Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Nestlé, Babies (Mine and Other People's,) Bottled Water, and Long Running Battles

When Elin was in high school one of the classes she had to take was a consumer economics course. Along with practical stuff like how to read a lease and balance a cheque book, there was a unit on business to which was invited a retired executive from Nestlé. When I heard I was very surprised—not that somebody from business would be in the class because that might be interesting particularly if balanced with a visit from a union militant, but because the man was from Nestlé.

She was still a toddler when the international campaign to boycott Nestlé for its aggressive marketing of baby formula in developing countries began. I enthusiastically jumped on board—no Quick for us!—but by the time she was in her mid-teens I’d thought that battle against the Swiss multinational’s doubtful practices was won. It wasn’t, obviously, and I gave her some of the literature from the anti-formula campaign and a couple of questions to ask Nestlé’s man. Luckily, at that moment she was more anti-establishment than anti-parent, and so she agreed to innocently ask the man why Nestlé could do such awful stuff.

She came home very pleased with herself. He’d been embarrassed, she reported. He promised he’d look into it, if anything had been done that was questionable in the past it certainly would have been corrected by then, he assured her. The kids in her class learned a lot from the way he had to paddle very fast in order to stay afloat, she concluded.

But Nestlé continues its doubtful campaigns. The most recent incident is its marketing which claims that "bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world". “ Not so says a group including the Council of Canadians, Ecojustice, Friends of the Earth Canada, the Polaris Institute and Wellington Water Watcher. It filed a complaint Dec. 1 under Canadian Code of Advertising Standards against Nestlé Waters North America arguing that Nestlé is attempting to mislead the public on the true impacts of bottled water.

Toronto City Council is set today to vote on a ban on sales of water in plastic bottles. Will be interesting to see how that plays out, particularly since it seems it’s part of a larger cut-down-waste program.

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