A final decision on whether Southampton University Student Union should boycott Nestlé will be made this afternoon at the Union’s Annual General Meeting.
The motion was first put forward to Union Council on February 21st, after Feminist Society President Chloe Green published an article on Wessex Scene online (which can be found here), explaining why students should be against the company.
The second-year English student argues that Nestlé’s promotion of their formula milk to mothers in third world countries is unethical as the formula puts babies at risk due to the threat of the possible contamination of water. Over 130 comments were generated on the article.
The motion was postponed at Council, however, after Councillors decided that they needed to conduct more research on the issue, and further consult the students that they represent on Council. (The minutes can be found online here).
At the Council, Union President Elect Sam Ling expressed his disappointment ‘that Union Council, as the highest decision making body, could not make a decision’ on the matter.
Supporters of the boycott have since collected signatures in a petition in a bid to gain more support.
Southampton University Student Union’s (SUSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) differs from ordinary Union Council meetings as any student can attend and vote, whereas only elected student Councillors have a vote at Union Council.
However, 250 students are constitutionally required to attend, otherwise the meeting will be seen as undemocratic and motions will not be able to be passed; if quorum is not reached then the decision will have to be delayed again.
In a bid to encourage more student to attend, Vice President Media and Communications Charlotte Woods organised a G.O.A.T (Go Out And Talk) day to ignite interests in students.
Three other motions will be proposed at the AGM. These are: ‘Democratic participation and student political engagement’, ‘Valuing Diversity Policy’ and ‘Tuition Fees’.
The AGM will start at 5pm in The Cube. More details can be found online here.
In the meantime, students Chloe Green and John King offer their sides of the debate over boycotting Nestlé.
John King argues AGAINST the boycott
If you are reading this undecided about how to vote at the AGM, the argument as I see it is as simple as this: either you wish for a minority of as little as 0.7% of students to dictate to you what you are allowed to buy or you wish to make that decision yourself.
Now I must make it clear from the offset that neither I, nor The Freedom Association, nor Southampton FreeSoc wish to make a judgment about Nestle’s practices. We merely ask that SUSU and those voting at this AGM respect the intelligence and freedom of those at this university and allow them to make a simple cost benefit analysis: is my want as a consumer to eat a Nestle product more beneficial to me than the potential harm I might cause others by buying it?
As I see it, the way to conduct this campaign is to educate students about Nestle’s questionable practices and then charge them to make an educated decision. If then those products become unprofitable, the Union Shop would be entirely justified in not stocking them. I take this stance simply because the union will have applied the same rule to Nestle as to any other product it stocks and it is not making a moral judgment that it wishes to enforce upon even the most unsuspecting of students who may be willfully ignorant to this debate.
This is a much more democratic way of doing this in light of the apathy that students display in almost all student elections across the country, where turnout is often in low single figures. I understand the rules of tacit consent (to pre-empt the critics) but why use this AGM method when a boycott in the true sense of the word would be much fairer and representative. More to the point, this approach would respect the intelligence of the student body to make a choice.
The most popular counter-argument seems to be that if you wish to buy Nestle then go to another shop. I oppose this suggestion and not just because I happen to be extremely lazy as some have suggested. I oppose this because like it or not, that is not what will happen. It is likely that the student who goes to the shop, as he might do every day, to buy a coffee and a KitKat; the same student who is likely to have had little input into this argument, will forgo his want for a KitKat for reasons of convenience and buy another chocolate bar.
I put it to you that this scenario achieves exactly what those arguing for a ban want; namely trying to send a message by prescribing what students can buy and, if this motion is successful or not, the mere attempt to do this is an insult to this student body. The students of this university should not have their morality dictated to them.
Protect your freedom, vote No at the AGM today.
Chloe Green argues FOR the Boycott
The Nestlé boycott has been a contentious issue on campus for the past few months. However, on the face of things the outrages seems relatively unfounded; for the past thirty years, organisations the world over have joined the movement to boycott Nestlé in protest against their appalling ethical record in the developing world.
Why should we join alongside 73 other student unions, the NUS and countless other organisations? Not because we can hit Nestlé in their pocket, but instead because we can send them a clear message about their practices. By boycotting them, we can show that we, like so many others, oppose their ethical record and want them to change.
SUSU has a history of taking moral stances in cases such as these – in 2003, SUSU passed a motion mandating that all tea and coffee sold in its outlets would be exclusively Fairtrade – thereby ensuring that producers in the developing world would get a fairer deal.
While most would agree that an ethical stance can be justified against Nestlé’s ethical record, there are many who are concerned about their own personal freedom to choose. Why should they not have the freedom to purchase what they want from the shop?
The responses to this are multiple. Firstly, our freedom of choice as consumers is not dictated by what the shop purchases – the shop does not sell hummus, for example. As a consequence, we must shop elsewhere. Such is our freedom as consumers. SUSU shop is not the only place we buy from, and nor should it be. It is, however, the only place we can make a difference in our purchasing policy in order to send a clear message that we desire change. And when I say “we”, I’m including the 1000 person strong petition we have collected in the space of just a few weeks by promoting the issue on the concourse.
The goods in the SUSU shop weren’t decided by us in the first place: our ‘consumer choice’ is only ever between a pre-selected range of items. If Nestlé change their attitudes, we can democratically vote them back in, but until then we should really consider whether condoning their practises by purchasing their goods on mass is such a great idea for our global footprint as a union.
Secondly, Nestlé products are luxury items, such as chocolate bars. The Nestlé products stocked in SUSU shop are not the staples of life, but instead, extravagances purchased on a whim. While our freedom to choose is important, those who suffer the consequences of Nestlé’s ethical policy also deserve the freedom to be free of the abuses that they suffer – and for us, foregoing our KitKats and standing in solidarity with so many other organisations sends them a message that we want them to change.
This is such a small change we can make, manifesting only as a miniscule sacrifice on our parts, which gives us a moral global stance in unity with those suffering with the daily consequences of Nestlé’s conduct.
The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire – Malcolm Gladwell.
Will SUSU boycott Nestlé’ this afternoon? Come along to the AGM at 5pm in The Cube to find out, and better yet, have your say.