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Palm oil: The “political” fallout in wake of Iceland advert ban

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2018-11-16  Views: 25
Core Tip: Palm oil is in the spotlight once again but this time it’s about a banned Christmas advert which has been deemed “too political” to be screened on TV.
Palm oil is in the spotlight once again but this time it’s about a banned Christmas advert which has been deemed “too political” to be screened on TV. Originally a Greenpeace campaign video, the ad was taken on by UK retailer Iceland to shine a light on the environmental devastation caused by palm oil producers and features the story of a displaced orangutan.

The supermarket chain, which has scrapped palm oil from its own-label products, has faced some criticism for putting forward an ad originally made by Greenpeace, suggesting the retailer realized it wouldn’t get screened on TV. Now Iceland’s Managing Director is defending the action, claiming the commercial “chimes exactly with the messages that we’re trying to give.”

The move comes as today members of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have voted to ratify an improved and robust set of standards, the RSPO Principles & Criteria. This strengthens the protection of labor rights, environmental conservation and economic prosperity across the entire supply chain, following an 18-month consultation process culminating at the RSPO 15th Annual General Assembly (GA15) this week. We reported on the new standard suggestions back in June.

Iceland made a bold move earlier this year when it first announced that it will stop using palm oil as an ingredient in all its own label food by the end of this year. The frozen food specialist intended to keep pushing its sustainability agenda and was hoping for clearance for nationwide TV broadcasting.

It wanted to use the animated ad for its own Christmas campaign because it’s “such a bold, emotive, powerful video,” says Iceland Managing Director Richard Walker.

The ad was submitted to Clearcast, the non-governmental organization which pre-approves most British television advertising. It is a Greenpeace film which has been appearing on the Greenpeace website for a number of months. However, Iceland repackaged the short film (although its version is exactly the same as the original) which centers on the destruction of an orangutan’s rainforests habitat. Clearcast deemed it too political.

This comes as the major UK retailers release their “saccharine” seasonal Christmas commercials, which are well-known as being tear jerkers.

Clearcast says an advertisement contravenes the prohibition on political advertising if it is an “advertisement which is inserted by or on behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature.”

“Clearcast’s concerns do not extend to the content or message of the ad,” says the organization.

As not seen on TV
After seven months of selling non-palm oil own-label products, Iceland says that it decided to do something different with its Christmas advert and wanted to continue to raise awareness of rainforest destruction caused by palm oil production, and its devastating impact on the critically endangered orangutan.

“However, it has been ruled our advert will not appear on TV alongside other supermarkets,” says a company statement.

The ad can be watched on the company’s website and is trending on social media. The story has been covered by British mainstream media and Iceland’s “No palm oil” campaign has received a lot of attention as a result.

At the same time, Iceland is promoting its “No palm oil: Christmas range.” Products are depicted with a monkey icon and a green “No Palm Oil” badge.

Despite the retailer pioneering a move to be the first UK supermarket to remove palm oil from its own-label products, which equates to around 450 lines, stores up and down the country still sell branded products containing palm oil. This is thought to be more than 200 products.

“Until Iceland can guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction, we are simply saying ‘no to palm oil.’ We don't believe there is such a thing as 'sustainable' palm oil available to retailers, so we are giving consumers a choice about what they buy,” says Walker who visited Indonesia earlier this year before Iceland launched it’s “no palm oil” campaign.

Iceland maintains that it has proven that it is possible to remove palm oil from its own label. However, Walker does acknowledge that the retailer is in business to make money and delisting all the products that contain palm oil would be “commercial suicide.”

The controversial commodity

There has been growing consumer concern over the use of palm oil as an ingredient in food as it is often associated with deforestation. This has reportedly lead to the collapse of Orangutan populations in key growing countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. It has also been associated with child labor issues and has come under heavy scrutiny from environmental campaigners.

FoodIngredientsFirst has been closely following palm oil industry developments, consumer trends, and the general debate surrounding palm oil, for several years.

As global consumers switch off from palm oil, some manufacturers are paying closer attention to its use in food and how it may not be considered ethical, sustainable and therefore counterproductive to clean and clear labels.

This taps into trends toward more “mindful consumers” as tipped by Innova Market Insights as a key trend for 2018, but “Green Appeal” is also strong in 2019, as seen in this week’s new list.

Key industry players have been working on a sustainable palm oil industry for quite some time with most adopting and trying to achieve various sustainability targets they have set for themselves. Many also belong to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), established in 2004 with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders

Despite calls for a ban on palm oil or at least to clean up what environmentalists describe as a supply chain which contains “dirty palm oil,” deforestation-free palm oil is not as simple as it sounds. In May, London-based researchers said that a better approach is needed that goes beyond the public shaming of companies in the supply chain and that genuinely “deforestation-free” palm oil products are problematic to guarantee.

It was also very significant in the palm oil industry when Unilever took a pioneering stance on its palm oil supply chain by being the first consumer goods company to publish in full a dossier, all the suppliers and mills that it sources from. The rare industry move is designed to show the company’s commitment to transparency and is a radical step in palm oil supply chain transparency with Unilever considering the full disclosure a “milestone” in its journey towards a more sustainable palm oil industry.

Just a couple of months ago, Nestlé stepped up its game when it comes to no deforestation commitments by becoming the first food company to use a high-tech satellite-based service to monitor its palm oil supply chains. Nestlé has implemented Starling, a global verification system using cutting-edge technology combining high-resolution radar and optical satellite imagery to provide constant unbiased monitoring of land cover changes and forest cover disturbances.

Deforestation is a serious and complex issue and addressing it requires the entire industry working together towards greater transparency, inclusiveness, direct supply chain engagement and capacity building throughout the supply chain, says Nestlé.

However, the Swiss food giant was itself suspended from the RSPO in June for breaching its code of conduct. At the time Nestlé said the organization’s approach “is not conducive to achieving the levels of industry transparency and transformation the sector so urgently needs” and pointed out that although the company shares RSPO’s ambition for improving the social and environmental performance of the palm oil sector, “our approaches to this do differ.”

The following month, the sustainable palm oil body reinstated Nestlé’s membership after the company submitted its action plan to achieve 100 percent RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil.
 
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