When I talk to people about conscious consumerism—choosing to buy things that don’t have a negative impact on other people and the planet—many are unaware of the issues with some large companies or industries.
However, across the board, I’ve noticed if there is one company that anyone knows is corrupt, it’s Nestle. Whether they know about Nestle’s issues with child labor or their unethical water bottling practices, Nestle has a reputation, and it’s not a good one.
Because of these issues, tens of thousands throughout the years have agreed to a complete boycott on all Nestle products. But this can get complicated. Nestle owns thousands of brands that sell a wide variety of products—so how can you tell what companies are owned by Nestle? Even if you knew, many of these brands have a chokehold on the industry—is it possible to boycott them completely? Is there a way to avoid Nestle in any sort of meaningful way and find alternatives?
These are all questions we’ll address below.
Nestle currently owns over 2,000 brands that sell everything from chocolate and baby food to cosmetics and frozen entrees. Twenty-nine of Nestle’s brands have sales of over $1 billion a year. Some of Nestle’s top brands include:
What are examples of Nestle being a corrupt brand?
Slave and Child Labor
Most of Nestle’s most well-known scandals involve their connection to unethical labor like human trafficking and child labor. This is not something Nestle attempts to deny, although they do say that it goes against what they stand for.
Child and slave labor are unfortunate realities in the chocolate industry. Big players in the chocolate world source their cocoa from farms in West Africa, and these farms find the cheapest labor they can to keep their prices down. Nestle and other large chocolate companies are able to turn a blind eye to this because it’s taking place on third-party farms. They also say it’s difficult to trace where all of its chocolate is coming from.
Nestle and other large chocolate corporations have made pledges time and time again to eradicate slave and child labor from their supply chains. And time and time again they have pushed the deadline back. Right now the deadline is 2025, but it is unlikely that Nestle or its cohort will meet this target. When questioned, execs again cite how difficult it is to track all their chocolate sources and enforce rules that would wipe unethical labor from them. However, the Fair Labor Association has traced all of Nestle’s supply chain and claims that it can be done.
Water Bottling Issues
Personally, even before I knew anything about any corruption in Nestle, I always thought their “Pure Life” water tasted kind of like grass. So it didn’t pain me to find that not drinking it was actually better for everyone.
The largest water bottler in the world, Nestle has seen multiple scandals over how their water is sourced. Nestle overpumps, taking high-quality water from communities in the developing world (and Flint, Michigan!) and leaving them with low quantities of filthy or nonpotable water. Such was the case in Pakistan, where residents now drink contaminated water because Pure Life has exhausted their water sources.
Corporate Watch has also uncovered that Nestle has overpumped water in Brazil for its Perrier brand and illegally demineralized the water, leaving citizens with lower-quality water and ruining the appearance of its once pristine parks.
In California, during especially brutal droughts in 2015, Starbucks announced it would be moving its ethos bottling operations outside of California to ensure plenty of water for everyone in California. But when the Nestle CEO was asked if they would also consider doing the same, he responded “Absolutely not. In fact, if I could increase it, I would.”
And, by the way, when springs are not handy, Nestle just bottles up and sells municipal tap water. So you’re literally getting the exact thing you’d be getting out of your faucet.
This way of doing business not only screws over the people in the areas where water is sourced, it’s also terrible for the planet. Draining these aquifers dry is unsafe and unsustainable, all to create tons of plastic waste that will end up in landfills—often when you could get the same thing from your kitchen sink.
Baby Formula scandal
Back in the 70’s, Nestle marketed their baby formula as a necessary supplement to breastmilk, providing nutrients that breastmilk simply couldn’t, past a certain age. This claim isn’t true, but it was commonly shared around this time.
The really insidious thing though, was that Nestle propagated this myth in developing nations, and even had sales people dressed up as nurses, peddling their formula to uneducated mothers in the developing world. These new mothers began supplementing with formula, but had to mix the formula powder with water, which in the developing world was often contaminated, causing babies to get sick. But after so long of supplementing with formula, their breastmilk supply had decreased, and they were unable to feed their babies with anything but formula, cementing their need to continue purchasing from Nestle. Yikes.
Dealing with Dictators
In 2009, it was discovered that Nestle was sourcing 15% of its milk from the farm of Grace Mugabe, wife of notorious dictator Robert Mugabe. This farm was illegally seized by the Mugabe regime and Robert Mugabe’s crimes were so heinous that the U.S. and EU both implemented sanctions on products from Zimbabwe. But since Nestle is Swiss-owned and not part of the EU, they were free to conduct business with Zimbabwe and even Mugabe. While perhaps not breaking any laws, these actions definitely ventured into some morally dubious territory.
Price Fixing, Pollution, Poison, and More
Nestle has had scandals related to the toxins melamine being found in their powdered milk, which led to the hospitalization of tens and thousands and the death of six. Nestle has also been guilty of price fixing and mislabeling their products. Additionally, while giant companies like Nestle would be expected to put out a ton of pollution, Nestle’s level of pollution—especially water pollution—are unacceptable even for their size.
Nestle isn’t alone in a lot of these scandals and missteps. Most other huge corporations miss the mark on some labor and environmental issues. The thing is, Nestle seems to commit a disproportionate amount of wrongdoing. And they rarely seem to take appropriate action to correct their errors and make things right.
So what do we do now?
DoneGood believes in using our purchasing power for good and supporting brands we believe in with our dollars. So ideologically, we’re full on in support of a Nestle boycott. And on the other hand, like we said, Nestle owns *two thousand* brands, and several of them are pretty big ones that have a major presence in the market. Sometimes you just need to buy some baby food, or mascara, or a frozen pizza.
Ethical production has a lot of ground to cover. It’s a lot easier to go into a gas station and buy a KitKat than it is to buy an ethically made chocolate bar. Some products simply don’t have ethical alternatives, or ones that are widely available or practical. That’s not something that any of us can single-handedly solve, but it is something we can cast a vote for every time we use our wallet.
We don’t think ethical shopping has to be complicated. You can stay away from Nestle as much as possible, without freaking out if CoffeeMate is the only creamer left in the store. You can shop ethically whenever it’s possible or practical, and release the guilt when it’s not.
We started DoneGood to make ethical shopping as available, easy, accessible, and affordable as possible. We’re always adding to our collections of chocolate, pantry staples, cosmetics, pet supplies and more—basically a lot of the stuff you would get from a Nestle brand, but with care for the planet, and good conditions for the people who made it.