German Catholic youth are boycotting Nestlé over environmental protection and human rights concerns.

– A campaign “to draw attention to the misconduct” of multinationals “and force them to rethink”

“We are very consciously boycotting one company, namely Nestlé, Europe’s largest food company”, national director of the Catholic Youth Community (KjG), Rebekka Biesenbach, told Cologne archdiocesan news service Domradio in a September 14 interview.

As for the reasons behind the boycott, Biesenbach explained that it’s a matter of calling out the “ethical and moral principles” – or lack of them – driving the Nestlé brand and “what things it pays attention to or disregards in production”.

The KjG has long been raising awareness on child labour, water scarcity, slash-and-burn agriculture and packaging waste issues surrounding Nestlé.

At a recent national conference, however, the KjG resolved to move on to a outright boycott of Nestlé and its subsidiary companies, “to draw attention to the misconduct of large corporations and force them to rethink”, as the Youth Community itself explained.

“Of course, there are other companies with similar corporate structures and cultures”, Biesenbach explained with respect to the boycott. However, she said the KjG has decided to focus for the time being on Nestlé, the multi-billion-dollar Swiss multinational that produces everything from baby formula to bottled water and coffee and tea.

Nestlé is also one of the principal shareholders in L’Oreal, the world’s largest cosmetics company.

– Concerns over child labour, prevention of access to drinking water, overuse of plastic…

As for the specific concerns the KjG has about Nestlé, Biesenbach explained that in the first place is the multinational’s contribution towards the destruction of the environment, and above all the fact that “slash-and-burn farming for certain products, palm oil for example, is a matter of course” in the company’s business model.

Along with that fire-fallow cultivation, the KjG director also denounced Nestlé’s dependence on child labour, above all in the production of its cocoa.

Another major issue for the KjG “is water, which in many countries is pumped out by the company, bottled and then sold back to the population”, Biesenbach continued, deploring that Nestlé “thus makes basic access to clean drinking water more difficult and in some cases makes it unaffordable for the population”.

The KjG national director observed that the Nestlé boycott “fits in very well” with the Community’s decision to avoid the use of plastic, “because there is a lot of overlap in the products”.

“If you want to reduce plastic, many Nestlé products will be eliminated”, Biesenbach observed.

Summing up, the KjG representative said that the Community’s concerns about Nestlé revolve around problems in the areas of “human rights and women’s rights, because these have an influence on how children in other countries of the world grow up and whether or not they have access to education, food, safe housing and the like”.

– Pope: “There is a nobility” in “little daily actions” of sustainable consumption

Along with the Nestlé boycott, the KjG is also working hard to sensitise its members and wider society to the importance of fair trade and sustainable consumption, including through a competition to find the most innovative techniques of consumer responsibility.

In that resolve to take greater responsibility for their choices as consumers, the young people of the KjG are following in the best tradition of Catholic social teaching and responding to what Pope Francis has termed the “throwaway culture”.

“People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more”, the pontiff alerted already in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’.

In that same text, the Pope observed that “there is a nobility” in “little daily actions” done for our Common Home and for our fellow creatures, including through avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, recycling or turning off unnecessary lights.

“We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world”, Francis wrote with respect to those ways of sustainable consumption.

“They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile”.

More on Novena on the Catholic call to socially and environmentally responsible consumption:

Cardinals accuse multinationals of “systematically” prioritising self-interest “to the detriment of our human family and common home”

110 bishops call on States to enforce corporate accountability: “Irresponsible companies are complicit in violence and suffering”

Spanish Church groups deplore world’s model of “predatory development”, “avalanche of consumerism”

“The cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor cannot continue”: Pope renews “urgent call” to respond to ecological crisis

Catholic climate campaigner urges faithful “to stand up against” world’s “arrogance, apathy and avarice”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.