The Problem With Principles

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I’ve been in a quandary lately. While I would love to live in a world where my daughter could wear only organic clothing, eat only organic food, play in the garden all day with her wood only toys and support only local and parent-run small businesses, this is simply not our lives.

While I have high standards and many principles that I live by, I have begun to wonder if it’s worth the stress occasionally bending a self-imposed rule causes me.  Bear with me. Here’s an example.

When I was pregnant, I lived off a specific brand of Nestle fruit icelolly for the first few months as licking the ice lolly was the only hydration I got. (I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum). I drank Nestle’s Nesquick by the jug full every day of the last three months. I had no idea about Nestle’s dodgy dealings, had never heard of the boycott, and just liked to flavour the milk I was craving.

Not long after I began breastfeeding, I found out about the #NoNestle thing and since then have been a 98% strict boycotter (what about the 2%? Well, I don’t always find out what brand of coffee it is that I’m ordering, although I probably should.)

So, recently, my husband was bemoaning the lack of suitable replacement for chocolate milk and when we found some I couldn’t help but wonder whether this store name brand wasn’t from the exact same factory, from the exact same cocoa farm, somehow still making Nestle money.

I have no way of knowing, so drew a line under that, grateful that I can at least eat Cadbury’s chocolate. Until I got home and heard a talk show about child labour in the Cadbury’s cocoa plantations. I was furious, and even felt a little betrayed. How could Cadbury’s? I trusted them (over Nestle, at least)! To which my husband spoke a hard truth: You’ll find unethical behaviour in any big business. You’ll find a skeleton in every major corporation’s closet.

You’ll find unethical behaviour in any big business. You’ll find a skeleton in every major corporation’s closet.

So, what do we do? Boycott everyone? That’s impractical. So, I’ve been thinking about how we live in a world where we can’t a) trust anyone to be entirely moral or ethical, or b) hide ourselves away hoping not to support anyone who is unethical, without going completely insane.

The conclusion I’ve come to, at least for our own lives, is to do what we can, and decide what’s most important to us. Like I do with charities.

While I support a children’s charity every month, I wouldn’t support an animal charity. Is not that I don’t think animals deserve support. It’s not that I don’t think they are cruelly treated by their human neighbours. It’s not that I condone the mistreatment of animals. But I worry more about the children, and if I have more money to give, it’ll go to the children. (And I’m pretty certain that if someone is abusing their animals, someone needs to take a closer look at what’s happening to the children in that home too.)

It’s the same with having principles about something. If you jump up and down and campaign about everything, people begin to believe you just like fighting and think you’re better than everyone else and they don’t respond to your pleas or your words anymore. If you care a lot about one, two, or even 10 things, people accept that you feel strongly about them and will often even support you.

In the same way, I most certainly do not condone child labour, or child poverty, or corporate  greed, and perhaps I just have to learn to do without chocolate, but if my choice is between one or the other, I’d still take Cadbury’s over Nestle any day, since Cadbury’s unethical behaviour affect a definable number of people, however tragically and unfairly, whereas Nestle’s subterfuge affects untold millions (although, of course, the effect of, say, formula feeding, is less than that of forced labour).  (See how I go round myself in circles on this thing?)

So, the problem with principles is that you have to decide what’s important to you, and where you can draw a line, stand your ground, and live with the consequences of your decisions, but you have to realise that someone else, somewhere else might be fighting a similar battle against the brand you’ve decided you can live with.

And some days, some issues may appear bigger than others, and it swings and roundabouts. Which means as the ‘little people’ we can possibly never have outright victory, but at least we can put pressure on the other little people – like no longer frequenting the cafe near me that’s switched to Nestle and is now covered in Nescafe branding – and eventually on the ‘big people’.

The ‘big people’ – big businesses, corporations and so on  – make money. That’s what they want. So, if every time the Nestle/NoNestle debate rears its head more people find out about it, and if one person reaching for Nescafe now reaches past it that’s a knock to big business. A knock of a couple of pounds, perhaps, but it adds up. I used to call myself a coffee snob. I drank nothing but Nescafe. I’d rather go without than have anything else. So, now I don’t spend £8 a month on Nescafe anymore. That’s £96 per year. That’s let’s say £3000 in the remainder of my lifetime. Say 1000 people join the boycott, that’s £3,000,000. A million people? £1,000,000,000.  By changing your brand of coffee. That’s not including cocoa, chocolate milk, or Body Shop Products or Jenny Craig or any other of the long list of Nestle brands.

It makes a difference.

I’m not sure how to end this post. There’s no call to action, there’s no guilt trip, no plea. This is my personal decision for my home and my life. Nestle is the brand I make my stand on. It’s the one I draw my line under.  I cannot bring myself to fund the lifestyle of someone who sits in a cozy room in an expensive business suit and says, “Yes. Fine. Let’s do it.” When the “let’s do it” means scheming, conniving, and conning mothers, and knowingly, costing little, innocent lives.

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11 thoughts on “The Problem With Principles

  1. This is such a tricky one. I suppose we all have to do what we can to make a difference to the issues we support from the heart, and accept that we can’t do more. Unfortunately I might actually die if I had to boycott Cadbury’s, plus the company would close down and a lot of people would lose their jobs ..

    [Reply]

    Luschka Reply:

    @DD’s Diary, Lol. I tend to agree. As does my waistline, these days :(

    But yes – as you say. We need to make a difference in the things we care about. It’s all we can do.

    Thanks for the comment :)

    [Reply]

  2. I feel the same, I also boycott Nestle – and living in Spain it’s actually quite hard to buy anything but bloody Nestle – for a number of humanitarian reason, hell I could write a thesis on their wrong-doings.

    But I also really care about orang-u-tangs and the fact that due to the palm oil industry their habitat is rapidly disappearing. Sadly it’s impossible to ban all product with palm oil in it, mostly because there are too many and also because they can get away with labelling it as ‘vegetable oil’. It’s incredibly hard to be ethical, all we can do is our best and hope that every time someone like you writes a post like this then someone else also starts to think a little bit more about what they purchase.

    [Reply]

    Luschka Reply:

    @Very Bored in Catalunya, That’s very true VBIC. I remember seeing that in Spain. Quite scary how they can monopolise a market, isn’t it?

    Also raises further questions about the ban on breastmilk in the refuges and shelters. Can’t help but wonder who’s making money out of that.

    Thanks for the comment!

    [Reply]

  3. That’s the trouble with becoming aware – it snowballs! Before you know it you’re aware of so many things and you care about them and you want to do something about all of them. But you’re so right, you can’t.

    And your husband is right too, no corporation is innocent. Something I like to do is to just take my money out of the flow as much as possible. Buying used, even if it’s a big corp brand means I’m not fueling new demand for their stuff.

    [Reply]

    Luschka Reply:

    @KrissyFair, You’re right -it’s like with everything. You just find out more and more. And start sounding a little like a crazy person! :p

    I agree about second hand – it’s why I love freecycle. I think it makes a huge environmental difference to the world too.

    [Reply]

  4. It is difficult, isn’t it? I used to be a big boycotter (and marcher and badge wearer, etc.) in my teenage years. I have a blog post half-written in my head about this, actually. I find that my principles seem to have been watered down over the years (on some issues – on others they’ve probably solidified) and especially since having children. These days I tend to go more for positive purchasing actions rather than negative – buying Fair Trade (much easier for us as we have a Co-op as our corner shop and they are amazing on Fair Trade), buying local produce, frequenting local shops more than big supermarkets. I haven’t educated myself on who owns whom in terms of big corporations and I prefer now to help with campaigns or fundraising to raise awareness of issues rather than boycotting a specific brand (I’m afraid we have Cheerios on our shelf, but I would never buy Nescafe and only drink Co-op own brand Fair Trade coffee and tea – and mostly just eat their chocolate, too).

    But I do agonise about the fact that I don’t seem to care as much as I used to and shouldn’t I be teaching the girls to care more about these things, and so on and so on…
    Tasha Goddard’s last blog post ..Making mealtime fun

    [Reply]

    Luschka Reply:

    @Tasha Goddard, is it that you don’t care as much as you used to, or that you’ve learned to ‘pick your battles’? The thing is, if you’re running up and down screaming about everything, you’re going to exhaust yourself, at which point you’re no good to anyone anymore – least of all those closest to you who depend on you.

    I think it’s really important to pick the things you feel strongest about – which it seems you’ve done – and then make lifestyle choices – which again, you’ve done. So I think the only ‘other’ thing, is to explain to the girls why you’re buying where and what you are (like explain the fair trade logo, or something) and then you’re planting that in them too. :)

    [Reply]

  5. Zoe Williams

    I totally agree, you have to pick your battles. I also boycott Nestle, partly because of their practices in marketing formula and partly because of the destruction of orangutan habitats. You are right that most big business probably have some questionable practices but you can only act on what you know about, and unless you live totally off-grid you can’t avoid them altogether. You just have to make the best decision you can with the information you have available to you at the time.
    Zoe Williams’s last blog post ..Dealing with Frustration

    [Reply]

    Luschka Reply:

    @Zoe Williams, I totally agree – you have to pick your battles, decide what’s important to you, and primarily, act on what you know. (i keep telling my husband never ever to tell me anything bad about coke! Only half jokingly!) Thanks for the comment!

    [Reply]

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