Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Back to college

Students are back at university at the UK, so the requests have been coming in for resources and other support for boycott campaigns.

Some student unions will have their support for the Nestlé boycott up for review or renewal. We list student unions we know have introduced boycott motions on our website, but we are not always informed if boycotts are introduced or they lapse, so if you are at college please let us know if any updates are needed.

The National Union of Students Services did a survey of student unions fairly recently and according to their figures 38% of unions have boycotts in place. One that is up for review tomorrow, I believe, is at Swansea University. While boycott supporters will be pointing to on-going Nestlé malpractice those opposed usually fall back on the 'right to eat Kit Kat' argument. It is all very well for individual students to boycott Nestlé for its corporate crimes, they say, but those who do not support the boycott should be able to buy Nestlé products.

I have two responses to this. You may be able to come up with better ones, so please feel free to leave them in a comment. Firstly, students are more powerful when they act collectively, which is why the student union exists and have democratic systems to set policy. Nestlé hates it when a union has a boycott in place because of lost sales, because it makes people aware of Nestlé's on-going malpractice, because it makes it harder for it to recruit the graduates it is seeking. The introduction or renewal of a boycott can gain wider coverage in local media and we publicise it to our partners around the world on our website and in our newsletter. It all adds to the pressure on Nestlé to change and helps to save infant lives. We have even seen progress from student action, such as Nestlé dropping its opposition to debating with us. And last year, in the build up to a boycott referendum at the University of East Anglia, Nestlé agreed to consider taking part in the independent expert tribunal we are trying to get off the ground - though it later backtracked (you can listen to what Nestlé now denies it said on our website).

My second response to the 'freedom of choice' argument is that it is false. If there is no boycott in place it does not mean students are free to buy whatever they want. They are only free to buy what the student union outlets decide to stock. If they stock Nestlé products and not ALL the alternatives then there is not true freedom of choice. If a student's favourite brand of coffee or chocolate is not stocked they have to go elsewhere. A decision is being made somewhere because the shelves are not big enough for products from every company. So why not make ethical reasons part of the criteria for selection and boycott Nestlé?

And as Steve Coogan says 'keep on boycotting until they change their policy'.

This is a clip from 2001 when Steve raised the boycott at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Nestlé was sponsoring the Perrier Award for comedy. Baby Milk Action held demonstrations to raise Nestlé's aggressive marketing of baby foods and in 2006 Nestlé pulled out and the Perrier Award is no more (there is a different award with a new sponsor).

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