Consumer Activism

How successful are various forms of consumer activism in changing the world?

Successful boycotts often target as few brand names as possible with one being the ideal. It is a cognitively simple task for consumers to keep one brand name in mind in their efforts to cooperate with a marketplace boycott, but as the number increases, so does the difficulty of the task.

Case study 1




I have chosen Nestle as a case study to focus on. Nestle is well known as one of the world’s largest food and beverage company, however is also targeted with boycott due to promotion of artificial infant feeding, contributing to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants around the world by marketing baby foods in breach of international marketing standards. World Health Assembly marketing has brought about marketing requirements for baby foods in order to protect breastfeeding. The Boycott effort started in 1977 was further called on in 1984 when Nestle agreed to abide by the code, reinstated in 1989, then was alleged by the International Baby Food Action Network of actions still in violation. It continued to supply few and cost-effective supplies of the formula.

As UNICEF has said:

“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.”(

The impact of the cost of baby foods has been recorded since the Baby Killer report in the 1970s, which noted:

 “In Nigeria, the cost of feeding a 3 month old infant is approximately 30% of the minimum urban wage. By the time that infant is 6 months, the cost will have risent to a crippling 47%. In Nigeria, as in most developing countries the minimum wage is what the majority earn.

“The situation is similar in most developing countries. The Protein Advisory Group of the United Nations (PAG) published a table giving the cost of artificially feeding a baby as a percentage of the minimum wage in some of these countries.”

‘Expensive baby foods can also increase family poverty. Poverty is a major cause of malnutrition’ (Unicef. (1980) Nestle went to extreme lengths in order to promote their infant formula in third world countries. In order to do this they hired women with no special training to give out the free samples of product. These free samples lasted long enough for the mother’s breast milk to dry up from lack of use causing mothers to be forced into purchasing the formula, but, due to being poor they tended to mix the formula with unsanitary water or diluting it with more water than required. A lack of food and clean water can have a huge effect on the immortality rate. Tragically, the babies starved or died over the third World while Nestlé’s profits increased from this predatory marketing strategy.

Nestle does not dispute the facts and for this reason the boycott will continue until Nestle accepts and complies with the Baby Milk Action’s four point plan for saving infant lives and bringing an end to the boycott. This particular consumer activism brings about social as well as political change. This action is not in support of this company as it uses economic activism via boycotting.

Judging from the boycott argument, this particular consumer activism has harmed or killed young infants in developing countries. This has changed the world by altering the views of mothers with new born babies, in how they choose to feed them, either by breast-feeding or by means of artificial milk. This boycott was undertaken to provide everyone worldwide what this particular product has done to the lives of many sufferers and announce to certain buyers of this product to discontinue buying it.

The Nestle website looks up-to-date and promotes the slogan, ‘Good Food, Good Life’, It is questionable to weather it is false advertisement and is misleading. Nestle is rolling out a global marketing campaign claiming its baby milk ‘protects’ babies, reduces diarrhoea and other claims that do not stand up to scrutiny. In 1977, a world-wide boycott was launched against the Nestle Corporation which caused customers all across the world to stop purchasing Nestle products all together.

The boycott has succeeded in making Nestle make a series of changes to the way it promotes its products. The approach made by this company towards developing nations as potential markets for infant formula products has changed the way buyers view their products. This type of consumer activism has helped change the world in the way customers have a choice of whether they want to purchase this specific Nestle product or not or whether they purchase substitute goods in place of Nestle products. Once Profit margins begin to gradually fall, Nestle will soon be forced to stop this slander of breast milk and lower the level of advertising of the powered milk.

Case study 2





Green peace is organised by a group of activists, which started in 1971, in order to promote peace and protect the environment. Their overall aim of the organisation is to transform the world by essentially changing the minds of individuals who think about it, informing governments, and industries to stop viewing Earth as an inexhaustible resource. It is a form of consumer activism which helps by changing the world through altering the way individuals use certain substances and chemicals. In our environment, as well as, our homes, the choice of products we use, and what we put into our bodies.

“The lack of knowledge about the impacts of many chemicals on human health and the environment is a cause for concern…understandably the public is worried when hearing about the exposure of their children to certain phthalates released from toys and about increasing amounts of the flame retardant pentabromo diphenyl ether in human breast milk…legislative action takes too long before yielding results. European Commission’’ (2001)

The environment we live in seems to have no freedom from chemical contamination. Green Peace researched that hazardous, man-made chemicals are widespread in rainwater across European countries and added to consumer products. Research into hazardous chemicals in ‘house dust’, has shown an indicator of chemical exposure in the home. The various testing has shown that chemicals that are added to ordinary household products (including carpets, electrical and electronic goods, etc) can be released over time, accumulating in the dust in our homes. Bringing these chemicals via consumer products into our homes can lead to a long term exposure to low doses of these contaminants.

In the majority of consumer products we purchase and use on a daily basis, such as, electronics, toys, shampoos, perfumers, furniture, can all contain substances with the potential to harm our health and development. Green Peace has tested a wide selection of these products for hazardous chemicals. Hazardous chemicals that are used in everyday household products end up in the bodies of unborn children via the mother, due to the analyses of umbilical cord blood. This is proof that certain chemicals released into our environment may have an impact on future generations. The worrying thing about this is that the effect of chemicals in our bodies, including our blood, is unknown alongside the potential risks to children and babies.

All products are allocated via colour, red, amber, or green, to signal whether or not they are harmful pollutants. This is called a grading of products. Red is regarded as products that manufacturers have told us contain harmful chemical pollutants or those products manufactured or retailed by companies who have not informed or provided information we have asked for. Amber is rated as products which manufactures or retailers have told us contain harmful pollutants, nut with a planned removal of those chemicals by a specified date. Finally, products rated as green are products that manufacturers or retailers have told us explicitly do not contain harmful chemical pollutants.

Green Peace helps to change our world for a good cause, by informing individuals of the harmful factors caused by purchasing certain consumer products. Customers have a right to know précising which chemicals are contained in products they consume. Our earth needs change and action by ensuring society creates a toxic free future with safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals found in today’s products and manufacturing.

Case study 3




Red Campaign works with the world’s most iconic brands, such as, Nike, Dell, Gap, Penguin and many more, to make unique (RED) products, giving up 50% of their profits to the global fund to invest in HIV and AIDS programs in Africa.

Marketing via branding and the use of conventional wisdom to target a specific demographic segment is important in order to satisfy the moral identity of consumer activists. For instance, FairTrade© label emerged by claiming to uphold the concept of fair trade. The label does not guarantee a premium quality, but a premium benefit throughout the production chain, which reinforces the moral identity of the consumer.

Written by Elizabeth Boyes


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