The ‘ethics’ of business

In today’s world, it’s pretty easy to live off ethically produced and marketed foods. Or so we think! Every day we actually consume millions of pounds worth of produce which feeds directly into the very unethical hands of large multinationals, feeding their greed to pillage the environment (and subsequently the people) across the developing world. 

To be honest, most items on the shelves have played a part in this ‘pillage’ some way along their production.  The obvious goods to avoid are fairly easy to identify. Luckily for us the vicious marketing techniques of Nestle, for example, have been heavily publicised. As such, many people tend to avoid goods that have ‘Nestle’ on the packaging. As a multinational, however, Nestle has several subsidiaries, owning companies and brands such as Rowntree, Milo, Nescafe and Purina – a clever little way to jump over the hurdle that is the Nestle-boycott.

The main issue surrounding Nestle is the company’s promotion of infant formula over breast milk to mothers in developing countries. Nestle began distributing free baby formula to mothers in hospitals a while back. ‘What’s the problem?’ I hear you say, ‘surely that’s a good thing?’

Well, let’s look a little closer. After the mothers leave hospital they have to start paying for the formula. This is not cheap, and many have to make significant sacrifices in order to afford it. The solution seems simple: switch back to breast milk. However, the supplementation interferes with lactation, making breastfeeding no longer an option.

Expense, however, isn’t the only issue here. Because of low literacy rates in developing nations, many are unaware of the sanitation methods required to produce the milk.  Even those who are often don’t have the means to perform them. Instant formula needs to be mixed with water which, in the developing world, is often contaminated and a difficult necessity to come by. A study by UNICEF estimated that formula-fed babies are between six and 25 times more likely to die of diarrhoea and four times more likely to die of pneumonia than a breastfed child.

Although still thriving, Nestle is an easy brand to avoid. There are many competitors that supply similar goods, from Cadburys to Kellogg’s so it’s easy to find alternatives. Sadly this isn’t the case for one of the worst offenders: Coca Cola.

The Coca Cola Company has decades of unethical trading and production under its belt, having allegedly caused droughts, exasperated water supplies and indirectly caused the deaths of people worldwide. One of the most reported instances of this occurred in Kerala, India where the company was taken to court by the Indian Government for its malpractice which had led to villagers’ losing water supplies as their wells dried up. While the company denied this had anything to do with their plant, they sent water tankers round every morning to supply minimum needs anyway, a sure sign of culpability. The charity ActionAid says ‘the crisis facing the once prosperous farming area is an example of the worst kind of inward investment by multinational companies in developing countries.’

With slogans such as ‘drink coke, save water’ painted across much of the developing world, Coca Cola is painted as way of saving water. In actual fact, this is far from the case. In 2002, for example, it was reported that it took Coca Cola 3.12 litres of water to produce one litre of final product (not to mention the water used to clean the assembly lines, flush out glass bottles, and so on).


In many developing countries, given the vast turnover of Coca Cola, the company undercuts rivals meaning they are the only alternative to water in most places (a product they also undercut). In Malawi, it costs 70 Kwatcha (14p) for a bottle of Coca Cola or Fanta, where to buy water it’s closer to 120 Kwatcha (24p). With Malawi being one of the poorest countries in the world, it’s no surprise that everyone’s drink of ‘choice’ is a cold glass of Coke.

Today, operating through networks of independent bottlers, Coca Cola are able to avoid any legal cases and boycotts should they occur. While it’s possible to easily replace Nestle goods and still maintain a healthy profit, a Coca Cola boycott would never work as companies fear the huge drop in revenue should they stop stocking the giant’s products. It’s a great shame that ethics often fall to the wayside when it comes to business. Losing money is a risk most companies are unwilling to take in the attempt to appear ethical.

So what can we do? Join the boycotts today. Don’t feed into the multinational pillage of the developing world. The next time you go to buy a drink, have a think about where it came from; when you look at breakfast cereals, think of the mothers struggling to feed their children, the communities walking for miles to fetch water. Before you pass over your money, think about what you’re paying for.

By Ryan Cassidy
(Published: Issue Two, November 2012)s.src=’’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”;