Nestle's palm oil woes

Members of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are starting to really flex their collective muscle in regard to environmental activism, by using the services to exert pressure on companies to clean up the way they approach environmental issues.

For a business, having a Facebook or Twitter profile can certainly have its rewards – and its severe punishments as Nestle is currently discovering.

Nestle have been under fire over how it sources palm oil and it would appear the company has been making a bad situation worse. What’s occurring on Nestle’s Facebook “fan” page (at the time of writing this) is every company’s nightmare – a public relations disaster spinning out of control. At the time of writing this, there isn’t a single positive comment on the first couple of screens of their Facebook page.

What’s happening to Nestle on Facebook currently has its roots in Nestle’s reported impact on rainforests in Indonesia; where deforestation for the establishment of palm oil plantations is threatening a number of species, including the critically endangered orang-utan. Palm oil is widely used throughout the world in a variety of food products and Nestle is a major buyer of the product.

The trigger for the sudden onslaught of negativity on their Facebook page however appears to be a result of Nestle trying to have a video by Greenpeace removed from Youtube that criticized the company for its palm oil sourcing practices. Nestle also chastised Facebook commenters that adopted a play on a Kit Kat logo by Greenpeace as their Facebook avatar when commenting. The situation has also reignited controversy over other Nestle-related issues.

Nestle have issued a statement stating they no longer source palm oil from one of the unsustainable sources mentioned by Greenpeace (for use in products outside Indonesia anyway) and they are committed to 100% sustainable palm oil sources by 2015 – but this anti-Nestle snowball seems to be continuing to grow.

Gone are the days where consumers generally passively sat back and swallowed what companies told them – for better or for worse, the Internet has empowered us all to take a very public stand on a variety of issues; including the environment and woe be to the company that underestimates it.

Armchair activism is here to stay; it is powerful and is yet another reason that companies need to take a long, hard look at themselves. Greening a business isn’t just a warm and fuzzy thing to do any more – it’s simply good business.

Nestle is by no means the only huge consumer of palm oil. I suspect quite a few other companies will be viewing Nestle’s “fan” page with great trepidation and considering how they source the product.


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