Watch that hole. I just pulled my head out of the sand.

Oh boy. For the past few days I’ve been learning a lot about the mega corporation that is Nestle. Do a 10 minute internet search using the words “Nestle” and “ethics” and you will be overwhelmed by how unethical the company is. I had no idea how absolutely twisted their business practices were from the beginning. Did you know Henri Nestle, founder of Nestle, initially created formula for babies who could not be breast-fed in the late 1800s, but because that corner of the market was so small he decided there had to be a way to convince mothers perfectly capable of breast-feeding to choose formula instead? And he did.

Without rehashing every detail and fast-forward 100 years, Nestle aggressively marketed their infant formula in third world countries when there was a noticeable sales drop in industrialized nations due to lowered birth rates (in the 1970s). They made poverty-stricken women believe their own breast milk was inferior to formula by bombarding them with advertisements and propaganda. But without a true means to clean water and an ability to sterilize and clean bottles and nipples, babies died in droves and continue to do so today (but because there is no true and direct link of these deaths to Nestle, they have not been criminally charged). Yet many of those babies that survive suffer from immense gastrointestinal issues and malnutrition as mothers try to stretch the formula they have to make it last. Unbelievable. So what’s happened?

After mounting pressure to develop a proper code for formula companies, the WHO (not the band, though that’d be interesting) and UNICEF created international marketing standards, called the “WHO/UNICEF International Code of Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes,” aimed at getting companies to properly educate women about breast-feeding and increase the social responsibility corporations like Nestle have to their “consumers.” Of course, that only also created the opportunity to skirt around the rules for profit. Almost immediately, Nestle created a new product for “follow-up” supplementation meant for babies beginning around 3-6 months of age who were no longer considered infants. (This follow-up formula is now marketed for babies aged 6-18 months.) They also developed a formula for babies of low birth weight. Nestle hired women with no medical background, dressed them up as nurses and had them give out free samples of their product. The samples lasted long enough for mother’s breast milk to dry up, thus forcing them to continue formula feeding. And in countries where low birth weights are more common, it was no wonder these women believed they were doing what was best by their children. Unfortunately, it remains common practice in places like Ethiopia for women to be sent home with free samples of Nestle formula when these mothers have no consistent way of affording it. Further, it’s been found that the formula they do sell in these countries (Nestle NAN) happen to be the older versions of their products which are not ARA or DHA fortified. You will not find any other American-made formula on the store shelves there.

Nestle’s practices have not improved and they continue to aggressively market to and manipulate consumers in the name of profits and they are constantly called to change how they label their cans of formula and their practices in general. In the U.S. and other industrialized nations, Nestle’s tactics aren’t as obvious and we surely don’t hear about them in the news, but they continue. Nestle will say they abide by international marketing standards by putting on their cans that breast milk is best. If you take a good look at their cans (depending on which country you’re in) you’ll have to search for this statement (it’s located at the bottom of the label in small print). What you will find in large print is their stamp that their formula “protects” babies. Arguably, they are in compliance with the Code, but barely so. And, really, I doubt it.

I don’t want it to sound like I don’t believe in formula. I truly do, especially when there is a medical necessity to use a breast-milk substitute. I supplemented with formula early on when Nugget lost too much weight right after birth. So I know firsthand how important it is to have quality formula on hand when breast-feeding is not a viable option. What shocks me about Nestle’s practices are how absolutely underhanded they were and still are at trying to drive up their profits. It’s tough to find a company these days that doesn’t always look at their bottom line when making certain business decisions, but the extent Nestle went to globalize their product is pretty horrific and at the expense of children. So horrific that they are the subject of a long-standing consumer boycott in 19 countries.

According to Baby Milk Action, “Nestlé is targeted with the boycott because monitoring conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) finds it to be responsible for more violations of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods than any other company.” Sounds like they are the BP of the baby food product industry.

Aside from their practices in marketing formula, Nestle is also condemned for its lack of cooperation with fair trade practices. Since I was more interested in how abominable their involvement was in marketing formula I’m not so well-versed in this issue, but I’ve learned that they use suppliers that violate human rights (that which use child slaves was an example I found) and contribute to the destruction of the environment. There is so much more, but this post would be too long (it already is) and probably muff up some of the facts.

I guess the point of my writing this is to, well, educate those like me who didn’t have a clue about this specific issue until I had a kid. As parents, we contribute so much of our hard-earned money to feeding, dressing and educating our children. I personally live by the “know better, do better” philosophy of parenting. Just because everything was OK before I knew this information doesn’t mean I should continue to do it. So, I don’t want to contribute to Nestle’s rationalization of their business practices by continuing to purchase their products. That’s just not the lesson I want to teach Nugget. Guess that means I’m done with Raisinets.

2 thoughts on “Watch that hole. I just pulled my head out of the sand.

  1. Interesting information. Went through the same philosophical quandary with my daughter, but with fewer alternatives – that was 30 years ago. I’m surprised the company is still selling infant formula and/or that the boycott is not more effective. Think I’ll do some investigating.

  2. There are probably a number of reasons the boycott isn’t more effective…perhaps Nestle’s business practices just don’t hit close enough to home for some (especially in places like the US and UK where the plight of poverty stricken nations is sad, but far enough away to forget). They also own so many brands that it’s probably difficult for people to truly boycott all of their products. And with the economy these days, everyone’s watching their budget. So, if Nestle’s cheaper, then so be it.

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