The Nestle Boycott – what’s that all about then?

Inspired by Dara’s post on the same topic over at Readily A Parent

Every time I hear about the Nestle boycott I feel confused.  Confused by what it’s all about, by how much of it is actually still valid, how much of the boycotters’ claims are true and how much nothing more than urban myth or a case of exaggerated Chinese whispers?

I tried searching the internet for information, but there is so much of it and not laid out in a very ‘easy to gather information quickly’ kind of way that I quickly felt swamped and manipulated.   As we all know, anyone can publish just about anything on the internet, it doesn’t need to be true.  And that goes for both sides, both the boycotters and Nestle themselves.  So what to believe in the face of all this contradictory information?

What is true and what just propaganda and lies?

I’ve been trying to unravel it a little.

About Nestlé

Nestlé is one of the worlds largest companies selling, amongst other things, baby formula and foods, bottled water, milk, chocolate, cereal, coffee and pet food.  According to INFACT Canada, Nestle controls 40% of the worldwide market for baby food and is active in 80 countries.

For the year 2009 Nestlé reported a profit of $9.58 billion.

The Nestle boycott

According to the World Health Organisation, 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed.

The nestle boycott has been running since 1977 and is still ongoing today.

The claims by the boycotters are that Nestle’s promotion of infant formula over breastmilk has caused the illness and death of infants in developing countries because:

  • Formula must normally be mixed with water, which is often contaminated in poor countries, leading to disease in vulnerable infants. Because of the high illiteracy rates in developing nations many mothers are not aware of the sanitation methods needed in the preparation of bottles. Even mothers able to read in their native tongue may be unable to read the language in which sterilization directions are written.
  • Even mothers that can understand the sanitation standards required often do not have the means to perform it: fuel to boil water, electric (or other reliable) light to enable sterilisation at night. UNICEF estimates that a non-breastfed child living in disease-ridden and unhygienic conditions is between six and 25 times more likely to die of diarrhea and four times more likely to die of pneumonia than a breastfed child.
  • Many poor mothers use less formula powder than is necessary, in order to make a container of formula last longer. As a result, some infants receive inadequate nutrition from weak solutions of formula.
  • Breast milk has many natural benefits lacking in formula. Nutrients and antibodies are passed to the baby while hormones are released into the mother’s body.Breast-fed babies are protected, in varying degrees, from a number of illnesses, including diarrhea, bacterial meningitis, gastroenteritis, ear infection, and respiratory infection. Breast milk contains the right amount of the nutrients that are essential for neuronal (brain and nerve) development. The bond between baby and mother can be strengthened during breastfeeding. Frequent and exclusive breastfeeding can also delay the return of fertility, which can help women in developing countries to space their births. The World Health Organization recommends that, in the majority of cases, babies should be exclusively breast fed for the first six months.

In May 1999 a ruling against Nestlé was issued by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Nestlé claimed in an anti-boycott advertisement that it markets infant formula “ethically and responsibly”. The ASA found that Nestlé could not support this nor other claims in the face of evidence provided by the campaigning group Baby Milk Action.

In November 2000 the European Parliament invited IBFAN, UNICEF and Nestlé to present evidence to a Public Hearing before the Development and Cooperation Committee. Evidence was presented by the IBFAN group from Pakistan and UNICEF’s legal officer commented on Nestlé’s failure to bring its policies into line with the World Health Assembly Resolutions. Nestlé declined an invitation to attend, claiming scheduling conflicts, although it sent a representative of the auditing company it had commissioned to produce a report on its Pakistan operation.

Source: Wikipedia

Is Any Of This Current And True?

Is what the boycotters are saying true?  Is any doubt in our minds just the enormous Nestlé PR machine doing its job?  Or are the boycotters over reacting, going off old information or falling for urban myths?

Nestlé claim that all problems to do with formula milk marketing are old news and were all resolved long ago, organisations like Baby Milk Action Group, a none profit organisation that is the secretariat for the International Nestlé Boycott Committee, say this isn’t so.

Baby Milk Action Group claim that this is Nestlé’s strategy for dealing with the accusations.  To admit past problems that they wouldn’t admit at the time and say that it stopped then and isn’t a problem any more.  They claim that Nestle is still failing to comply with The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, a code prepared by WHO and UNICEF which, although not legally binding, carries moral and political weight.

The International Code of Marketing

The code states, amongst other things that:

(Formula milk) should not be marketed or distributed in ways that may interfere with the protection and promotion of breastfeeding;

Manufacturers and distributors should not provide, directly or indirectly, to pregnant women, mothers or members of their families, samples of products within the scope of this Code.

Manufacturers and distributors should not distribute to pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children any gifts of articles or utensils which may promote the use of breastmilk substitutes or bottle feeding.

Marketing personnel, in their business capacity, should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children.***

Labels should be designed to provide the necessary information about the appropriate use of the product, and so as not to discourage breastfeeding.

Neither the container nor the label should have pictures of infants, nor should they have other pictures or text which may idealise the use of infant formula. They may, however, have graphics for easy identification of the product as a breastmilk substitute and for illustrating methods of preparation.

Information provided by manufacturers and distributors to health professionals regarding products within the scope of this Code should be restricted to scientific and factual matters, and such information should not imply or create a belief that bottle feeding is equivalent or superior to breastfeeding.

Today the state of implementation of the code in national measures is as follows:

  • 20 countries – all or nearly all provisions in law.
  • 27 countries – many provisions in law.
  • 21 countries – all or nearly all provisions as policy or voluntary measures.
  • 19 countries – few provisions in law.
  • 21 countries – some provisions voluntary.
  • 22 countries – measures drafted, awaiting final approval.
  • 35 countries – being studied.
  • 14 countries – no action.
  • 11 countries – no information.

Read the full code here.

*** Didn’t the Nestlé marketing team recently invite a group of mummy bloggers to their head quarters or for a day out or something?  Did any of those bloggers have infants or young children?  Would that be a violation of the code?

Nestlés Failure To Comply

Baby Milk Action Group claim they have evidence to show that Nestlé are disregarding this code, many of them happening this year (2010). You can see them here.  They include the alleged idealising of forumla by packaging it as ‘The New Gold Standard’ and saying that is protects babies and stops diarrhoea and also providing branded promotional information to health care professionals, when the code states that they are only allowed to provide scientific and factual information and not imply that bottle is better or equal to breast.

The film Formula For Disaster (2007) highlighted many of the problems.  You can see clips from the film here including clips showing how baby food companies undermine breastfeeding, see the conditions under which mothers are using formula, some of the company promotions and hear health workers explaining the pressure they are under to recommend company products.

The Guardian ran a report (2007) by Joanna Moorhead who travelled to Bangladesh to investigate whether Nestlé and other baby milk firms were still using aggressive marketing tactics in Bangladesh and found them to be still pushing their product on mothers.

In early 1997,  Syed Aamar Raza a Medical Delegate for Nestlé in Pakistan, responsible for promoting breastmilk substitutes and infant cereals, resigned from his job.  Six months later he issued his former employers a Legal Notice (dated 12/11/1997), attaching nearly 80 pages of evidence of the company’s unethical marketing practices.  These alleged practises included bribing doctors to recommend Nestlé products, being paid commission on his sales, something banned under the code and handing out samples at baby shows.  Read more here.

What Nestlé Say

Taken from the Nestlé website

Nestlé agrees with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other leading medical and health associations that breast-milk is the best and most natural food for babies. Nestlé also supports the WHO/UNICEF’s Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding and Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

Like the WHO, Nestlé recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, followed by safe and appropriate complementary foods, preferably with continued breastfeeding until at least two years of age. This recommendation features on many of our infant nutrition products. We also distribute educational material in support of breastfeeding to healthcare professionals.

Nestlé supports the protection and promotion of breastfeeding and has always emphasised the superiority of breast-milk as far back as 1867, when Henri Nestlé wrote in his Memorial of the Nutrition of Infants: “During the first few months the mother’s milk will always be the most natural nutriment, and every mother able to do so, should suckle her child herself.”

However, some mothers either cannot or choose not to breastfeed for the optimal time. They need a safe and nutritious alternative for their babies. For these women and their babies, Nestlé researchers have developed and continually improve a wide range of infant formula that meets the nutritional needs of babies during the first months of life.

In the developing world, breastfeeding is nearly univeral, with most children being breastfed for some time. Even after 6 months of age when food supplementation becomes necessary, many mothers continue to breastfeed until their child is two years old.

However, evidence indicates that in these countries exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months is rare and early supplementation with water, or other fluids, is the norm. According to UNICEF’s statistics, less than 40 per cent of infants under 6 months old are exclusively breastfed. This rate is particularly low in Africa.

In developing countries, most children who are not exclusively breastfed do not receive infant formula, but rather dangerous substitutes, including water, water-based liquids, or unadapted whole cow’s milk. These are inappropriate substitutes because they lack the required nutritional content and balance to satisfy a baby’s development and growth. In addition, food supplementation often starts very early.

The use of inadequate breast-milk substitutes may lead to stunting, underweight or wasting and increases infant mortality. Infant feeding practices account to a large extent for the high rates of malnutrition among children in developing countries.

Although exclusive breastfeeding rates have been increasing in Africa and Asia over the past 10 to 15 years, UNICEF’s statistics show the necessity to continue to educate mothers about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding during the 6 first months of age and the introduction of appropriate and nutritious complementary food from 6 months old.

The Four Point Plan

Despite their above statement on their website though, they refuse to agree to Baby Milk Action’s four point plan.  The four point plan was put to Nestlé in 2001 as a way to call off the international boycott on Nestlé products.  Nestle rejected the plan immediately and since 2005 have refuse to even debate the issue.

The Plan.

1. Nestlé must state in writing that it accepts that the International Code and the subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions are minimum requirements for every country.

2. Nestlé must state in writing that it will make the required changes to bring its baby food marketing policy and practice into line with the International Code and Resolutions (i.e. end its strategy of denial and deception).

3. Baby Milk Action will take the statements to the International Nestlé Boycott Committee and suggest that representatives meet with Nestlé to discuss its timetable for making the required changes.

4.  If IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network) monitoring finds no Nestlé violations for 18 months, the boycott will be called off.

You can read Nestlé’s answers to the plan here.

What The Boycotters Want You To Do

Refuse to buy ANY Nestlé products until such time as Nestlé comply with the The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

Register your support with Baby Milk Action Group

Contact Nestlé by phone or post or email to tell them you intend to boycott their products. More details on contacting Nestlé can be found on this website

A Nestle Product List (August 2010)

Coffee – Nescafé including:
Alta Rica
Black Gold
Blend 37
Cap Colombie
Fine Blend
Gold Blend
Nescafé Ice
Partners Blend

Dairy products
Extreme Viennois
Munch Bunch yoghurts
Rowntree yoghurts and ice creams
Simply Double
Ski yogurts
Sveltesse yogurts

Confectionery & snacks
After Eights
Animal Bar
Baci Chocolate
Black Magic
Blue Riband
Chocolate Cuisine
*Colgate Dental Gum
Dairy Box
Dairy Crunch
Double Cream
Fruit Pastilles
Henri Nestlé Collection
Kit Kat
Kit Kat Chunky
Kit Kat – Fairtrade
Lion Bar
*Lyons Maid Ice Cream
Milky Bar
*Nestlé Ice Cream
Quality Street
Rowntrees Fruit Gums
Toffee Crisp
Tooty Frooties
Walnut Whip
Willy Wonka
Contact lens care
Alcon (Nestlé is due to complete the sale of Alcon to Novartis by mid-2010).

Mineral/bottled water
Aqua Panna
San Pellegrino
Santa Maria

Other drinks

Processed meals
Buitoni pasta & canned foods
*Rowntrees Jellies

Cheerios & Honey Nut Cheerios
Cinnamon and Golden Grahams
Cookie Crisp
Fibre 1
Force Flakes
Golden Nuggets
Nesquik cereal
Shredded Wheat including: Bitesize, Fruitful, Honey Nut
Shreddies: Coco and frosted

Body Shop
Helena Rubenstein
La Roche-Posay

Pet Foods
Pro Plan
Vital Balance

More Information

Baby Milk Action

Nestlé Critics

Boycott Nestlé Blog


These are all pro boycott sites, I couldn’t find any online campaign on behalf of Nestlé.

My Thoughts

That’s a lot of information to take in.  A lot of big claims.  I would like to believe that none of it is true, however, the big thing that keeps jumping out at me is why Nestlé wouldn’t agree to the four point plan if they honestly believed they were doing nothing wrong.  After all, any reputably firm that was following the rules would surely leap at the chance to show that it was doing things correctly, wouldn’t it?  And wouldn’t they want the boycott lifting?

Having immersed myself in it for the best part of a day, chasing around the internet trying to nail down facts and not just hype, I have come out convinced that Nestlé are guilty, not just of doing these things but of trying to cover it up with their massive PR machine and spending more time, money and effort trying to cover it up than trying to fix their wrongs.

They may not be breaking any laws, the Code isn’t law after all, but they are morally corupt and souless to be still aggressively marketing their milk in this way, without thought or care for the lives they are destroying.

I guess the next question then is what will I be doing about it.  Do I consider the lives of people in developing countries more important than Kit Kats and Cheerrios?

Your Thoughts?

What do you make of it all? Is it new to you? Is it old news?  Do you, will you boycott or do you think it’s all over hyped nonsense?  Has this helped you understand it any better or just confused you more?

78 Comments on The Nestle Boycott – what’s that all about then?

  1. jaxb
    August 5, 2010 at 12:17 pm (5 years ago)

    I boycott. My children have been able to recognise the Nestle logo since before they could read. It makes me sad that it is still not making any difference and if anything Nestle seems to be growing and growing.

    • anonymous
      May 27, 2012 at 11:06 pm (3 years ago)

      i do agree that what nestle did was wrong and this information was useful but can you tell me how nestle reacted to this accusation in the long run and what they ave done to stop this in the future ?

  2. Notes From Lapland
    August 5, 2010 at 1:03 pm (5 years ago)

    it is staggering just how many food companies and brands they own, and so not surprising that they go from strength to strength in a world were we, for the most part, simply turn a blind eye to the wrongs being committed.

    I guess the big question is why do we, society as a whole, turn that blind eye and not stand up and demand that things change?

    • Kim
      April 23, 2014 at 3:25 am (2 years ago)

      People turn a blind eye because there is nothing to see.

      Nestle is doing nothing wrong.

      The parents of the dead children are at fault; not nestle.

      • Dean
        September 2, 2014 at 2:44 pm (1 year ago)

        Kim WTF! I hope this reply is some kind of joke that you think is funny due to your low intellect, and you are not being purposely inflammatory in disrespecting the tens thousands of dead children and their parents who only wanted the best for them.

        For decades Nestle has been taking advantage of the the worlds poorest people in the name of profit. They take advantage of those most in need of help and knowingly destroy lives, so that they can make money.

        And it doesn’t stop there. Have you seen the video online where the CEO claimed – only a couple of years ago – that access to water was not a human right, and that they should be able to bottle it and sell it. If you haven’t, you need to watch it and educate yourself on the troubles of the world and how corporations destroy lives, communities and the planet in the name of profit.

        If you refuse to educate yourself, then the least you can do is to keep your uneducated opinion to yourself

  3. cartside
    August 5, 2010 at 1:12 pm (5 years ago)

    That is a lot of information, too much for my tired brain. So my approach is that of what I read from sources I trust. I know it doesn't mean that these sources are right, but yes, i try to boycot Nestle (not always successfully). There is always a danger when a company has such a market share, and working for an organisation who deals with the children in developing countries who die because of use of formula when not needed, I know that a lot more needs done to reverse this awful situation and if the one thing I can do is not buy Nestle, so be it. I'm not religious about it though, I have bought items that I realised afterwards were Nestle.

  4. NFAH
    August 5, 2010 at 1:14 pm (5 years ago)

    Re your comment “I would like to believe that none of it is true, however, the big thing that keeps jumping out at me is why Nestlé wouldn’t agree to the four point plan if they honestly believed they were doing nothing wrong.” The easy answer is because it would be a PR nightmare if they didn't agree to the four point plan regardless of what the truth is or isn't…

    The problem with this sort of thing is that there are women who are legitimately unable to breast feed for a variety of medical reasons, and these sorts of campaigns help to demonize those women as bad mothers for using formula…

    • Clare
      January 2, 2012 at 2:22 am (4 years ago)

      The debate has nothing to do with women who are unable to breastfeed, and has nothing to do with demonising women or inferring they are bad mothers for not breastfeeding. It has to do with saving and protecting the lives of babies.

      I do hear the “demonising women who artificial feed” line used by detractors a lot, and usually it’s by women themselves who have a very personal and emotional response to the idea of formula versus breast milk. This is usual because they have had experienced a personal dilemma or crisis when it comes to feeding their baby and feel guilt over not breastfeeding/continuing to breastfeed/giving up breastfeeding. Thus a perception in their mind develops that they are being made to feel like a bad mother. This is what is is termed projection, in psychological terms.

      There is always a time and a extremely valued place for artificial milk for the very small minority of women in the world who are not physiologically or medically able to breastfeed. This is not in question. But that time and place is not in countries like Ghana, where gullible, uneducated, *normal* mothers are subjected to propaganda, underhandedness, manipulation and morally corrupt practices to influence them into using formula instead of the natural, safe and complete method of feeding that they are easily able to do without interference – breastfeeding – that gives their child everything they need to grow and be healthy, and doesn’t put their life at risk for the sake of more profit.

  5. Kate
    August 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm (5 years ago)

    I boycott too, but it's hard because of the sheer number of products they produce. I think it's time the voluntary code was given some teeth and made law with fines, or even prison time for those who try to flout it.

  6. Rachael
    August 5, 2010 at 1:34 pm (5 years ago)

    I have boycotted Nestle for the last 20 years. I know a midwife who did some voluntary work in developing countries, and she saw Nestle's behaviour first hand. Women there were supplied with enough formula to pretty much guarantee their milk supply would have dried up, but would then have no money to buy more, and even if they did, no way of preparing the formula so it was safe to drink. She saw women using Coffee Mate milk powder (coincidentally, or perhaps not, also made by Nestle) to feed their babies.

    If you're interested, The Politics of Breastfeeding by Gabrielle Palmer is a fascinating book, as is Fresh Milk by Fiona Giles.

  7. Harriet
    August 5, 2010 at 1:38 pm (5 years ago)

    Goodness! I'm going to need to read in more detail and when I haven't got (breastfed!) children hanging around my knees…
    That said, their marketing is very efficient. I boycotted as a teenager, but I honestly thought it had all gone away. I am, having read what you've written now, rather smugly relieved that I don't actually happen (by accident rather than design) to use any of that enormous list of products).

    The one question that occurs to me in Nestle's favour is presumably there is a not insignificant number of mothers in developing (and indeed developed) countries who are not getting enough nutrients themselves to feed their babies, and who therefore would be putting their own lives and those of their children at risk if they didn't formula feed. What about them?

    And isn't the bigger question anyway why haven't they got access to clean water in the first place? Shouldn't that be where our energy and effort goes?

    • Clare
      January 2, 2012 at 2:34 am (4 years ago)

      Perhaps it would be far more worthwhile and effective in the long run if Nestle put the many millions spent on PR to promote their innocence and refute the claims towards helping develop clean water supplies in the countries needed? Countries where they spend even more on marketing than the rest of the world combined spends on promoting breastfeeding.

      Also, it is rare for a mother who is suffering from nutritional defects not to be able to breastfeed her own child. Evolution has designed our human bodies to be extremely adept and efficient at nourishing our children, even in dire circumstances, all in the name of continuing the progression of our species.

    • Jon Daley
      September 20, 2015 at 3:16 pm (2 months ago)

      Well fortunately, Nestle has the answer to the lack of clean water problem… Just buy it all from them. They’ll continue to contribute to the droughts as an added bonus.

      (End sarcasm…)

  8. Notes From Lapland
    August 5, 2010 at 1:44 pm (5 years ago)

    Thanks Kate. It was certainly interesting researching it.

  9. Notes From Lapland
    August 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm (5 years ago)

    There really is so much information, this was what i managed to boil it down to after wading through reams and reams of the stuff, so much of it confusing and difficult to understand.

  10. Notes From Lapland
    August 5, 2010 at 1:48 pm (5 years ago)

    I think that is a good point. The women may or may not be capable of breastfeeding…I think what the gist of it though, is not that some women will need to formula feed but the aggression with which they market these products to the point that in some places it is considered a status symbol to feed your babies on formula. If they backed off and let women try to breastfeed and then were there if they couldn't, the situation would be much better. I think. I've not actually been there and can only deduce from what i've read.

  11. Notes From Lapland
    August 5, 2010 at 1:55 pm (5 years ago)

    Sorry NFAH you've lost me a bit, I think. Brain has turned to mush this afternoon, but I think you are saying it would be a PR nightmare if they didn't agree? But they didn't, this is what I'm saying. the plan has been put to them and yet the refuse to even discuss agreeing to it.

    I've only spent a day reading this material and have no other real insight into it but I never got the feeling than women that choose to use forumla are being demonized. Personally I couldn't give a rats arse whether informed women choose to breast or bottle feed (I did both with my two) but the aggressive manner in which they pursue their customers in these third world countries where the women often don't understand their choices and are led to believe that formula is better, even though they can't afford it, have no clean water to mix it with etc, is the issue. I think, from what i have read.

  12. Notes From Lapland
    August 5, 2010 at 1:56 pm (5 years ago)

    this is the impression I got too. In fact it's not really so much about developed countries as it is protecting those in under developed countries that don't have access to other information and are being fed marketing lines that they believe wholeheartedly.

  13. Notes From Lapland
    August 5, 2010 at 1:57 pm (5 years ago)

    It has been made law in many countries but i guess only the governments of each country can do that and it is them that would need to follow it up with fines and arrests, wouldn't it?

  14. Notes From Lapland
    August 5, 2010 at 1:57 pm (5 years ago)

    Thank you for the titles Rachael i'll have a look. What your friend saw sounds pretty horrific.

  15. Notes From Lapland
    August 5, 2010 at 2:05 pm (5 years ago)

    I hadn't heard much about it either until recently, and decided to do a bit of digging to see what it was all about. I had a vague knowledge that some people weren't happy with them but that was all. It was certainly an interesting read.

    Malnourishment and sickness from the water supplies in the mothers must be an issue, mustn't it? Although I think the aggressive marketing by the likes of Nestlé is an added and unnecessary evil. I'm not suggesting, and i don't think the campaigners are either, that they shouldn't sell their product, for those that can't breastfeed it is needed, but that they shouldn't be marketing it so aggressively that many mothers think it is better for their children than breastmilk, which is apparently happening.

    The bigger question should most certainly be why don't they have access to clean safe drinking water! I read somewhere that Nestlés marketing budget for Africa was in the hundreds of millions – imagine if some of that was ploughed into making sure the people that bought their formula had safe water to make it with!

  16. Dara
    August 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm (5 years ago)

    You know my thoughts. The more I dig into Nestle on this and the fair-trade chocolate issue (they actually stamped a bar as being slave-free because they took the suppliers word for it even though they KNEW and had SEEN that the farms the cacoa came from weren't slave-free) the more I feel they are just evil.
    I'm going to link back to your post today too. As soon as I get more than four minutes to myself.
    You did an amazing job laying out all this info, Heather. It's what I wanted to do but couldn't in my article because of the word constriction.
    You know the most ironic thing about Nestle and the lack of clean drinking water? They are a bottled water manufacturer! If they were truly concerned they would give a free case of bottled water with every can of formula purchased. This would give mothers the access to the clean water at least – if not the stearlisation.
    And the fact is that they do market even here in the developed world both directly and indirectly to mothers and children. If you recall, I was the Coordinator of Books for Babies here in Newfoundland. One of our key activities was distributing early literacy packs to mothers in the hospital after their child had been born. Most materials were made by us, but occasionally we did include other pamphlets and information. Not only did Nestle try to have a “baby growth” calendar with their logo all over it included in our packs (they specifically sought out my email to offer this) they also had advertising on other companie's pamphlets such as the RESP providers. If that's not both direct and indirect marketing, I don't know what is.
    Nestle won an award for their brand loyalty marketing in the Phillipines. An advertising award.

  17. Notes From Lapland
    August 5, 2010 at 3:25 pm (5 years ago)

    the film I watched about the Ivory coast cocoa plants and the child slavery that goes on there was disturbing, as is this stuff I read about today, the clips from the documentary very much so. I know they are not obligated to do so but I honestly find it amazing that they haven't figured out the PR benefits, never mind the moral ones, of helping with clean water supplies to go along with their formula.

    interesting to hear about them approaching you to put that info in your packs. Unfortunate for them that they emailed one of the few people that knew they weren't allowed to do that. I wonder how many success they had where people didn't realise or care? Quite a lot I would imagine.

  18. Kate C
    August 5, 2010 at 3:31 pm (5 years ago)

    Well as you know, I have also written a post about the Nestle boycott. It was a guest post on The Blog Up North back at Easter and can be found here for anyone that wants to read it . – it is much shorter than yours but that's cos himupnorth told me to keep it brief. :) I have seriously boycotted Nestle since my children came along – I am an NCT volunteer and the NCT support the boycott. It would look wrong if I trained volunteers to support the boycott and then went out and bought stuff myself. (it doesn't stop my husband from occasionally buying the odd one but he gets told off; my kids don't get that luxury. It doesn't make life easy but I am adamant and there is normally an alternative (cereals are easier to get credible alternatives than chocolate, I have found!) Also, be aware that what is a Nestle brand in one country is not in another and vice versa which is a serious PITA when travelling.

  19. Steve
    August 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm (5 years ago)

    This is news to me. While I support every individuals right to free choice (and to take responsibility for their choices) I do think Nestle have been unpalatably aggressive in their marketing…

  20. angelsandurchinsblog
    August 5, 2010 at 8:11 pm (5 years ago)

    Thank you for this. Incredibly well researched and balanced, and has helped me make up my mind. I was recently asked if there was anything I wouldn't review, and I answered 'Nestle'. I felt pretty sure about the boycott before, but now actually have some findings to back up my instinctive response. Slightly ashamed I hadn't worked as hard on this as you, though…

  21. Kate G
    August 5, 2010 at 1:10 pm (5 years ago)

    Hi Heather this is a very fairly written article and extremely well researched. I am impressed. I have boycotted nestle products for more years than I care to admit to but if there is anyone in any doubt what these big corporations are capable of then they should read your piece and I will be sharing it on Minerva's Mind later.

  22. vegemitevix
    August 5, 2010 at 1:14 pm (5 years ago)

    I agree it's a terrible situation, though I believe the efforts made to stop Nestle should be re-directed to ensuring that developing countries have access to safe water. :-) One of the things I learnt living in a third world country is that the first world has no real understanding of the neccessities of life the very things we take for granted. I wouldn't be surprised if part of the reason why mothers cannot exclusively breastfeed their children is that they themselves are undernourished, and perhaps even ill from the supply of contaminated water, and lack of nourishment. Just my view, but think it's an interesting debate.

    • melissa
      June 20, 2011 at 5:28 am (4 years ago)

      That is a huge misconception about breastfeeding- mothers who are undernourished can usually still provide enough milk for their children. It’s also not just the unsafe water that makes formula unsafe for babies- powdered infant formula is KNOWN to carry bacteria inherently. That might be ok for a full term infant in a developed country where health care is easy to come by, but it is not so in Ethiopia, for example….

    • Ms M
      December 27, 2012 at 9:38 am (3 years ago)

      The reply here is absolutely correct – malnourishment very rarely causes cessation of lactation! Whilest some components of breastmilk vary in the malnourished mother, other components remain the same despite her nutritional status. Mother’s breast milk is the perfect source of nutrition for her infant, regardless. And of course offers protection that alternative feeding methods simply cannot. That being said, it requires a VERY small amount of added calories a day per breastfeeding mother to maintain her breastfeeding relationship adequately. And this is a far more financially feasable option, too.

  23. Jessca
    August 5, 2010 at 1:30 pm (5 years ago)

    I don't think it puts formula feeding mothers in a bad light, I think the big issue with it all is the women in countries where clean water is not readily available being told that formula is as good or better for their babies. Women who cannot or don't want to breast feed in the UK for example, have more information radily available to them so they can make an educated choice.

    I think the whole boycott is more aimed at the wider spectrum of people, not just local, its a wordwide issue because Nestle is a worldwide product…

  24. Michelle Twin Mum
    August 5, 2010 at 10:03 pm (5 years ago)

    What a fab roundup of all the info. Thanks Heather. Like you I had heard of it but did not know all the facts. I will feel more likeley to boycott now. I never knew so many hidden brands were theres. Mich x

  25. Suzie Grogan
    August 5, 2010 at 11:10 pm (5 years ago)

    That list of products is so depressing. I have thought I was boycotting Nestle whilst all the time continuing to buy their less obvious products – dog food and mascara to name but two. San pellegrino?!! My special water treat! What a naive shopper I am…

  26. TattieTats
    August 5, 2010 at 3:32 pm (5 years ago)

    Oh, no… don't take away my kit-kats. Seriously, though, I don't boycott Nestle because I don't think it will make much of a difference either way. Pick your battles, hun.

    • Dean
      September 2, 2014 at 2:50 pm (1 year ago)

      What an excellent notion. ‘I like kit-kats so to hell with the tens of thousands of people who die every year in the name of profit’.

      Unfortunately most people think like you, and so companies like Nestle continue to do what they do, because they know that so long as you’re happy you don’t give a s*** about anyone else.

      Yes you might not be able to change everything, but if everybody boycotted 1 or 2 companies, they would soon start making changes.

  27. Holli
    August 5, 2010 at 3:54 pm (5 years ago)

    I live in Ghana and sadly many women in rural areas who are no literate can mistake coffee creamer for formula as both are milk powder with the Nestle logo – this has definitely led to malnutrition and infant deaths.

    Nestle are a massive marketing force in Africa and across the developing world – I don't believe they have the best interest of the people in mind in their sweeping marketing campaigns.

  28. Stonelaughter
    August 5, 2010 at 3:57 pm (5 years ago)

    Reading your post has simply convinced me that my decision to boycott 8 years ago was the right one. Until they come clean, and act with a little contrition, I won't believe any of their hype.

    The fact that they spend more on hype than they would in fixing this is key – they are also losing a large amount of revenue through the boycott. No sane, straight-up-and-down business would make a commercial decision in this direction – they would want to maximise profit and minimise loss. Nestle know that if they capitulate now it may trigger significant initial losses followed by a resurgence in profit. So this is a doubly baffling commercial decision.

    Your article is balanced and not biassed in either direction; your conclusion is reasonable and if you choose to boycott you have a solid basis here to justify it.

  29. veryboredincatalunya
    August 5, 2010 at 6:59 pm (5 years ago)

    Well done Heather on such a researched post. I've been half heartedly boycotting Nestle, it's quite hard over here because there is so little choice, but with this and what I know about their exploits in the cocoa and palm oil industries I shall from this moment onwards boycott all Nestle products. I hadn't quite realised just how bad (evil) they were with the pushing of formula onto third world country women.

    I formula fed (nestle's as sadly they were the only one's who did the stay down milk that my son needed to control his chronic reflux) but I had choice, education, and clean water.

  30. naomidelatorre
    August 5, 2010 at 9:29 pm (5 years ago)

    Wow you put a lot of work into this post!!! Amazing job. I actually have been hearing about the Nestle boycott since I was a kid and my parents/grandparents were big time into social justice and boycotts. So I do believe that Nestle has done a lot of harm and that many many babies have died all over the world because of their despicable greed and false advertising. It makes me sick when I think about the way corporations today just look at the bottom line and don't care about the lives they are affecting.

  31. Mike Brady
    August 6, 2010 at 5:39 pm (5 years ago)

    Many thanks for going through the information you found and posting this. As you might expect as I am from Baby Milk Action, I agree with the conclusion that Nestlé is guilty. We put examples of Nestlé's own practices on our website so people can see for themselves what it is doing and make up their own minds.

    A wealth of information has certainly built up on the internet. This is the page Baby Milk Action links to from our 'Nestle-Free Zone' banner ads and logos as a way of spreading the word about the boycott and campaign. The banner ad you find there, automatically updates with the last news item.

    The boycott has forced some important changes on Nestlé over the years and, of course, it was instrumental in bringing about the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes itself, which sets out how companies can and cannot market their products.

    While we have stopped practices such as companies using baby pictures on packaging and they now have to put 'breastfeeding is best for babies' warnings, they keep trying new methods to push their products, with claims on labels, gifts and targeting health workers and parents, for example. Nestlé's latest global strategy is to claim its formula 'protects' babies – and it continues to defend this strategy, rolled out in 120 countries so far, despite it being a clear violation of the Code and the emails it is receiving from boycott supporters.

    More pressure is needed. A few years ago we stopped Nestlé claiming its formula 'counteracts diarrhoea' and we will stop this, but only when Nestlé decides the bad publicity and level of emails outweighs the extra sales it is generating. Even things that you would think should be obvious – like translating labels into the correct language for the country where they are sold – are resisted. We made a lot of progress in this area when we got the issue on to UK television. You can see Mark Thomas chasing Nestlé executives around to put them on the spot on youtube:

    The boycott is only one part of the strategy, of course. We also work for the marketing requirements to be introduced in legislation and over 60 countries have done so. In countries such as Brazil where the law is effectively monitored and enforced, median breastfeeding rates have increased from less than 3 months in the 1970s to over 10 months today. Industry analysts, Euromonitor, have noted: '“The industry is fighting a rearguard action against regulation on a country-by-country basis.” So sometimes it is a victory when a campaign stops the industry weakening regulations.

    For when laws don't work or don't exist, we have been pursuing cases through the UN Global Compact and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which were set up for when laws aren't effective in holding corporations to account. The problem is these are voluntary measures and the offices responsible refuse to investigate reports of violations! We have been campaigning for stronger measures at the international level for years, most recently as part of a UN Task Force on food security – but there is a lot of resistance to anything that will actually work (which is why the UN Office for Transnational Corporations was wound up in the 1990s, after proposing measures with teeth).

    Which means it comes down to us, the people, to hold corporations to account in many cases. The more people that spread the word, support the boycott and send emails to Nestlé, the more effective the pressure and the sooner we force changes. People can see for themselves what Nestlé is doing and send an message at:

  32. MrsW
    August 6, 2010 at 12:44 pm (5 years ago)

    What shocks me is that after a 33 year boycott and a high profile international campaign against them, they still rake in profits in the billions. Whether you agree with the boycott or not you have to agree it aint working.

  33. Withenay
    August 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm (5 years ago)

    I have aimed to not buy any Nestle products for over 20 years. It hasn't been perfect (like when the children add their own chocolate bars to the shopping trolley without me noticing!) but it is a stand I wish to make. Having lived in Africa for several years, I am saddened to think of the people with no money being pushed the formula milk. Breast is best in West and developing worlds (although I fully understand a mother's right to choose). The problem is that most people in our world do not have the financial security to make that choice.

    Thanks for your excellent and thoroughly researched article.

  34. aussiejazz
    August 7, 2010 at 11:55 am (5 years ago)

    Definitely helped me understand more and THANK YOU for that, Heather. I agree with you. Any massive corporation such as this that is thinking the 'better/easier' route is that of not agreeing to the 4 point plan and continuing to operate in this way is absolutely soulless. That a boycott has been pursued for over 3 decades is proof enough for me, but your post has adequately confirmed and highlighted many more issues and points in case.

  35. Bumbling
    August 7, 2010 at 1:41 pm (5 years ago)

    Can I ask a really stupid question? Is it just nestle? Or are other formula producers the same/similar?

  36. Jinglesmom
    August 7, 2010 at 11:06 am (5 years ago)

    I just watched a documentary about the world's supply of drinking water and how big corporations are stealing the water from under our feet, as it were, and selling it back to us in the form of bottled “spring water.” Guess who the MAIN culprit was? Nestle. They own Poland Spring here in the USA and even though they were found guilty of siphoning water illegally from underground aquifers, water that belongs to the communities and the wildlife that depend on it, they appealed the decision and were allowed to KEEP PUMPING while the appeal goes on. Can you imagine if someone were found guilty of stealing your wallet, lets say, and were allowed to keep using your credit cards while they appealed?

    I know it is not as bad as endangering babies' lives, but it is a huge problem here in the US, not to mention the pollution caused by the disposal of billions of plastic bottles every year. It just shows the arrogance and evilness of the corporation as a whole. What a sad world we live in.

  37. Noble Savage
    August 7, 2010 at 11:01 pm (5 years ago)

    Fantastic article, Heather. You really did your research!

    One point though, that a couple people have raised in comments: malnourished women are usually still able to breastfeed. Breast milk production is not generally affected by diet unless severe starvation is occurring.

  38. Notes From Lapland
    August 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm (5 years ago)

    I think, but am not 100% sure, that there are others that are also guilty, but the boycott is on Nestlé because they are the biggest player and if they changed then everyone would. I could be wrong though. i also get the impression that they are biggest violators of the rules.

  39. Muddling Along Mummy
    August 10, 2010 at 4:20 pm (5 years ago)

    Fabulous post – its so easy for people to say that because its an old issue those of us who boycott are just continuing to bang on about something that is no longer an issue

    For me the base line and why I boycott is because unethical marketing practices undermine breastfeeding and at least 1.5 million children die each year as a result of that

  40. Charlotte Deighton
    January 11, 2011 at 4:20 pm (5 years ago)


    This is such a good blog post, I agree with you that there is an information overload online about the Nestle boycott. Your post has made it much easier to understand.

    I’m actually writing a report about Nestle and their ethics for a university assignment. I’ve just written a blog post myself about the boycott, but looking at it from more of a PR focus as that is what I study.

    I’d be really grateful if anyone could spare the time to have a read and comment, it will help me get better marks!

    You can find the post at

    Thank you!

  41. helloitsgemma
    March 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm (5 years ago)

    I studied Women’s Studies at University. I did a module on women in the developing world. I read the Politics of BreastFeeding by Garbriella Palmer at the time.
    Yes, Nestle are guilty. They are not alone. I could write reams but it’s just depressing and frankly your excellent post has covered the Nestle angle.

  42. Katie Hessey Santos
    December 20, 2011 at 5:40 pm (4 years ago)

    A family friend who is a midwife brought the Nestle boycott to my awareness and I try to support the cause, and it’s surprisingly difficult. I live in Salvador, the most underdeveloped of the large cities in Brazil. This city is still struggling in the aftermath of the slave trade, and after that the dictatorship; education, in particular, is still a huge problem.

    Here, Nestle has a kind of stronghold which seems to give it total protection from criticism. It’s something on a par with Clarks/Start-right shoes in the UK; one of those brands that seems untouchable. Just the other day my husband (Brazilian) got a phone call from his mother, who was in the supermarket and wanted to know if I liked a certain cerial that was on offer, and I heard him say “Whichever one by Nestle will be fine won’t it”. I had already tried on several occasions to tell him about the Nestle boycott, but he just switches off. So I gracefully accepted the sickly sweet chemical ridden processed cerial, not wanting to turn my mother-in-law’s kind intentions in to a fiasco. (and am now hoping it was a one off). It’s like Nestle has brainwashed him along with the rest of society here.

    Here it’s even linked in with the drug trade: there are parts of town we tend to avoid because we know we will be hastled by some 8 or 9 year old boy tugging at our heart strings to accompany him to a chemists to buy powdered milk for his baby sister/brother – already on the assumption that we won’t trust him with money because he will just buy himself crack to get high. It’s common knowlege that these boys then take the tubs of baby m

    ilk to their drug dealers, who accept the milk by way of payment for crack, and then sell them on to impoverished mothers in the neighbourhood. Of course I’m not saying Nestle ever intended it’s products to be used in that way, but, given their track record, I also doubt that they give two hoots.

  43. brenda
    March 26, 2012 at 12:51 am (4 years ago)

    i boycott for sure so wrong omg we as people need to do something to get it out to everyone and it will take us to stop this mess we need to stand up for are rights and not be pushed around lets do something its so sad!!

  44. Jeremy
    April 2, 2012 at 8:47 pm (4 years ago)

    Thanks for the info. You answered all the right questions, and made a strong – and reasonable – case for the boycott. Next task: trying to sort through the grocery store to avoid all Nestle products.

    Here is a handy list of Nestle products, according to Wiki:

  45. Long Whillock
    May 22, 2012 at 2:23 pm (4 years ago)

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  46. lee
    June 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm (3 years ago)

    You’d think the situation would have improved in 35 years but it has gotten worse if anything.
    I’ve boycotted since 70s but my husband doesn’t check so Nestles stuff does turn up in the larder occasionally, especially sweeties.
    I hadn’t realised they owned all those cosmetic brands though. I can’t afford Helena Rubenstein, I don’t like Maybelline and I haven’t been in the Body Shop since the 80s when I overheard a member of staff complaining to a colleague that a crying child deserved a good slap. L’oreal and garnier, though ,I have bought occasionally so that will have to stop.

  47. sarah
    October 22, 2012 at 12:32 pm (3 years ago)

    thankyou so much for this.I hear about nestle doing this and searched on the internet and thank god I found you cause everything else is so confusing. I am now going to boycott all things nestle but I was so suprised at how much stuff they actually own. Shocked actually

  48. David
    January 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm (3 years ago)

    I have been honoring the boycott since it began. Now Nestlé has some sort of tie-in with the Girl Scouts of America. I wonder if the Girl Scouts are fully aware of the abuses Nestlé has committed. It would make a great statement if a GS troop would quit in protest.

  49. Luschka
    February 26, 2013 at 3:24 pm (3 years ago)

    An excellent post, Heather, but I actually want to add two things to the comments, more than anything else:

    firstly, i think it’s really hard in a 1st world country to understand the stronghold Nestle has. If I’m in England and I want a chocolate on any random highstreet, I have choices. However, all the time I’ve spent in 3rd world countries, like South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, and to some extent even Namibia, the market is flooded with with Nestle products and there’s often simply no other options. We are so lucky to HAVE choices, but in the countries where it’s the biggest problem, they have very few options, often. When people say the boycott isn’t working, they don’t take that into account, firstly, and secondly Nestle are incredibly smart – look at the ship they launched on the Amazon river: selling their products in smaller, ‘more affordable’ (but we all know more expensive in the long run, as buying in larger quantities is normally cheaper!) sizes = more profits.

    And the second point I wanted to raise is that people who don’t support the boycott because they ‘aren’t against formula feeding’ can find many other reasons to boycott Nestle… their wiping out of orangutans, the rain forests, palm oil. Pick your reason. There’s more than just milk to choose from.

    Great article Heather, although I’m somewhat late to reading it 😉

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