Last year, Nestlé launched their vegan tuna and announced that it will be launching a vegan version of its Carnation condensed milk in UK retail stores. In February this year, Nestlé announced on their Instagram that vegan KitKat will be coming in 2021. Also last month, Nestlé launched their dairy-free Milo in Asia and opened its first plant-based production facility in Malaysia.
In just a year, Nestlé suddenly became somewhat committed to making breakthroughs for plant-based and vegan products. However, they are still one of the biggest multinational food and drink processing corporations in the world which earns profit mostly from their bottled water and non-vegan products. This causes a dilemma between vegans, especially since Nestlé isn’t the most ethical corporation.
The bottled water business started in 1834 and as of today, there are thousands of other bottled water companies in the world, but Nestlé is still at number one sales-wise, followed by Coca-Cola, Danone, and PepsiCo. Cited from the Guardian, In 2018, “Nestlé siphoned 45m gallons of pristine spring water from the creek and bottled it under the Arrowhead Water label. Though it’s on federal land, the Swiss bottled water giant paid the US Forest Service and state practically nothing, and it profited handsomely: Nestlé Waters’ 2018 worldwide sales exceeded $7.8bn.”
From their bottled water, another problem occurs; plastic waste. Nestlé is one of the ten biggest plastic polluters with Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, and many others, who have a joint plastic footprint of almost 10 million tonnes per year – the equivalent of 30 times the weight of the Empire State Building.
Not only in the environment sector, Nestlé also caught up in charge by Pakistani NGO, Sum of Us, in Bhati Dilwan, where it exploited the local water supply, again for their bottled water which caused mass deprivation. The NGO stated, “Villagers have watched their water table sink hundreds of feet since Nestlé moved in. Children are getting sick from the foul-smelling sludge they are forced to choke down.”
Achievement or Distraction?
If we are talking about big corporations in the industry, it’s crucial to remember that they have not always been able to meet the sustainability aspects in terms of ‘plant-based’ or ‘vegan.’ Among all the latest products they launched, Nestlé still earns a big share from their bottled water and non-vegan products.
For a company as big and as successful as Nestlé, it’s almost impossible if they have not thought about their plastic waste problems before deciding to launch many plant-based products. If the intention is to be a better agent for the environment, why not try to create a solution for their plastic waste problems first? Why don't they strive themselves to repair the damage they've caused while producing their bottled water? Why choose to make many new products instead? Is this a way to ‘compromise’ for the damage they have caused?
Should We Buy Nestlé Products?
It seems unfair if we question Nestlé's decision without questioning the other big companies. Big fast-food chains also have started to create their plant-based menu, namely Beyond Taco by Del Taco, Veggie Power Menu Bowl byTaco Bell, Beyond Sausage Breakfast Sandwich by Dunkin’, Plant-Based Whopper by Burger King, even Starbucks has put non-dairy milk on their options.
Compared to Nestlé, these fast-food chains appear to be more celebrated and less criticised whereas they are the most obvious culprit in many aspects of the climate crisis, precisely as the world’s highest contributor in gas emissions, not to mention the amount of water used in their supply chains.
To answer the question, frankly, it depends on your definition of veganism. Some vegans believe that being a vegan means defending animals and/or the environment, some believe that it means eating more plant-based foods for health sake and/or animal rights, some also believe it means to fight against large companies that exploit people as labor. There are literally so many versions of veganism out there, it depends on which commitment you choose, but the most important part is to always question and keep an eye on them for every of their decisions.