Nestle has a new image in the developing world: model corporate citizen.
The Swiss company has received tons of negative press over the years as activists have bashed it as a corporate pariah due to its promotion of infant formula in the developing world as an alternative to breast milk. Activists claim the formula leads to sickness and death among the poorest of the poor.
Nestle denies marketing formula as a breast milk substitute. On its website, the company says “good nutrition starts with breastfeeding, followed by developmental, stage-appropriate feeding choices.” E.g., its formula.
The boycott Nestle campaign, which has been going on since the late 1970s, has been updated via the launch of “Nestle, Good Grief!” ringtone and iPhone app from the Baby Milk Action group that sounds a warning when a boycotter picks up a Nestle-owned product in a supermarket. (One does need a scorecard to keep track of Nestle's array of products. The U.S. line includes Alpo dog food, Buitoni pastas/sauces, Butterfingers candy bar, Carnation evaporated milk, Friskies cat food, Gerber baby food, Libby’s juices, Nescafe/Taster’s Choice coffee, Ortega Mexican food, Powerbar protein bars, Stouffer’s frozen entrees and Toll House cookie dough.)
Nestle, this week, surfaced as a corporate hero. It became the first food company to partner with the Fair Labor Association to improve working conditions in the Ivory Coast, the world's biggest exporter of cocoa. The FLA will investigate whether farmers in the Ivory Coast that supply Nestle use child labor. The non-profit will advise Nestle on ways to eliminate child labor and promote sustainable farming. Jose Lopez, executive VP/operations at Nestle, said “child labor has no place in our supply chain.”
The FLA effort kicks off in January. Even Nestle’s harshest critics should give the company credit for its FLA partnership.
They might even celebrate by munching on a Nestle Crunch Bar.