July 4, 1977: Nestle Boycotted After Leading to Deaths of Third World Infants


July 4th? Independence Day? It is a national holiday and you're not writing about it? That is correct. Because this story is the most terrible thing on the planet and I could find NO dates attached to it, besides months and years, besides this one. So get comfortable in your American Flag T-shirt and throw another grilled hot dog in your mouth while we learn about the abomination that is Nestle.

NESTLE? The company that makes delicious Nesquik and water and candy and cereal and coffee and honestly a mixed bag of everything? Yep, that is the one.

But what you may not know is Nestle is just about the worst company you could possibly think of. With a resume filled with child labor, manipulating third-world mothers, pollution, mislabeling and a whole host of other unethical business practices, they top most lists about worst companies in the world.

But today, we are going to talk about how Nestle aggressively pushed their formula into less economically developed countries, specifically targeting poor parents, with the intention of making it seem like their infant formula was superior to a mother's milk. What came next was greed to the umpteenth extent.


Okay, so. Nestle wanted to sell baby formula, and who better to get addicted to your product than poor mothers in underdeveloped countries? Their first problem was that, in Africa, where they were primarily targeting their victims I mean customers, clean water was not easy to come by. So, in order to make the formula that was, again, aggressively marketed as superior to these mothers, water needed to be boiled to be safe.

But given the low literacy rates in the demographics they were targeting, the mothers were not aware of this... and Nestle was aware they were not aware of this. As such, mothers were mixing Nestle's formula with polluted water, putting their children at great risks. In often unsanitary areas, breast milk would be the safest option, but according to Nestle, it was superior, and they claimed that the tiny stomach of the babies would not notice the difference.

So mothers, being convinced that this formula was the safest thing for their baby without being able to read the labeling, were not able to properly sterilize the formula. Even mothers who knew they had to boil the water often did not have the resources to do it. So safe, quoth Nestle, but UNICEF estimated that, in disease-ridden and unhygenic areas, a child is between 6-25 times more likely to die of diarrhea and 4 times more likely to die of pneumonia if fed by formula as opposed to breast.

But the formula was trash even when it was properly boiled. Because these mothers were impoverished, they would often give their baby less formula than what was needed to make it last longer.

AND, even if boiled correctly and provided in the right proportions as often as needed, the formula did not have the right nutrients and antibodies needed for the babies.


You might be thinking, well, maybe these mothers shouldn't have purchased the formula if they didn't understand the label. And if you think that, let's understand that we should probably place the blame on the giant, greedy corporation trying to deceive impoverished mothers into buying their product instead of said impoverished mothers. But, if you still want to blame them, let's add another piece to the puzzle: Nestle would distribute free samples of the formula at hospitals and maternity wards. But the free samples in maternity wards would frequently lead the mothers to lose the ability to make her own milk, and thus, would have to rely on the formula to feed their baby.

THAT'S RIGHT! Nestle would provide free samples of their product in the hospital, and once lactation had been adequately interfered with, they would have no choice but to buy the product to feed their newborn.

It is a known fact (in the industries who need to know this) that bottle feeding in impoverished environments with little access to sanitation and refrigeration is an extremely dangerous game. But instead of taking responsibility for their extremely unethical acts, they asked their critics to focus on the unsanitary water in Africa - after all, the formula they essentially forced impoverished mothers to buy and use without the proper resources would have been fine if their water was clean.

In 1973, a booklet called The Baby Killer was published, which sparked public outrage about Nestle's marketing strategy. The official boycott began in Minneapolis on July 4, 1977, which soon spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and all over Europe. Boycotts continued for years, and the International Nestle Boycott Committee still is in action to this day. The controversy over their obviously horrific marketing strategy is still discussed today, and many colleges, schools and businesses refuse to sell Nestle products. Many students, businesses, health groups, consumer groups, educational groups and celebrities all support the Nestle boycott.


Okay, so forcing poor mothers to feed their newborns with unsanitary formula that lacks the needed nutrients in a country where bottle feeding is extremely dangerous all to make a buck didn't convince you. Well, then let's just continue through the steaming pile of garbage that Nestle is, and maybe something will strike a nerve.

Nestle is the world's largest distributor of bottled water. The Chairman of Nestle said of water, and I quote, "There are 2 different opinions on the matter of water. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by NGOs, who bang on about declaring water as a public right. That means as a human being you should have a right to water. That's an extreme solution."

HOLD UP. Read those last 2 sentences again, okay? Not only does Nestle not believe that access to water is a universal right, they believe anyone who thinks that is spouting off extreme views. Water, guys. Water! 75% of the Earth? Necessary for life? I feel like you would be hard pressed to find someone to argue against access to clean water as something you are allowed to get for just... being alive?

Now, they did eventually back track this statement... verbally. In practice, not so much. In an effort to bottle water, they drain aquifers without any regard for the environment. Oh, and while California was facing a drought requiring minimal water usage, they just kept on taking billions of gallons of water to sell.

And that isn't even the worst place. In Pakistan, children are being sickened by extremely dirty water. How did the water get so dirty, you ask? It was Nestle, digging a deep well that deprived locals of drinkable water. Well, if their water is filthy and undrinkable, how will they get water? ENTER NESTLE.

And in the horrible water capital of the United States, Flint, Michigan, who still does not have clean water, Nestle expressed their condolences while using nearby water reserves to fill up their bottled water for sale.

"Unmet need" is a phrase in the marketing world. It means to identify a need that is not being met, as I'm sure you figured out. And typically, companies try to bring attention to it before launching their product. In pharma, companies will launch disease awareness websites to educate the public on a disease before launching a drug that can treat it. In consumer advertising, they may share commercials or ads that demonstrate widespread problem before introducing their product that solves it. The similarity here? The unmet need already exists. They aren't creating a NEW disease that requires a lucrative treatment. They aren't breaking or destroying your product so you need a new one, because that is how ethical marketing works.

In the case of Nestle, they are building their own unmet need. Feeding babies? Easy, boob. But not if you take the boob out of the equation. Oh no, now you need to feed your baby? Take our formula. Oh, you had clean water? We will just make it filthy so now you need to buy ours to survive.

But Nestle isn't just in the business of horrible marketing practices, they also operate under horrible business practices. Though not uncommon for chocolate companies as a whole, Nestle is no stranger to slave labor for producing their chocolate.

In 2005, a suit was brought against Nestle on behalf of 3 Malian children who were trafficked, forced into slavery, and experienced beatings on a cocoa plantation. While the court determined they were not legally liable, it did not find that it didn't happen.

Nestle admits that they source cocoa from the Ivory coast, where injuries are abound and child labor is ignored. And while child labor goes against everything they stand for, they said, no company can guarantee it doesn't happen. So, they stand against child labor and workplace abuse, but, essentially, "everybody does it". The FLA reported that Nestle was fully aware of the conditions surrounding their cocoa sourcing. Nothing changed.

And just some more pepper for the porridge, their Toll House cookie dough's E. Coli outbreak killed a woman before it was reclaimed, despite 50 people being infected and half hospitalized. Oh, and in 2008, 6 infants died and another 860 were hospitalized after Nestle's products were contaminated with melamine. The WHO referred to the incident as "one of the largest food safety events" in recent years.

They are also tied to pollution (like most big companies) but, of course, to an unethical and probably illegal extreme. They demanded an Ethiopian debt of $6 million be paid (they're a billion dollar company) while it was in extreme famine as a "matter of principle". People were absolutely livid and it became one of the most famous cases of corporate greed. They also have some shady business dealings going on. They settled a lawsuit for price-fixing that lead to criminal charges. They also have been caught mislabeling their products.

Here's the thing: All big corporations are terrible. If they're not polluting the earth they’re lying for greed or forcing children to work overseas for no money. Incidents happen, scandals occur, that is all a part of being a big corporation. You have to be unethical to run billion dollar companies.

But damn. This wasn't a scandal or an accident. This is outright cruelty. Time and time again, "they have gone the extra mile to make an extra profit - even when the extra mile meant hurting people, directly or indirectly." Causing pollution is terrible, but par for the course. Using child labor is horrific, but they certainly aren't alone in that act. Aggressively promoting to downright forcing mothers to buy subpar formula for their babies that is extremely dangerous for them? That is horrific in an indescribable, purposeful and unique way.

So 43 years ago, people began boycotting Nestle, and many have been ever since. I would encourage you to, too. I've been a strong proponent of the stance that you can't avoid all unethical companies, but if you're going to pick your battles, pick this one. But be careful: Nestle is EVERYWHERE. I've had Toll House cookies in my home in the last 3 months, I'll admit. But never again.

Nestle is a garbage company, and there are much better chocolate milks and cookies and cereals and pastries and water and etc. etc. etc. you can buy where the company isn't tied to being baby killers.

Happy 4th of July!



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