Some of my fondest memories of my Opa are the Easter mornings that we would spend at his house in Canada. My grandfather was an immigrant from Austria and did not do the egg hunt that is typical in North American culture. Instead he hid easter baskets for my siblings and I around his property. In them there would be an enormous chocolate bunny and various other small chocolates. When you think of chocolate which brands come to mind? For me there are two: Nestle and Hershey. While I typically think of Nestle for it’s chocolate, they are a bit bigger than just a chocolate company. They’re the largest food manufacturer in the world and sell many more products than just chocolate bunnies.
In 1977, a boycott was launched against Nestle and their breast milk substitute. The boycott is on going.
The issue does not have as much to do with the ingredients in the formula as it has to do with the target market of Nestle’s aggressive advertising strategies. The breast milk substitute’s original target market was third world countries. These countries tend not to have clean water or the money to acquire it, leading to millions of deaths caused by diarrhea and pneumonia.
Using the breast milk substitute is not inherently dangerous for babies. If it were, the FDA and other food regulatory associations would have already forced the product to be discontinued. Mothers in third world countries tend to be poor and illiterate. This combination leads to bad preparation of the substitute. Mothers will use less formula in order to make the product last longer. The babies are then not receiving the nutrition they need to be healthy which in turn weakens their immune systems. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 150 million babies die every year due to lack of breast feeding.
One of Nestle’s advertising strategies is to provide free samples of their breast milk substitute to medical centers and maternity wards in developing countries. Although Nestle has been sued, they have not been found guilty because their product does not harm babies directly.
After finding out about the boycott, I was taken aback. I don’t think it is going to stop me from purchasing Nestle products (I’d probably starve if I did), but it definitely shed a new light on the brand. It surprises me that a company with so many different product lines within a global market would still bother selling breast milk substitutes in third world countries. While the product isn’t directly killing babies, isn’t it the same thing from an ethical standpoint? It is hard to calculate how many deaths are caused by mothers improperly use Nestle’s substitute but is very clear that babies are dying due to malnutrition. Nestle could very easily stop selling the product in developing countries and this issue would cease to exist. Employees wouldn’t need to be let go and costs wouldn’t increase, Nestle would simply be making slightly lower profits. Food, water, and shelter are the three basic human needs for survival. When you’re the largest food manufacturer in the world, how badly can discontinuing a product line in a single demographic area really hurt your bottom line?