Formula Frenzy

For my second paper, I am considering researching Nestle and its infant formula scandal.  In the 1970s, a report was published that blamed powdered-formula for the death of infants in Third World Countries.  In Peru, parts of rural Mexico, the Philippines, Central America, and Africa, children were dying at alarming rates after consuming formula during the first few months after their birth.

Doctors noted this correlation and began to draw conclusions.  In underdeveloped nations, infants are exposed to bacteria upon birth.  By having their mother’s milk, they are obtaining the antibodies necessary to fight off these bacteria.  Powdered-formula lacks these antibodies, putting Third World infants at risk of easily becoming sick.  Furthermore, in an effort to save money, mothers in these struggling nations were diluting the formula they were feeding their children in order to make the powder last longer.  The remaining formula was then saved unrefrigerated due to their living constraints.  This made it susceptible to bacteria.

As word spread about this infant formula controversy, Nestle found itself caught in the crossfire.  Nestle held the largest market share in the powdered-formula industry, and was now the subject of a public lashing.  Throughout these underdeveloped nations, Nestle had strategically advertised and promoted its product.  Radio jingles showed powdered-formula as “white man’s powder that will make baby grow and glow.”N  Additionally, Nestle distributed its formula to hospitals and maternity wards for free, enticing new moms to try out this First-World product.

Was it ethical for Nestle to promote its products in areas that were not equipped to consume them?  In an effort to increase its profits, Nestle put human lives at risk.  For my paper I plan on looking more into the decision making of Nestle and how it relates to shareholders versus stakeholders ethics.


3 responses to “Formula Frenzy

  1. I think this would be a great topic for paper two as it seems that the issues and ethics involved are not as clear cut as some of the cases we have spoken about in class. I had not heard of the scandal prior to reading your blog, but it sounds as if it definitely includes the stakeholder and shareholder ethics we have discussed. At first look, and without much education in what was going on, it seems as if Nestle is using good ethics and company values to spread their product to more underdeveloped countries. However once they learned of the issues with these countries not being equipped to consume the formula, a shareholder driven company emerged. I would be interested to see if the company tried to alter its product to better meet the needs of the individuals from developing countries, or if they ignored the issue and just continued to push the product out.

  2. This is a very interesting situation. I had never heard anything about this controversy, and would like to learn more. The question that I would like to ask is should Nestle have known prior to their distribution of their product to these third world countries that this diluting of product would lead to this deadly bacteria? Is it completely unreasonable for Nestle to anticipate this problem?

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