Stupid Halloween.

Yes, everyone gets dressed up, and the kids look even cuter than usual.  Blah, blah, blah.  And I spend two months being tortured by my favorite candy bar, which goes on sale everywhere and taunts me from the shelves of my grocery store.  I could be eating so many Butterfingers right now.  I could probably eat ten pounds of chocolate peanut-buttery goodness for only $5.  Yes, I would gain weight, but it would be totally worth it because of the chocolate peanut-buttery goodness.

“Stop staring at me Mom! There are no Butterfingers in this bucket…”

For many years I was blissfully unaware that Nestlé was a crummy company, and I was able to relish my chocolate peanut-buttery goodness in blissful ignorance.  Now, I no longer buy Butterfingers because they are made by Nestlé.  If I find them in my kid’s stash I still eat them, but I absolutely refuse to finance them.  Yes, I eat my kid’s candy stash.  I can ethically justify stealing my kids’ candy, but I can’t ethically justify funding a company with business practices that deliberately harm people.

I began my own personal Nestlé boycott in 2006 shortly after my second son was born.  Honestly, before that, I didn’t know anything about Nestlé as a company.  Because I nursed my children, people often sent me links about breastfeeding, usually material that was meant to be either educational or supportive.

Somehow, through those links, I stumbled onto a video about babies dying of malnutrition in Third World countries.  It culminated with a story about a mother of twins.  The mother was told by a hospital nurse that she wouldn’t be able to produce enough milk for two babies.  She never actually tried; instead she nursed one baby from the beginning and fed the other baby formula.  However, the water supply where she lived was tainted.  So, the baby who nursed thrived, and the baby fed with formula became very ill and wasted away.  I found more and more of these stories as I clicked more links, impoverished families who couldn’t afford formula so they diluted it with too much water, and newborns dying because of diseases from water that hadn’t been boiled long enough.  Meanwhile, many of the mothers were being told by their own doctors and midwives, that their own milk wasn’t good enough, that they shouldn’t nurse their children.  Many of these mothers lived in rural areas, didn’t work outside the home, couldn’t really afford formula, and didn’t have access to clean water or the supplies necessary to sterilize it.  In contrast, nursing is free and helps to provide antibodies against many diseases.

The worst stories I read were about Nestlé, food giant extraordinaire, who also happens to produce formula.  In the 1970’s there were congressional hearings and a huge uproar about their business practices.  The unethical practices included improperly labeling formula and “providing incentive” to doctors and nurses for promoting the use of formula.  It was not proven that Nestlé was also sending company representatives to hospitals dressed as nurses, but rumors have it this was happening as well.  The pseudo-nurses would then tell new mothers that their formula was healthier and better for babies than breastfeeding.  And because the babies were given formula in the hospital, it interfered with establishing lactation.

Now, I’m not going to bash women who don’t nurse.  Nursing is a choice, and it’s up to each mother to decide what works for her.  However, it is up to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate food and the business practices of those who sell it.  Because many countries don’t have the regulations the US has, the most grievous practices were occurring outside the US, and were specific to third world countries.

The Nestlé boycott was officially suspended in 1984 when Nestlé agreed to comply with certain terms, which included labeling their product in the proper language so that it could be prepared properly.  Nestlé  did win their initial court case due to how difficult it is to prove they “caused death”.  In Europe, there were further cases and Nestlé was found in violation of advertising standards.  Nestlé is still not carried in many vending machines, universities, and stores in Europe.

Here in the US what happened was simple.  Most people forgot.  I think we also forget that other parts of the world don’t have access to the same resources and education as those who live in first world countries.

To what extent, can we hold companies accountable for bad business practices?  For me personally, I still won’t buy Nestlé , no matter how tempting those damn Butterfingers are.  And the tainted formula incident of 2008 did little to help ease my mind about company standards.

Alright, I will be stepping down from my soapbox now, but it’s October 17th.  Please remember this post when you go to purchase your Halloween candy.  And tell your friends.  You’d be surprised how many people don’t know this story.

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34 Responses to Flexible Morals, Boobs, and Butterfingers

  1. El Guapo says:

    Okay, on the one hand, thanks for the information.
    On the other hand, Meh, because now I won’t eat nestle products.

    Please tell me Hersheys is a relatively stand up company.

    • Well, they don’t make baby formula…

      And I was as sad as anyone when I dropped Nestle. They also own a lot of other companies, which makes it hard to keep track. Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, Haagen-Daazs…

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    I was not aware of this. I’m glad you posted on it. I’ll have to look into it more. Trying to steer women away from breastfeeding, especially in developing countries where water for formula may not be safe, is crazy and goes against everything the World Health Organization espouses. I don’t usually buy Nestle candy anyway, but now I’ll think twice before getting a Butterfinger blizzard at the DQ (not that I should be stopping there, anyway…)

    • I think most of the worst company shenanigans occurred in the sixties and seventies. By the early 1980’s they had a microscope on them, and couldn’t get away with as much. (Obviously, free samples at the hospital are still common.) However, I never knew about it because I was really little during the Nestle Boycott hay day. It started a few years before I was born. My mom remembered it, but Nestle products are pretty cheap, and money was always tight…

  3. Guess who has two thumbs and just bought her Nestle halloween candy yesterday? This giraffe. The worst part is that I was totally aware of this and like everything else, it gets pushed to the back of my mind when I see kit-kats. I will admit to having a hard time keeping up with boycotts though. Although Nestle had a very egregious offense that was made public, I would guess most corporations are profiting in unethical ways somehow that we just don’t hear about. Or they’ve lobbied to make it legal. Or found another way to hide it. Not to mention that all the corporations are so entangled with each other that it’s more or less impossible to ensure that your money doesn’t end up in their hands. So instead of boycotts I try to focus my spending on things that I think are ethical; local, organic produce and meat, LEED certified businesses etc. That way when I make a palm-to-forehead mistake like buying delicious coffee crisps I can feel ok that most of my money goes to things that I support.
    I swear I am not trying to justify my box of smarties. I swear.

    • I’m not always on top of my products either. I have quite a few friends who became vegetarians after watching videos of animals being slaughtered… That said, I A. really like meat and B. think protein is really important for the body. So I was never able to jump on that bandwagon. Even when I hear about it being done “inhumanely” I don’t really know what to think. Is there really any “humane” way to kill an animal?

      I’m sure you’re right, that most of these huge corporations are both unethical and entangled, but that video just killed me. (The dying baby was just skin and bones.) As much as I love Butterfingers, I just couldn’t buy them afterwards. Thankfully I’ve never had a coffee crisp as they sound horribly addictive, and I’m already a member of Butterfingers Anonymous…

      • Well, and it’s hard to justify human life against various forms of high fructose corn syrup solids, so I think you are absolutely right. It’s a simple thing to give up, and I think as consumers we should be voting with our wallets all the time.
        On the note of animal killing, I have some very unpopular ideas, but they’re based on years of working with Fish and Wildlife and growing up in a ranching family. I would argue that hunting is actually more humane than most large scale feedlots/slaughterhouses. Small scale farmers who process their own meat are also generally pretty good. Basically, if the animal has a relatively good life, free to behave as they naturally would and is then slaughtered painlessly I can live with myself.

  4. Susan says:

    The headline reminds me of a Simpsons episodes. Good job 🙂

  5. speaker7 says:

    Goodbye kit-kats. I will miss you.

  6. La La says:

    Woah, I was clueless! I shall share it!

  7. I didn’t know this story…and I’m from a third world country where many don’t just forget, but don’t care just because they are deprived of information and education…and yes, the giant multinationals are raking it in.

    • Yeah, they are a giant. The number of other companies they own is staggering. In particular, they seem to own a lot of ice cream brands.

      I don’t know too much about the other huge food companies, but now I’m curious. I just can’t help but feel like anyone who contributes to the death of a baby (directly or indirectly) is just evil.

  8. paulineos says:

    I’ve been boycotting Nestle as best I can (i.e. when I can recognise their subsidiaries) since 1990, when I was pregnant and researching breastfeeding (as a scientist, I have my nerdy moments). Their baby formula was still being actively pushed in Africa, with lethal results, and I don’t know that much has changed since, so I’m delighted with your reminder! I know we can’t avoid all connection with such amoral practices, but that’s no excuse not to start somewhere and put on some economic pressure…. Oops, you can have your soapbox back now.

    • Yeah, I have the same problem with the subsidiaries. There are SO MANY. Yeah, I do think Nestle did the most damage in Africa. Sadly, the less education and money you have the more vulnerable you are. And now I’m off to see if I can find “The Constant Gardener” on demand…

  9. Pingback: Flexible Morals, Boobs, and Butterfingers « Tantrums and Tears

  10. Reblogged this on Tantrums and Tears and commented:
    I found this blog post quite by accident – some of my favourite words jumped out at me. Chocolate. Peanut Butter. CHOCOLATE PEANUT-BUTTERY GOODNESS. But as I read further into the article, I was reminded of a serious conversation/debate in college about formula milk being pushed upon mothers in the third world. The story stayed with me for many years, but sadly, I thought about it less and less. I cannot recall if, back then, we talked about which companies were involved. Take a read.

  11. I buy Hershey and M&M/Mars, cuz I love ‘Merica!

  12. saradraws says:

    I did know about the Nestle arse wits, since I hung out with activist types in high school. But I, like so many others, at one point got lazy. I was a boycott fiend for years…somehow, I started to (willingly) forget. Now, I do some good, but I’m not vigilant, even though I wish I was. I am thoroughly impressed by your dedication and am grateful for this reminder. In short, YOU ARE FEDAZZLISHIOUS!

  13. haphillips says:

    I clicked on this solely because it said boobs, and you wreck my love of butterfingers………

  14. Mooselicker says:

    I was hoping boob pictures would somehow involve themselves.

    It’s things like these you never really hear about and I’m sure it happens still and often. What bothers me most is that it was a money hungry scheme and the only people to benefit were most likely the already extremely wealthy. Nesquick is part of Nestle right? I say we cook the bunny.

    • Nope, no boob pictures, but it’s still October. So, if you look around I’m sure you’ll be able to find stuff written for breast cancer awareness.

      Nesquick, Nescafe, and Nestea are all Nestle, as well as Stouffers, Lean Cuisine, Digiorno pizza, Haagen Dazs, Drumstick, Perrier, Poland Springs, Deer Park Spring Water, and Skinny Cow. They have a LOT of subsidiaries. I don’t normally care about corporate bullshit, but it’s different when people are actually dying because of it. Even with child labor, you can make the argument, that their life might actually be worse without the job.

      And Hershey’s and Nestle both use some child labor BTW. Supposedly they have a plan in place to switch only to fair-trade cocoa by 2020.

      Nestle is obviously huge, and they’ve found tons of shady ways to cut costs. I’m sure the profits at the top end are ridiculous.

  15. Smaktakula says:

    Wow. I hadn’t heard that about Nestle. I don’t eat a lot of candy, but we are going to be getting some for the holiday. Something to think about.

    And yeah, Butterfingers are the bomb. I can see why you’re conflicted.

    • Yeah, butterfingers are ridiculous. Nestle is a horrible company, but continues to thrive because, let’s face it, their products are super cheap and super tasty. Who doesn’t like Haagen Dazs ice cream, butterfingers, or kit kats?

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