Ethical Consumption in the News: May 12 to June 7

This installation of ethical consumption in the news features ten stories: (1) the Ontario legislature rejected a bill barring the Government from doing business with BDS-supporters; (2) the Gates Foundation dropped BP; (3) South Korea’s consumer boycott of Oxy gathers momentum; (4) the United Methodist Church has withdrawn from a BDS coalition; (5) a major U.S. pension fund will consider re-investing in tobacco firms; (6) Scottish mackerel gains the MSC label; (7) the European Commission has adopted a report on an EU eco-label; (8) Australian consumers are buycotting local milk; (9) Buzzfeed will not run Trump ads; and (10) Beyoncé’s new clothing line has drawn criticisms over labour conditions.

1. Meta-Boycott Bill Fails in Ontario

A private-member’s bill that would have barred the Government of Ontario from doing business with organizations participating in the controversial BDS movement (which boycotts Israeli companies for human rights reasons) was voted down in the Ontario legislature by a margin of 39-18 on March 19.

2. Gates Foundation Drops Investment in Major Oil Company, But Likely Not for Ethical Reasons

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world’s largest philanthropic foundations, has sold its $187 million USD stake British Petroleum (BP). The foundation had previously divested from ExxonMobil. It is unclear whether this move was made for ethical reasons, however: BP reported a record loss in February. Moreover, Bill Gates had stirred controversy in late 2015 by calling fossil fuel divestment a “false solution” to climate change (see my coverage of this issue here). As the Gates Foundation does not comment on its investments, it is possible only to speculate about the rationale for this change, but it seems most likely that this was primarily, if not exclusively, a financial calculation.

3. “Oxy Out” Expands Across South Korea

The consumer boycott of Oxy Reckitt Benckiser, begun due to a scandal involving lung damage deaths connected to the company’s humidifier disinfectants, has grown across South Korea: sales have decreased by 53% since the boycott began.

4. United Methodist Church Rejects HP Divestment, Withdraws from BDS coalition

The United Methodist Church considered, but ultimately rejected, divestment from the software company Hewlett-Packard (HP), as well as Caterpillar and Motorola Solutions. Church leaders at the General Conference in Portland discussed whether investment in HP goes against their religious beliefs, in light of the use of HP products by the Israeli Navy and at biometric checkpoints in the West Bank. The United Methodist Church’s pension board has previously divested from companies that are connected to arguably illegal Israeli settlements (for example, it divested from five Israeli banks in January). For a good overview of this issue, see here.

5. Rising Tobacco Profits Threaten to Undermine Previous Divestment Decisions

The largest pension fund in the U.S., California Public Employees’ Retirement System, will study whether to reinvest in tobacco stocks. As you may remember from previous weeks, this is connected to the rising profits of tobacco firms after over a decade of poor growth. On the other hand, Axa SA (France’s largest insurer) announced on 23 May that it will divest from tobacco companies for ethical reasons, despite the financial cost of doing so.

6. Scottish Mackerel Fishery Wins MSC Certification

On 11 May the Scottish North East Atlantic mackerel fishery was awarded MSC certification. This has meant that the U.K.-based Nor-Sea Foods can once again apply MSC labels to its chilled fish products, which are sold in Tesco chains.

7. EU to Consider Report on EU Fish Eco-label

Also in fish news, the European Commission has adopted a report proposing options for an EU eco-label scheme for fish and aquaculture products.

8. Australian Consumers Buycott Local Dairy Farmers

By eschewing imported milk in favour of more expensive local producers, Australian consumers hope to promote domestic dairy.

9. Buzzfeed Will Not Advertise Trump

Citing ethical concerns about Trump’s rhetoric, Buzzfeed cancelled a $1.3 million USD advertising deal with the GOP. The new media organization likened the decision to its policy not to run cigarette ads, noting that both are hazardous to society.

10. Female Empowerment? Beyoncé Selling Sweat Gear from Sweat Shops

Beyoncés new activewear clothing label, Ivy Park, has come under fire for failing to live up to its stated aim to “celebrate every woman and the body she’s in”. Like other producers in the fast fashion industry, Ivy Park uses suppliers that are situated in developing nations and which pay their workers low wages and provide poor working conditions. That the clothing is being marketed as a champion of women’s empowerment while being produced by Sri Lankan women making 69 cents per hour is, it has been pointed out, ironic. Ivy Park has denied wrongdoing, noting that it expects suppliers to meet its code of conduct. It is worth noting that labour concerns are a nearly ubiquitous problem in the fast fashion industry; it is very likely that the conditions of Ivy Park’s supplier are not below the norm, but they are nonetheless dismaying.