A few weeks ago a Facebook group called 'Boycott Nestlé' was started, in response to the report that the multinational was buying milk from farms belonging to Robert and Grace Mugabe. Despite my reservations about the motives behind the group I joined, but have since left - for two reasons. Firstly, I had already been boycotting Nestlé for at least five years, and secondly, I felt the motives behind the group were not so much an attack against Nestlé as an attack against the Mugabes. In other words, if Nestlé had not bought milk from the Zimbabwean President, then most of the group would still be buying Nestlé products. For me this was misguided. If Mugabe is replaced, will the boycott end? At the time of writing, Nestlé has stopped purchasing milk directly from the Mugabes, but may possibly be purchasing milk from the Diary Board of Zimbabwe, who in turn purchase directly from Mugabe - so if that is the case then nothing has changed, really!
At the 2005 World Economic Forum in Davros, Nestlé - 'Good food good life' received 29 per cent of the vote for the 'world's least responsible company' - twice as many votes as the next on the list (Monsanto). Nestlé's irresponsibility dates back as far as the 1960s and 1970s (and was covered by New Internationalist in a special issue in 1982).
In 2004 the company produced a report on Africa - The Nestlé Commitment to Africa - in which it outlined its historical link with the continent (it first sold condensed milk in South Africa in the 1880s). I am sure most Africans are familiar with Nido and Carnation milk products and, of course, the 'I can't cook without MAGGI' slogan which has been around since my childhood. However, according to IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network), Nestlé is still violating the international code in its aggressive marketing of baby foods.
'The aim of the International Code is to contribute to the safe and adequate nutrition for infants by the protection of breastfeeding. If the International Code were to achieve this aim, commercial baby milks and foods would be sold only to those who really need them. Endeavours by companies to circumvent the provisions of the International Code and to interpret the International Code narrowly are therefore common.'
For example, in its pamphlet promoting Pelagron Infant Formula, Nestlé claims that it counteracts diarrhoea and its side effects. Baby Milk Action argues:
'This is highly misleading as with all formulas, infants fed on Pelargon are at greater risk of becoming ill and possibly dying as a result of diarrhoea than breastfed infants.'
Other violations include advertising for mothers and mothers-to-be to attend baby-feeding seminars in local supermarkets. Direct contact with mothers of children under three is prohibited by the International Code. The difference between the International Code and Nestlé's own code can be seen on the Baby Milk Action site. Nestlé has also entered the HIV/AIDS market by promoting the use of its special infant formula for use by mothers with HIV. This is playing on the fears of a very vulnerable group of women who are afraid for their babies and want to do what is best for them. The choice to breastfeed or bottlefeed in the case of HIV is even more complex and a decision that needs to be made by the mother, with the advice of impartial health workers, not by a multinational with a vested interest.
'Nestlé set up a Nutrition Institute with the expressed goal of promoting infant formula for use in cases of HIV infection. The Institute is offering training courses, gifts, lunches and promises of academic credits for health workers. It has irresponsibly promoted its Pelargon infant formula used in HIV interventions in many African countries and alongside other companies has argued against advertising restrictions in South Africa, claiming advertising provides information. Advertising is a sales tactic and not an educational tool and UNICEF has stated that HIV makes marketing regulations more important not less important.'
Another area of Nestlé's business is mineral water. Nestlé is the global leader in the exploitation of water across the globe. It has 67 bottling factories and sells in more than 130 countries. In Pakistan, Nestlé, the world leader in bottled water, invented a 'blue-print factory' that could be shipped to any location in the world. It chose Pakistan for a number of reasons, one of which is that it is the only country in the region that has an unregulated ground-water sector, meaning that anyone can simply dig a hole and extract as much water as they want without paying a penny. The Pure Life water has been produced in Pakistan, Asia, Africa and South America and is marketed as 'capturing nature in its purest form'. In short, Nestlé now owns and distributes 'nature' on 'every continent'. The corporate violations committed by Nestlé are massive and range from water to baby milk to promoting unhealthy foods.