After my crisis of conscience as Father Christmas Last week (see Integrity Part 2) I mentioned to one of the organisers of the Christmas party that I had a bit of a problem with giving out stuff from Nestle. Well, word seems to be getting round, and a few folk in the school playground, who were unaware that there was anything wrong with Nestle, are now asking what the issue is.
More details can be found on the Baby Milk Action site, but here is the bare bones of it.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 1.5 million babies die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. Despite what is claimed on baby milk substitutes, breast milk is still far superior for babies as a source of nutrition and disease prevention. What's more, it is safer - where formula milk has to be made up from contaminated or unsafe water supplies, there is a high risk to the baby. The risk of death from diarrhoea and pneumonia increases dramatically if a family uses formula milk in an area with an unhygenic water supply.
As a result the WHO has a set of marketing codes, to safeguard vulnerable people. Nestle has violated these codes more often than any other company. Whilst breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months as the best option for a childs health, Nestle markets is products in the developing world as suitable from 4 months, and sometimes much younger. Health workers and key opinion formers are showered with gifts and free samples, and claims of health benefits of milk substitutes are exaggerated. In China, the worlds biggest market, where Nestle is having a big marketing push, exclusive breastfeeding of infants has declined from 76% to 64% in less than 10 years. Nestle has stationed doctors in Chinese supermarkets to give out free samples and deal with questions. The international code on marketing of breast milk substitutes forbids promotion direct to parents, but this is exactly what Nestle are doing in China, and many other places.
The result of their actions is to place the lives and health of millions of babies at risk.
The Nestle boycott began in 1977 in the USA, and spread across the world. It's old news, which is probably why so few people know about it, or folk who used to boycott Nestle assume that everything is fine now. The Church of England announced a boycott of Nestle in the early 90's, with a measurable effect on sales, but in the face of a p.r. blitz by Nestle over the following years decided not to renew it. I'm a Church of England vicar who thinks that was a mistake.
The only thing that Nestle understand, and other companies like them, is money. The thing that will change their practices is a financial hit, and one thing that Western consumers have is spending power, to use, or to withdraw. It's a chilly day today, and to keep warm I'm wearing a t-shirt which says "How you spend controls what happens on the planet."
So here's what not to buy.
Nescafe and all Nescafe brands
Rowntrees products (Nestle bought the company a few years ago) such as Kit Kat & Lion Bar
Buxton Mineral Water
Nestle cereals: Shreddies, Cheerios, Golden Grahams etc.
Cosmetics by Garnier, L'Oreal, Lancome, Matrix and others
Winalot and Felix pet foods, among others.
For a fuller list go here.
In at least one respect Nestle are worse than Herod (the king responsible for the deaths of the Bethelehem babies at the time of Jesus). Herod didn't pretend to care, but then he'd never heard of marketing.