October 4, 2007 —
Beginning in the 1970s, activists charged Nestle with unethical means in marketing its formula. INFACT led the challenge against Nestle and worked with countless other organizations an an internal boycott movement. The boycott put pressure on Nestle to change its policies. The company markets formula to women in poor countries, resulting in the deaths of thousands, or even millions, of babies.
In 1984, the boycott claimed victory as Nestle publicly claimed to have changed its policies after the World Health Organization (WHO) drafted the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes. The Code restricts how companies can market their formula and encourages companies to issue statements that explain formula cannot really substitute for breastfeeding. Only four years after the initial boycott ended, activists renewed their opposition to Nestle. The International Baby Food Action Network (INFACT was a founding organization), which monitors how companies market their formula, claims that Nestle is the worst offender of the Code. Nestle counters that their difference with activists is over interpretation of the Code and that they are abiding by its regulations.
At the center of the controversy is breastfeeding. In 2006, UNICEF recommended only breast milk (for healthy babies) for all children in their first six months. Many other health officials recommend breastfeeding for a year or even two. Those in poorer countries are especially susceptible to disease, which is why health officials recommend breast milk —which is important for both baby and mother. Nestle counters that its formula allows women in poorer countries to work and provides alternatives for women who cannot breastfeed. The company also claims the boycott is the result of its other consumer products.
Nestle has continuously lobbied against regulation of formula and tried to limit its compliance with the Code. As a result, the long-running boycott remains in place and activists have focused on the widespread food products offered by Nestle—such as Kit Kats, Carnation, Crunch, Nescafe, Nestea, Stouffer’s, and many others.