When it comes to corporate survival, marketing and sales are key to a successful brand. In a word-association game, many people would say cat after hearing the word dog, cold after hot, and chocolate after Nestlé. There used to be a television commercial jingle that spelled the name, said it, and followed with a claim to make the “very best” chocolate. Even if you don’t know the tune, the fact is that most folks in the United States know Nestlé for its candy bars.
However, in foreign countries dependent on economic aid from other governments and large global corporations, N-e-s-t-l-é spells trouble. The corporate giant has a history of moving into impoverished parts of the world, making very profitable deals that promise to benefit their customers, and then walking away when things go horribly wrong. Naturally, the company keeps the revenues, sweetening their fiscal bottom line.
This company is nothing to trifle with. With its international headquarters in Vevey, Vaud, Switzerland, Nestlé S.A. is the world’s largest food and beverage company. Its blue-chip stock is part of the Swiss Market Index, comprised of the 20 largest and most liquid Swiss Performance Index (SPI) large- and mid-cap stocks.
According to Wikipedia, “It ranked No. 64 on the Fortune Global 500 in 2017 and No. 33 on the 2016 edition of the Forbes Global 2000 list of largest public companies.”
If corporations were bears, Nestlé would be a grizzly: big, strong, and predatory. Its territory is the entire globe.
Nestlé makes all sorts of things, many of which have nothing to do with chocolate. Wikipedia lists: “baby food, medical food, bottled water, breakfast cereals, coffee and tea, confectionery, dairy products, ice cream, frozen food, pet foods, and snacks.” The corporate website claims to manufacture more than 2000 brands.
Stouffer’s, Kit Kat, and Nescafé are products familiar to many Americans. All are made by Nestlé. The company also has one of the largest stakes in the cosmetic company L’Oreal. Worldwide, 447 factories in 191 countries employ just under 340,000 workers.
Founded in 1905, Nestlé first sold condensed milk and baby formula. After World War II, the company expanded its product line. The slogan on their corporate website is “Good Food, Good Life,” and their goal sounds wonderful and noble:
“Nestlé’s purpose is enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future. We want to help shape a better and healthier world. We also want to inspire people to live healthier lives. This is how we contribute to society while ensuring the long-term success of our company.”
Nestlé has a new program called Feeding America, “the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the U.S., to support local food banks and non-profit organizations that provide nutritious foods to families in need.”
The problem is that real life does not jive with those uplifting corporate platitudes.
In 1973, the world became aware of unsavory Nestlé sales tactics when an article in The New Internationalist titled “Babies Mean Business” revealed how baby milk companies persuaded mothers in developing nations to switch from mother’s milk to manufactured condensed milk:
“Once infant formula has been used, it is near impossible to kick the habit. For mothers lose the ability and the self-confidence to breastfeed before they reach the bottom of their free sample powered mild packet.”
Nestlé sent in saleswomen dressed like nurses to poor and undereducated neighborhoods to explain why baby formula was so much better, in terms of ease and nutrition than a mother’s own milk. These enterprising sales representatives were so gung-ho in their visits to hospital maternity wards and homes with newborns in Singapore that the country banned them from entering hospital premises. The “milk nurses” simply waited outside to give out free samples and instructions on how to mix up the product with water.
Unfortunately, the Nestlé saleswomen failed to explain that adding more than the recommended amount of water to the powdered formula dilutes the nutritional value of the baby food. To save money, Third World mothers did just that, sometimes using contaminated water to mix their infant formula. “Children whose bodies have wasted away until all that is left is a big head on top of the shriveled body of an old man,” is the result, according to War on Want.
Nestlé, with its 50 percent market share of infant formula sales, stood accused of creating a need where none existed, convincing consumers that their products were indispensable for the “good life,” linked their products with the most desirable and unattainable concepts; and then gave a free sample to seal the deal. Once hooked, mothers were trapped into paying a price they couldn’t afford. They couldn’t go back to breast feeding, and they watched their children starve to death.
In other news, Nestlé pays next to nothing for water rights, bottles the essential liquid, and sells it for huge profits. In Mecosta County, Michigan, the company pays a measly $200 extraction fee in exchange for the rights to pump out 500 to 1,200 bottles of water per minute. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, “About 60 percent of the supply comes from Mecosta’s springs and arrives at the factory via a 12-mile pipeline. The rest is trucked in from neighboring Osceola County, about 40 miles north.”
Daily output at this Michigan factory can reach 3.5 MILLION bottles. At 50 cents per bottle, that’s $1.75 MILLION A DAY. And that’s just one of about 100 similar bottled water plants in 34 international countries.
“In San Bernardino, Calif., Nestlé has long paid the U.S. Forest Service an annual rate of $524 to extract about 30 million gallons, even during droughts,” says the Bloomberg report.
The corporate giant has the means and the will to fight in court for years to change zoning rules and negotiate shockingly low rates for local water extraction. After four years of legal battles in Fryeburg, Maine, Nestlé toppled a zoning board resolution and got water extraction rights for at least 20 years – and possibly an additional 25 years after that.
Nestlé is being investigated by the California water board on charges that the company diverted water from the Strawberry Creek in San Bernardino County with no rights whatsoever. That would be stealing if we did it. Complaints after the 2015 drought prompted the inquiry.
So who exactly is protecting Nestlé? An online search yielded…nothing. No one else in the international online community is asking this next, logical question. Each and every result linked to a Nestlé article. The company is doing its public relations work so well that their golden brand stands unblemished.
With water shortages already plaguing large areas around the world and increasing populations on the horizon, is it wise not to question why a top international food and beverage producer gets special privilege?
More fundamentally, is water a corporate commodity or a human right? This is a question we would be well-advised to answer, and soon.