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The Nestlé boycott and Fair Trade

The following is an analysis of the first 100 questionnaires completed by visitors to the Baby Milk Action website (received within 10 hours of the questionnaire being posted following an email to an alert list compiled of people who have signed up to receive news from Baby Milk Action).

The email alert encouraged people to visit the questionnaire and did not include Baby Milk Action's views on the award of the mark to Nestlé (click here for the email text). People who receive our alerts will be more familiar with Nestlé malpractice than the general population. This quick survey is principally to help Baby Milk Action decide how best to respond to the possible award of a Fairtrade mark to Nestlé's Partners Blend.

UPDATE 11 November 2005: The figures in brackets are the percentages after 500 questionnaires had been completed. Note that not all of these were from campaign supporters.

Do you support the Nestlé boycott?

10% (15.8%)- Yes, I boycott Nescafé

90% (79.0%) - Yes, I boycott all Nestlé products

0% (5.2%) - No, or no answer

Comment: The boycott focuses on Nescafé.

Do you support Fair Trade? (select all that apply)

90% (92.0%) - I buy products with the Fairtrade mark.

82% (78.4%) - I encourage others to buy products with the Fairtrade mark.

59% (52.6%) - I encourage my work/organisation/retailers to stock products with the Fairtrade mark.

Comment: This confirms that support for the boycott and Fair Trade are complementary strategies amongst ethical campaigners. Many student unions support the boycott and Fair Trade. In its campaigning, Baby Milk Action does not promote specific alternative brands to Nestlé, but has raised concerns over Nestlé's treatment of suppliers and encouraged people to support Fair Trade alternatives while boycotting Nestlé. In Cambridge, where Baby Milk Action has its office, members of staff have supported the Fairtrade City initiative, including holding public meetings and speaking in the local media.


When you see the Fairtrade mark on a product, what do you think it signifies?

32% (29.4%) - The Fairtrade Foundation has checked the company treats its suppliers fairly, in accordance with the Fairtrade criteria.

47% (37.4%) - The Fairtrade Foundation has checked the company treats its suppliers fairly, in accordance with the Fairtrade criteria AND that there are no other significant ethical concerns about the company.

17% (26.6%) - The Fairtrade Foundation has checked the company treats the suppliers involved in that one product fairly, in accordance with the Fairtrade criteria BUT there may be issues about how other suppliers are treated and other significant ethical concerns about the company.

4% (6.6%) - Other or nothing selected.

Comment: The correct answer is the third of these, selected by only 17% of respondents (this increased to 26.6% when questionnaires over a longer time period were considered, which could be attributed to respondents having seen some of the coverage of the launch or our press release and briefings).

The Fairtrade Foundation says that the Fairtrade mark is only given to individual products and not to companies. The mark indicates that a product has complied with the internationally agreed standards for Fairtrade certification. It does not refer to any other product marketed by the company. The product has undergone exactly the same certification process as all other Fairtrade products whether marketed by multinationals or smaller companies. The Fairtrade mark guarantees consumers that those producers have received a fair and stable price for their product. The mark is not an endorsement of any company or its activities.

The responses demonstrates the value of the mark to Nestlé and the confusion the award of a mark to Nestlé will cause. If a sample where 90% buy Fairtrade marked products are largely mistaken in what the mark signifies this also creates a risk to campaigners against Nestlé's unethical practices, particularly those campaigning for the rights of suppliers. Many people will believe Nestlé treats its suppliers well. In reality virtually 100% of Nestlé suppliers remain outside the Fairtrade system (200 farmers in El Salvador and an undisclosed number in Ethiopia supply Partners' Blend. Over 3 million coffee farmers are dependent on Nestlé).

As results below show, boycotters are not taken in by Nestlé receiving the mark for its product and for many their confidence in the mark is shaken as a result.

Note: Part way through gathering this data, the first and third options were swapped to see if more people chose the correct response if it came first. In fact, it made no difference. 26.9% of respondents (sample 387) chose the correct answer with the order as given above. 25.7% (of 113) gave the correct answer when it came the first on the list.

Nestlé has reportedly applied for the Fairtrade mark for its Partners Blend of coffee. Why do you think it has done this (you may select more than one answer)

3% (3.4%) - Nestlé is concerned about coffee farmers.

69% (69.0%) - Nestlé is worried about competition from Fair Trade products.

51% (47.4%) - Nestlé wants retailers who support the boycott to stock its Fair Trade coffee.

93% (89.2%) - Nestlé wants to use the award of the Fairtrade mark in its public relations materials and its campaign against the boycott.

Comment: In this sample, which is mainly boycotters, many of whom support Fair Trade, most people see Nestlé's application for the Fairtrade mark as a cynical exercise, with the majority believing it will be used as a PR tool (see some of the comments below).

Would you buy Nestlé products if they had a Fairtrade mark?

3% (7.6%) - Yes.

96% (91.0%) - No.

1% (1.4%)- Nothing selected.

Comment: From the point of view of existing boycotters, this suggests there will be little change in support if Nestlé gains the Fairtrade mark. When additional questionnaires are considered, which are not all from boycott supporters, Nestlé's Fairtrade product gains a small increase in potential customers.

Would your support for the Nestlé boycott change if it received a Fairtrade mark for one product?

3% (5.0%)- Yes

96% (93.4%) - No

1% (1.6%) - Nothing selected, but commented "need more information as in are they going to change other policies?"

Comment: Explanations from respondents are given below. If Nestlé is hoping to break support for the boycott with the Fairtrade mark, these responses suggest it faces a difficult task, even when the questionnaires from those who are not boycott supporters are considered. Comments associated with the 'Yes' answers are worrying, however, one being 'because I trust Fairtrade'. There was one suggestion that the boycott should be restricted to one product, meaning the Partners Blend would not be targetted (indeed, Nescafe is the principle target of the boycott, but responses to the first question suggest 90% of boycotters, boycott all products. Partners Blend will be listed on the boycott product list as a product from which Nestlé profits).

Explanations from the 96% who wouldn't change their support for the boycott are also given below.

These answers should not lead to complacency, however. As there is widespread misunderstanding amongst this sample over the meaning of the Fairtrade mark many people who are not yet boycotters may also incorrectly believe Nestlé as a whole has been certified as Fairtrade and this will make it harder for all campaigners against Nestlé malpractice to make their case.

Would your support for the Fairtrade mark change if Nestlé received it?

50% (45.2%) - Yes

43% (49.4%) - No

7% (5.4%) - Nothing selected.

Comments: Explanations are given below. There is a split of views. For 50% explanations indicate they will not view the Fairtrade mark in the same way and will examine companies who use it more closely. Some respondents are very upset at the prospect of Nestlé gaining the mark, with a few saying they would no longer see any point in favouring Fairtrade products as the mark would be devalued.

Almost half say the award would not affect their support for Fairtrade, though in explanations some say their view of the mark would change. Some comment that the Fairtrade Foundation must award the mark to any company that fulfills the narrow criteria and that it is possible to keep the issues of treatment of suppliers and baby food marketing separate. This is perhaps true amongst existing boycotters. Those campaigning for Nestlé to change its treatment of suppliers do perhaps have something to fear, however, as the above results suggest the majority will believe there are no longer concerns if Nestlé receives the mark. The fact is that the vast majority of Nestlé suppliers are excluded from the Partners Brand initiative and Nestlé has commented that it believes Fair Trade should remain a niche market.

In its communication with the Fairtrade Foundation on this issue, Baby Milk Action has suggested that the Fairtrade Foundation website and other materials should make it much clearer what the mark does and does not signify.

One of those who did not select a response, thought the Fairtrade Foundation would not award the mark.

How do you think the Fair Trade campaign should grow?

1% (2.0%) - By encouraging as many companies as possible, including transnational corporations, to produce at least one Fair Trade product.

54% (52.8%) - By encouraging consumers and retailers to favour products from companies that practice Fair Trade throughout their business.

42% (40.8%) - Both of the above.

3% (4.4%) - Nothing selected.

Comment: There is much debate in the Fair Trade movement about 'mainstreaming' Fair Trade, to make its market share far greater (see the New Internationalist magazine). The award of Fairtrade marks to brands owned by Tesco and the proposed Nestlé brand reflect the view that one way to do this is to encourage big companies to enter the market.

An opposing view is that Fair Trade is not a marketing option for a company, but a way of doing business that should run through a company. The argument is that Fair Trade should be mainstreamed by supporting companies that are Fair Trade so they grow. A big company would be required to make sweeping changes to enter the Fair Trade market under this model, which would also require a change to the current rules of the Fairtrade Foundation.

This split in views is reflected in the responses to the questionnaire.

Baby Milk Action has not entered directly into this debate, but has argued in the Nestlé case the 'disrepute' clause of the rules should be used, in that awarding the mark to Nestlé will damage the mark and so it should be refused on this basis. The Fairtrade Foundation has said Nestlé will not be permitted to misrepresent the award of the mark to Partners Blend and action will be taken if it does so. Baby Milk Action will monitor Nestlé's statements closely.

Any other comments? These are given below.
Are you a member of Baby Milk Action?

51% (72.8%) - I am not a member

49% (27.2%) - I am a member

Comment: Baby Milk Action has about 2,000 paying members whose contributions make up about 50% of the organisation's income. Many more people support the boycott while not being members. An international internet poll of 15,500 people in 17 countries published in September 2005 found Nestlé to be one of the four most boycotted brands on the planet and the most boycotted brand in the UK.

The response when 500 questionnaires are considered shows that the later questionnaires are less likely to have come from our supporters and so are more representative of the broader population, though still that sector which is aware of Fair Trade and other ethical issues.

Comments from respondents

(These are from the first 100 respondents. Additional comments haven't been processed at this time).

Would your support for the Nestlé boycott change if it received a Fairtrade mark for one product?

3% - Yes.

Because I trust fairtrade.

It would be a good thing, but in of itself would not stop me boycotting them.

I would still boycott Nestle products but I would try to encourage more positive actions from Nestle e.g. more products. Campaign for Nestle to improve/change overall practices and use the fair trade product as a reason/springboard for further action.

1% - Nothing selected.

Don't know, need more information as in are they going to change other policies?

96% - No

Fairtrade mark for me is an ethical decision. Nestle is not ethical. Period.

Whether it receives fairtrade accreditation or not will have no effect on my support for the boycott as fairtrade is a totally separated issue to the reason for the boycott.

I would consider this a cynical marketing ploy - hoping to be seen in a more favourable light.

Regardless of the fair trade mark - nestle are still not trading fairly!

Because it doesn't change the reason I boycotted in the first place.

Don't believe anything N says.

Makes no difference - still an unethical company even if 1 product may be 'fair' this just shows that the rest of it is 'unfair'.

Not until they also stop contravening the International Code.

Paying lip service to fairtrade does not eliminate the impact of their other dubious marketing methods and unethical practices.

Because I do not believe that Nestle have changed.

They are in it for the money not for the workers.

I don't think Nestle changes as a company or its attitude just because it receives a Fair Trade mark for one of it's brands.

No - even if that one product was fair trade, there is nothing to guarantee any other product is.

I would not buy that product.

It does not solve the issue of its marketing strategy.

It has nothing to do with the suppliers. they are two separate issues - I boycott it because of it's policy regarding baby milk, not coffee!

Fair Trade is an entirely separate issue from the baby milk disgrace.

It makes no difference to what they have done already.

A wolf putting on sheep's clothing to improve their image.

I will not stop boycotting until Nestle changes its practice.

A boycott is a boycott.

I don't trust Nestle for one second. I think it is an awful company.

Receiving the fairtrade mark would not take away from Nestle's crimes, nor does it do anything to fulfil the Baby Milk Action Campaign aims.

Nestle has 10,000 brands, it is impossible to boycott them all. I tried to get people to do it for years and even my most right on friends didn't do it. I came to the conclusion the focus needs to be on just one or two products, that way it's easier for people to take part.

Not until it complies with the international code.

The two issues are somewhat unrelated, and I don't see how one cancels out the other.

Because if they really cared about fairtrade they would stop all their unethical practices.

All that it would prove is that Nestlé are able to buy a single brand that has acted within Fairtrade guidelines, not that the company has in any way changed its outlook.

Because it would not change what the rest of the company is doing.

Because the boycott is about unethical marketing of baby milk.

Until Nestle abides by the WHO Resolutions the boycott remains.

I think nestle applying for a Fair trade mark is either a cynical attempt to try and get some credibility or, and probably more likely, they have realised that there is money to be made in the Fairtrade market. This will not signify a change in the ethics of the company.

Nestles corporate culture is incompatible with fairtrade principles.

Buying a trademark does not change the bad nature of a company.

Because that wouldn't change the way i feel about babies not receiving nutrition from breast milk. Also nestle applying for a fairtrade mark makes me feel that they are losing customers because of the boycott and are trying to get new customers who like fair trade products.

I still believe there are ethical concerns re Nestle.

Still believe what they have done is more than enough to boycott them, and they shouldn't be allowed to carry on like this.

I don't trust the nestle brand.

Having the Fairtrade mark doesn't mean that Nestle itself is any better or worse than it was before.

It doesn't change their lack of concern for the lives of mothers and infants around the world.

Until Baby Milk Action say that the Nestle boycott is unjustified because Nestle have entirely reformed their practices I will continue to support the boycott.

A fairtrade label on their coffee doesn't mean anything has changed with respect to their formula marketing practices.

This does not change the fact that Nestle encourage women not to breastfeed.

Because it wouldn't change any of the other facts that are the primary reason for the boycott. they are still responsible for infants deaths worldwide because of their unethical practices!

The boycott and the award of the Fairtrade mark are 2 separate issues. Those of us who support the boycott are free to buy other Fairtrade products, where those who currently buy Nescafe have a Fairtrade option.

There are plenty of other fair trade competitors to Nestle whom I consider to be much more ethical in general and I will continue to support these brands.

Overall company ethics still undesirable; Fairtrade status would be a PR stunt rather than genuine commitment to Fairtrade.

This is nothing more than a marketing ploy - I'm disgusted that FT would even consider awarding such an unethical company its mark.

I do not boycott nestle because it is not fair trade, Ii boycott it because of it's unethical practices. Therefore, although I'd prefer it if the company was fair trade, Ii would not stop boycotting it solely for that particular reason.

As I see it - the baby milk issue is entirely separate from the issue of fair trade. I will buy fair trade products - but not Nestle's.

I feel the boycott covers more issues than Fair Trade.

Nestle should employ fair trade for all its products.

I am an ethical consumer, something a bit rare nowadays in this diluted mediocre campaign world, but, if a company is unethical that is boycott enough, even if one of their products is made fairly.

I would still boycott Nestle as for me it is about their marketing not their sourcing. I generally buy from as few multinationals as possible anyway owing to concern re their sourcing policies.

It does not cancel out the damage done to infants from being fed baby milk from dirty water.

I'm not sure products in Canada carry the "Fairtrade Mark" as such, although there is certainly interest in fair-traded coffee, tea, chocolate and many other products. While I can't afford to consider fair trade in everything I buy, I do buy fair trade whenever possible, & ALWAYS buy fair-traded coffee & chocolate, which are luxury goods. Fair-trade usually applies to production, however, while the Nestle boycott concerns much wider issues. A product which is fairly produced can still be marketed in a way which is unethical - an example might be aggressive marketing of coffee to kindergarten kids, or marketing chocolate as a breakfast food. So while Nestle might indeed somehow manage to comply as a fair-trade buyer to coffee producers, that would in no way convince me that its overall operations are ethical. In fact, I'd be suspicious that they had increased exploitation in some other area to offset any loss of profit associated with distributing fair-trade coffee.

One product is not good enough - they could still treat people unfairly with all their thousands of other products.

Because unethical business practice seem to span the gamut of their products, not just coffee.

I would still boycott Nestle products as they are still an unethical company and I believe they should not be given a fairtrade mark.

One fairtrade product does not fix all the damage Nestle have done.

Profits will still ultimately go to Nestle.

I still don't trust them because of their unethical marketing of baby milk.

It doesn't stop it's sh*t from stinking.

I will NOT buy from a company with baby's blood on their hands.

One fairtrade product seems a cynical move while they don't accept they act unethically elsewhere especially in relation to baby milk.

Because this is a ploy to make yet more money and has nothing to do with caring about people. This makes the FairTrade mark look ridiculous. Just because they make Fair Trade coffee doesn't mean they have stopped unethical marketing of baby milks.

I'd rather support smaller businesses with a real heart for the underprivileged. Plus I no longer like the taste of any of the Nestle ranges!!!

Would your support for the Fairtrade mark change if Nestlé received it?

50% - Yes

I would feel that the integrity of the mark had been compromised.

Nestle is not an ethical company.

I would support Fairtrade but I would question the integrity of the Fairtrade mark. My confidence in what the mark stood for would be shaken.

I would have to be more careful about my own research about products and companies.

Would find it more dubious.

The fair trade group has an obligation to the over riding fundamentals of "Fair trade". It should also include the companies other trading position.

I would look for more stringent regulatory marks, and would not necessarily look for the fairtrade mark as a symbol of ethical trading.

It seems to go against what they stand for if they are ignoring Nestle's poor human rights record.

I would no longer trust it.

I would still buy Fairtrade products, but I may think twice about what it actually signifies to be awarded the Fair Trade mark.

Fairtrade would be lowering itself to Nestles ethical standards.

I would question the practice of other companies given this label.

It would cheapen the whole project, and make it meaningless. Nestle would have to change drastically for me to accept it, and to maintain that change for at least two years.

I would question its worth!

I would no longer trust the Fairtrade mark as an indication that a company is acting ethically.

I cannot see how Nestle can be justified in having the Fairtrade mark, given their reputation to date.

I would still buy Fairtrade but only related to particular companies. It would change because I think the Fairtrade mark should look at the whole working ethnics of the company and not just its ethic on a particular Fair trade line of products. Not doing so will probably lead to confusion among customers who will prob buy other products from a company that has one or two Fairtrade lines without realising that the product is not Fairtrade. I think it would make Fairtrade lose credibility in the long run.

I would see a Nestles fair-trade coffee as a PR stunt that devalues the fair-trade mark.

It would make me feel that the fairtrade mark is being given out to loosely and that the fairtrade mark organisation are not taking all details about the company into consideration.

A little. Would prefer ethical companies to be given the Fairtrade mark.

Knowing how "unethical" Nestle is, it would cause me to question the overall ethics of the other companies with the Fairtrade mark.

It makes a mockery of the concept.

I would not buy any product linked with Nestle in any way.

Giving Nestle a Fairtrade mark devalues other Fairtrade products.

It would imply that Fairtrade did not take the full ethics of companies into account and would open the gateway for other companies with questionnable ethics.

I would still support the fairtrade mark but my level of respect for it would decrease.

I would look more closely at the product I was buying, rather than trusting the Fair Trade logo as I have done until now.

It will make a mockery of Fair Trade.

It would make a mockery of the Fairtrade mark, reducing it to a meaningless logo.

Self-serving and institutional and discredited.

It makes a mockery of what is publicly perceived as ethical business practise. I would then question other brands.

If Nestle was awarded the Fairtrade mark it would deem it worthless.

I would be more wary about which Fair Trade products I bought.

I'd become suspicious overall.

It would undermine my belief in the Fairtrade mark.

I would lose confidence in it (in fact my confidence is wavering at the moment because of this!).

It would be rendered completely untrustworthy and buy-able in my opinion.

43% - No

I understand that the only qualification for the Fairtrade mark is that the company has fulfilled the requirements for fair treatment and pay of workers and has no relevance to any other ethical issue.

As long as nestle continues to conduct their policies on baby milk I will continue to boycott them.

But I would be concerned that Nestle could gain the fairtrade for just the one product and still continue as before with it's attitude to and promotion of baby milk.

I would still rather support Fairtrade than buy tea and coffee etc that may have been produced with slave labour.

It wouldn't but it does make me question the values of the Fair Trade mark if Nestle can gain it for one of their brands.

Fair trade is still a good thing.

If they've filled the criteria for Fairtrade then fairtrade cant refuse them it. I do think the criteria could be changed, though.

Fair Trade is an entirely separate issue from the baby milk disgrace.

It makes no difference to what they have done already.

I'd be disappointed, but I'd still buy other Fairtrade brands.

It would still represent a means of judging which products are sourced from suppliers that are treated fairly and ethically. Furthermore, it is the only means by which one can judge this at the moment.

I would be horrified.

Despite it being a slightly wonky precedent, Fair Trade won't be any less of a laudable "cause".

Because their are so many ethical companies out there and are treating their farmers fairly.

But I would scruntinise each product to check the parent company as many large corporations now seem to be moving in on fair trade.

But it would lose a lot of credibility.

I support FT unreservedly. I wish there would be more products in developing countries have FT mark.

It is still a good mark to have and I hope demonstrates fair trade with regard to a product.

Anything that says Nestlé I stay away from - simple as that. The damage is done, and I can easily carry on without their products.

I would be concerned about the credibility of the Fairtrade mark however.

I don't think that the Fairtrade mark can afford to be picky about who receives the accreditation. Unfortunately they also need the income as much as the next person.

The fairtrade mark is applied on a product-by-product basis, but the Nestle boycott involves attempting to hurt Nestle as broadly as possible because of unethical practice in certain areas - one fairtrade mark doesn't change that. (The same would apply if certain products of other companies were fair trade marked (e.g. McDonalds, Proctor & Gamble, Kraft) - I still wouldn't buy them).

When I buy coffee or chocolate with the fairtrade label, I feel better knowing that the farmers received fair compensation. Otherwise, I would feel that my pleasure in enjoying those products was obtained at the expense of exploiting someone in a poorer part of the world.

Campaigners have been trying to get big coffee companies to engage with Fairtrade for many years - this is a breakthrough.

This presents an ethical dilemma, but I buy as much FT produce as I can because of the benefits.

It would devalue it slightly.

But it worries me.

It has criteria that when met must allow the mark. This is an agreed system. If Nestle play by the rules as they stand then they must get the Mark.

FT have to stick to fixed criteria. A supermarket like tesco might obtain the mark for its coffee and still purchase product from Africa at rates which exploit workers and growers. This would reflect on tesco not FTF.

I'll still buy fairtrade when I can, but not nestle fairtrade.

The Fairtrade mark is one applied to products rather than companies. If some coffee farmers are getting paid better because Nestle wants some positive PR, then, if nothing else, it's good for those coffee farmers. I don't think it's the Fairtrade Foundation's job to ethically screen companies.

It's such a fundamental concept that stills need the support until every single product is traded fairly and ethically and as such slavery is abolished permanently, world wide. Nestle are just one problem!

Email sent to alert list

Although Nestle and the Fairtrade Foundation are refusing to comment publicly on 'speculation', 'well informed' sources in Switzerland have confirmed that Nestle will be entering the 'lucrative UK fair trade coffee market' this week with its 'Partners Blend'. See

Baby Milk Action has placed a questionnaire on its website about Nestle and Fair Trade and we would appreciate your views. See

A press release has been posted on our website, which you can find in the
'Latest News' section and you are linked to this after completing the
questionnaire. If you wish to contact the Fairtrade Foundation, the address
is mail@fairtrade.org.uk We would appreciate being copied in on any messages
you send to help us decide how to proceed.

If you have received this email from mikebrady@babymilkaction.org and do not
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Best wishes,