Final Nestlé Boycott Decision to be Made at AGM Today – FOR and AGAINST Arguments

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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.

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Discussion5 Comments

  1. avatar
    Wladimair Klitschko

    I’ve never been too impressed by the liberty arguments made in this debate.
    The basic idea of freedom has always involved an element of restraint. You have freedom to act, so long as it doesn’t infringe other people’s rights. The simplest example is my freedom to punch John King in the face, is restrained by John King’s right not to be punched in the face.

    It always comes down to a balancing act. What is more important, the freedom to act, or the harm caused by the act? If the harm is sufficiently serious, we act collectively to restrain people from acting. Think criminal law systems, but also environmental laws, trade restraints and even restrictions on playing music too loud late at night.

    So here we have a right (to buy nestle products) and a countervailing harm (children in another country). Surely, it’s obvious how the balance should be struck, providing there is actually a link between the two, which is why John’s comment that he won’t make a judgement about nestle practices completely undermines his argument.

    The ultra-libertarian argument put forward should see him renounce all law and all standards of collective morality in the place of absolute individual choice. Which in theory gives us all a right to punch him in the face, so long as we want to.

  2. avatar

    “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”

    Out of interest how many Union Elections are carried with single figures?

    and by single figures do you mean number of student (i.e. only 9 out of 1000s voting), or as a percentage?

    Although I’ll admit that voter turnout is often low in student elections, I would be inclined to disbelieve it was that low.

    However, the most relevant election in this case is the SUSU elections, of which we saw a 30% turnout. I’ll admit its no where near where we’d like it to be, but its still a strong mandate, and no where near the single figures suggested.

    I mainly pick up on it because I would love to hear from what the “fact” is based upon?

  3. avatar

    Do you stop the crime of rape by permanently seperating men and women? Or do you educate them and trust them to make the right decision? The ultra authoritarian arguments here are pretty bad IMO.

    George
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    Can we do away with these ridiculous analogies please?

    However, to feed your argument, your analogy does in fact support the pro-boycott message.

    You stop the crime of rape by outlawing it first and educate people alongside it. The government doesn’t say:
    “We’ll legalise rape and instead spend countless decades trying to educate each new generation of people, like salmon swimming upstream against our own hypocritical stance, as to why rape is bad even though we as a governing body don’t lawfully condemn it.”

    No, the government instead says:
    “Rape breaches human rights, it causes tremendous harm against another person and therefore we’re going to outlaw it. Then we’ll educate the population as to why it’s illegal, if they’re not intelligent enough to understand why already.”

    Despite both our arguments being rendered moot by the poor analogy, banning Nestle at Susu isn’t going to be a ‘one-action-and-it’s-over’ event, it’s going to be followed up by information for students who question “Why don’t they sell Nestle at Susu?” instead of carrying on UNQUESTIONING why we sell Nestle at the union.

    This boycott is going to be a far more effective method of educating and informing people; even if it’s simply seen as a publicity stunt then so be it. People could gather enough motion to bring back Nestle if they wanted to, but overall this whole debate is going to open up countless avenues for student participation and a challenge to apathy. Even if the policy doesn’t go through, students are going to (hopefully) question their habits a little more. If not, then who are these ‘intelligent’ students the freedom society so readily speaks of?

  4. avatar
    Bob Dole for President 1996

    You’re still debating this?

    It was decided years ago: you do not buy Nestle products as they are unethical. Ditto Nike, ditto Apple.

    This is not a grey area, it is like voting BNP – these corporations are so wildly unethical, unreasonable and exploitative that such debates should not even be taken seriously any more.

    If your union stocks Nestle, then YOU are paying money to Nestle and they are profiteering whether you eat their crud or not. Where is the “freedom to choose” in that?

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