I sat down this morning to do some work - real for-money work not fun blog-work - on my computer. As usual I couldn't resist a quick peak to see how many more millions had viewed my blog (2 since last night - 2 people not 2 million) and if there was anything new and exciting on my blog roll. I was drawn to Notes from Home's Friday Club on ethics and activism. I didn't contribute because I didn't have anything to say. I keep a meat-free kitchen but eat meat when I'm out so I'm not a moral vegetarian, or even a vegetarian. I try not to buy processed foods, but sometimes do and, anyway, that's more health and budgetary issues than ethics. Apart from that I will not be rude to anyone online. That sounds more holy than it is - anything in writing will always come back to haunt you. So there you have it, many half-baked ideals but not much action.
I've been hearing a lot about the Nestle boycott over the past few weeks - since I started blogging and social networking in mid-January. I vaguely remembered something about providing free baby formula to poor women in developing countries and then stopping the free supply as soon as their breastmilk has dried up. But this was a long time ago. Was it still happening? Are there any other issues? There must be something going on for all my extremely sensible and right-on blogging friends to be so up-in-arms about it. So I set out (sat down) to click my way through some research.
It was suprisingly difficult to find out the basic arguments against Nestle in an up to date document. I found, through the Friday Club (see above), Heather at Note from Lapland who wrote the most comprehensive overview of the situation, published on August 5th 2010. I figured that if any big changes had occured in the last seven months we would have been informed. Like me, Heather was reluctant to take on board everything she read on Wikipedia without looking into it first. Luckily for me, Heather did a lot of research. As I said before, I am not much of an activist and I am certainly no journalist, so why re-invent the wheel when Heather put so much work into it. Please read what she has to say.
The things that shocked and/or surprised me:
1. It's not just the issue of the breastmilk drying up and, therefore forcing these poor women to buy formula which they can't afford so the babies starve. There is also the fact that they often don't have clean water to mix with the formula so the babies get sick. They often water down the amount of formula to make it last longer so that the babies are under nourished. And, of course, there is the issue of breast is usually best when possible.
2. Living in Israel, much of our food comes from Osem. Nestle owns 50.1% of Osem. Who knew? Well probably loads of people, but not me. DD loves Bamba, we only recently finished with a bottle of Maturna (formula) at bedtime, Bissli (which we can do without), soup stock, pasta.... Luckily all these have alternatives. And it is far more healthy and economical to make my own potato cakes than buy Tivall/Tivol vegetarian products (Yes - Tivol too).
3. I colour my hair with a dye from Garnier. Yep - owned by Nestle. Amongst the Hebrew, Arabic and Russian printed on the box, is a logo that promises the box comes from well-managed forests and other controlled sources. Is this what they mean when they say that Nestle also does good stuff? Also beware of L'Oreal (another personal favourite for make-up) - because it's just not worth it.
So how far do I go? I will stop buying the Nescafe and the Bamba, Garnier and L'Oreal. And I will try to stear clear of the other products on the list of Nestle products (scroll down to the bottom of the page). Do I go so far as to put the Nestle-free-zone badge up on my website? I didn't notice it on any of the other blog sites about boycotting Nestle. I will if you will - let me know. Which means that I'm still a bit apprehensive about making a big noise over something I've heard about through the grapevine as it were. On the other hand, as there is so much negative publicity around Nestle and they say they have cleaned up their act - why don't they do the public relations campaign and prove it beyond doubt? They are not lacking in funds for this so I tend to think that if they won't it's because they can't.
P.S. I shared Heather's Note from Lapland article on my Facebook wall. A friend commented that he had visited the Nestle HQ in Switzerland on a 6th form trip. His impression was that they have admitted to many wrong-doings in the past and are now doing quite a lot towards fair trade. Unfortunately, I think this strategy is what Nestle are relying on.