Nestle India is currently facing the heat over the high amounts of MSG and lead in its popular Maggi Noodles brand.
While for most Indian consumers the loss of their favourite Maggi noodles has been a tough one to deal with, Nestle has continued to defend itself saying there is no MSG in Maggi and that the lead levels are within permissible limits. Read more on the latest in this controversy here.
According to the latest tests conducted by Delhi government officials, 10 samples of Maggi were found having lead exceeding the prescribed limits of 2.5 parts per million, and five samples of the “taste maker” had MSG “without a proper declaration in the label”.
As The Indian Express Explained piece points out, according to Food Safety and Standards Rules, 2011, MSG, a “flavour enhancer”, should not be added to food for infants below 12 months. MSG is not permitted in over 50 items, including “Pastas and noodles (only dried products)”, but is allowed in the seasoning used for noodles and pastas.
But while Nestle continues to defend itself, the Maggi controversy is not the first scandal to have hit the company. Globally, Nestle has faced quite a few scandals in the past and we take a look at the top three.
Nestle Baby-milk formula scandal
In the 1970’s, Nestle faced a serious boycott in the developed countries over its aggressive marketing that promoted it’s ‘baby-milk formula’ in under-developed countries in Africa, Latin America.
London based-NGO War on Wants published a detailed expose showing how Nestle and the baby food industry was relying on false advertising to promote their milk-formula over breast milk. The War on Wants document notes, “More and more Third World mothers are turning to artificial foods during the first few months of their babies’ lives… The baby food industry stands accused of promoting their products in communities which cannot use them properly; of using advertising, sales girls dressed up in nurses uniforms, give away samples and free gift gimmicks that persuade mothers to give up breast feeding.”
The document points out that while Nestle gave out extensive instruction leaflets with their baby milk formula which describes the hygiene standard that should be maintained, the problem was that in Africa most mothers were illiterate, and that water supplies were often unclean and thus posed a risk for babies.
The Nestle boycott campaign that started in the 1970s lasted over seven years. It finally led to the adoption of a UN World Health Assembly resolution which put in place an “international code of conduct to govern the promotion and sale of breast milk substitutes”, as report by the Guardian.
Nestle’s Bottle Water controversy
The film ‘Bottled Life’ looked at how lucrative and controversial Nestle’s ‘bottled-water business is which has also grown bigger since 1990s after the company acquired luxury brands Perrier and San Pellegrino.
According to the film ‘Bottle Life’, Nestlé controls more than 70 of the world’s bottled water brands. The documentary takes a critical approach at Nestle’s bottled water business and how the company controls many resources in the US, and has tried to stamp out local opposition in some US states.
In addition to this, a 2005 report published by the Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations and ActionAid raised questions about the quality of Nestle Pure Life, a bottled water brand that is sold in the Pakistan.
The study alleged that, “Nestle’s ‘Pure Life’ production relied on extracting groundwater and thus lowering its level. In cases were this leads to the dry-out of local water supplies, this also can risk people’s human right to health.” Nestle did not give any interviews or statements for the purpose of this study.
Nestle Child labour chocolate controversy
In 2012, Independent auditor the Fair Labor Association (FLA) published a report which said that Nestle’s supply code chain has serious child-rights violations, as reported by BBC.
It should be noted that Nestle had commissioned FLA to carry out the investigation after intense pressure and protests in the early 2000’s. As this Forbes article from 2006 points out, a report by International Labour Organization said an estimated 284,000 child labourers work on cocoa farms, most of them in Ivory Coast.
However, Nestle had defended itself then and said that the do not “own any plantation”. Nestle chief executive Peter Brabeck-Letmathe had blamed the civil war situation for the human rights abuses.
To be fair, Nestle had pointed out that they were not the only company buying cocoa from Africa and that to hold them solely responsible for the abuse was wrong.