How Nestle and Unilever Profit Off Third World Poverty

The Business of Poverty and Food Companies

DW (2018)

Film Review

With the growing rejection of processed food by the industrial North, corporate food producers are aggressively targeting the third world. It’s a cynical strategy they learned from tobacco companies, after the anti-smoking movement significantly reduced cigarette purchases in developed countries. The result: a massive increase in obesity and diabetes in the countries targeted.

The filmmakers offer the example of Nestle’s campaign in Sao Paolo favelas to sell sugar-laden dairy products and Unilever’s campaign to sell white bread, margarine and “stock cubes” in Nairobi. In both cities, these processed foods are promoted as “status” and “health foods.” The consumers targeted often have no formal education and no access to health information other than TV ads. As slum dwellers, they also have virtually no access to natural or traditional foods.

In Sao Paolo, Nestle recruits poor women to sell their products door-to-door. The company compels them to sign binding contracts that force them to take all the financial risk. In addition to pre-purchasing the product (whether they sell it or not), they’re also required to give customers one month free credit. Many never pay for their purchases.

Unilever has also trained dozens of Nairobi women to become door-to-door vendors but has yet to follow through with full implementation. In Kenyan slums, families rely on convenience stores for small packages of junk food – which is all they can afford on their limited wages.

Nutritionists and other health workers in both cities are fighting an uphill battle to persuade the urban poor to return to more healthy traditional foods. An extremely difficult task, owing to the wholesale displacement (forced on developing countries by the IMF and “free trade” treaties) of domestic agriculture with export crops. Activists’ preferred tactic is to involve low income slum dwellers in urban garden projects that produce traditional foods.

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