Being a birth worker is about Connection, to our clients, our peers, our communities and our planet. This is why I boycott Nestle and why I’d like you to too!
Most people will know of course that Nestle is an international behemoth in the fast moving consumer goods market (FMCG). From Coffee to confectionery to shampoo and of course to infant formula. It’s just one of a few organisations out there, all manipulating data and people in order to make a profit.
Nestle in relation to Infant formula production at least is the global market leader and where it leads, all the others follow. There is no doubt that they are enormously successful but at what cost?
- Nestle’s Marketing of Infant Formula kills babies
This is not click bait, however much it sounds like it. It is such a well-known phenomenon with the direct link proven time and time again that the World Health Organisation has an International code of Marketing of Breast-milk substitutes in order to save infants lives and improve infant and maternal health. UNICEF has stated, “Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year” [i]
It’s easy in our privileged, first world existence, with unlimited access to clean water and electricity to forget that these are essential requirements to safely feed infants with formula. In countries and other situations, such as refugee camps, where these commodities are rare if not non-existent. Infant formula kills babies. These “emerging” markets which have little to no legislation or resources to limit infant formula marketing are EXACTLY where Nestle now concentrates its efforts.
Nestle’s approach to marketing infant formula is cynical at best, skirting as close to the International Code and National legislation as it can, or 100% unethical and immoral at worst. Neither option is in any way endearing or will result in sustainable outcomes for our species or the planet.
Patti Rundall, Policy Director at Baby Milk Action, told the Sunday Mirror in a recent article about supermarket breeches of the UK law
“What we feed babies is unlike any other consumer ‘choice’. Breast milk is the sole food that a child needs for the first six months so is unlike any product on sale – a parent or carer is making a decision that will affect that child’s health and development for years to come.”
…and I would add their pocket.
Infant formula is expensive. In many countries and in some parts of our own, the reliance on infant formula (because in the absence of breastfeeding this is the most popular way to feed infants) is a major contributor to child and family poverty.
In 2009 the 4 finger KitKat bar gained the Fairtrade mark. This does not mean however that the whole company meets Fairtrade guidelines, only the production of the KitKat, which represents less than 3% of its total cocoa purchases. [ii] In fact the inclusion of Nestle in the Fairtrade certification scheme seems to have brought the scheme itself in to question.
Claims of slavery and child labour have dogged Nestle’s confectionery arm for many years, in spite of the organisation’s published code of conduct which prohibits the use of child labour in its supply chain.
In 2005, noted human rights lawyer Terry Collingsworth filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that the companies gave substantial assistance to [cocoa] plantation owners who used forced child labour.[iii] This is ongoing.
In 2006 legal actions were brought against Nestle by the International Labour Rights Fund (ILRF). ILRF stated that
“…Nestlé is not denying child slavery is taking place. Nor is it denying it is complicit in this. Its defence to the legal action is that child slavery is not a ‘crime against humanity’ and so not covered by the US legislation.”
…well that’s OK then.
Unfortunately for Nestle in 2015 a report they themselves commissioned, found that many of the farms used by Nestle employed young people, sometimes unpaid and in forced labour situations. A Nestle spokesman at the end of a statement on positive action added
“Unfortunately, the scale and complexity of the issue is such that no company sourcing cocoa from Ivory Coast can guarantee that it has completely removed the risk of child labour from its supply chain.”
Slavery and child labour claims are also prevalent in Nestle’s sourcing of palm oil. In 2016 Amnesty International alleged that a major supplier of Palm Oil in Indonesia which cites Nestle as one of its customers were employing children as a matter of course under horrific conditions[iv] Nestle has also come under fire from the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil, only earlier this year (2018) being suspended from the organisation for not fulfilling the conditions of its membership. Nestle has as a result, made a commitment to no deforestation by 2020 as a result of its use of Palm oil and has been readmitted to RSPO but as Amnesty’s senior investigator Meghna Abraham said
“There is nothing sustainable about palm oil that is produced using child labour and forced labour.”
- Water is a human right
Nestle is the largest producer of bottled water. You may well have heard a rumour that an ex CEO of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, said that access to water is not a human right. According to the SNOPEs fact checker he didn’t actually say that but he did say this:
““Water is, of course, the most important raw material we have today in the world. It’s a question of whether we should privatize the normal water supply for the population. And there are two different opinions on the matter. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution. The other view says that water is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value. Personally, I believe it’s better to give a foodstuff a value so that we’re all aware it has its price, and then that one should take specific measures for the part of the population that has no access to this water, and there are many different possibilities there.”!”[v]
(highlights by me for emphasis) He’s since said that he was taken out of context…
There are concerns about Nestle’s extraction of water from Springs all around the world: (full articles found by clicking on the links)
Nestle: Bottling water in drought-hit California BBC News May 2016 Nestle continue to extract water from the Californian water table – this cannot have helped ease the recent wild-fire situation – although I’m not informed enough to suggest that it may even have been a cause!
While Nestlé extracts millions of litres from their land, residents have no drinking water– The Guardian October 2018
The American “Story of Stuff” project has on ongoing campaign against Nestle stating that their (and other bottled water suppliers) are
“aggressively seeking out sources of water for their operations, with little regard for their impact on the environment or local communities.”
So there you are, a summary – and I really don’t think I’ve done the subject the justice it deserves. There are just so many areas of their business where the pursuit of profit overrides all other considerations, public health, ecosystem protection, species protection, human rights. In fairness there are also many times when Nestle has changed its operations as a response to public and international anger but waiting until they’re caught hardly seems the trademark of a truly ethical and humanist organisation.
“The International Nestlé Boycott is in effect in 20 countries. The boycott will continue until Nestlé ends its irresponsible marketing of breastmilk substitutes world-wide and abides by the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent Resolutions in policy and practice. The Boycott is supported in the UK by over 100 church, health and consumer groups, over 90 businesses, 80 student unions, 17 local authorities, 12 trade unions, 74 politicians and political parties and many celebrities.” Baby Milk Action’s Boycott News:
I have written & published this near St Katharine’s Day because of some communication I have had this year with my old school.
St Katharine is one of the patron saints of the school and as such her saint’s day at the end of November is celebrated exuberantly and is a day much loved in the school calendar among current students and alumnae alike. A tradition has arisen in the last 15 years where current students and alumnae share a KitKat, there’s some social media engagement (#kitkats4helkats) with the alumnae, and kitkats are posted out to the alumnae from the school. I love a snappy hashtag as much as the next gal (#sorrynotsorry anyone?) but I left the school 30 years ago, this “tradition” holds no resonance for me, in fact as you may have gathered I find it highly distasteful. Traditions can and have been changed over time when we learn. Why not this one?
It might seem trivial to boycott KitKats right? They’re just a sweet treat, pennies in the big scheme of things and what’s the protection of Breastfeeding got to do with me anyway? A couple of quotes to put that argument to bed…
“It is not some niche political issue. Nor is it about breastfeeding. It’s about these companies knowingly undermining public health, often illegally, in order to make enormous profits at the expense of babies lives.” Maddie McMahon, Developing Doulas
“KitKat, made in York, is the UK’s favourite chocolate wafer fingers, with 1bn sold here each year. Launched in 1935 and originally called Chocolate Crisp, it has grown to become Nestlé’s biggest confectionery brand in the UK.”[vi]
We are all responsible, for our planet, our mother if you like. For the way we exist and consume its resources and the way that affects our fellow humans and non-human inhabitants of this Earth we call home. #deedsnotwords We can make a difference, each and every one of us and we should.
Finally I defer to the words of the St Kate’s day hymn:
“In these days of evil’s challenge
testing fires of gold or dross
Hold us steadfast in our witness
To the meaning of the cross…
…Katharine, for thy children pray”