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.
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.
More Food for Thought:
- Breastfeeding FAQ (enfamil.com)
- Breastfeeding flashmobs: Chinese mothers are abandoning formula (telegraph.co.uk)
- Latch on to reality NYC (welcometothemotherhood.com)
- Nestle baby formula ‘safe’ despite complaints (nzweek.com)