Claiming a brand or commodity is ‘green’ using a narrow definition or series of characteristics
For example, when a brand talks about satellite monitoring to stop deforestation, however deforestation continues to accelerate in spite of this, that’s ‘Hidden Trade-Off”
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#Greenwashing Tactic #1: Hidden Trade Off: Claiming a brand or commodity is ‘green’ using a narrow definition or set of characteristics. #Boycott4Wildlife #Boycottpalmoil #FightGreenwashingTweet
Examples of Hidden Trade off
In 2019, a satellite monitoring system for stopping deforestation was adopted by Nestle, PZ Cussons and others.
They are RSPO members with ‘No Deforestation’ policies in place. In 2021, deforestation continues.
“Nestlé pledged to ensure the palm oil it uses would be sourced in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner within ten years. It has not succeeded – despite the very long time it gave itself. While the Swiss-based multinational is pacifying consumers with PR promises, its business with cheap palm oil from obscure sources is booming. The price for this is being paid by people and nature in tropical countries. Rainforest Rescue therefore recommends consumers avoiding products that contain palm oil.“Fact check: Nestlé palm oil is not sustainable. Rainforest Rescue 2020.
Nestle, PZ Cussons, Danone, Colgate-Palmolive, Kelloggs sell family-friendly products to consumers.
At the same time, they purchase palm oil linked to violence, and the deaths of palm oil workers in Papua New Guinea including children. This palm oil finds its way into our homes.
“One palm oil firm, Rimbunan Hijau, [Papua New Guinea] negligently ignored repeated and avoidable worker deaths and injuries on palm oil plantations, with at least 11 workers and the child of one worker losing their lives over an eight-year period.
“Tainted palm oil from Papua New Guinea plantations was sold to household name brands including Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Colgate, Danone, Hershey’s and PZ Cussons and Reckitt Benckiser”The true price of palm oil
How global finance funds deforestation, violence and human rights abuses in Papua New Guinea – Global Witness, 2021
L’Oreal, Avon, Unilever, Johnson&Johnson
Global beauty brands virtue-signal and greenwash about how they promote gender equality or care about people in the developing world. Yet at the same time, the palm oil they source is harvested by women and children who experience sexual violence, rape and slavery working on palm oil plantations.
Women on plantations often face sexual abuse, ranging from verbal harassment and threats to rape, and victims rarely speak out. When they do, companies often don’t take action or police charges are either dropped or not filed because it comes down to the accuser’s word against the man’s.
Palm oil was found in the supply chains of some of the biggest names in the $530 billion beauty business, including L’Oréal, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Avon and Johnson & Johnson. A wide range of abuses also were linked to mills and plantations that have been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).AP investigation: Female palm oil workers face abuse, no pay, 2020.
Olam is a cocoa and palm oil processing company and an RSPO member. They hand out low-interest loans to workers on their plantations.
At the same time, they are being investigated for child labour and slave labour in Ghana
The RSPO create a fund for smallholder palm oil farmer’s children. At the same time they are involved in child slavery on their palm oil plantations
Explore the series
Further reading on palm oil, greenwashing and deceptive marketing
A Brief History of Consumer Culture, Dr Kerryn Higgs, The MIT Press Reader.
A Deluge of Double-Speak (2017), Jason Bagley. Truth in Advertising.
Anti-Corporate Activism and Collusion: The Contentious Politics of Palm Oil Expansion in Indonesia, (2022). Ward Berenschot, et. al., Geoforum, Volume 131, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2022.03.002
Balanced Growth (2020), In: Leal Filho W., Azul A.M., Brandli L., özuyar P.G., Wall T. (eds)Responsible Consumption and Production. Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Springer, Cham.
Contrasting communications of sustainability science in the media coverage of palm oil agriculture on tropical peatlands in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, (2020), Felicia H M Liu, Vignaa Ganesan, Thomas E L Smith, Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 114, 2020.
Commodifying sustainability: Development, nature and politics in the palm oil industry (2019) World Development
Volume 121, September 2019, Pages 218-228
Earth Day 2021: Companies Accused of Greenwashing (2021), Truth in Advertising.
Effect of oil palm sustainability certification on deforestation and fire in Indonesia, (2018), Kimberly M. Carlson, Robert Heilmayr, Holly K. Gibbs, Praveen Noojipady et al. PNAS January 2, 2018 115 (1) 121-126
Fifteen environmental NGOs demand that sustainable palm oil watchdog does its job, (2019), Media release. Rainforest Action Network.
‘Gibt es nachhaltiges Palmöl? Satellitenbilder zeigen: Auch auf zertifizierten Plantagen brennt es immer wieder’, (2021), Adina Renner, Conradin Zellweger, Barnaby Skinner, Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
Green Clean, (2021), Cathy Armour (Commissioner, Australian Securities & Investments Commission). Company Director Magazine.
Greenwash and spin: palm oil lobby targets its critics, (2011), Alex Helan. Ecologist: Informed by Nature.
Group Challenges Rainforest Alliance Earth-Friendly Seal of Approval, (2015), Truth in Advertising.
Green marketing and the Australian Consumer Law, (2011), Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Greenwashing of the Palm Oil Industry, (2007), Mongabay
Greenwashing: The Darker Side Of CSR, (2011), Priyanka Aggarwal, Shri Ram College of Commerce (University of Delhi). Indian Journal of Applied Research 4(3):61-66 DOI:10.15373/2249555X/MAR2014/20
How Cause-washing Deceives Consumers, (2021), Truth in Advertising
‘Is there such a thing as sustainable palm oil? Satellite images show protected rainforest on fire’, (2021), Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Adina Renner, Conradin Zellweger, Barnaby Skinner.
Kellogg on Branding in a Hyper-Connected World, (2019), Alice M. Tybout (Editor-in-Chief), Tim Calkins (Editor-in-Chief), Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.
No such thing as sustainable palm oil – ‘certified’ can destroy even more wildlife, say scientists, (2018), Jane Dalton. The Independent.
Palm oil watchdog’s sustainability guarantee is still a destructive con, (2019), Environmental Investigation Agency.
Plantation Life: Corporate Occupation in Indonesia’s Oil Palm Zone. Tania Murray Li, Pujo Semedi, (2021), Duke University Press.
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is ‘greenwashing’ labelled products, environmental investigation agency says, (2019), Annette Gartland. Changing Times Media.
RSPO: 14 years of failure to eliminate violence and destruction from the industrial palm oil sector, (2018), Friends of the Earth International.
Sustainable palm oil may not be so sustainable, (2018) , Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, Jingjing Liang, Alena Velichevskaya, Mo Zhou, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 652, 2019, Pages 48-51, ISSN 0048-9697.
Sustainable palm oil or certified dispossession? NGOs within scalar struggles over the RSPO private governance standard (2019): Working Paper No. 8,
Bioeconomy & Inequalities; Wicke, Janis.
Sustainable palm oil? RSPO’s greenwashing and fraudulent audits exposed, (2015) Ecologist: Informed by Nature.
Sustainable Palm Oil? Who Knows, Thanks to Derelict Auditors, (2015), Kirby, David, Take Part.
Sustainability standards in global agrifood supply chains, (2021), Meemken, EM., Barrett, C.B., Michelson, H.C. et al. Nat Food
Study in WHO journal likens palm oil lobbying to tobacco and alcohol industries, (2019), Tom Miles. Reuters
The palm oil industry and noncommunicable diseases, (2019), Sowmya Kadandale, a Robert Martenb & Richard Smith. World Health Organisation Bulletin
The palm oil industry and noncommunicable diseases, (2019), Sowmya Kadandale, a Robert Martenb & Richard Smith. World Health Organisation Bulletin 2019;97:118–128|
The Time Has Come to Rein In the Global Scourge of Palm Oil, (2021), Jocelyn Zuckerman. Yale Environment 360, Yale School of Environment.
Truth in Advertising: Green Guides and Environmentally Friendly Products, Federal Trade Commission: Protecting America’s Consumers.
‘What do Millennials think of palm oil? Nestlé investigates’, (2021), Flora Southey. Food Navigator.
What is Greenwashing and How to Tell Which Companies are Truly Environmentally Responsible, (2021), Hewlett Packard.