Saturday, October 30, 2010

Civil Disobedience Through Boycott: A Review of Nestle's Unethical Marketing of Infant Formula

This is my first essay for my English Composition class this year. We were asked to write a short essay on civil disobedience, so naturally my first choice went to the Nestle boycott.

We weren't asked for any sources or anything; it's just a very basic essay assignment. I'm hoping in the future that I'll be able to provide a better, more thorough look at the boycott, but for now, here is simply one perspective on it.


Did you know that in some areas of the world, the difference between formula feeding and breastfeeding your baby can literally be the difference between life and death and that there is a company who is gaining financially from that difference? This is just one of many examples of why I am taking part in boycotting Nestle, the company holding as much as 40% of infant formula sales worldwide.

I want to take you on a trip for a moment. Think with me now: you are approached by a man who has a product that he says could make your life so much easier and he wants to give you a small supply of it for free. With this product you are going to be able to save yourself a great amount of time and effort and others are going to be able to benefit as well. The offer sounds pretty good doesn't it? Let's say you take the offer and you start using the product. It's a pretty nice product, so it seems. After a week or two of using the product, you're hooked and you go back and ask for more. But now the man wants you to pay for the product and guess what? It's not cheap. But since you're now hooked on this product, you are forced to pay the price to continue using it. You're stuck.

This scenario probably sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it? You, like me, might let your first thoughts drift toward the drug trade. You'd be wrong. The product I'm talking about is baby formula. This practice is fairly standard: you give birth to a baby and you are given a bag at the hospital with a complimentary can of formula tucked neatly inside along with a few coupons for additional free cans of formula. You go home and use the formula as well as the coupons and by the time you're out of free product, your breast milk has dried up or your baby has no interest in learning to suckle when it's so much easier to drink from a bottle and you are now forced to use formula. You are also now forced to pay the hefty price that comes along with using formula.

In more developed countries, like the US or the countries in Europe, this practice, while not necessarily ethically sound, poses little danger, especially as most developed countries have adopted and signed onto the World Health Organization (WHO)'s International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes which places certain standards and protocol which must be adhered to when marketing infant formula. However, in more underdeveloped countries, especially those that have not adopted or do not strictly enforce this code, this tactic does present a considerable risk. You see, in these underdeveloped countries, the difference between breastfeeding and formula feeding and infant can literally be the difference between life and death for many reasons.

The first reason is that there is little, if any, access to clean water or sanitary feeding conditions required when using infant formula. Another of many reasons is that most parents in these areas of the world are not educated enough to properly read or understand the directions to preparing infant formula and thus use disproportionate amounts of formula to water, thereby affecting the amount of nutrition received. One more reason to address is the cost of formula versus that of breast milk. Some formula companies charge as much as $24 USD for one 25.07 ounce can of their product. Very few of the people populating these underdeveloped countries can afford the price of formula and will begin to ration the amount of formula given in each serving, sometimes diluting the product to only half the amount supposed to be given, thus reducing the nutritional value drastically.

As Nestle is the leading distributor of infant formula worldwide, holding a whopping 40% of the market, it is important to make an example of this company in hopes that other formula companies will follow suit when Nestle changes their business practices. I encourage everyone to help take part in this boycott by learning the list of products that Nestle makes and choosing to avoid them until Nestle changes their ways.


If you are interested in learning more about the boycott, I highly suggest checking out PhD in Parenting. She provides a fairly thorough look at the boycott and also gives a lot of sources for more information.