On Google and Nestle

Real talk, folks. I know that this is Vegan MoFo, but as a student of ethics, an Android OS user, and a huge fan of the Googles (seriously, I have a squishable Google Chrome logo on my desk), I feel that I need to speak out about this. I also feel it is necessary to note that this is an opinion. Please do your own research and decide how you feel about this for yourself.

Yesterday, Google announced the name of it’s new version of the Android operating system. Instead of the rumored “Android Key Lime Pie” Google entered into a partnership with Nestle to name the new OS “Android KitKat.” The CNN article attached to that link cites that developers named it after the KitKat bars they consumed while programming the new version. But, I’m guessing with the marketing campaign following this announcement –including Android-branded KitKat bars hitting supermarket shelves– the decision is a bit more involved than that.

This move upsets me. For a long time, I was an Apple devotee. I have never owned a computer that wasn’t a Macintosh, I’ve always had some version of an iPod since 2004, since college 2 my iPhone and I were attached at the hip… that is until July. In July 2013, I took the advice of my romantic partner and opted for an Android phone at upgrade time. This was not a decision I entered into lightly. My first smartphone was a Motorola Backflip, an Android phone… and I despised it. Probably because it was such a terrible piece of hardware, but I had vowed never to go back to Android after that experience. After a long process of research and reading reviews on how much the OS had improved since 2008, I settled on the Samsung Galaxy S4. A brand new, waterproof, dustproof, shockproof (?? maybe? I’ve dropped mine half a dozen times and it’s still fine) smartphone. Since then, I’ve fallen madly in love with the phone and the Android OS.

Now I’m questioning my decision. Was transitioning over to Android a mistake if Google is willing to sell out to a company like Nestle, which has such a shady ethical history?

Nestle has engaged in questionable marketing practices of its products for decades. In the 1970s (and possibly even to this day), the company has gotten new mothers hooked on its infant formula, which is more expensive than and less healthful than breast milk. Business Insider published a great summary of the situation, click here to read it. The gist is, Nestle gave free formula to new mothers in third-world countries, where the average income was so low that once that free formula was used up, they could not afford to buy more. If a mother stops breastfeeding for long enough, she looses her milk, her body just stops making it because it isn’t needed. So women were diluting the formula to make it last which led to malnutrition. Not only that, but in many of the areas where this was taking place, the water was of poor quality, causing many children to get sick just by consuming the water the formula was mixed with. This killed MILLIONS of babies.

Let me reiterate that: Nestle’s marketing practices led to the death of MILLIONS of children.

Nestle. Did. That.

Fast forward 35 years and let’s talk about chocolate. Nestle purchases its cocoa from a commodities exchange. Meaning, that a bunch of cacao growers offer their raw product on an open market. Large chocolate-producing companies, Nestle included, will buy cocoa from the lowest bidder. In order to make a profit and still be able to sell their product, cocoa plantation owners have to keep labor prices low. As in using child labor and/or slave labor. In recent years, Nestle has announced a plan to end such deplorable labor tactics by its cocoa producers. However, this won’t fully go into effect until 2020. Meaning that those KitKat bars the developers were supposedly snacking on while writing the new Android KitKat software were produced using child slave labor. And all those Google-approved, Android-branded KitKat bars will also be produced using child slaves.

Nestle’s ethics have come into question for more than these offenses, including the use of palm oil in KitKat bars, and depriving people of potable water in Pakistan, and probably even more issues that I’m not aware of. I would elaborate, but I’m not as familiar with these issues as I am with the others I mentioned above.

What happened to Google’s corporate slogan of “Don’t be evil?” Does “Don’t be evil,” now mean that it’s okay to engage in evil when there’s an exciting crossover marketing opportunity on the line? Or do human rights violations no longer count as evil? How are you defining this, Google?

As a consumer and a Google customer, I do not want this. I do not want to be marketed to by Nestle every time I turn on my phone. But what can be done? Boycotting Google and all of it’s products is difficult nearly impossible. But that’s exactly what some people are proposing over this issue. Alternatively, I could symbolically refuse to download the new Android KitKat version, leaving my phone vulnerable to security weaknesses, in which case I suffer. I could cancel my contract and buy a new phone that does not use the Android OS, which would be expensive and something I cannot currently afford to do, and again, I suffer. Or I could cease using all of Google’s products, which would mean I use poorer quality email providers, move all of my cloud storage over to Amazon (whose ethical record isn’t stellar either), and have few options for free word processor or spreadsheet software, whereby again, I suffer.

But in the Peter Singer sense a la “Famine, Affluence and Morality,” whose suffering is greater? Do I give up something important by disengaging from Google, such that it isn’t worth doing so? (That’s another, deeper discussion, too long for this post. Don’t worry, I am thinking about these things.)

This is the bottom line: I am being forced to engage with the Nestle KitKat brand. Engaging with Nestle brands is not something I ever wanted to do. I doubt it something a lot of Andorid users ever thought they would have to do when choosing an Android phone over any other OS.

So what should we do? I believe that people like me who are unhappy with this decision have to stand up and say so. Threats of boycott probably aren’t going to help here. Write, email, blog, Tweet, YouTube (yes I know it’s a Google product), use anything you can to express your disapproval of this move. What do you think should be done? I’m open to suggestions.

It’s impossible to be ethically perfect, I know that. I falter from my own ethical standards occasionally. What is important is to do better. Google, you can do so much better than this.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Michael says:

    Great read! I’m just going to keep saying “Key Lime Pie.” This is also late in the game for them to be changing their brand.

  2. David says:

    My thoughts exactly, but you said it better! I think the best course of action is rather than self-sabotaging yourself with a more symbolic than meaningful action would be to support projects that undermine Google’s. Get a fairphone (fairphone.com) when your current one wears down beyond repair. They currently use Android but are planning to switch to Firefox OS. Since it’s open I’m hoping to help port KDE to be usable on mobile and then put that on the phone.

    Look into alternative email services. Look into alternative video hosting. Look into alternative browsers. Look into alternatives for every Google product you use, support and advocate for the ones you find to be better. Start spinning down services that aren’t mission critical for whatever you want to do – ie disconnect your Youtube account, stop using Google+.

    1. Kate B says:

      …unfortunately my connection to the Googles is more complicated than average. And I can’t really go into detail on that. Sigh. I’m going to see if I can ruffle some feathers in places where it matters, though. See where it gets me.

  3. androidbethy says:

    Reblogged this on Android Bethy.

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