Named… and Shamed

"When businesses - even the most powerful ones - offer terrible customer service, mistreat their workers or take unfair advantage of consumers, there is a way to influence them to mend their ways. And yes, it's a way that's peaceful, ethical and moral."

Bob Burg

The magazine Ethical Consumer provides a comprehensive list of organisations boycotted for a variety of reasons. Below we pick just a few. For a full list see

Baby Milk Action – the Nestlé boycott

“A millionaire’s baby who is not breastfed is less healthy than an exclusively breastfed baby whose mother is in the poorest social group. “

Professor J. Stewart Forsyth, Ninewell Hospital and Medical School,Dundee, Scotland, UK, 2006

The Baby Milk Action campaign ( is one of the longest-running and most publicised boycotts, which began in 1977. The campaign called for a blanket boycott on all Nestlé products in protest to its aggressive marketing practices in the promotion of baby milk formula in developing countries, which included: “claims about the benefits of formula and providing free supplies to encourage babies to be bottle fed in hospital. This interrupts a mothers lactation, and when she leaves hospital the formula is no longer free.”

UNICEF has stated:

‘Marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding are potentially hazardous wherever they are pursued: in the developing world, WHO estimates that some 1.5 million children die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. These facts are not in dispute.’

Although there is nothing inherently dangerous about Nestlé’s baby milk powder itself, it is however, fatal for infants when mixed with unclean drinking water, which is often a daily reality in poor communities in the Third World. Despite the widely-recognised difficulty in accessing clean water, Nestlé continues to promote its baby milk powder within countries that lack adequate sanitation and clean water. This is in clear contravention of World Health Assembly regulations and disregards the health hazard its promotional campaign poses. Nestlé actively seeks to counteract the benefits of breastfeeding young babies. Nestlé have achieved this through a variety of methods that continue to violate the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions. A report entitled “Breaking the Rules – Stretching the Rules 2007” outlines how Nestlé and other organizations are continuing to do this (see for a full summary)

  • Commercial promotion through the healthcare system – distribution of “information for health workers”, promoting products, contrary to the Code provisions which require it to be factual and scientific. Includes a system of direct commissions (5 percent) to doctors for each product they prescribe in at least one country, colourful prescription pads where doctors can recommend products by just ticking a packshot, etc.
  • Targeting health professionals and their associations – an increasing trend of gifts to health professionals and healthcare facilities. Most if not all of such gifts carry the name of a manufacturer or a brand of infant foods on them; quite a few of them also carry advertising slogans. At least two paediatric associations were found to have agreed to professional endorsement of the products
  • Sponsorship and conflicts of interest – Conferences, seminars, training sessions for paediatricians, nurses, midwives and nutritionists frequently sponsored by manufacturers of infant foods. Subsidising individual health workers to attend ‘educational’ events
  • Promotional materials for mothers – handed by staff before or after delivery, which outline warnings about babies’ potential allergies, vomiting, etc., and almost always points to specific products as the solution
  • Direct promotion at points of sale – special displays, shelf-talkers, offers of gifts and toys, discounts and coupons are still widely used in supermarkets across the world. Some shops even allow special sales staff to promote a particular formula or other breastmilk substitute
  • Ongoing promotion of ‘new’ formulas that claim to improve a baby’s eyesight and brain development and is said to be ‘closer to breastmilk’ or even ‘replicas of breastmilk’
  • Selling intelligence – labels carry drawings of babies or toy animals with a graduation mortar board, promising success at the university, babies hammering away at laptops, impressing parents with intelligence available from a tin
  • Company ‘care’ lines, websites offering advice on infant feeding, child rearing, health issues, product support, etc. Some offer helpful advice but most use information about breastfeeding as an immediate jump to the second-best product, product promotions, free gifts, coupons, discounts, etc.

Unlike traditional boycotts, the campaign extends to public demonstrations as well as challenges at debates. At one point it was Nestlé company policy to refuse to speak at public lectures and debates if Baby Milk Action campaigners were present, although it subsequently reversed this decision following public criticism.

Some advocates of ethical consumption such as Clark (2004), argue that branded companies are more visible and so subject to unfair criticism and focus. Since they are constantly under the spotlight, large corporations are bound to face more anger than smaller companies. They argue that this public scrutiny drives corporations to have codes of conduct unmatched by their smaller rivals:

‘McDonalds uses free range eggs, shuns milk from cows injected with the controversial protein known as “bovine growth hormone” and doesn’t use eco-unfriendly polystyrene in its packaging. Can your local burger joint say the same?’

The Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping

GAP – Sweating it out

‘I was bought from my parents’ village in [the northern state of] Bihar and taken to New Delhi by train,’ he says. ‘The men came looking for us in July. They had loudspeakers in the back of a car and told my parents that, if they sent me to work in the city, they won’t have to work in the farms. My father was paid a fee for me and I was brought down with 40 other children. The journey took 30 hours and we weren’t fed. I’ve been told I have to work off the fee the owner paid for me so I can go home, but I am working for free. I am a shaagird [a pupil]. The supervisor has told me because I am learning I don’t get paid. It has been like this for four months.’

Amitosh, 10, who works for a Gap factory in India

Gap, one of the world’s largest clothes retailers, has been embroiled in a number of sweatshop scandals over the years. In answer to increasingly vocal protests about the working conditions in which most of its garments were manufactured, in 2004 it instituted a supposedly thorough Social Audit System. The intention was to single out and eliminate any of its feeder factories using child labour and sweatshop techniques. Yet as this Guardian report shows (, such malpractice continues within Gap’s production lines. Children as young as 10 are essentially turned into slaves, hand sewing garments for 16 hours a day in deplorable working conditions.

For a list of current boycotts see: