The Problem with Nestle


Grace Clift uncovers the controversies and crimes surrounding the world’s largest food and beverage company, and considers their ethical output.

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Image by Unsplash, Inma Santiago

By Grace Clift

Nestle SA is the largest food and beverage company in the world, and controls a variety of companies selling everything from pet care to nutrition. The Financial Times recognises their net income at 11.21bn CHF (which is around 9,860,000,000 GBP), and they particularly dominate the sales of chocolate and baby formula. However, they have a murky history of child labour exploitation, drying up creeks and a long battle with Baby Milk Action. So what happened?

The most famous controversy surrounding Nestle is the baby milk boycott, which has been going on since 1988. Nestle has been producing infant milk formulas as healthy for babies, while putting sucrose in some formulas – specifically, formulas sold to lower-income countries. Breastmilk “cannot yet be replicated in a lab”, and yet Nestle has promoted their product as closer to breast milk than other companies, and having similar health benefits. All the while, aggressive marketing of baby milk has broken baby milk marketing policy on at least 107 instances (in Nestle’s own report), and Baby Milk Action claim it has caused unnecessary death and suffering.

As well as this, Nestle have allegedly been involved in multiple instances of workers’ rights abuses, including using child labour. A 2019 report from the ALF-CUI alleges that Nestle USA has interfered with organising rights on multiple occasions, and campaigned against unions. In 2021, they were also sued by eight former child workers, who accused them of "aiding and abetting the illegal enslavement of 'thousands' of children on cocoa farms". They also only released their first ever child labour report in 2017, and "could not guarantee that any of their chocolates were produced without child labor," as of 2019.

Nestle Waters has been in multiple legal battles over their alleged drying up of natural creeks. The lack of conservation efforts from Nestle in these areas have been linked to rivers like the Dead River watershed being drained of 400 gallons of water per minute. A Michigan court has ruled Nestle solely responsible in this instance, and a study has been demanded from The Forest Service on their actions in Strawberry Creek. However, The Guardian notes that the study is being done by Nestle itself, which “has a history of skewing results in its favor”.

It is of course impossible to fully avoid Nestle products, due to their overwhelming control over the nutrition and wellness sectors. It is essential, though, that we pay attention to where our food and drink is coming from, and what happens to get it to us. If you’re looking for more ethical confectionery, Candy Kittens and Tony’s Chocolonely both promote ethical production as central to their brand. Sharing the word, promoting ethical companies whenever possible, and signing petitions for more checks on the adherence of large companies to ethics policy, are the best ways for individuals to hold power in situations of large-scale injustices. Next time you go to buy your regular chocolate choice, have a look at the other options on display, and what their company prides themselves on on the front of their packets.