Greenwashing Profiteers: Part II

By Siobhán McGurrin, journalism graduate student, UCA London

(Please read Part 1 of “Greenwashing Profiteers” here)

In terms of money, both Cadbury and Nestlé are hardly without the means to sort questions over their operations; with a turnover of £6 billion (USD$9 billion) last year, Mr. Cadbury took home £808 million (USD$1.2 billion) in profit, whilst Mr. Nestle took a staggering £6.2 billion (USD$9.3 billion) home, just under 10% of their annual turnover. Although both are putting money into their self-policed Cocoa Plans over the next 10 years, in the case of Nestlé, it only represents a measly 1% of their annual turnover spread across the duration of the project, so it’s hardly breaking the bank.

As Fairtrade works to even the free-trade playing field in the poorest areas, ensuring a premium for produce and a bit extra for the community, companies claiming to use our pennies for good are clearly not well intentioned enough to use their own for the same purpose. Noticeably, the price of Dairy Milk has not changed at all, as they have pledged their commitment to absorbing the cost on behalf of the British consumer. But according to John Grant, author of Co-opportunity: Join Up for a Sustainable, Resilient, Prosperous World, “Cadbury say they needed to pay Fairtrade rates anyway to secure their supply (and stop losing farmers to other crops)”, bringing another question mark over their future intentions for Fairtrade.

When it comes to the eco side of the scale, Rainforest Alliance, may also not be as good as we would hope, as “critics say it is Fairtrade Lite – an attempt to benefit from the appearance of doing good, at less financial cost” according to Grant. Working worldwide in over 70 countries, Rainforest Alliance ensures that “farming, forestry and tourism are environmentally compatible, socially advantageous and economically productive” within local communities. Recent converts to their scheme have included Mars with their Galaxy Smooth Milk Bar in March this year, promoting their association by claiming “not only does Galaxy taste good, it does good”.

But how much good are they really doing? After signing up to saving the rainforest, they have come under damaging scrutiny for the use of palm oil in their products, which incidentally is one of the leading causes of deforestation. Whilst Greenpeace have been off campaigning against Nestlé’s use of palm oil (in their newly Fairtrade certified four finger Kit Kat no less) everybody seems to have forgotten about little old Mars, apart from the BBC that is. Before hitting our screens with ‘Chocolate: The Bitter Truth’, Panorama delved into the illegal world of palm oil production in February, exposing: Haribo, Kelloggs and Warburtons as well as Nestlé, Cadbury and Mars in their ‘Palm Oil Products and the Weekly Shop’ investigation. Just a matter of weeks later, the partnership between Rainforest Alliance and Galaxy was unveiled, forcing them to leap to Mars’ defence, stating; “Mars is using palm oil in the Galaxy chocolate bar, but it’s very difficult to trace the origin of palm oil and to know what its impacts are, exactly.” So the traceability within palm oil is conveniently just as difficult as within cocoa production then, yet access to the unsustainable and ultimately illegal kind appears to be easy enough for companies not working through designated NGOs Greenpalm or Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

A more believable and established collaboration with Rainforest Alliance has been through UK based Kenco, who have been offering sustainable coffee beans since 2005. Although Kenco is also owned by Kraft (aren’t they all?), it seems to be the most genuinely committed to the environment based on more than just the Rainforest Alliance affiliation. Working for sustainable packaging and eco refills, Kenco even boasts a young eco designer of the year competition for children throughout the UK. Focussing heavily on “100% commitment to providing the coffee growing community with better wages, education, healthcare and environment protection”, Kenco achieved full sustainability within their freeze dried coffee ranges earlier on this year. Without bombarding us with masses of eco information, they have instead “…pushed the people aspect of Rainforest Alliance, not saving the rainforest. It’s not saying about helping little green frogs, its saying we help build schools, we help create wells” which according to Arnold “…ticks boxes big time,” as “people will inherently look after themselves and each other”. A shrewd move in marketing terms and not completely outside the realm of truth, but hasn’t this just created more confusion over the issue of which certifications do what?

Swinging between commitment and intention, when companies pledge to be completely NGO certified within 10 years, are they just marketing the proverbial cart before the horse? “Intent is a good way of making things public, you say you’re going to but you never have to do it. A lot of public will respond to that just as well as doing it, because it’s showing an action” claims marketing expert Arnold. But are we really that gullible? According to a recent Times Survey  [editor’s note, the author conducted the study but it has not yet been published] which questioned reader’s knowledge about the two NGOs, many were positive about large companies getting involved and raising awareness, but were swift to follow with sceptical considerations that are not dealt with in their feel good campaigns. Explaining her reaction upon hearing the news that Fairtrade had got into bed with Cadbury, Dr. Kath Shelton, a 27 year veteran Traidcraft volunteer exclaimed “…what I immediately said is where do you get your other cocoa from?”; a question that has disparaged many ethical shoppers from heading Cadbury’s way.

There are of course a number of companies who have waited for full certification before marketing their greenness to the world, such as PG Tips who worked with Rainforest Alliance for 2 years before announcing their commitment in February this year. Shying away from creating a media frenzy, they have elevated their brand into a different league of ethically founded companies including Divine and Clipper, who were the first to launch a Fairtrade tea back in 1994. Although as Grant admits, corporations such as Cadbury’s “version of Fairtrade will always be a pale imitation of the good that social ventures like Café Direct do in the world.”

So where is the middle ground? Expecting immediate change is clearly too unrealistic at this stage, but ensuring that when money changes hands, it goes in the right direction should remain a pre-requisite across ethical consumerism. Buying just because of the certification may make us feel better in the short term, but with a little more information we can force the much needed transparency that will guarantee change for those we are trying to help. As Mary Catherine O’Connor, editor of Triple Pundit stresses, companies should “show (their) shortfalls but be honest and humble about efforts to improve”, rather than showing off green credentials before they have established any. This in turn can only boost consumerism in the long run. As 67% of people claim that they want to purchase from an ethical company, but don’t consider themselves to be an eco or ethical shopper (survey), demonstrating blatant confusion over how such aims can be achieved. With a definitive 86% of us feeling personally responsible to ensure that workers are fairly compensated (according to Fairtrade’s recent poll), it is clear that ethical consumerism is here to stay.  No longer is it a secondary concern for consumers, but has become an important consideration in our weekly shop.

3p Contributor

TriplePundit's guest author program has had over 1000 contributors over time. If you'd like to be a guest author, please get in touch!