The Biggest Consumer Companies and Their Ethical Implications

America is a country absolutely overrun by consumerism. What this means is that almost all household items are supplied by large corporations. While large companies are not automatically bad because they are large, some of these companies have a much greater effect than you may know.


Nestle’s first scandal surfaced in the late ‘70s. For some time it was known that Nestle insisted that baby formula is superior to breast milk, unfortunately they took it too far. The company targeted third-world countries and spread the idea that breast milk is inferior. The trouble is that mothers in these countries often could not afford formula or worse, did not have clean water to mix with the formula, leading to the unnecessary death of many babies in these areas.

More recently, Nestle has been found to have been offering incentives to doctors and nurses in Laos if they agree to give newborns formula rather than encouraging breast feeding. That same year, 2011, Nestle was caught bribing doctors and nurses for newborn’s patient records in order to push more formula.

Think that’s bad? Just wait, it gets even worse. In 2005 the International Labor Rights Fund filed a lawsuit against Nestle. This lawsuit was on behalf of 3 children that were allegedly trafficked to the Ivory Coast to work on Nestle’s cocoa plantations where they were beaten regularly. Unfortunately the U.S. District Court ruled that companies cannot be held liable for violations of international law and the case was dismissed. Nestle continues to engage in these human rights violations. Most of the plantation workers are reportedly between the ages of 12 and 15 and many times they are enslaved or trafficked from other countries. While this is common in the cocoa industry, Nestle is such a large brand that they truly are contributing massively to these issues.

Nestle’s seemingly most public scandal involves the company’s bottled water. Arrowhead bottled water is sourced from a spring located in a Native American reservation in California. As of now, Nestle still does not have a permit to take water from this source and only pays the U.S. Forest Service $529 per year to pump and bottle 30 million gallons of water. This is undoubtedly bad for the ecosystem, especially considering that California has serious drought issues. Nestle also pumps water in other states which in turn hurts ecosystems all over the country and has made water, a human right, into a commodity.

Proctor & Gamble

William Procter and James Gamble created their company in 1837. Their primary focus is on consumer good with brands such as Pantene, Dawn, Crest, Tide, etc.

A 2016 report by Amnesty International found that P&G is profiting from the forced labor of eight to 14 year olds. The report says that some of these child workers were extorted, threatened or not paid for their work. Some even suffered severe injury from toxic chemical that were not supposed to be there.

To this day, P&G continues to test on animals. In 1999 they announced that they would limit animal testing to their food and drug products only.


Unilever is the combination of a British soap company and a Dutch margarine company. The company was founded in 1929, originally focused on products with fats and oils, but now own brands of all types. Notable brands include: Ben & Jerry’s, Lipton, Axe, Dove, and others.

Unilever has been criticized for deforestation due to the use of palm oil in their products. Unilever responded with a plan to obtain all of their palm oil from certified sustainable sources, and actually met this goal in 2012.

Similarly, Unilever purchased paper from Asia Pulp & Paper, a know “forest criminal.” Again, Unilever responded by changing it’s ways and cancelling the contract with Asia Pulp & Paper in 2011.


Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce marketplace, also has made it’s fair share of missteps. The company began as a humble online retailer for books in 1994 and quickly expanded into all sectors of retail.

Amazon now owns other businesses including: Zappos, Audible and IMDb as well as Whole Foods.

First and foremost, Amazon is detrimental due to it’s business model. By monopolizing as many industries as they do they have the ability to shut down almost all other online and brick-and-mortar stores. Eliminating the competition means that they set the rules, they have control of the direction of all of these industries. This is not healthy for the individual, the economy or the ecosystem.

In 2017 and 2018 Amazon paid no federal income tax yet collected millions in refunds. In addition, several accusation have been thrown out claiming that Amazons contract with the United States Postal Service is a “sweetheart deal,” meaning that they pay almost nothing to the government to deliver these packages which may affect tax-payers.
Arguable the biggest problem is how the workers have reportedly been treated. Warehouse workers have been recorded saying that the facilities they work in feel like “low-security prisons.” Another organization found that 1/3 of these workers in Arizona were on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Warehouse workers have also been found working in 100 degree conditions with several employees suffering from dehydration and collapsing. In another shocking report, 189 calls were made to emergency services from Amazon employees between 2013 and 2018 relating to suicidal employees. Worker’s blamed Amazon for the surveillance, social isolation and hurried or dangerous working conditions.

This is not to say that we should necessarily take action against these companies, especially if some of these brands are instrumental in our lives, but it’s something to consider. Large companies can also do great things like donating money or resources but can also take advantage of an unknowing population. In short, not all companies are equal when it comes to ethics. It is always best to choose what products you buy wisely, the effects may not be worth it to you.

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