Ethical Consumption

by | January 12, 2016

The news that “Nestle is being sued for allegedly using child slaves on cocoa farms” presents conscientious consumers with an ethical problem. Bob Churchill from the International Humanist and Ethical Union says,

Trying to boycott Nestle would be like trying to avoid breathing polluted air. What’s an ethical response to them?

That’s a good question because as the pic below shows, Nestlé produces more than chocolate:


Some or all of the products shown above can be found in Canadian homes at one time or another. So what is the ethical response to Nestlé? How do we avoid purchasing Nestlé products when we may not have a complete list of the products the company produces? Note: Smarties, a favourite of Canadian kids, is not even shown in the pic.

11 thoughts on “Ethical Consumption

  1. dusttodust

    The Coke logo caught my eye thinking…Nestle doesn’t own Coke!?
    Warren Buffet’s little outfit is the largest shareholder. Maybe Nestle owns a piece of it as any entity can but I wouldn’t say they own it.
    I agree with boycotts though. We can all do our small part. The companies want our money. If we withhold it then they (and unfortunately everybody connected with that company) will struggle just that little bit.
    Just as two examples; I boycott eating squid and using Dixie cups. Not together 🙂
    I don’t approve of how squid is caught and the Koch brothers own Dixie cups.

    1. Shawn the Humanist

      It’s a good point. What counts as ‘owned’ is interesting.

      Even if Nestle 100% owned Coke, but Coke was being ethical (probably not), should we avoid Coke products? No, we should avoid Nestle products.

    2. Indi

      I don’t mean to go completely off-topic, but I’m curious about the squid thing. Squid isn’t exactly part of my daily diet, but I wasn’t aware of any ethical issues with squid fishing (is it even called fishing?).

      Could you point me to a link or two to enlighten me?

      1. dusttodust

        Certainly I hadn’t at any time gone about having squid for every meal either.
        A quick wikipedia on drift net fishing and the waste of what they call by-catch will explain things.
        It seems the practice has dwindled although not ended due to international agreements.
        Apparently sufficient people were horrified by the waste of by-catch and even birds to do something about it.
        Perhaps I’m showing some age here but it was a while ago that it was something talked about.
        Back in my pub days and even late night snacking in reataurants Calamari was often a nice little something. Deep fried yum. Then I read or heard about the use of drift nets intending to catch squid and stopped eating it. I never read or heard about anything being done about it at the time. I just made my own boycott.
        While it may very well be that squid is ethically caught now or that even some back in the day may have been ethically caught…how would we know? So I stopped being the end consumer of the product.

  2. Shawn the Humanist

    Shifting your money away from certain companies, and toward others, is effective and good. Also, doing so publicly so others can think about it.

  3. dusttodust

    I would suggest ownership of a publically traded company might be along the lines of owning the largest number of shares up to owning at least the majority of shares and more.
    I’m no expert in the myriad of variations of shares one can own that can be offered but my above definition probably needs to be the kinds of shares where you have some say in the decisions of the company directly or by proxy.

  4. Indi

    I just opened up a Stouffer’s box, and just happened to notice on the back that it was a Nestlé product. I had no idea. And if it hadn’t been for the fact that the Nestlé logo was plastered big and bold on the box (which, of course, is not something they are under any obligation to do), I would still have no idea.

    I’m going to have to disagree with Shawn the Humanist, at least partially. It’s not that shifting your support/cash from unethical to ethical products isn’t a good thing. I just don’t think it’s the least bit effective.

    The problem is that when you talk about trying to fight corporations on the scale of Nestlé and its cohorts, you’re talking about a sisyphean task. Corporations on that scale are *unbelievably* powerful, and unbelievably complex. While it’s not impossible for the average Joe to *hurt* them, it’s also not impossible for the average ant to hurt a human. Yet I don’t think any ant ever managed to change the direction a human was intent on travelling in.

    You may try to argue that we are many while they are few, and sure it’s true that enough ants *can* have a real impact on a human. But expecting that level of cohesion and organization from the general public is beyond ridiculous. I mean, say you want to impact Nestlé’s bottom line by 5%… can you imagine getting 5% of *ALL* of Canada to go along with such a plan – particularly a plan that requires *enormous* inconvenience to themselves (they’d have to give up many of their favourite products, and they’d have to go shopping with a massive list of Nestlé group companies and check each product they buy against it). And that’s just for a measly 5% hit.

    And that if you can even manage to figure out *where* to hit them. Corporations of this scale are jaw-droppingly complex, and often designed specifically to be able to adapt to exactly the kind of damage you’re looking to apply. Even *IF* you could make a list of indisputably Nestlé products (and the Coca-Cola example already mentioned is an example of how hard that is), those brands could simply be “sold” to another company… owned by the same people, with the same board and all, but just not a “Nestlé” company. What now? Continue to boycott them or not? Technically they’re wholly innocent – they weren’t made with the ingredients tainted by slavery (there’s no cocoa in Minute Maid orange juice (I presume)), and now they’re not even being sold by the company that benefited from it. If you then want to argue “but it’s the people in charge I’m targeting”… well then what if those people go to work on the boards of other companies that never did anything unethical at all? You’d punish all the innocent people at those companies just to stick it to the few jerks?

    But the most tragic argument against this strategy is that *IF* it actually managed to have any impact – *IF* it actually managed to reduce Nestlé’s bottom line to the point where they couldn’t just take the hit for a few years then continue on with business as usual once the fad passed – the only people it would actually ultimately hurt are the people at the bottom of the corporate pyramid – the factory workers and such – who were totally innocent of any involvement in (and likely even knowledge of) child slavery. You know who it’s *not* going to hurt? The CEOs and other big-shots at the top who actually knew about the slavery, and made it possible. You hurt their bottom line, they retaliate with widespread layoffs and restructuring… and 10 years later they’re still in business now with a leaner company that generates even *more* profits for them.

    No, this is not a problem that can be solved by the free market. This requires the government to step in.

    And by that I don’t mean merely slapping a fine on them. The people at the upper levels of these companies can pay multi-million dollar fines with the change they have in their pockets. Merely increasing the fines is not the answer either – so long as a company can simply balance the cost of the fine against the cost of the crime there will always be the chance of a situation where the crime is more profitable. Especially over the long run. Even worse, this incentivizes the company to brutally crack down on anyone or anything that might possibly leak evidence of the crime. Fines are not the answer.

    So what exactly should be done? Hell, I don’t have the answers. I can throw out suggestions, but I don’t know how feasible they are.

    For example, a law that makes anyone who knew or *should* have known about crimes in their supply chain equally responsible for their crimes. In other words, the CEO of Nestlé and everyone else on the chain who had or *should* have had responsibility for child slavery… they’re all charged with child slavery. Practical? I doubt it – it’s far too easy for people at the top to set up buffers between them and crimes, like a mid-level flunky who “was actually responsible and hid the crimes from the higher ups” nudge-nudge-wink-wink.

    Another amusing suggestion I’ve heard (from a friend) is to make it mandatory for all products associated with crimes to have big banners on their packaging – like those warnings on cigarette boxes. So like 20% of the label of Smarties will say “THIS PRODUCT WAS INVOLVED IN CHILD SLAVERY”, in both official languages.

    Or you could go after the shareholders: The shares of any company involved in these crimes will be “taxed”/fined some percentage of their value for a number of years, regardless of who holds them. The effect of that will be to make the shares any company guilty of crimes… or even reasonably *suspected* of crimes… toxic to buyers. You want to scare the shit out of a corporation? Threaten it with a massive devaluation of its stock value. Companies who might even carry the whiff of exploitation (by using labour in countries where exploitation is common, for example) will have to work double time to reassure everyone that every stage of their operations is legit.

    I don’t have the answers, and realistically this might be a problem that requires multiple solutions on multiple levels. But I do know that this is not something we-the-people can solve. This is not something that the free market can solve. This requires government intervention. And it requires targeting not the people closest to the actual exploitation, but the people high up in the organizations that profit from it… which is not going to be easy, because they have a lot of experience building corporate structures to isolate themselves from the dark corners of their businesses.

    1. dusttodust

      So I guess that’s it then. Just throw up our hands in despair and forget about trying to do something. Resistance is futile and all that.
      I agree with the possible impacts on the innocent if enough people boycotted a product they were involved with.
      But we the end consumer can only do so much. The corporation wants my money. If I don’t like something about them then they don’t get it when I can make that choice.

      1. Indi

        > So I guess that’s it then. Just throw up our hands in despair and forget about trying to do something. Resistance is futile and all that.

        Oh I wouldn’t agree with *that* assessment.

        What it is, is recognizing that this is not a problem we can solve individually, or by any private action. This is a social problem that requires the power of government to effect any meaningful change.

        Having that awareness doesn’t mean you’re now helpless. It just means the strategy changes. Rather than taking action by keeping a list of “do-not-buy” products, you take action by sending letters to your MP and/or MPP (probably the former – I don’t know what provincial government could do about this, really)… or by signing up for the newsletter from an activist group that focuses on this issue… or by sending a few bucks to such a group or to a politician who is agitating for something to be done. Hell, even just talking about it like we are is raising awareness of the problem – the more we talk about it, the more likely it is that those in power will clue in to the concerns, and maybe even decide to champion change.

        Ironically, these strategies might actually be *LESS* work than the naïve approach of boycotts. Yet they will be far more effective.

  5. kyuss

    Nestle doesn’t make Ben and Jerry’s either – it’s a Unilever product.

    1. kyuss

      Or Knorr. Or Coca Cola (as has been mentioned). Or Dasani. Or a lot of the products this individual is calling for a boycott on. I’ve got to question this individuals merit as a “leader” in “the movement” when he can’t even get basic facts right (i.e. what products does Nestle make).

      Even *IF* you could make a list of indisputably Nestlé products (and the Coca-Cola example already mentioned is an example of how hard that is) – Indi

      Not really. Google “who owns Knorr” as an example. It’s pretty immediately clear that it’s not Nestle. Or google “what products does Nestle make”. In fact, Nestle makes it pretty easy –

      The aforementioned site gives a global breakdown of all nestle brands (plus their logos for the photoshop lover) from A to Z. It also took about 2 seconds to find.


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