An argument on mumsnet alerted me to the fact that Nestlé has partnered up with Change4Life, an NHS initiative to make people healthier. Why would that bother anyone? Well, Nestlé have somewhat of a chequered past and it seems like not everyone is aware of that, so I thought I’d write a wee post about why I don’t eat KitKats and why Nestlé might not be the best company for the NHS to jump into bed with. They’re just my views. You might not share them, or you might. Feel free to comment below, but any comments trying to sell me Vi@gr@Sm@rties might get blocked.
I stopped buying Nestlé products when I was a teenager. You know what teenagers are like – they pick up and drop causes as quickly as they drop boyfriends. They also think they have the right to lecture those around them on whichever cause is the one they’re campaigning for this week. Well, the Nestlé cause was one I didn’t drop (and the boyfriend I picked up the year afterwards also stubbornly refused to be dropped) and yes, I was a bit right-on about it. Again I say, I was a teenager. But the truth is, not buying Nestle is just a habit. It’s nothing hard – their chocolate is rubbish anyway. I don’t lecture anyone about it any more, but the mumsnet thread made me want to say something, just to see if anyone else was interested in signing the petition against the Nestlé/Change4Life partnership:
So, what’s the Nestlé story? It’s a long one, but the thing that most interests me is their aggressive marketing of formula in developing countries. Baby Milk Action has a lot more info about it. Now, I’m no breastfeeding Nazi, or any of the other names being chucked around on the mumsnet thread, but this isn’t even really about breastfeeding. It’s about unsafe formula. I used formula a lot with Roo when he was a bit older, so I don’t have an issue with it but I do have an issue with people being persuaded that it’s the “healthy choice” for their babies when it’s anything but.
If you use formula, you’ll know the routine – you start with a clean bottle, sterilise it, fill with 70c water, mix powder in, serve. Now imagine that you have no clean bottle and no steriliser and the water is not just unboiled, it’s unsafe for human consumption. But you felt like you were doing the right thing because the formula claimed to offer super-protection for your baby, and if your water’s not safe that baby will need all the protection it can get. That’s what’s happened in vulnerable countries where Nestlé have aggressively marketed their baby milk – their sales reps have persuaded mothers that it’s better than breastmilk and persuaded them to use it regardless of whether a) the mothers could just breastfeed b) the mothers could afford it or c) the water was safe. And that’s led to an awful lot of unnecessary baby deaths.
I know it all sounds like a conspiracy theory, cooked up by some random website and a blogger with a grudge but there is fairly credible evidence to show that this actually happens. Have a look at this report from Save the Children. In case you can’t be bothered to read the report, here’s a snippet from p33:
BMS companies use a variety of advertising messages
to market their products, often appearing to make the
use of breast-milk substitutes seem aspirational.
(BMS =Breastmilk substitutes)
Things have changed in the last thirty years or so -apparently they can no longer waltz into maternity wards in Africa, hand each mother 3 weeks’ worth of formula and waltz out again. Nowadays, Nestlé have to at least appear to be ethical, with their baby milk bearing warnings about how formula isn’t as good as breastfeeding, which is…yknow..the best thing ever, honest guv. But yet, it seems like they continue to get into trouble for it. Let’s look at the label for a coffee creamer sold in Laos in 2008:
Bear (ha ha!) in mind that this is a “sweetened beverage creamer”. It’s not something that you would feed babies. But what does that logo remind you of? Is anyone seeing what might go wrong here? It does say on the back that it’s not a breastmilk substitute, but in a survey, sadly 80% of people said they didn’t read the warning. Not surprising as 39% of Laotian women can’t read. The result was predictable – more malnutrition, more deaths. This is all in the “Save the Children” report, along with stats about how many mothers and health professionals are being given Nestlé-branded gifts and free samples. All of this is why I choose not to buy Nestlé products.
Now, I know that boycotting seems a bit pathetic and ineffectual. I know that my choice of hair dye not being L’Oreal will bother the chairman of Nestlé not a bit. He’s probably sitting in an office in Switzerland, overlooking a lake of some kind, enjoying his superior-brand instant coffee and not caring a jot about what I think. But truth is, knowing all these things that I do I would find it hard to go into a shop and, faced with the choice of two brands of chocolate, pick the Nestlé one. In the last 18 years or so, I’ve only bought Nestlé knowingly a handful of times, when I’ve been babysitting someone else’s kids and can’t bring myself to deny them polos (because, yknow, I’m not made of stone). I still get confused about which brands of water they own, so I’ve almost certainly made mistakes there, but I’m confident that most of my money goes to small, local producers like Tesco rather than evil corporate giants. I must confess to doing a small dance of joy when Nestlé sold off Branston Pickle and I was free to eat it again, after years of inferior sandwiches. There’s nothing quite like a spoonful of Branston of an evening, is there? Incidentally, I love their new TV ad- as a parent who is rubbish at making things, it really speaks to me.
I may have got a little lost there, and am still considering cracking open a jar to have a cheeky spoon now, but let’s get back to business. Just in case you don’t give a toss about baby-related stuff, here’s a quick rundown of other ethically suspect things Nestlé are allegedly alleged to have allegedly done.
There’s the way that Nestlé demanded a famine-struck Ethiopia repay a $6million debt to them in 2002. There are the six Chinese babies who died in 2008 after ingesting melamine from Nestlé milk products. There were the breaking of sanctions in Zimbabwe in 2009, as they lapped up milk from Grace Mugabe’s farms. And then there are the constant allegations of child slavery in the Ivory Coast. These things aren’t evidence – they are hearsay and rumours. But gosh, that’s some compelling hearsay.
So, I hope that all explains why I signed that petition and why Nestlé might not be the ideal company for the NHS. I’m not going to force anyone else to boycott them but you’re welcome to if you want to. And remember the most important thing – their chocolate is rubbish. Allegedly.