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George Clooney has a wonderful reputation as a generous philanthropist and champion of just causes. God bless him (and people who share a similar philosophy) for his humanitarian activism.

George Clooney

Yet, I am puzzled by one thing. Why is he in Nestlé commercials? Why is he making oodles of money from a company that has such a bad reputation and embodies so much of what Clooney opposes? Certainly, it is (or should be) his obligation to be cognizant of the history of an enterprise from which he profits so generously.

Why is he making oodles of money from a company that has such a bad reputation and embodies so much of what Clooney opposes?

When I was in the Peace Corps in Brazil many years ago, I became aware, first-hand, of Nestlé's practice of pushing its baby formula on the campônes (peasant) women in the rural communities. Instead of encouraging the new mothers to nurse—the healthiest and most natural (and least expensive) way to feed their newborns—Nestlé "discouraged" them by introducing its baby formula (at first with free samples which, by necessity, had to be followed by purchase with the precious little money they had). Nestlé's endgame was to produce guilt among the mothers if they did not use a method of feeding their little ones strongly and unequivocally endorsed by "modern" medicine.

  • The problem: Their natural milk dried up while the mothers used formula. As these women ran low on formula, they frequently watered it down (often with unclean river water—I sometimes bathed in river water in which cows urinated and defecated) and ultimately could use neither formula nor mother's milk.
  • The result: These children suffered irreparable damage from the malnutrition diseases of marasmus (in which body weight is less than 60% of normal) or kwashiorkor (starvation from low calorie and protein intake). I witnessed the ravages of these diseases on these little innocents, knowing that no matter how well they were fed later in life, they would never recover and would forever experience physical debilitation and mental deficiencies. I observed children in cribs or crawling on the floor with swollen stomachs and skin stretched over boney arms, legs, torsos, and even faces. They looked like Holocaust victims!
  • The question: How could mothers be so misled?
  • The answer: The answer reminds me of a striking passage from Steinbeck's book, The Pearl. When the baby is bitten by a scorpion, the parents (as any would) wanted to do all they could to heal their seriously ailing child. Although they immediately utilized the tried-and-true folk remedy (which was working), they wanted to avail themselves of modern medicine—just in case. They turned to a city doctor (who, unbeknownst to them, was unethical and wanted to take advantage of their lack of sophistication) who made the recovering baby sick again. Having learned that the father had discovered The Pearl of the World, the doctor wanted to steal it for his personal gain and finally offered to heal the child but at a heavy price. Kind of a Munchhausen by proxy scheme. As one would predict, only tragedy followed.
  • Nestlé's Behavior: Nestlé's behavior also led to tragedy. What Nestlé was perpetrating on these rural families was nothing less than heartless and outrageous, so much so that a 20-year boycott against it was put in place. The boycott was so successful that Nestlé eventually relented, promising never to use such devious tactics again. Yet, not all that long after the boycott ended, Nestlé repeated its nefarious practice. As for me, I have yet to abandon my personal boycott of the company (it took me years to give up the grape boycott).
  • What is Nestlé'sresponsibility? Its actions have had permanent consequences. We shall never know what accomplishments any of these young victims could have made had their lives not been so irretrievably altered.
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In the meantime, Nestlé is currently being accused of yet another outrage, stealing water--in a similar way that oil was callously stolen in the movie, There Will Be Blood, based on Upton Sinclair's novel, Oil. In the movie, the ruthless protagonist proclaims, "There's a whole ocean of oil under our feet! No one can get it except me! …I drink your milkshake. I drink it up."

What Nestlé is purported to be doing is remarkable in its outlandishness and arrogance. It is the world's top bottled water producing company (under its own name as well as Arrowhead) and in so doing is often funneling water from beneath farmlands (think of the milk shake straw inserted underground to suck up the oil that is down there but under other people's property) to fill the ever-growing demand to produce water (in plastic bottles—another outrage to the environment).

During the process, the land itself is beginning to sink and be unusable.

Eleven of Nestlé's 40 water sources are in California! This water is often drained from eco-systems that depend on it. The company "takes about 30 million gallons each year. . . (but) pays just $524 to the U. S. Forest Service for the permit." It is insane when we see the great imbalance and disparity between gallons taken (absconded with) and the low cost to do it "legally." The fact is that long ago Nestlé gained water rights at a time when the public was far less aware of the dire consequences of such a contract. This agreement with the state was engineered by Nestlé corporate negotiators who were misleading and manipulative in their goal to appropriate our water supply against our best interests.

Similarly, many of our creek beds are bone dry today, due not just to our intermittent periods of drought but also to the repercussions of Nestlé's unholy practices. Numerous surface water sources are being diverted as well (consider Strawberry Creek).

All this reminds me of the historical fiction movie, Chinatown (1974), in which there is an attempt to sabotage the water supply in the San Fernando Valley (a desert region) with the goal of pushing landowners out in order to benefit those behind the plot. The original Nestlé boycott began in 1977 (but investigations began as early as 1973 and 1974). Mere coincidence? I think not.

All this being said, shouldn't George Clooney (and any one of us) reconsider profiting from the outrages perpetrated by Nestlé and any company whose policies and motives are questionable, immoral, and even unethical. And it's not just Mother Nestlé. What about its subsidiaries? Nestea, Nescafé, Nespresso, Purina, Gerber, Dreyers, Libbys, Alpo, Fancy Feast, Friskies, Lean Cuisine, California Pizza Kitchen, Stouffers, Tombstone Pizza--too many to name all of them here.

It has famously been said that "Greed is good," but such a concept does not apply to people like George Clooney who are anything but greedy. They are good, admirable people--people whom, for the most part, we should try to emulate. Yet, we must be careful that our actions not bring unintended consequences with them. We cannot permit the ulterior motives of others to drive us from our dedicated paths. Advancing humanity and not ourselves alone must be our guiding light.

We should each do our due diligence and thoroughly investigate our options before we represent a company or endorse a candidate or donate to a charity--whether you are George Clooney or the person on the street.

Cesar Chavez Memorial

Rosemary Jenkins