BlogHer ’10, Nestle Sponsorship, & Integrity

I’ve wanted to attend the annual BlogHer Conference for four years now, and I was so excited a month ago when my plans were finalized, so I could attend. It is being held in New York in August.   I was also very excited I would be going with one of my best friends, Amy from Crunchy Domestic Goddess.  Amy sparked my interest in blogging years ago, and she inspired me to start my own blog.   

Amy and I live in neighboring towns, so we have been working on getting our airfares, so we can fly to New York together.  While we were exchanging e-mails yesterday, she asked if I heard that Stouffer’s, who is owned by Nestle, was now listed as one of BlogHer’s ’10 sponsors?  I had seen a tag-line or two on it, but had not had time to read up on it.  Amy sent me Annie’s, from PhD. in Parenting, blog post, on this subject. 

As I read Annie’s post and did a bit more research myself, my excitement over BlogHer ’10 turned to disappointment.  Nestle is one of the most boycotted companies worldwide since 1970, for engaging in many questionable ethical business practices.  I personally have an issue with their constant efforts and marketing to undermine breastfeeding.  I avoid buying anything Nestle when at all possible.  Like Annie though, I don’t question others about it, or ask my friends if the chocolate chip cookies they made contains Nestle chocolate.  Like most big businesses, it is nearly impossible to avoid Nestle and their brands completely. 

Eating a chocolate chip cookie from a friend is different though, when faced with the knowledge the conference that I really want to attend is being paid for in part, by Nestle.  Another dilemma I have is my conference tickets were wait-listed.  BlogHer specifically said if they were able to get more sponsors, then more tickets would be available.  Nestle was not listed as an original sponsor. It isn’t too far of a reach to conclude the reason I even got a ticket in part, is because of Nestle’s sponsorship.  

I am frustrated that BlogHer would even consider, let alone accept Nestle as a sponsor.  I accept advertising for my blog through BlogHer, but I have specifically opted out of accepting any formula companies, such as Nestle.  BlogHer is aware of the boycott and the issues surrounding Nestle.  I would have rather not received a wait-listed ticket, and not have been able to attend the conference, than attend with this now black cloud of controversy surrounding it.

It bothers me BlogHer, which supports women in so many aspects, accepted Nestle as a sponsor, when their business practices hurt so many women and their children, especially the most vulnerable in developing countries. 

As a member of the American Cancer Society Blogger Advisory Council, there is an event in New York the day before BlogHer, they are sponsoring for me.  I will be in New York to attend that event.  That is a silver lining- I will be able to see firsthand some wonderful programs the American Cancer Society has, and have no moral quandaries about participating in it.

I wrote my beliefs about the blogging event Nestle hosted last October, and the responsibility we have as bloggers. Two sentences I wrote jumped out at me as I re-read my own words, in light of this dilemma:   

…as bloggers, we need to be responsible to something greater than just a company’s marketing campaigns.

People turn to blogs for honest and trust-worthy information.  If we allow ourselves to be “bought” by any and every company that comes a-callin’ should we be surprised when our collective reputation as a source of unbiased, accurate, and honest information is tarnished and eventually weakened?

Do I attend BlogHer and justify the reasons for myself?  How can I stand by what I wrote about being “bought” when for all practical purposes, I am doing the same thing, now that I am aware Nestle is a sponsor? 

There are bloggers who are boycotting Nestle who are still going to attend, and try to raise awareness on this issue. Others are boycotting BlogHer ’10.  That is their personal decision they have every right to make for themselves.  I am not saying they are right or wrong, but I am going to have to decide for myself what the right decision is.

I have missed BlogHer every year, and right now I feel I could missboycott BlogHer ’10 because Nestle is a sponsor, and I would be fine.  Yes, I’d be bummed, and I would miss out on a lot of good information, community, friends, and fun.  But I would also be able to know without a doubt, I did not compromise on an issue I feel very strongly about when it mattered.  Integrity is easy to maintain, when there is no pressure to maintain it. 

I am considering all my options, and will make a decision soon.  I have spent the last three and a half years, building a loyal readership of my blog, and I appreciate every reader I have.  I feel I have a responsibility to my readers as well.  I don’t want to be a blogger who writes about how important breastfeeding is to babies, women, and our society, and then attends a conference sponsored in part, by one of the biggest companies who undermines it on a global scale. 

One truth is the swing of the sentence, the beat and poise, but down deeper it’s the integrity of the writer as he matches with the language~ Don DeLillo

Comments

  1. You know, there are several companies that are going to sponsor it that also do not promote the best eating habits – Jimmy Dean? Stouffers? Then there’s Earths Best to even it out. KMark – a big box, etc. The event is riddled with troubling sponsors.

    You may never leave your house if you take that stance. So many events are sponsored by companies I may not agree with. A bad sponsor does not make a bad event. I’m not up on the details of the Nestle issue, but I do know that without formula, Emma would have died at birth or we would have gone broke trying to buy B-milk. No amount of herbs and pumping and desire gave my boobs milk. So although I believe in breast feeding, discouraged at the lack of encouragement new moms get, without it, well what a sad place I would be.

    I say go, get the most out of it. Learn how to be a better blogger, learn the layout tips, connect with fellow bloggers,etc. Then blog away on all the issues you want. Get the inside scoop on their sponsorship, know your enemy, then blog about it – impact them to make a different decision next year. It’s a great chance to get jazzed up about blogging, women bloggers, etc. You may not be able to impact the attendance in a big enough way for them to notice your absence this year. So go, just don’t eat the cookies.

  2. I agree with Kelli’s comment above — at this point our freaking world is “sponsored.” I am pretty sure Nestle falls into the category of company that has a budget larger than many of the world’s countries. Not attending will hurt you (i.e. you will lose out on a great time) more than it will affect Nestle. Seriously, people have been boycotting Nestle for years and I have yet to see it make an impact. On the flip side they are sponsoring Blogher and I am sure they know the opinions of many of the women involved, so just maybe, if you go, someone with influence may hear what you have to say…in other words it may be more influential for you to go and be heard.

  3. A Mama's Blog says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Kelli and Alison.

    Kelli, Stouffer’s is the company owned by Nestle that is the sponsor.

    I don’t object to formula companies when there is a true need. I realize many babies need formula to survive, and that is not where I have a problem. I think every formula company goes overboard in the United States, with their marketing, and free samples. However, Nestle markets their formula aggressively in developing countries where there is not clean water or methods available for sterilization for bottles. As a result, many babies contract diarrhea, become sick, and die. Many health officials in these countries say breastfed babies are never admitted for diarrhea- they have concluded bottle feeding is dangerous, and have statistics to prove it. Furthermore, these are the families who are least likely able to afford formula, and whose babies would benefit the most from breast milk, and yet Nestle continues their aggressive marketing of formula in these developing countries. This is an interesting read which goes into the subject more extensively: http://www.polarisinstitute.org/milking_it_nestl_s_marketing_of_infant_formula

    There are other companies whose marketing and products I don’t agree with either, but Nestle’s position for over 30 years regarding this issue, is one I feel strongly about. I think it is unmoral, irreprehensible, and it is bothering me to think I may be attending the conference at the expense of these women and babies in developing countries. I know Nestle and BlogHer don’t care if I don’t go- it will make no impact whatsoever, but is that reason to still go, and try to have some good come from this? I feel right now like I will be selling out and it feels very hypocritical.

    As I wrote in the post, I am disappointed BlogHer, accepted Nestle as a sponsor. BlogHer supports women on so many levels, but If feel they definitely made a mistake on this one.

    It’s definitely a tough decision-I will be in New York anyway, and if I feel I can turn this into a positive, I will attend. But right now it seems like if I attend, what message is that sending BlogHer and Nestle? It doesn’t matter what a company’s morals and ethics are- if you have the money, and are a corporate giant, you can buy your way into anything- even BlogHer- and no one will make a stand.

  4. HK, as you know, I’m not a blogger so my opinion is not coming from that POV.

    I have told Dax that integrity is one of the attributes I enjoy most about him and others. I like these sentences you wrote in this post…

    “I did not compromise on an issue I feel very strongly about when it mattered. Integrity is easy to maintain, when there is no pressure to maintain it.”

    I agree w/ others that boycotting companies simply by refraining from their products ends up being a drop in the bucket. However, if we flip that thought on it’s head and say that we will not necessarily buy from fair trade companies because we are only a larger drop in their smaller bucket, it’s the same thing. We are basically saying that we don’t matter a bit no matter what we do.

    However, is it about the damage you can do to a corporation or business or does it come down to the fact that you do not want your choice and dollar to go to a company who uses child labor, undermines breastfeeding (which is very different than *supporting* formula feeding families IMO), etc, etc.

    I agree that our nation and world are riddled with companies that are unethical and that we simply can’t avoid them all but when you do know about a company who goes against many of your ideals then I think it’s up to you (us) to make the commitment to avoid the ones we feel are the worst.

    I applaud you for really thinking this through so that you are consistent with your ideals and the message you send to others. Personally, I think that you would make a greater stand with the people who read your blog than with those at Blogher. I have read a few different blogs on that network and they focus on entirely different things than you and Amy. Will a lot of them really be like “WOW?! I didn’t know!” or will a lot of them be like “Geez guys, get over yourselves and stop ruining the party.” I’m just saying that you may affect a few but chances are, not the majority. If all of you who do not support Nestle made more noise by not attending and being consistent with what you have shared w/ others then I think it shows more integrity and passion for what you are doing.

    People can protest now w/o even being at a specific location. Perhaps you could all put the $ you would have otherwise spent on something else that makes a stronger stand. Just my .02. :)

  5. Thank you for taking the time to share your views on this topic. It is such a horrible position for us to be put in.

  6. I do not envy the position you are put in now with the Stouffer’s sponsorship that happened after the conference was announced. I am glad to know that you will be pragmatic in whatever decision you make. Good luck.

  7. First of all, I’m not a mom (and never will be), but I try to support the Nestle boycott as much as I can as there are women in my life who have influenced me on the subject. Honestly, though, I can’t keep up with all the brands. I just found out Haagen Dazs, one of the most natural ice creams, is owned by them. Being that I have type 2 diabetes (and my husband type 1 diabetes), I look out for lower natural carb counts when considering a sweet treat. I may continue to purchase Haagen Dazs because it is more natural than say, Stouffer’s or Butterfinger, I don’t know.

    When I learned that the proceeds from the new Stouffer’s book is going towards Habitat for Humanity, I was quite impressed, to be honest. Yeah, maybe Nestle sucks on the formula issue, but they might just being doing good in other areas.

    That being said, I agree with the others above – everything in life seems to be sponsored.

    Are you aware of and in support of all the sponsors of the American Cancer Society? You might be surprised who they might be…

    Do I agree with every sponsor of diabetes organizations? No. I feel there is no place for “diabetic foods” made with artificial flavors and sweeteners, fruit juice, or soda sponsors. Do I support the organizations who are still fighting for cures, prevention of type 2, and advocacy despite this? Yes, because I can’t justify withholding support for what may materialize to a cure for type 1 diabetes in future generations or may prevent more type 2 diabetes cases. Yes, I look for the least controversially sponsored organizations when considering my charitable donations, but who knows where that cure may lie.

    Do I approve fully of every sponsor of BlogHer? No. Am I still going to attend some of the sessions I am thrilled to see added this year? Heck, yes. I don’t go for the parties, I go for the programming and learning and friendship. The conference could be entirely toned down and might not need these controversial sponsors if it was kept to that. Ah well…

  8. Doesn’t it suck to be put in this position? I hate that BlogHer did this to us. Like Kelli, I noticed that there are a lot of unethical sponsors on that list. Unlike Kelli, I decided that was even more of a reason to stay home. I hope that you are able to make a decision you feel good about, considering the circumstances.

  9. A Mama's Blog says:

    Thanks for your comments.

    @Rachel: If I found out the ACS was in part funding the event because they added a tobacco company as a sponsor, I would feel the same way. I don’t expect every organization to align themselves flawlessly with sponsors whom everyone agrees with, but to me this is different. Nestle directly undermines breastfeeding, causing babies to become ill and die. What is the difference if I found out the ACS was accepting tobacco money, which puts out a product that causes cancer and death? It’s hard for me to accept Nestle as a BlogHer sponsor because “that is just the way things are- and everything in life is sponsored.” That may be true, but does it make it right?

  10. I’ve been thinking about this all day. It seems to me that boycotts are largerly ignored by large companies. So, what to do to make a point? Perhaps you and A (and other potential boycotters) could go to Blogher about creating a session in which folks discuss Nestle and corporate responsibility in general. Maybe you could even get a representative of Nestle (or Stouffers)to attend? I think that being proactive (rather than reactive) is much more likely to eventually bring positive change.

  11. Just curious, have you Googled “american cancer society” +boycott ? You’ll find many reason why some people are boycotting them. While I understand you have issues with Nestle, it’s doubtful that there’s any large entity that hasn’t been targeted at on time or another.

    Do what’s best for you, but realize that even the ACS isn’t clear.

    Best of luck in your decision.

  12. Thank you for the articulate post on this issue. The thing that makes this different than the world being sponsored is that our Blogher tickets are underwritten in large part by the sponsors. It is very different than going to an event where you pay full price for a ticket even if you disagree with a sponsor. If we go to BlogHer, then we are accepting money from a company that we boycott (as Annie at PhD in Parenting carefully explained).

    And Nestle’s track record isn’t just promoting unhealthy food or plastic bottles. It is a lot more than that.

    I’m torn too. I am hosting a party at BlogHer and now I don’t even want to go.

  13. ysadora says:

    think about it: you guys have a chance to be paid by Nestle to go advocate against Nestle’s behavior in the world. Receiving their money would only dirty you if you chose to let it. You won’t. They can’t buy you, because you have integrity. You prove that by going and being above the influence of the bad sponsors. Of course, some will choose to demonstrate their integrity by not attending. That doesn’t mean they have more.

  14. A Mama's Blog says:

    Ysadora, I see the point you are making, and I have seen that offered as a “solution” to the dilemma on other blogs. Right now, I don’t feel comfortable doing that, because I still feel like I would be caving in to Nestle and BlogHer. If everyone justifies this, this way, what will stop BlogHer from adding tobacco companies, or other big interests many of their bloggers have issues with? Just because a company has a lot of money, it doesn’t mean it is right to accept their money- even if it is to raise awareness. For me, the bottom line is I am still taking their money.

    On a larger scale, politicians get nailed for this every election year- if they take money from certain groups, like tobacco, their integrity is immediately called into question. If they can be “bought” by special interests, what will prevent them from selling out what they are promising to reform? While we aren’t politicians, I think the same principle applies- I feel my credibility and reputation are at stake somewhat too.

    As an example: If I write a post encouraging women to breastfeed, while accepting Nestle as a sponsor to BlogHer, how can I expect a reader of mine to take this information seriously? It isn’t a matter of if- my credibility and reputation will be weakened. Probably not by a lot for some, but perhaps this would make the difference for a new mom who is struggling to breastfeed, to provide the encouragement to keep trying- knowing that women can and do succeed, despite all the pro-formula marketing out there. If she then sees I went to BlogHer where Nestle is a sponsor, why should she continue to try breastfeeding? If I can accept Nestle money to attend BlogHer, I must not really think formula is all that bad.

    It won’t matter to BlogHer or to Nestle if I don’t go, but to that breastfeeding mother, it might. That is where I can make a difference with this, and that is where my loyalty lies. Not to BlogHer, or to their sponsors, but to my readers.

    Thanks Ysadora- by writing this response out, it has helped me make the decision on where my priorities lie, and what the right decision is for me and A Mama’s Blog.

  15. I know what you mean about the position you are in. But if you do choose to go, I would LOVE to meet you!
    I am going to BlogHer and since I have been following you for a while, I would love to say whats up!

  16. After Nestle’s PR disaster on Twitter last year, they took on a PR company to try to improve their image in cyberspace. It would not surprise me at all if their advice was to sponsor BlogHer both to try and sell themselves to bloggers and keep away those who will boycott the event because of Nestle involvement.

    But these things have a habit of turning sour for Nestlé. The question is how best to achieve that, having been put in this difficult situation. I have some thought on my post here:
    http://info.babymilkaction.org/news/campaignblog310510

    Baby Milk Action is currently asking people to email Nestle over its latest baby milk marketing scam. It is promoting its baby milk around the world with the claim it ‘protects’ babies, knowing that babies fed on it are more likely to become sick than breastfed babies and, in conditions of poverty, more likely to die. The boycott has stopped similar practices in the past, so it will be very fitting if Nestle’s sponsorship of BlogHer helps to turn the spotlight on this practice to force Nestle to stop it. You can find out more in a spoof film clip I recorded about the marketing strategy and send a message to Nestlé at:
    http://info.babymilkaction.org/news/campaignblog260510

  17. I am not going to BlogHer this year, mostly because my 2nd is just too young and I’m not ready to travel across the continent and be away from him overnight. So my decision was made LONG before this news broke.

    But I must say I am immensely disappointed that BlogHer is accepting Nestle sponsorship. It is extremely disappointing, and I hope that they will not make the same decision in the future. No matter what you decide, you have been put in a very difficult position. That’s the part that I dislike most strongly.

    You have to make a decision that you are comfortable with. Regardless of what that is, it sounds as if you are approaching this thoughtfully. That’s what matters most, and speaking as a Nestle boycotter myself, I can understand your decision either way. And I hate that you have to make it.

  18. It is a disappointing a difficult position BlogHer put us in but I, like you, have chosen to boycott the conference. There are many people I wanted to meet and it was an experience I wanted to have but I don’t feel that I personally can reconcile my position on Nestle with accepting its sponsorship. This is expected behavior from Nestle but has forever altered my opinion of BlogHer.

  19. I was slated to speak on one of the panels (“Radical Blogging Mamas”),and for me it wasn’t about “sending Nestle a message” as the boycott is 40 years old & clearly they don’t care.For me it was “walking the walk”and modeling activism for my kids. What kind of “radical” mom would I be when presented with this dilemma,and justify it somehow because it’s something I personally want to do. Radicalism often means taking the hard or unpopular,less traveled road. And that’s what I did. I am not attending, I canceled my hotel reservation & notified BlogHer I would not be speaking. And I slept like a baby :)

    Like all who have chimed in, I’m not judging others. I just wanted to chime in on the “but look at all the other [unethical] sponsors” and “like boycotting is really going to make a difference to Nestle” argument(s). For me it was personal integrity and looking at the “Mama in the mirror.” It’s *my* name and *my* “brand” (image) that would be associated with this, and that wasn’t okay with me….

    Best wishes, whatever you decide…

    M.

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  2. [...] From Heather at A Mama’s Blog: BlogHer ‘10, Nestle, and Integrity [...]

  3. [...] the difficult decision to attend the conference, but Heather has decided against it. In her post BlogHer ’10, Nestle Sponsorship, & Integrity, Heather wrote: Eating a chocolate chip cookie from a friend is different though, when faced with [...]

  4. [...] decided to boycott BlogHer ’10, after I had already obtained tickets because of their Nestle sponsorship.  But I had also been invited by the American Cancer Society (ACS), by the Blogger Advisory [...]

  5. [...] housewives — Nestle is one of the most boycotted companies in the world, according to Heather from A Mama’s Blog. I specifically opt out of accepting any BlogHerAds advertising formula companies, such as [...]

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