Nestle Boycotting

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Boycotting the ‘baby killers’? Nestlé and the ongoing infant formula controversy

This case discusses the controversy surrounding Nestlé’s marketing of infant formula, and in particular looks at how the campaign against Nestlé has been sustained over 30 years despite attempts by the company to appease its critics. The case provides the opportunity to examine the ethics of marketing practices, as well as to discuss the role of ethical consumption in curbing perceived ethical violations.

The ‘Baby Killer’ is the title of War on Want’s 1970s incendiary report on Nestlé’s marketing of infant formula in developing countries. While much has been said about the issue over the last 30 years, with evidence being marshalled from both sides proclaiming the company’s innocence and guilt, the world’s largest food company remains mired in a controversy that seems destined never to go away. Since the issue first went public in 1973, Nestlé has continued to face intense opposition to its practices, and has the dubious distinction of having endured the world’s longest consumer boycott. Has Nestlé failed to listen properly to its critics? Does it simply not care? Or is it that the critics have either got it wrong, or will never be satisfied? In what has been one of the most remarkable, and probably the most well- known, campaign against an individual company, over just one single issue, the truth of the matter remains thoroughly contested.
The details of the Nestlé infant formula controversy (or in truth a series of related campaigns from several parties) have been extensively discussed, to the point now of becoming business ethics folklore. There have been three major books about the events; various academic and media articles; numerous reports from research institutes, development agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs), the World Health Organization (WHO), and others; and nearly all of the major business ethics textbooks seem to include a case on the subject.

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