Questions for the #NoNestle Boycotters

So this week is International No Nestle week as a part of the 30+ years of Nestle boycotting. Last night there was a #NoNestle twitter party, with lots and lots of tweets on the evilness oh Nestle. First off, brilliant move making NoNestle week during Halloween, brilliant.

I have been quietly paying attention to Nestle Boycott for probably the last year. Truth be told, most people don’t hear about until they have kids. Mostly, because some of the strongest boycotters are also breastfeeding advocates. As I said last night in a tweet, I am still very much on the fence. That’s right folks. This is a once in a blue moon situation where I don’t know exactly what my opinion is. Shocking. Usually I am just bubbling with opinions and on this one all I can muster is a: huh.

So I thought I would share some of my thoughts and then ask the boycotters some questions. (I hope some of them make there way over here, I will send out some tweets). Please don’t misinterpretation my pondering for arguments against the boycott– I really truly don’t know. But my ponderings do represent skepticism– which is something I hope to resolve. Through discussion I am hoping to figure out where I really stand on this issue.

First my thoughts:

There are a lot of companies out there that do bad bad things. Because it is in their economic interest and because governments are not strict enough. And many of those companies do even more bad things overseas because those governments are even less strict- caught between a rock and hard place of desperately needing investment and still wanting to protect their people (well, some governments anyway care about this…) So I really really don’t doubt Nestle is a bad bad company. As are others. I also don’t doubt that if you were to put all the companies on a scale from “good corporate citizens” to “bad bad corporate citizens”, Nestle would be hanging out with a large large handful of others in the bad bad category.

So I guess, what my real question is is why Nestle and not any (or all) of the other large large handful of companies? Pharmaceutical companies give out samples to doctors and market their drugs, resulting in more and more people being on prescriptions instead of focusing on a healthy lifestyle. It’s not just formula buying into our health care system. Coke and Pepsi sponsor schools and then fill vending machines and school cafeterias with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) rather then healthy drinks like water or milk. Not to mention Coke and Pepsi aggressively market in many developing countries, where people drink their products rather then water. Just about every maker of processed food puts too much salt and added sugar in their meals, including toddler meals. Chocolate and coffee are two industries where many many of the players are getting supply in ways that harm the people of those countries and the environment. (But there are good options for ‘direct trade’ (a step beyond fair trade) for both.) And I am sure Nestle isn’t the only company controlling water supply and degrading the environment. I live in a Oil town, enough said.

Which brings us to Question 1:

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?)

The other thing I have been thinking about is the boycott in relation to breastfeeding support. While I know the boycott is about more then just formula- Nestle has no shortage of bad corporate behaviors- the boycotters themselves are largely breastfeeding advocates- at least the most vocal ones. So I think it is hard to claim that this isn’t about formula. I get the Nestle does not adhere to the WHO code for Breastmilk substitutes. I don’t think any of the formula companies do (correct me if I am wrong). There are parts of the code I am 100% behind- like not giving out samples at hospitals, doctors offices, ect. I am good with formula companies not sending me formula in the mail or sponsoring a big banner on the top of a breastfeeding information article on the web or having their own breastfeeding support hot-line.  Seriously, that is all just crazy and inappropriately aggressive marketing.   They shouldn’t be able to claim their product is as good or better then breast milk. It ain’t. I am all for truth in advertising. But it is the instore stuff that bothers me. Because I think it is insulting to women to think anyone is going to be rolling her cart down the grocery store, a happy breastfeeding Momma, see a can of formula on sale and think “well hell, it is on sale, I might as well give up this whole breastfeeding thing.” It is my opinion that any women who is swayed by a can of formula on sale is already lacking the support she needs to be successful at breastfeeding- the issue is that lack of support, not the sale on formula. So while I can get down with most of the code, I get bothered by the concept and implications of formula as a ‘controlled substance’ and the idea that women are just sheep to marketing. And I wonder if the effort spend on boycott is not better spend on breastfeeding support.

Then again, many of the strongest Nestle boycotters also put a ton of effort into advocating for better breastfeeding support, so why does it have to be one or the other? Many of them do both. Why not Boycott Nestle?

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.

Lastly, if we are really honest with ourselves, acts of protests like boycotting are about more then just what we are boycotting against. They are part of a desire to connect and belong with a group of people united behind a cause. Boycotting Nestle says something about who you are and what you stand for. It is a personal statement as much as it is a political choice. And when it comes right down to it- I am not sure I fit in. Before I made my way online I thought I was pretty crunchy- I have discovered I am not in comparison to the people online. And while I have a lot of respect for a lot of the boycotter bloggers- I don’t fit into the club. Or do I? After reading this post over at Sorta Crunchy about why formula feeders should support the boycott, I don’t know. She has a point.

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?

Additional Reading: If you are on the fence to and want some more info before you jump into this conversation, here are some posts to check out.

Annie from Phd in Parenting. (Ton of stuff on her blog, just liked to the most recent.)

Baby Milk Action

I also tried to find some thing about the ‘other side’ to represent thoughts of someone who doesn’t boycott Nestle and why- I couldn’t find anything. But if anyone has a good link to suggest- let me know. I am all for a balanced approach and hearing out both sides.

*Edited* Oh ooo I found this one: The Mom Slant about the boycott in relation to Halloween. Thank goodness for twitter.

Okay- now I want to hear your thoughts.

*Edit #2* Annie from 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 are following the boycott, why? If not, why not?

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16 responses to “Questions for the #NoNestle Boycotters

  1. Fearless Formula Feeder October 25, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Bravo.

    You’ve just summed up exactly what’s been bugging me for the past few weeks. I don’t know that I have much more to add to this, except to say that I’m also on the fence. Well, that’s not really true – I’m not on the fence, b/c I’, not participating in the boycott. But it’s not on moral ground or anything; I think it’s a perfectly understandable boycott; it’s just that I have other battles I’d rather fight, and overall, I tend to be a pretty apathetic person. 😉 Seriously – my husband and I have just instituted a no-political-news in the household rule b/c we realized it was making us crazy and we have so many other more immediate things to worry about. That might make us bad citizens, but so be it. I need to protect my own sanity and my childrens’, first.

    Therefore, I personally tend to focus on the things that are plaguing me or people I care about. And as you say, SO MANY companies are immoral. It’s the nature of the beast. I almost think its a losing battle, and the better part of valor is to simply acknowledge that most companies are out for the bottom line and take all advertising with a grain of salt. Nestle has done some gross things, but I don’t know… it’s just not on my personal list of causes. Does that make me a bad person? Probably.

    Sorry – I am in a really apathetic mood today. Can you tell?

    • amoment2think October 25, 2010 at 11:59 am

      FFF- You apathetic? I think not! And bad person? Certainly not!!

      But I do think we pick and choose our battles based on what is important to us and what is impacting us. Really truly if I wanted to only support companies who were ethical socially, environmentally, health wise, ect. I would have to move into the woods and live off mushrooms and grass and build everything out of fallen trees. So we pick our battles. I am interested though, to hear from some of the boycotters- why this battle?

  2. clara October 25, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    I think a large part of question 1, why Nestle, is because of momentum. I remember there being a Nestle boycott when I was a kid..so let’s say 25-30 years? To boycott Coke you’d have to start at square one. In a lot of ways, people already associate “nestle” with “boycott” (a lot of people – not all people) And it’s easier to mobilize people if they are already somewhat on-side/have familiarity with the issue.

    I know exactly nothing about ethical use of formula in developing nations. I am convinced by phd in parenting that there is some hinky badness with Nestle’s practices. I don’t buy Nestle products anyway, as part of my own “know where your food comes from and don’t eat so much crap” movement (which is imperfect but better than nothing).

    • amoment2think October 25, 2010 at 2:53 pm

      That is a totally good point re: momentum.

      I also follow a loose “know where your food comes from and don’t eat so much crap” movement… also imperfect. I don’t tend to buy much processed food anyway and when I do it is the store organic brand usually (even the formula we fed Audrey was the store organic brand rather then a big name brand). I actually don’t think we buy much Nestle anyway… although I did realize after I got home the other day that the Halloween candy I bought was Nestle….. I think that is part of what got me thinking and wondering about this. Truth be told I could boycott and it wouldn’t be much skin off my back.

    • SlackerInc October 26, 2010 at 3:37 am

      Clara, I too remember my family boycotting Nestle, even over 30 years ago (1970s), along with grapes (Cesar Chavez boycott, which is long over).

  3. Brooke October 25, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I don’t get it either. And it bugs me. I wrote my #EatNestle list on my blog today 😉

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  5. Annie @ PhD in Parenting October 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Since I wanted to use a lot of links in my response to properly reference the points I was making, I decided it was better to reply on my blog than just here in the comments. Also, I think you had good questions and other people who read my blog may be wondering the same thing.

    So, I posted my reply to your questions here:

    http://www.phdinparenting.com/2010/10/25/questions-for-the-nonestle-boycotters-my-response/

    I look forward to your thoughts.

    • SlackerInc October 26, 2010 at 3:35 am

      Great post, Annie. I think the bottom line is this:

      “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.”

  6. SlackerInc October 26, 2010 at 3:47 am

    Kathleen, your post is a thoughtful one. It’s true that there is more than one bad company out there, and Nestle is not the only company our family boycotts.

    However, I think your argument is a dangerous one as it leads down a slippery slope to promoting total apathy.

    Look for instance at politics as an analogue. You and I are in different countries but we both support left of centre political parties. In most election cycles, I not only vote for Democrats, I also contribute to Democratic candidates and to the party itself, as well as volunteering my time knocking on doors and making phone calls on behalf of Democrats. Now on the one hand, this is more than most people do. So what about someone who is simply inclined to vote Democratic but doesn’t feel they want to commit time and money as I do? Should they look upon their vote as insignificant (after all, people hardly ever win by one vote) and so not bother? Or what about the other direction: I don’t give every cent I could possibly spare (and don’t distribute my contributions among every worth candidate); nor do I volunteer as much time as I possibly could (hey, I’m a slacker after all).

    My point is: yes, boycotting Nestle is a drop in the bucket. But enough drops, whether it’s voting, volunteering, contributing, boycotting, or whatever else, and that bucket starts to fill up! So since no one can ever possibly focus their efforts and resources on every worthy effort, we should not undermine a specific effort made on a specific issue with a “why X and not Y or Z?” message. Does that make sense?

    • amoment2think October 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm

      Certainly Alan, I understand that. Boycotting is not an either or issue, as if you have a certain amount of boycotting credits and once you use them up they are gone.

      I think what I am really asking more then anything is what is the statement we are making by choosing to boycott one company rather then an other. I understand that Annie’s point has a lot to do with trying to hit one of the biggest players- which I get. But I also think getting on board with this issue is about belonging and to participate says something about who we are. So I also want to engage the conversation from that angle as well.

  7. Megan@SortaCrunchy October 26, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Hey mama!

    I read this last night and thought, “wow. I really need to do a blog post with my response instead of hogging up the comments here.” And then I woke up and read Annie’s article and I think “wow. What could I add to that?!”

    I do think it’s important to continue to engage the conversation. All of us should be pursuing informed choices in every arena, and I think your questions here are fair and relevant.

    Thanks for inviting me over – wish I had something of brilliance to add but Annie pretty much summed it all up for me!

    • amoment2think October 26, 2010 at 3:31 pm

      Thanks Megan for coming over and joining the discussion. I do think Annie explained it quite well and she certainly backed up her opinion with lots of good solid information.

      I think discussion is really important, particular when trying to engage people on an issue like this. I think more people will feel engaged and consider this issue if their opinions and thoughts are solicited.

  8. Brenna @ Almost All The Truth October 26, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    I have been thinking about this question all day, partially because my internet went down and I couldn’t have responded anyway. Also because you ask some really important questions.

    It is much easier to join in with other like-minded people and boycott a large company than to go it alone. It will also make a more significant impact when people band together.

    Nestle is huge. They are leaders in their industry and as such are in the best potion to create changes that benefit babies, children, mothers, and all people and their environment around the world. Their reach is huge and so can our impact be.

    Their transgressions and blatant disregard for human health and safety is appalling.

    Q!: I boycott Nestle as best I can and avoid other companies as well. I don’t know everything about every major corporation and sometimes it can be hard to avoid all of them. Nestle is one that encompasses so many issues that are important to me, it makes the boycott more important to me.

    Q2: I don’t think that my decision to boycott takes away from a desire to have better breastfeeding support and resources, I think it drives it. We all deserve good,safe options to feed our babies no matter where we live. Nestle’s business practices do not allow that. Their methods work for a variety of reasons and it is not just because women struggle to breastfeed. It goes well beyond that and those who care should be making changes in this arena. It would make a big difference.

    Q3: I am a Nestle boycotter who started as a child. I had a lapse in a particularly apathetic time in my life, but am now a boycott supporter once again. I became a vegetarian when I was 15 because of animal rights abuses. I refuse to shop at Walmart for unethical business practices. I believe in fair trade, organic cotton, sustainable farming, and ethics. I am not always successful in making good purchases, but I try. Until our global culture changes significantly, trying is the best anyone can do.

    Great discussions make everyone think. Thank you!

  9. Candace @Naturally Educational October 27, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    First, excellent questions–some of which I asked myself and others before actively speaking out against Nestle.

    I would like to start off by saying that Annie wrote most of what my response would be. I am replying, though, not only to second her post but also to add a little from my perspective.

    You see, I am not a liberal. I am, more or less, a libertarian with a strong capitalist bent. Like you, I see merit in what the WHO Code says and the spirit behind it, but I do not agree with it 100% nor do I wish to see it added to the mess of laws we already have in the United States regulating marketing.

    I am, I suppose, a lactivist…if by which you mean that I oppose any and all restrictions on how a mother feeds her child, including harmful hospital procedures and gasps of “if you must, at least use a cover!”

    But not if you mean berating and bullying other mothers for their needs and choices. Jerks are jerks and busybodies are busybodies whether they are Republicans, Democrats, formula feeders, breastfeeders, etc.

    On to your questions…or what little I can add after Annie’s clear and well supported responses.

    Q1:

    There are #NoNestle people who boycott other companies. I avoid a number of other companies but Nestle is definitely my key corporate protest.

    Nestle is, quite simply, one of the largest and worst. It isn’t just hanging out at the bad side of the spectrum with a large, large handful…it is all the way at the end with just a few buddies to keep it company, in my opinion. Its violations range from the “merely” unethical to the downright illegal. Nestle was purchasing milk from Mugabe’s family in violation of law in its own country. It did not stop because it realized the error of its ways. It stopped in the face of international protest. Whether or not I agree with the WHO code, there are countries in which it is law–and Nestle is violating the law in those nations. Question doctors and nurses and pediatricians in countries across the globe and you hear that Nestle is one of the most aggressive, if not the most aggressive, in its marketing tactics…staying just this side of the law and occasionally crossing over that line.

    If Coke were in the hospitals, persuading doctors and nurses to get moms to feed it to their newborns, because it “protects”, you better believe I would be ticked off about that, too.

    And Nestle also is not even taking small, concrete steps. Hershey, Cadbury, other major chocolate manufacturers have all introduced, bought, or otherwise worked towards making a percentage of all their product fair-trade or at least certified trade free. Which is not to say these are guilt-free alternatives. I do appreciate that Hershey was founded with an integral charity mission and that it sources its milk locally but I still prefer fair trade. I would like to see Hershey publicize some of the steps they have taken towards slave-free cocoa but they are, understandably, gun-shy.

    Nestle signed the same pledge the others have and has made no progress. And this is not just according to some activist organizations…it is according to major news outlets (Forbes, BBC) and several US Senators.

    I also agree with others who say that Nestle owns such a large market share that it makes sense to tackle the market leader first.

    It is also operating in multiple areas where ethical and moral and legal violations are of concern to me. We all pick our issues. The slave cocoa one is big for me….and let’s be clear that we are talking about actual slavery, not just low-wage sweatshops. But in addition to that there is the unethical and occasionally illegal marketing of formula, and the bottled water issue (which I must admit I am the least up on of the these).

    Q2:

    I understand where this question is coming from…but I don’t really see this as a dichotomy. Also, I think the perception of it being a lactivist issue is somewhat skewed by who you follow and read on Twitter–and who is active on Twitter. There are a lot of vocal women, a lot of vocal moms, on social networks in general…but that doesn’t mean that the boycott (30 years old as many have noted) skews that way in real life.

    I do think more breastfeeding support is necessary for moms who want to breastfeed…but I also don’t think that is the whole picture. Nestle has gone into markets where breastfeeding is the norm, where women don’t have the same sort of issues Western women may with breastfeeding…and created a market. They are using proven marketing techniques to sew seeds of doubt and, worse, abusing the trust many women are conditioned to place in their doctors. Even in the West, Nestle knows to outbid real sources of breastfeeding support on Google Adwords and the like, making sure that any women searching for answers to her breastfeeding questions will land on their “nutritional support” expert answers and hotline.

    Q3: I think I started here, actually. Yes, public stances for or against something can be about identity. But I do not think you need to align yourself with the left, or breastfeeding, or anti-corporate rhetoric to see and protest the many, many violations of this company.

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