Boycotting BlogHer Because I Boycott Nestle

Not long after I first started using Twitter – which was about the same time I finally began this blog – there was a great deal of Tweeting about BlogHer ’09. It sounded like the place everybody who was a female blogger wanted to be. There was controversy – something about “swag,” excessive freebies that made people look and feel all cheap and whore-y. But I joined BlogHer, saw that I would never be able to get into the advertising network (it is full up for pretty much ever) and hoped I would get to the next BlogHer conference and learn those secrets people were swearing they learned in between getting all that controversial stuff.

In the autumn, tickets for BlogHer ’10 went on sale and I did something I only do with music concerts and the ballet – bought a ticket as soon as I could. The conference is in New York City, a few hours by train from where I live so that made the decision easier. If there had been a plane ticket involved, I wouldn’t have considered going. It is out of character for me to buy a ticket to a conference that has nothing to do with work, social justice, children or some combination of all three. As the conference was fewer and fewer months away, I was a bit worried buying the ticket was a bad idea. There was a “popular girls” feel to the world of BlogHer. I didn’t use the site. Few bloggers I read were going to be there. Other blogger conferences happened without me and reports back seemed to be about products and selling stuff – not about activism or information or being a good writer. As I worried more and more that I had succumbed to that urge to join an “in crowd,” I finally began to hear of bloggers whose work sorta had to do with mine going. A handful. I might be all right.

And then it happened. A blogger who had attended the #NestleFamily junket wrote a post drawing attention to BlogHer’s announcement that Stouffer’s, a Nestle brand, would be a conference sponsor.

I didn’t blog about #NestleFamily. I wrote about it in the January/February 2010 Mothering magazine where I am Politics Editor and the most comprehensive on-line coverage of that incident can be found at PhD in Parenting here and at follow-up posts on that blog.

This is not a post about why I boycott Nestle but I do. It is not only its sale of infant formula in flagrant and infamous violation of the WHO Code. It is the combination of corporate conduct, including the use of child slaves to pick cocoa beans, that led to the boycott and my decision to participate in it. I am sure I get a Nestle product by accident now and then but I work pretty hard at keeping Nestle products out of my life. The roughest spot I have been in was speaking at a La Leche League conference recently. I was speaking in a few minutes in a ballroom so hot and humid rare flowers would have grown happily. For medical reasons, I must have a large supply of water at all times. You would be hard pressed to find me these days without my giant BPA-free water bottle (a great speaker gift- thank you UNC-Greensboro!) in my hand but I hadn’t flown it out with me. I put the need for water in the speaking room in my contracts. I went to the fridge in the back of the room to grab some water bottles and there they were – Nestle water. I wasn’t the first to see them. There was already a crowd of conference attendees grumbling about Nestle in the room. The conference organizer was at my side soon and then she was out the door to do something I don’t even want to know about to the hotel employee responsible. But I needed to go on and I needed water. And I drank the Nestle water.

Yeah, that story sounds a bit much but it is true. So when I read that a Nestle brand was going to be one of the eighty or so sponsors of BlogHer ’10, I knew I had a problem. There was some behind the scenes posting about who was going to do what and whether BlogHer might do something. I thought that perhaps even if Nestle was going to be at the conference, perhaps they could sponsor a particular event I could avoid, rather than the entire conference. Just my impression, but I don’t think BlogHer organizers cared less. Conference sponsorship for BlogHer is a “show me the money” enterprise. And from the discussions about previous conferences – samples, products, brands, stuff, stuff, stuff – I should have known that before I bought my ticket.

A few bloggers who oppose Nestle corporate practices have written posts about why they are going to BlogHer anyway. They have been criticized and they have been supported and they have been mocked by people I criticized for going to #NestleFamily. And a handful of us – four by my count – are boycotting BlogHer. It’s my decision. I made it. I’m proud of it. And I think it is sad so few people care. Someone even had the gall to criticize me for refusing to sell her my ticket.

So have at me people. What are you willing to do to stand up for what you believe is right? If you boycott Nestle, what do you do to avoid using its products? And, an important question to me, why do you think so few people are boycotting BlogHer?

14 comments to Boycotting BlogHer Because I Boycott Nestle

  • Tweets that mention New blog post: Boycotting BlogHer — Topsy.com June 24th, 2010 at 8:33 pm · Reply […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ElisabetMcLauryLewin, Jake Aryeh Marcus. Jake Aryeh Marcus said: New blog post: Boycotting BlogHer http://www.sustainablemothering.com/2010/06/24/boycotting-blogher/ […]
  • Nicole
    Twitter: nicolebeth
    June 24th, 2010 at 9:51 pm · Reply I try to do whatever I can to avoid using Nestle products as well. I’m less concerned when I haven’t paid for them (e.g., if we’re at a kid’s birthday party and the family has supplied Nestle water). We have definitely bought Poland Spring water (though try to avoid it whenever possible).I think that many people aren’t boycotting because most people don’t know about Nestle. Most everyone I know uses Nestle products, whether it’s Nestle coffee or a product less obvious like Poland Spring, Arrowhead, or Haagen-Dazs. Or, while people would think that what Nestle does to sell and market formula is awful, it wouldn’t be on their radar on a day-to-day basis. What Nestle does in Africa, for instance, wouldn’t be associated with whatever products are on our shelves here.Is it possible to attend the conference and simultaneously protest Nestle? Create awareness of the despicable acts of Nestle among people who might not know? You do have the ticket, though it would be hard to be the one person (or one of four) doing this. I’m trying to picture events I’ve attended, like running races, where the sponsors are on the sign and provide snacks. (Though, I’m also remembering an event in which I was involved where we deliberately didn’t seek out money from a formula manufacturer.) So, with BlogHer, I think the main problem is that an event that is for women doesn’t think about what the sponsor-companies are doing to women in developing nations.
  • Elita @ Blacktating
    Twitter: blacktating
    June 24th, 2010 at 10:53 pm · Reply I think it’s fairly obvious that people aren’t boycotting because whatever it is they get out of BlogHer is bigger than any convictions they have about Nestle. In many ways I feel the same way you do about BlogHer. When I bought my ticket in February, I almost instantly regretted it. I have been to one blog conference and I just didn’t get the same thing out of it as everyone else who gushed about how amazing it was for weeks afterwards. I thought it was OK and while I met a few women I thought were nice and discovered a few great blogs that I still read, it had zero impact on my marketability as a blogger, my earnings or my page views. So um, what was the point again?I agree that BlogHer has a very “popular girls” feel to it, which is interesting because a lot of the more popular bloggers have talked about having social anxiety and being awkward and unpopular in high school. I have seen bad behavior from one VERY popular blogger up close and personal. She’s actually known for being such a warm, generous blah blah blah and I literally saw her laugh and roll her eyes at another blogger who was kind of fawning over her, calling her by her real first name, etc. After the “fan” walked away, she showed her true colors. Who needs that? It was bad enough when I was 14.
  • Annie @ PhD in Parenting
    Twitter: phdinparenting
    June 25th, 2010 at 3:42 pm · Reply You asked: “Why do you think so few people are boycotting BlogHer?”I think the answer is something that Elita alluded to in her answer, although I wouldn’t characterize it exactly the same way she did. BlogHer means a lot to some of us. It isn’t, for everyone, something that is out of character and that has nothing to do with our work, our activism or our writing. It is, for me, an organization and a conference that has a lot to do with my work, my activism and my writing. Boycotting BlogHer because 1 out of 80 sponsors is a Nestle brand would be like disowning my mother because she bought a case of Nestle water. BlogHer does mean a lot to me. Not more than my Nestle boycott. But it does mean a lot and that is why I am willing to try to work with them rather than boycotting them. I know that I can’t change the sponsors for this year’s conference, but I do hope that I can work with them to get them to make changes for the future. If they don’t, my decision may be different in future years. But for now I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.Nicole asked: “Is it possible to attend the conference and simultaneously protest Nestle?” That is exactly what I plan to do. I am both an attendee and a speaker at BlogHer and I plan to take advantage of my time there to create awareness of Nestle’s unethical business practices.
  • Jake
    Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
    June 25th, 2010 at 4:59 pm · Reply @Annie, is the metaphor about your mother really a reflection of how deeply you adore BlogHer (like your mother) or how slight the infraction is (2/80 being like the case of water)? I have been deeply loyal and attached to organizations that behaved badly and tolerated bad behavior I would not have in an organization to which I was not so attached. But your image of disowning your mother over a case of water seems quite extreme. And BlogHer’s contribution to the greater good has been … what?I respect that you have found a way to protest BlogHer’s choice by donating such a substantial sum to organizations doing work made more difficult by Neslte. I respect that you have a professional opportunity presented by speaking at BlogHer this year. But this deep personal attachment to BlogHer as an organization surprises me.
    • Annie @ PhD in Parenting
      Twitter: phdinparenting
      June 27th, 2010 at 3:31 pm · Reply @Jake:The metaphor was simply intended to express that I don’t immediately cut ties with entities (be they people or organizations) that I feel strongly about because they made a bad decision. I don’t ignore their bad decision, but I also don’t cut off the relationship altogether without giving them an opportunity to improve. I’m not perfect either and I hope that people would also extend me the same courtesy of telling me when I’ve screwed up, but also giving me time and space to improve before they sever ties altogether.With regards to BlogHer’s contribution to the greater good, it created a community and website that gives women’s voices more power. Through its website and its advertising network, it allows more women to have their voices heard and get paid for doing so. Through its political and advocacy work, it creates opportunities for women to be heard directly by politicians and gives scholarships to international activist writers. It hosts conferences that allow women writers to learn from each other and be inspired by each other.
  • Sara Dodder Furr June 25th, 2010 at 11:23 pm · Reply I applaud you, Jake (and Elita) for not going to the conference. I think if your gut tells you it’s wrong, then you clearly need to listen to your instincts.It’s difficult, indeed, to keep track of all of the companies owned by Nestle. I admit to being up on most of them (for example, I know I shouldn’t eat Nestle candy, clearly labeled or feed Purina dog food – less clearly labeled as a Nestle product – to my pets). I’ve made some mistakes which are glaring. Recently I had that moment of “d’oh” when I realized that the one brand of mascara I’ve found that doesn’t burn my eyes and make me look like a raccoon owned by Nestle (Lancome). How did I not know that? Crap!!Just a few days ago I was asked by a friend if I know anything about the relationship between Red Box and Nestle. She is a huge breastfeeding supporter and got an email offer for a free Red Box rental if she bought a couple of Nestle products. (See http://www.couponingfor4.net/2010/06/free-redbox-rental-at-walgreens-with.html.) I don’t think Nestle owns Red Box but they are apparently doing a lot of co-branding with them. So should one avoid/boycott Red Box? Sometimes I feel like it’s impossible to avoid Nestle, but you can be I am looking for a new mascara brand. Small thing, I know, but really it is a PITA to me.
  • Nicole
    Twitter: nicolebeth
    June 30th, 2010 at 9:55 am · Reply The more I’ve thought about it, the more that I’d want to boycott if I had a blog worthy of note. Nestle is even worse than the companies who send me free formula in the mail for being so ubiquitous and thus so hard to avoid.I do still think good can be done by protesting on site at BlogHer. My guess is that Nestle has made an offer that BlogHer couldn’t refuse and probably won’t refuse in the future.Sara: Whole Foods has a pretty good mascara; I can’t remember the brand now. For non-natural brands, Shi Uemura is good.
  • Bloggers boycott BlogHer ’10 over Nestle (Stouffer’s, Butterfinger) sponsorship | PhD in Parenting July 3rd, 2010 at 4:49 pm · Reply […] to attend BlogHer for the first time this year. Jake Aryeh Marcus from Sustainable Mothering wrote Boycotting BlogHer Because I Boycott Nestle. Here is an excerpt from her post: So when I read that a Nestle brand was going to be one of the […]
  • Christy July 5th, 2010 at 11:05 am · Reply I have a lot of respect for someone who gives up something important to them because it conflicts with their personal ideals. I also respect someone who attacks a company, or a philosophy without personally attacking individuals who have no control over the activities in question. I do believe there is quite a bit of hypocrisy going on over people insisting that BlogHer is too important in their lives to miss. Whatever.That said, I find it a bit odd that you chose my tongue-in-cheek post about the amount of swag at BlogHer to link to in your post. There were plenty of people who felt there was too much swag; I wasn’t one of them. Perhaps I fall into your whore-y category, although I’d like to think that bringing home various goodies (which I did nothing to earn) to share with family members and friends is hardly akin to prostitution.I am sorry that you won’t be attending BlogHer. There was a lot of negativity surrounding the event last year and I believe most of it was overblown. Most of the people who complained loudly will attend again this year, which suggests that the good far outweighed the bad. With 1500+ women (and men) in one spot, you’re going to find some bad apples. For the most part, BlogHer is overflowing with intelligent, thoughtful, generous and kind people. I would attend for that alone. The sessions, parties, brands and swag are all extraneous to that.
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      July 5th, 2010 at 12:07 pm · ReplyChoosing your blog quote was somewhat arbitrary. If you think another blog would be a more appropriate link, I’ll certainly change it. Since I wasn’t a BlogHer member then, I didn’t know who was who during the complaining.Sorry if it appeared I am calling you a whore. I don’t know you and the content wasn’t directed toward any individual in particular.
  • KristaJuly 6th, 2010 at 2:31 pm · Reply All I can say is.. Jake, it doesn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth when I read your post about it. But others do leave that bad taste, and whether it’s just self-justification or not, it makes me feel unhappy about those other bloggers previous stated objections to Nestle now, and I’ve found myself not wanting to read a few places anymore.
  • Candace @Naturally Educational
    Twitter: candaceapril
    July 7th, 2010 at 1:57 pm · Reply I think you hit on a very important point here. BlogHer is, of course, supposed to be a general conference, representing all female Bloggers. At the same time, it not only reflects what is going on in the blogging world, it helps to shape and mold it. All bloggers should be welcome at BlogHer but should the focus be on the companies and the swag or on the writing and ideas?Although not all female bloggers who write content about their lives and their ideas would agree on the Nestle issue–I think that a refusal to consider writing an ethical sponsorship would, taken with other events, signal a certain direction. Members, attendees, etc., will need to consider whether that direction is one they wish to go.On another topic, I respect your position (and decision to not release your ticket) and I hope you still respect those who, after careful consideration, still choose to attend. After reviewing my comments during #NestleFamily, I feel confident I am not being hypocritical in attending. I am less sure, though, I am doing the right thing.Certainly, wanting to go plays a part. I have never been and it being so close means I can go without being so far from my young family.At the same time, there is more to it than that. I am also representing an organization that I co-founded and I hope that it has the power to add to the conversation in a constructive way. Speakers, party hosts, editors, and attendees have something to gain by attending but they also have something to give. I think the real key will be how this issue is handled going forward and whether bloggers will continue to believe BlogHer is the place for them.I think it is very difficult to take a 100% pure position, as your story about the Nestle water demonstrates. Although I respect people who take a closer to pure position than myself on issues they care about, I’m not going to beat myself up for making what I believe to be the best decision under the less than ideal circumstances. I think the question is, in part, where each incident falls along the spectrum (and that will vary from person to person) and how we can plan ahead in the future.As to why more people are not boycotting–I think it is important to remember there were only a handful of bloggers involved in protesting Nestle during #NestleFamily. And I wonder how many people are unaware of the Nestle sponsorship–since I only found out from the posts I have read. There may be others who care about the issue who do not read the same blogs I do. I wonder, too, if some people have quietly decided not to go or to take their names off the wait list.
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      July 7th, 2010 at 3:07 pm · Reply I don’t think it is hypocritical to have criticized the #NestleFamily bloggers and then go to BlogHer. The situations are entirely different. People who bought tickets to BlogHer did so without having any control over who the sponsors would be. The #NestleFamily bloggers explicitly agreed to accept payment in product, plane tickets, hotel and meals, and (my personal favorite) steaks. BlogHer members had no choice in who the BlogHer owners would accept as sponsors and no reason to know in advance that their tickets would be partially funded by Nestle. So BlogHer ticket holder affiliation with Nestle is entirely involuntary and the #NestleFamily bloggers consciously and affirmatively chose to take and endorse Nestle. Many of the BlogHer ticket holders also had contractual and moral obligations to sponsors and, like you, organizations. All of these innocent parties should not have to suffer because BlogHer owners made what I believe to be a very poor choice.Like you, I hope that BlogHer will understand that some/many people won’t buy tickets for the next conference without an assurance this won’t happen again. But perhaps BlogHer’s model doesn’t recognize these issues. And perhaps there needs to be a conference – perhaps on a smaller scale – for bloggers who care who the sponsors are.