Why I Don’t Boycott Nestle

Yikes!  Evocative title, huh?  Please read before you flame – I think you’ll find my post is much less about Nestle, per se, and more about my overall philosophy.

With Easter coming up this weekend it becomes even harder to avoid purchasing Nestle products (here’s a list of Nestle brands – and don’t think just food.  Loreal, for example, is a brand owned by Nestle).  I do avoid purchasing Nestle products but I do not promote the International Boycott of Nestle that began in 1977 publically.  I think of this everytime I read another great blog post (like this one or this video one) about why Nestle deserves to be boycotted.  I come so close to posting a Nestle Free Zone banner or other promotion.  But, I don’t.  It seems like a “hole” in my blog sometimes and I wanted to explain where my thought process is on this topic.

What Nestle Boycott?

For any of you not familiar with the boycott here is a brief intro.

  • First, know that the sale and marketing of artificial breastmilk substitutes is guided (though not “governed” by law) by the WHO and UNICEF International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes.  
  • According to UNICEF: “improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year.”  
  • Nestle, which produces artificial breastmilk substitute (aka “formula”), violates the Code with questionable to downright aggressive marketing practices.  For example, sending sales women into remote villages in Africa dressed as nurses to promote formula just long enough for the mother’s milk to dry up and thus hooking her on the product.  A product that she can not afford and can not ensure the quality of due to contaminated and/or inconsistent water supply.

Nutshell:  In the US we can argue about “breast is best” vs. formula as choice but the argument is taking place in a very privilaged atmosphere.  While we are debating it on our laptops in coffee shops around the developed world, women in emerging nations often have no choice!  With limited resources and abysmal access to clean water breast v. formula becomes not a lifestyle choice but a life and death decision.  Nestle (and other formula manufacturers) “selling” their product with claims about making your kids smarter means one thing here in the US and quite another in less privilaged areas of the world.  If you want to learn more about the boycott please visit Baby Milk Action.  I’ve also ordered the book Politics of Breastfeeding.

3 Reasons Why I Don’t Buy Nestle

  1. They deserve it.  Besides their formula violations they violate labor laws, steal water, and destroy habitats.
  2. Boycotts can work.  For example, the “American boycott of French wine launched in early 2003 in angry response to France’s opposition to the war in Iraq. Their analysis shows a significant 26 percent drop in French wine sales in the United States at the peak of the boycott, and an average 13 percent drop over the six months of the event” according to a study out of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
  3. Externalized Cost is an issue that we simply can not afford to ignore any longer.  Externalized costs mean the true environmental resource cost of products.  Annie Leonard talks about the real cost of a $4.99 radio:

    The metal in that $4.99 radio was probably mined in Africa. The petroleum that went into the plastic probably was pumped from Iraq, and the plastic itself produced in China. The packaging came from forests in Brazil or Canada. Maybe the parts were then shipped across the ocean to Mexico, where some 15-year-old in a maquiladora assembled the radio. There it was put on a truck or a train and shipped to a distribution center in Southern California, then 500 miles north to my local store.

    Four-ninety-nine? That wouldn’t pay for the shelf space it took up until I came along, let alone the salary for the guy who helped me pick it out.

    That’s when I realized: I didn’t pay for the radio. So who did?

    Some people paid with the loss of their natural resources. Some paid with the loss of clean air, with increased asthma and cancer rates. Some workers paid by having to cover their own health insurance. Kids in Africa paid with their future: a third of the school-age children in parts of the Congo now drop out to mine metals for electronics. All along the way, people pitched in, or were forced to, so I could buy a radio for $4.99 — so cheap that if it broke I could just throw it away.

    I’m currently reading Annie’s book The Story of Stuff.  Her website is also terrific and offers simple animated videos that illustrate the problem with our current consumer model.

3 Reasons Why I Don’t Boycott Nestle

Ok, this might sound like splitting hairs but I don’t boycott nestle or promote the boycotting of nestle.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. Boycotts don’t work.  Sometimes they do, as mentioned above, but large companies have huge momentum.  A company like Nestle’s primary goal is making their investors happy by bringing in increasingly large amounts of profit.  This is how capitalism works.  Their incentive for change will only come from two places – (1) they start losing money and thus infuriate their investors, or (2) legislation/regulation is passed that prohibits current practices. 

    Nestle profits in 2009 amounted to 107.6 billion dollars.  I’m not saying that boycotting shouldn’t be done out of futility I just think that, in this respect, Nestle isn’t the root of the problem.  I think our whole economic system needs to change.  As long as the bottom dollar is given priority nothing will change.  Boycotting this one company is not the best way, IMO, to make this change come about.  Check out some great organizations advocating effective change that addresses these larger isues.

  2. Is Nestle the Greatest Evil?  When I think about advocating the boycotting of a company on my blog I just don’t think that Nestle could be my target.  What about the companies that still advocate tourism to and investment in Burma?  How about Iams, a company that purports to be for dogs and yet tortures dogs needlessly in the name o
    f
    making dog food?  What about Coca-Cola killing union organizers and stealing water?  Loreal tests on animals.  Kentucky Fried Chicken is brutal to its animals.  What about boycotting companies that support the passage of Prop 8?  How about the women dying so we can have pretty roses on Valentine’s Day?  It is never ending.  Plus, for every move you make to the “less evil” product you find out something evil about that company as well.  It breeds a false sense of doing something important.
  3. I would rather move towards something than away.  This is (finally) the larger point of my post.  Don’t laugh but I have actually seen a therapist for (among other things) “humanitarian anxiety” the paralyzing feeling of being overwhelmed with causes that *must have* your attention.  The result, for me, was doing nothing and agonizing over it.  How do I give to the animal shelter and not the homeless shelter?  I got really good advice from a great friend in the form of a parable I’ll share;

    The Starfish Story
    Original Story by: Loren Eisley

    One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
    a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.

    Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”

    The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
    The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

    “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!” After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…”

    I made a difference for that one.”

    You’ve probably heard that one before.  For me, he wisely told me, I was standing on the beach bawling my eyes out and not helping anything or anyone.  I was paralyzed into inaction by the magnitude of the problem.  He got me to repeat the mantra “that’s not my starfish” for times when I get bogged down by what I can’t do and to help me focus on “my starfish” – those things I can control.

    This philosophy has really helped me and I always check myself when making a decision.

    Am I moving toward something good?  Or, am I just moving away from something bad?

    I think if we are just moving away from something bad we can never exact the type of change that will fulfill our altruistic natures or make lasting change.  When you run from something bad with no destination in mind you often find yourself in another bad situation.  Some examples,

    • I don’t homeschool because I’m afraid of public schools.  There are bad things about public schools but my focus is on the good things about homeschooling and what it will give Aellyn in terms of love of learning.  Why go to school when learning at home is so much better?
    • I don’t vaccinate but not because I’m afraid of vaccines.  There are certainly bad things that vaccines do but my focus is on my faith in the immune system and natural ways to be healthy.  Why vaccinate when our immune systems are so wonderful?
    • I don’t spank because I think everyone who ever swatted their kid is a horrible abuser.  Spanking is bad and has real negative effects but my focus is on the wonderful bounty of benefits that come from non-punitive, gentle alternatives.  Why spank when I can make my child a happy and healthy adult without violence?

Focusing on boycotting Nestle is like recycling.  As I mentioned in my previous post, recycling is good but it can cause you to ignore the much more important and impactful methods of environmental change – reducing and reusing goods.  I think it is much more beneficial, for me at least, to focus on positive purchasing – the practice of buying ethical products rather than negative purchasing of which boycotting is a practice.  At any given day and with each purchase I make I weigh the pros and cons and choose the most ethical path I can take.  Most often that means not buying Nestle but perhaps there would be a circumstance where Nestle would be the better choice. 

I’m certainly not saying that the wonderful bloggers I know who boycott Nestle are using it as a smoke screen to buy products that benefit Burma!  Hardly!  I’m sure they practice positive purchasing vigorously.  I’m glad they are out there spreading the word about Nestle and other violations that harm mothers and babies.  I hope I’ve spread the word a bit too with this post and explained why I’ve chosen not to be vocal about Nestle. 

What Can We Do?

This Easter, maybe don’t concentrate on skipping the Butterfingers.  Instead focus on buying something fair trade, organic, local, or healthy.  Like the chocolate cups above that are fair trade, organic, and come in a compostable package.  I’m actually trying to avoid candy as the focus of this holiday (I mean I can’t hardly change Halloween so I might as well try Easter).  We got Aellyn a bunch of books (which I’ll detail on Sunday) and a cute non-pink dress (ah, my attempts to not fall prey to that cult of pink).


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9 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Boycott Nestle

  1. Great post. I was worried by the title, but I’m glad I read it. :)Now to figure out which of these starfish are mine…– Serene

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  2. I really appreciate all the work and thoughtfulness that went into this post. I agree with you about moving towards something rather than moving away and you are right. We can’t alone solve all the problems that tug at our conscience. I have had to start turning away people who call the house asking for charity donations because I have chosen the places I want to give and even though I come away feeling guilty for not giving “even $20?” I know that I feel good about giving just that little bit more to the charities that really mean something to me. I move towards those ones. I move away from others. And that’s okay. 🙂

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  3. This was agreat blog – I agree with what melodie said so I wont repeat it. The is a great page on FB called “living well with enough” that i think you would enjoy – it is produced by a New Zealand man called Duncan Cunningham.

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  6. Yes. This is an excellent viewpoint. I do avoid Nestle (and pretty much anything by any company I disagree with as best I can) but I do it in a way that increases my choices elsewhere. For example, I avoid WalMart, but that doesn't mean I go to Target. It means I buy local whenever I can, then from an independent online retailer as close to me as possible, then from Target, then from WalMart. But, usually I just find I can do without the item and use something else.

    I think there's a place for a boycott, but it is vital to finish the sentence, "Boycott xyz" with "in favor of thinking creatively about reusing what you have. Then, by buying from these ethical, local, etc retailers that should get our money."

    It's all about choice and focusing on abundance instead of punishment and lack. How can our money increase what we want to see more of?
    My recent post Letter to Littles: January 2012

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