see that BlogHer might take notice and consider their sponsors more carefully if lots of speakers dropped out. On the other hand, they might just invite others and pretend it never happened. I think being there as a subversive element is a great way to deal with the situation. Nestle paying to bring people to a conference to speak out against their corporation and lead a protest against them? It's delicious.

As far as a charity, I suggest providing some scholarships to LLL so that people who are struggling financially, in underserved communities --precisely those least likely to breastfeed--can join and participate.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterysadora

How do you reconcile this statement "I cannot, in good conscience attend BlogHer if I am going to be benefiting financially in any way from Nestle’s contribution to the event" and this one "I should, ideally, rescind my Speaker’s Agreement and refuse to attend the conference" with still attending? I don't envy the position you're in, but I think all of us who were vocal during the #NestleFamily event look like giant hypocrites if we decide to attend BlogHer. To me, the "radical" thing to do would be to not go. I also think that Nestle doesn't care whether you go or not, but BlogHer does. By choosing not to attend, you'd send a strong message to BlogHer to choose who they align themselves with more carefully.

You obviously have more at stake in this than I do. I was just attending because I thought it would be fun and I wanted to meet the women that I spend so much time communicating with online. But I think you want to go a lot more than I do, and would really like to justify attending. I hate that BlogHer has put us in this position, because I believe they knew full well that having Nestle as a sponsor was going to cause problems for many of us. I've emailed Elisa and asked that in light of my demonstrated boycott of Nestle if my ticket price could be refunded. But still, it's not so simple. I made arrangements with a friend to room with her and I've already given her a deposit on the room. What if she can't find another roommate? Ethically I'd still be responsible for paying my portion of the room. Is it fair to my family if I spend hundreds of dollars on a conference and then don't attend? I don't think it is. Even if BlogHer refunds my ticket price or I'm able to sell it, and even if my friend is able to find another roommate, I still have to deal with all of the drama and stress of making this decision.

I agree with Artemnesia that I think the best thing would be to get BlogHer to cancel the sponsorship and the next best thing is not to go.

There are no easy answers here and I found out about this the same way you did, on Mom Spark's post. I think that post was ridiculous in some ways, but I think her point, put up or shut up, is actually valid.

I hate that if I can't untangle myself from my financial obligations, I will probably end up going and both feel and look like a giant hypocrite.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElita @ Blacktating

I really appreciate you sharing with us all that you have learned and what your current plan is. This is a troublesome situation for many of us. I like to think that my role with regard to Nestle (including the twitter storm) has always been around educating others. I'm an activist, that's what I do. I want to think that it would make more sense for me to attend BlogHer so that I could continue educating others, but is that just me trying to justify attending when I, you, & all of us Nestle boycotters should really be boycotting the conference? It's such a difficult decision and I know it's not one any of us will make lightly.
I've always prided myself on staying true to myself and my values. I've rejected monetary offers before from companies I couldn't fully support. If I attend BlogHer, even if it is to help educate others about Nestle's practices, will I turn into a hypocrite?
Lots to think about.

Annie, I don't at all envy the position you are in! So, so tricky. But as others have mentioned, I do kind of love the idea of Nestle dollars being used to support the attendance of one of their most vocal and persistent opponents.

I, of course, recommend the BfB recommendation. Would you consider also supporting an organization that works towards eliminating child sex slavery? Love146.org comes to mind.

For what it's worth, you continue to inspire and motivate me towards more fierce and effective activism. My appreciation of and respect for you will not change one bit no matter the outcome of this situation. You are an incredible role model for so many of us! Keep up the great work, mama.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan@SortaCrunchy

I agree. More power in going to the event and speaking out than in staying home.

I would like to suggest you donate money to the Australian Breastfeeding Association. You can read about the Association's vision, mission, values and objectives here:
http://breastfeeding.asn.au/aboutaba/purpose.html

And about the products and services the Association offers here:
http://breastfeeding.asn.au/products/index.html

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

I think it's fantastic that you came out with this post at all. It would have been easy to just ignore it all and hope you're readers didn't notice the connection.

I understand your dilemma, but don't think your participation will benefit Nestle (but it will benefit hundreds of other women in attendance--your participation that is).

Really impressed!

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmie aka MammaLoves

I have to admit when I looked at the sponsor page I was disapointed -- but you know me I was especially afraid that they would try and feed us Stouffer's products. Because of you I re-started my Nestle boycott this year and got the kids involved and I am obviously not the only one. So, you have done a lot of good. Does going to BlogHer dirty you a little? I am afraid it does from an ethical standpoint BUT I also think that you will bring a lot of people onside when you speak on the panel and when you talk to people that you meet. So, in the end I don't know but I guess it's ok to not know and live in the grey once in a while. And I am looking forward to meeting you in person.
And you know who I'm going to suggest, right? www.drjacknewman.com. Hospitals won't fund him, governments won't fund him but he is the breastfeeding guru.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

My thought is that it is a good way for them to shut you up. Are they willing to pay $24K so that you and other like-minded Nestle boycotting women are essentially removed from the picture? Maybe? Then they just smell like roses for sponsoring the event. Go make a stink! Don't be silenced by inattendance and not able to be the "agents of change" you want to be. Don't underestimate that maybe their sponsorship has multiple agendas. You will touch more lives by going than by not going.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Good points Kate!

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

2400 people at a conference in a country of 300 million people. Maybe when the conference has 24,000 attendees then a boycott would be noticed. Or matter.

So go, do what you have to do.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuzy

I would like to suggest LLL as a possible beneficiary of your funds. LLLC is funded separately from LLLI, and both are non-profits that are perpetually low on funds. Your money could certainly help them.

I boycott Nestle, but not strictly. For example, when I was at a work meeting and someone pulled out the Nestle Halloween candy, I didn't decline. But I wouldn't buy it myself. So, I am probably operating at the same level that you are. I also see a big difference between attendance at Nestle Family and attendance at BlogHer. I would likely still attend myself.

Having said that, I think that you're using much of the same logic that I saw bloggers attending the Nestle Family event use. That is, that by still attending you are refusing to be silenced. I think we should, at least, give those attendees the benefit of the doubt. While I don't think that anyone is going to change Nestle's practices, not everyone has the same experience with their history. Idealism, even if misguided, isn't necessarily wrong. I wouldn't attend the Nestle Family event myself, but I think we should be very clear that it's Nestle that's the problem here, and not people who may or may not somehow benefit from them, with full knowledge or not.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I don't envy you. I do think everything you have said here makes sense. I have mixed feelings about boycotts-- sure, it makes complete sense to not support a company that is being unethical. But it can also cross a line and become almost... petty, without any clear benefit. I think you are absolutely right in saying that, if you decided not to go, Nestle would win (or at least, they won't be hurt by it at all-- you'd be the only one who lost there). I don't think you need to answer to anyone else here, or to their notions of what a boycott is or isn't. You have the possibility to do some real good at BlogHer, it sounds like, and it would seem an injustice to give that up.

Who benefits if you sit at home instead of going? No one. Even Nestle benefits in a way b/c you won't be there to speak up about them at the event. Who benefits if you go? All the women who will listen to you and be inspired to become agents of change. (I think Kate above has a point, that this might even be a way for Nestle to quiet those like you who would speak against them at this event)

As for charities, one of my current favorites is charity: water www.charitywater.org. They build water wells in developing nations so that communities may have clean water to drink, rather than having to walk miles to collect dirty, polluted water. They are an amazing organization, founded just 3-4 yrs ago here in the US.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

Annie, this is a tough one and I can see how either decision would be justifiable. I think there may be much to be gained from speaking out about your advocacy on Nestle at BlogHer, but I can also see that refusing to attend would send a message to both Nestle and BlogHer. I don't envy you the decision.

In terms of good organizations to donate to, I like LLL, which operates around the world (including here in Lesotho!). Partners in Health also does good work with mothers and babies around the world.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

Thank you for being such an excellent example of what it means to have integrity.

As for suggestions on tracking donations, Stephanie Pearl McPhee @ The Yarn Harlot (http://www.yarnharlot.ca/blog/) has tracked over $1,000,000 in donations to Medecins Sans Frontiers. As far as I know she tallies each donation via email, but she might be able to give you some tips.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Annie, As a speaker is it as simple as just saying "Hey BlogHer, you are letting Nestlé be a sponsor so I'm going to need to drop out as a speaker."? I have to believe that because of the difference in this situation there are repercussions for you beyond what would have been felt by the attendees of the Nestlé event because those repercussions would be incurred with 3rd parties rather than with Nestlé itself and Nestlé alone.

I really hope that you and other BlogHer bloggers are successful in getting the organization to change it's mind before the conference begins.

Would it be possible to simply "sponsor" yourself with BlogHer and pay your entire way? I know that the DH and I would chip in if that were a possibility you were considering so that you could go into that conference knowing that you had covered all your costs yourself.

I would also like to second the idea of sponsoring Dr. Newman's clinic. You get the double whammy for your money of supporting a fellow Canadian who in his turn supports women the world over.

kudos to you for thinking it through and posting your honest thoughts about the situation.
I cannot say that what you are doing is right or wrong as in the end it is only up to you to make this decision.

I agree with you in your assessment of Nestle, I stay away from their products also.

I appreciate your honesty in addressing the situation, what more is there to say. You are doing the best you can and I think it's amazing that you have really taken the time to think it through and then post your thoughts in complete transparency.

I suggest donating to La Leche League.. they made the total difference for me in a successful BF relationship with my son who is now 20.

Thanks for your great post.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin Ely

I agree. I have tremendous respect for the work you've been doing against Nestle, and this just feels wrong. By not going, your immediate effect wouldn't be upon Nestle, but indirectly it would. I do think it's important for BlogHer to feel pressure for accepting their money.

I plan green events. I know how hard it is to put events on and how hard it is to get sponsorships to cover the costs of the events. But I will never accept money from a company that has such a history of unethical behavior or that would offend a portion of my attendees, and certainly not one that would offend my invited speakers.

As you've said, Nestle's PR machine is very good. They are doing this so they can say they are supporting mother bloggers.

I really think you should consider not going, and start a campaign encouraging others not to go unless BlogHer returns Nestle's money.

I was on the waiting list for BlogHer. I recently received notice that I've been accepted. I've never been, but I'm seriously considering not going because of this...and I haven't been actively pushing for a boycott.

With all due respect...I understand and respect the thought you've put into it, but I do think it undermines the work you are doing for you to go.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDanika Carter

Elita:

How do I reconcile it? I can't fully. Which is why this is an ethical dilemma for me. But I am attempting in every way that I can to counteract the negative presence of Nestle at the conference with positive actions, like making a $600 personal donation to charities that try to counteract the damage that Nestle does (which goes WAY above and beyond any financial contribution that they made to my presence there) and by continuing my work educating others both at the conference and outside of the conference.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I agree with so many others that your presence will do more to highlight the issue than your refusal to attend.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAzucar

Carol:

Perhaps there would be a way for me to pay my own way to the conference by giving BlogHer the full $600. The thing is, if I do that, the money spent by Nestle on sponsorship wouldn't change and neither would their presence there. In addition, I would be giving $600 to a company that agreed to have Nestle as a sponsor. Personally, I think that my $600 is better put towards charity and if you and your DH would like to support me, I would love to have you do so by supporting one or more of the charities that I will list in my follow-up post.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

To be honest I struggle to see the benefit in not attending. Sure, if enough people did it, BlogHer might rethink things. Then again, they might not. I think when you get to the point where a boycott is keeping you from what your truly passionate about due to an indirect sponsorship arrangement it's crossing over into the ridiculous.

I get that those most invested in opposing Nestle would feel a whole lot more comfortable if a Nestle company wasn't sponsoring - and they would like it even more if BlogHer was more sensitive to their audience. But it shouldn't stop people from living their lives.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZoey @ Good Goog

Great post. To keep things focused, I'd be looking mostly at orgs like Baby Milk Action and Ban The Bags.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlauredhel

KJ:

If I really felt that it would be better for the cause for me to not go to BlogHer, then I would refuse to go.

Am I doing this in order to justify this to myself (or to anyone else)? I don't think so. I believe I can make a bigger difference to the cause by going to BlogHer than by refusing to go. That said, I did feel I had to find a way to deal with the financial situation - i.e. Nestle paying for some of my ticket. I'm doing that by making a charitable donation that is about twenty times Nestle's contribution to my ticket and also encouraging others to do the same.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I really appreciate your support Deb.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Backpacking Dad:

But 3 is a group goal, and part of holding 3 in your heart is being committed to group action even after all of the personal actions and costs have been balanced out. You DO sacrifice 3 if you attend BlogHer because no matter the personal choices you make afterward (donating money, articulating anti-Nestle messages to a broader audience) you choose to sever your connection with the group boycott.

I don't feel any accountability to group action. I participate in group action when I think it is beneficial, but I am not bound to it. I'm a socialist, not a communist. ;)


How powerful is the voice of a speaker who refuses to be bought? I think it’s more powerful than the voice of a speaker who itemizes their deductions from the devil.

I think that me refusing to speak would appease some boycotters and some critics. But I don't think it would be powerful. In terms of itemizing the deductions from the devil, I want to and an privileged to be able to make a charitable contribution for the full amount of my conference participation, so I didn't need to itemize anything. I itemized it to give others an idea of what Nestle's contribution to their own ticket might be.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I really like your article about the sponsorship issue, and I must say while I still think for integrity's sake it's better not to go, and to send a message to BloghHer, but if she is to go, then I say go with both guns blazing. Have litterature, have a t-shirt made about boycotting Nestle and get as many attendees as possible to wear then (every day) and have people outside the location giving out literature.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDanika Carter

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