Nestlé: From sugar in baby food to Maggi ban — top 8 controversies globally

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Responding to the concerns, Nestlé India told Mint has reduced up to 30 percent of added sugars across its infant cereal range over the past five years

Amid this new concern, we revisit the other controversies Nestlé is battling in India and abroad.

Added Sugar in Baby Food for Developing Countries

Citing data from Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), the Guardian reported findings from an examination of 115 products sold in Nestlé’s main markets in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, focusing on Cerelac and Nodi brands.

Public Eye’s analysis revealed that all Cerelac baby cereal products examined in India contained added sugar, averaging nearly 3 grams per serving.

Notably, while added sugar is present in products sold in developing nations, Nestlé’s European market offers sugar-free infant nutrition products.

Public Eye and IBFAN’s investigation highlighted significant differences in sugar content between Nestlé’s products marketed in low-income and middle-income countries and those sold in Switzerland. In particular, two of Nestlé’s best-selling baby-food brands in developing nations contained high levels of added sugar, contrasting with sugar-free products in Switzerland.

In CY22, Nestlé India’s milk products and nutrition portfolio, including dairy whitener, condensed milk, yoghurt, maternal and infant formula, baby foods, and healthcare nutrition, reported sales of 6,815.73 crore.

Backlash Over Unhealthy Food Portfolio

In 2021, the world’s largest consumer food and beverages company came under fire following the disclosure of an internal presentation indicating that a significant portion of its mainstream food and beverages range is not considered healthy, as per a Hindustan Times report.

In the internal document, Nestle revealed that 60 percent of its food and drinks portfolio, excluding items such as pet food, baby formula, and coffee, fail to meet recognised health standards. The company also admitted that certain food products within its range may never achieve a healthy status.

It had then announced plans to update its nutrition and health strategy and review its entire product lineup to ensure alignment with nutritional requirements. Nestle said it had reduced sodium and sugar content across its products by at least 14-15 percent over the past seven years.

Maggi Noodles Banned in India

Between June 5 and September 1, 2015, approximately 38,000 tonnes of Maggi Noodles were withdrawn from retail shelves across India and subsequently destroyed.

The withdrawal severely impacted Nestle India, with Maggi’s market share plummeting from 80 percent to zero. Maggi sales contributed to over 25 percent of Nestle India’s revenues, posing a significant threat to the company’s operations in the country.

The fault was found during a routine inspection in March 2014 by Sanjay Singh, a food inspector at the Uttar Pradesh government’s Food Safety and Drug Administration.

Singh found packets of Maggi noodles boasting “no added MSG (monosodium glutamate)” and sent a sample to the state laboratory at Gorakhpur for analysis. The results confirmed the presence of MSG, prompting further testing at the Central Food Laboratory in Kolkata in June 2014. The results received almost a year later in April 2015, revealed the presence of MSG and lead, with the lead content exceeding Nestle India’s claims by over 1,000 times.

Months later in May, Nestle issued its first official statement reassuring consumers. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), took up the matter on May 25 and on 5 June 2015, ordered Nestle to recall Maggi noodles.

Boycott in the US for Discouraging Breastfeeding

In the United States, Nestle faces accusations of discouraging breastfeeding in favour of promoting its baby formula as a healthier alternative, despite the lack of proven evidence, as per a Hindustan Times report. This sparked a boycott of Nestle products in the United States in 1977, which later spread to Europe.

The boycott persisted until 1984 when Nestle agreed to adhere to an international marketing code endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO), leading to the official suspension of the boycott in the US.

Child Slave Labour Accusations

Nestlé faced legal heat over child slave labour allegations. In 2021, eight former alleged child slaves sued the company, along with others, for alleged involvement in the illegal enslavement of children on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, as per a report by

The petitioners accuse Nestle of “aiding and abetting the illegal enslavement of thousands of children on cocoa farms in their supply chains.” In June 2022, a US District Court dismissed the case for lack of standing to sue because the plaintiffs did not show a “traceable connection” between the seven defendant companies and the specific plantations where they worked, as per a Reuters report. Hershey and Cargill were also named in the lawsuit.

Exploiting Drought-Ridden Areas

Nestlé’s water bottling practices draw criticism as despite California’s recurring droughts, Nestlé has been extracting water from the San Bernardino National Forest since 1988, paying a nominal fee despite an expired permit.

Nestlé has used this water for its Arrowhead water brand source since 1984. There have been multiple petitions addressing this issue in US courts. The latest in October 2023, BlueTriton Brands approached the Fresno County Superior Court, arguing against the State Water Resources Control Board’s decision to halt “unauthorized diversions” of water from springs in the San Bernardino Mountains, as per an LA Times report. The company claims the board has overstepped its authority “far beyond what California law allows.”

Among the World’s Top Plastic Polluters

Nestlé’s packaging practices contribute to plastic pollution as per a report by Critics raise concerns over their approach to plastic waste management, suggesting a focus on incineration may exacerbate pollution.

As per Nestle’s website, they claim to “aim for above 95 percent of our plastic packaging to be designed for recycling by 2025″. However, Greenpeace claims the company burns its plastic waste, thus leading to toxic pollution, as per

Contaminating Groundwater

Accusations are also mounting against Nestlé for groundwater exploitation. In Pakistan, where water scarcity is a pressing issue, Nestlé’s operations have allegedly led to sinking water levels and contamination.

Forensic audits submitted to the Pakistan Supreme Court showed significant water wastage, contradicting management’s assertions. “While the Nestle Pakistan management said that 15 percent of water was wasted during the Reverse Osmosis (RO) process in water treatment, it could not justify the rest of 28 percent wastage of water,” it said.

Further, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, allegedly no payments were made for the water supply.

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Pooja Gupta

CA Pooja Gupta (CA, ISA, having 15 years of experience. Educator and Digital Creator

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CA Pooja Gupta (CA, ISA, having 15 years of experience. Educator and Digital Creator

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