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Boycotting BlogHer Because I Boycott Nestle

Not long after I first started using Twitter – which was about the same time I finally began this blog – there was a great deal of Tweeting about BlogHer ’09. It sounded like the place everybody who was a female blogger wanted to be. There was controversy – something about “swag,” excessive freebies that made people look and feel all cheap and whore-y. But I joined BlogHer, saw that I would never be able to get into the advertising network (it is full up for pretty much ever) and hoped I would get to the next BlogHer conference and learn those secrets people were swearing they learned in between getting all that controversial stuff.

In the autumn, tickets for BlogHer ’10 went on sale and I did something I only do with music concerts and the ballet – bought a ticket as soon as I could. The conference is in New York City, a few hours by train from where I live so that made the decision easier. If there had been a plane ticket involved, I wouldn’t have considered going. It is out of character for me to buy a ticket to a conference that has nothing to do with work, social justice, children or some combination of all three. As the conference was fewer and fewer months away, I was a bit worried buying the ticket was a bad idea. There was a “popular girls” feel to the world of BlogHer. I didn’t use the site. Few bloggers I read were going to be there. Other blogger conferences happened without me and reports back seemed to be about products and selling stuff – not about activism or information or being a good writer. As I worried more and more that I had succumbed to that urge to join an “in crowd,” I finally began to hear of bloggers whose work sorta had to do with mine going. A handful. I might be all right.

And then it happened. A blogger who had attended the #NestleFamily junket wrote a post drawing attention to BlogHer’s announcement that Stouffer’s, a Nestle brand, would be a conference sponsor.

I didn’t blog about #NestleFamily. I wrote about it in the January/February 2010 Mothering magazine where I am Politics Editor and the most comprehensive on-line coverage of that incident can be found at PhD in Parenting here and at follow-up posts on that blog.

This is not a post about why I boycott Nestle but I do. It is not only its sale of infant formula in flagrant and infamous violation of the WHO Code. It is the combination of corporate conduct, including the use of child slaves to pick cocoa beans, that led to the boycott and my decision to participate in it. I am sure I get a Nestle product by accident now and then but I work pretty hard at keeping Nestle products out of my life. The roughest spot I have been in was speaking at a La Leche League conference recently. I was speaking in a few minutes in a ballroom so hot and humid rare flowers would have grown happily. For medical reasons, I must have a large supply of water at all times. You would be hard pressed to find me these days without my giant BPA-free water bottle (a great speaker gift- thank you UNC-Greensboro!) in my hand but I hadn’t flown it out with me. I put the need for water in the speaking room in my contracts. I went to the fridge in the back of the room to grab some water bottles and there they were – Nestle water. I wasn’t the first to see them. There was already a crowd of conference attendees grumbling about Nestle in the room. The conference organizer was at my side soon and then she was out the door to do something I don’t even want to know about to the hotel employee responsible. But I needed to go on and I needed water. And I drank the Nestle water.

Yeah, that story sounds a bit much but it is true. So when I read that a Nestle brand was going to be one of the eighty or so sponsors of BlogHer ’10, I knew I had a problem. There was some behind the scenes posting about who was going to do what and whether BlogHer might do something. I thought that perhaps even if Nestle was going to be at the conference, perhaps they could sponsor a particular event I could avoid, rather than the entire conference. Just my impression, but I don’t think BlogHer organizers cared less. Conference sponsorship for BlogHer is a “show me the money” enterprise. And from the discussions about previous conferences – samples, products, brands, stuff, stuff, stuff – I should have known that before I bought my ticket.

A few bloggers who oppose Nestle corporate practices have written posts about why they are going to BlogHer anyway. They have been criticized and they have been supported and they have been mocked by people I criticized for going to #NestleFamily. And a handful of us – four by my count – are boycotting BlogHer. It’s my decision. I made it. I’m proud of it. And I think it is sad so few people care. Someone even had the gall to criticize me for refusing to sell her my ticket.

So have at me people. What are you willing to do to stand up for what you believe is right? If you boycott Nestle, what do you do to avoid using its products? And, an important question to me, why do you think so few people are boycotting BlogHer?

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