A lot of people within natural, “AP” circles tend to boycott Nestlé… or hear a lot that others do. In 1887 when Henri Nestlé made his infant formula mixture to ‘save the life’ of a neighbor’s baby whose mother was ill and unable to breastfeed, I don’t think he expected that in a century, his name would be the name of a multi-billion dollar company… or that that company would be one of the most boycotted companies in the world, and on almost every ethical blacklist there is, in almost every category they function in.
Most people have just heard about some issues with Nestlé and South Africa or Indonesia, or their predatory nature when it comes to infant formula marketing, so I’m actually going to leave those issues — the baby-related ones — for last, and start explaining some of the many other reasons this corporate giant is worthy of your time and effort to avoid… or at the very least, help explain why so many other people do make that effort, which if you’re new, can seem like an extreme one.
I’m starting with chocolate today. Yeah, your Butterfingers, Wonka chocolate, Raisinets, Sno-Caps, and of course, NesQuik. Child slave labor, anyone?
A good majority of cocoa — around 40% of production at least — comes from the West African Nation of ‘The Ivory Coast’ where an estimated 90% of Ivory Coast cocoa plantation work is done via slave labor… often young children from Mali, Togo or Benin are enticed to the Ivory Coast by traffickers, promised paid work, housing and education and instead end up sold to the plantations as slaves. Most of these children are boys, ranging in age between 9 to 16, and they’re forced to work 18 hour days with no protection from the dangerous tools or toxic pesticides, carrying 50 pound bags of beans on their shirtless bodies, the rough fabric often scarring the skin on their shoulders… for a payment of beatings:
Aly Diabate was almost 12 when a slave trader promised him a bicycle and $150 a year to help support his poor parents in Mali. He worked 11/2 years for a cocoa farmer known as Le Gros (the Big Man), but he said his only rewards were the rare days when Le Gros’ overseers or older slaves didn’t flog him with a bicycle chain or branches from a cacao tree.
Aly was barely 4 feet tall when he was sold into slavery, and he had a hard time carrying the heavy bags of cocoa beans.
“Some of the bags were taller than me,” he said. “It took two people to put the bag on my head. And when you didn’t hurry, you were beaten.”
Faint scars remain on his back, right shoulder and left arm.
“The beatings were a part of my life,” Aly said. “Anytime they loaded you with bags and you fell while carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead, they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again.”
As you can imagine, Nestlé is hardly the only company utilizing this slave labor, but they’re the company I’m focusing on. This is just one facet of their disturbing mosaic that makes an image of total lack of care of any people that happen to help produce or even consume their products. It’s ALL about money. In 2001 when so much of this horror came to light, chocolate companies were put on the spot and questioned and critisized about their cocoa purchases. While some other companies like Hershey’s and Russel Stover didn’t confirm that they got cocoa from the Ivory Coast, Nestlé didn’t make any effort to deny it… hard to do anyway with a warehouse in Daloa, Ivory Coast. Many companies claimed they had middlemen, so they couldn’t be aware of things on the other side of production… an excuse that many critics and ethical companies say is just a paper tiger.
Legislation was put into place to help prevent use of child slave labor sources, but it also allowed voluntary commitments to change procedures, a loophole which Nestlé grabbed onto, claiming they’d make changes by 2005… but with no one to hold them accountable but themselves. Not surprisingly, nothing ever came of it, other than a suit from the International Labor Rights Fund where Nestlé claimed escalating civil war on the Ivory Coast prevented them from sending anyone in to monitor the situation… but of course, didn’t prevent anyone from getting to their warehouse and exporting their product… and they also said, “We’re just buyers of a product.”
And so are we.
As consumers, we do have a choice.
Don’t buy Nestlé products, for one, but buy Fair Trade chocolate (yes, even if it costs a little more).
This is just part one of my Nestlé Boycott series, but there are many resources out there, including product lists (though it’s almost impossible to make them complete). You can also sign the Boycott Pledge on Baby Milk Action’s website, and use some of their many anti-Nestlé logos on your blogs and pages to help spread awareness and encourage discussion.
Did you know this about the Ivory Coast? About Nestlé?