Back in the early days of The Zero there was a whole section devoted to the Nestlé boycott. It was one of the first bits of explicit do-goodery I indulged in, along with going veggie and lobbing C-bombs at George W Bush any time he popped up on my telly. The boycott kicked off in the late 1970s on account of Nestlé’s fondness for babies shitting themselves to death. I joined it in around 2004, after which I didn’t give it much thought other than to occasionally mourn the loss of a Shreddie or a Rolo. Given I’m putting together a new section on the general awfulness of Big Bidness I figured I should see what the bastards have been up to recently. Maybe the boycott’s worked. Maybe Nestlé has started valuing babies’ lives above its bottom line. Maybe we don’t need to boycott it any more. By which I mean, it might have upped its game enough for me to have a Drifter.
Yep, that’s Nestlé. You’re probably wondering how it got here
Having graduated from the Bond Villain School of Bastards and Bastardry, Nestlé, the world’s biggest food and drinks company, apparently set out to also be the world’s biggest contributor to infant mortality. In the early 1970s Nestlé decided to aggressively market its baby milk substitute in countries where the water used to make it was so filthy it killed, increasing the chances of babies dying from diarrhoea. While it was at it, it decided to price it so high that it would wipe out half of an impoverished family’s income. Having fallen for the sales pitch, desperate parents would then over-dilute their milk substitute to make it go further, ensuring babies who avoided death by diarrhoea would at least be malnourished. What a wheeze. The World Health Organisation, bothered somewhat by the idea of unnecessary baby deaths, drafted a Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes. Naturally, Nestlé lobbied against its introduction, fought its conversion to legislation, and just ignored the fucking thing wherever it could. Hence: Boycott.
We’re here for updates, you son of a bitch
Back when I was last paying attention, IBFAN – the International Baby Food Action Network – was bashing out reports on Nestlé’s and other companies’ breaches of the Code of Marketing. Its most recent edition of the Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules report seems to be from 2017. Its conclusion is clear: “Evidence shows that Nestlé violations of the International Code still occur around the globe.” Bugger. It details – and pictures – violations in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Columbia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guatemala, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Vietnam and throughout Europe, the US, the Middle East and North Africa. Their violations include prohibited promotions to the public and in shops, prohibited promotions in health facilities and to health workers, prohibited free samples to mothers, prohibited sponsorship of health programmes, and such and such. I feel that Drifter slipping away.
But there’s hope: That report covers violations from 2014 to 2017. Maybe Nestlé’s sorted its shit out since then. A few minutes on Google and I could be inserting a Drifter directly into my cakehole.
Nope. In 2018 a study looked at 70 Nestlé baby milk products in 40 countries and found it was still playing fast and loose with wording and the nutritional value of its ingredients. That same year, an investigation in the Philippines – where only 34% of mothers breastfeed exclusively – found Nestlé was offering perks and freebies to doctors, midwives and clinic workers in violation of the law. In the last few years it’s used modern-day wiggle room to weaponise social media influencers, promoting milk substitutes in ways the ancient Code of Marketing couldn’t have imagined. Last year it tried sponsoring “Mom and child forums” in South Africa with a wink and a nod to baby milk products you might like to try. And this year, it was sued by the Brazilian Institute for Consumer Protection for pulling more of its sketchy shit.
So that’s fairly clear: Nestlé is still a total bastard. And that’s just the baby milk stuff. While I was looking elsewhere it’s been busy with all-round villainy. This is a company that sued the government of Ethiopia for millions while it was going through a famine; lost interest in Fairtrade after it served its PR purposes, pumps its shit full of habitat-destroying palm oil, ruthlessly exploits freshwater sites and allegedly dabbles in child labour and slavery. All of which we frown upon.
Safe to say my personal boycott will continue into its 19th year. You should join it too. Besides, I forgot Drifters aren’t vegan. I can’t have them anyway. What a waste of time.