Recently a Facebook friend posted a link about the Nestle boycott. Nine years ago when I did my study abroad experience as a nursing student in a maternity hospital in Argentina I had heard that in years previous Nestle had given out free samples of formula to patients in the public hospital. Due to poor education (or lack thereof) and limited resources, mothers would water down the formula which led to infant malnutrition. Because of the natural physiologic response of supply and demand these mothers would lose the ability to lactate, leading to infant deaths when they would have been better off breast-feeding in the first place. So they stopped distributing the formula- in that hospital. Now as I mentioned I was there almost nine years ago, and this crisis happened before that. I was under the impression that this marketing practice in less economically developed regions was a thing of the past.
I know that formula companies still pass out samples to moms in US all the time, but it’s not the same issue.
Apparently I was wrong, it’s still going on and I have decided to boycott Nestle products. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Nestle products. I love Crunch ice cream bars as much as the next girl and goodness know that Thing 2 would probably look like an Ethiopian if he didn’t have his Carnation Instant Breakfast twice a day. But there are other chocolate and ice cream companies and there are other companies that make nutritional supplements. I don’t have to give my financial support to multi-billion dollar corporations who have shady marketing practices. And what I do may or may not make a big difference, but I do it because I try to be a conscientious consumer.
I mentioned this to a friend of mine. (I will not mention their identity or the context of the conversation because it is not my intent to embarrass her, I’m just trying to increase awareness, because I think she probably represents a lot of people with similar attitudes.)
She said “Well I think boycotts are a terrible thing because they hurt innocent people who are not involved. Why are they being boycotted?”
Me- “They have shady marketing practices.”
She- “Well, there’s important truth about life I think that you should know, there’s always two sides to every story.”
Me- “Yes, there are, and Nestle’s side is ‘no comment’.”
She- “But you have to think about the innocent people who will be hurt. People who had nothing to do with it work for them.”
Me- “What about the innocent babies that are dying?” And I didn’t think about it at the time, but what about the poor families who watch their babies die?
She- “Well, I don’t know about that. I’m sure there is another side to this story.”
Me- “They are breaking laws and trying to manipulate governments.” And they are not in line World Health Organization and UNICEF guidelines.
She- “But they donate to schools and the community, and they give away so much free formula! Isn’t that so nice of them?”
Me- “That’s the problem.” And I gave a brief synopsis of why free formula is a problem.
She- “How do you know this?”
Me- “The internet. Don’t take my word for it. Research it yourself.”
She- “You know what there are a lot of big companies out there who do a lot of things that are wrong, but you can’t stop them and I think boycotting is a bad idea.”
Me- “So we should sit by and financially support them when they do things that are unethical and refuse to make amends because they’re bigger and stronger than us?”
She- “Well, I’ll look into this.”
This really got me thinking, yes, I am just one mom living in small town USA. I spend most of my time cleaning up messes and performing various motherly duties. Right now I am not lobbying for justice or helping the impoverished in third world countries. But that doesn’t mean that the things I do can’t make a difference. One thing that my mother said to me over and over growing up was “Heather, you can do whatever it is you decide to and don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.” She also taught me that I can be an influence for good in the world. And goodness helping others and making the world a better place is what I want out of life so no one is going to stop me! Just because the things I do don’t make a famously big difference doesn’t mean that I should give up and not do them. Just because I am not rich or powerful doesn’t mean that I should stop trying. That defeatist attitude will never change the world, but one pebble can still make far-reaching ripples. I know that reading one book to my children will not ensure their success in life, but each book contributes to their literacy and their love of learning. I know that by recycling items from my one household, I am not going to eliminate the large islands of garbage floating in the ocean, but I can refrain from making the problem worse. I realize that by being a vegetarian I am not shutting down factory farms, but I am not supporting them either. I am aware that if I refuse to support a company with questionable practices, they probably won’t care about just one customer.
I am aware that most people don’t believe the way I do. I don’t feel like they have to. I know that most people eat meat. I get it, meat is delicious. Most people aren’t going to change their shopping habits. Nestle products are delicious and convenient. Who doesn’t love that? I can still be friends with people who don’t agree with me and I feel they are entitled to their opinions. What matters to me is where I stand. Most people in this world really don’t care what I have to say, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t say it. And maybe, just maybe, by saying something I may convince someone else to take a stand too. My mother instilled in me a strong sense of integrity and I have to be true to that. Even if I never convince anyone else to take a stand on an issue that is important to them, that doesn’t mean that I should give up. I want to teach integrity to my own children, but how can I do that if I just assume that world around me is more influential than I am? What does integrity mean but taking a stand against things that are wrong. I am just one mom, just one individual, but many a change has happened because individuals came together for a common cause that they felt was important.
That was Thursday, and I assumed that was the end of the conversation. The next day I got an email, that really inspired me to get on my soapbox.
As promised I looked up the boycott on Nestle. The first thing that I saw was that the boycott started in 1977. I do agree that the practice is wrong. Having said that, apparently the boycott has been going on for 36 years and it has not been working. That is longer than you have been on this earth. I am sure that a lot of very good people have devoted a lot of time and energy into this boycott. Albert Einstein said something to the effect that “the definition of insanity is to do the some thing over and over and expect different results.”
Well, call me crazy but there are a lot of wrong things that went on for a long time before people’s efforts made a difference. Here are a few examples:
- Women started lobbying for the right to vote in the United States in 1826. Women were not given the right to vote until the 19th amendment was passed in 1920.
- Slavery was practiced in colonial America and was not federally outlawed until 1865.
- African-Americans were discriminated against (since who knows when) and didn’t have the right to vote legally protected until 1965.
- Ghandi started protesting injustice through peaceful resistance in 1915, and India was not made an independent nation until 1947.
And when it comes to religion:
- The Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians for 400 years before their prayers for freedom were realized.
- Christians were persecuted by the Romans for their religious beliefs for hundreds of years.
- Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses about his issues with the Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformation lasted through the 1600’s.
- There was an extermination order put out against Mormons in 1838, that was not rescinded until 1976.
If the odds are not in your favor does that mean that you should not stand up for what you believe?