Oh my blog ‘o’ sphere friends, I must step in to pour salty precipitation on the icy, peanut butter chocolate parade that I see marching proudly across my social media feeds. In doing so I prepare to be struck, violently, from Christmas card lists. From follower lists. From RSS feeds. So it must be.
In reality, I have no desire to offend; no more or less than the next vegan, whose very existence is so frequently a threat to the status quo. As I’ve mused before now, ethical consumption is unavoidably a sliding scale, one that we all navigate with greater or less degrees of both awareness and intent. There are many valid reasons why consistently living and consuming at the ‘extremely ethical’ end of this scale can be difficult: money, time, mental health issues, socio-economic deprivation, lack of cooking skills, etc., etc.
But as sure as tweets prefaced with “unpopular opinion” are unlikely to be just that, and as sure as my cynic’s heart is black, I can say assuredly that ethical consumption can be (and is) at once much more and sometimes much less complicated than it seems.
Vegan Ben & Jerry’s is finally here!
I know that many UK vegans have waited excitedly for the dairy-free instalments of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to hit supermarket shelves. Being a more vintage vegan, I recall a time when a scoop or two of vanilla Swedish Glace was the very height of frosty indulgence; I’m sure there are even more vintage vegans than I who remember even the dark days preceding (I dare not imagine). Indeed, we are rather spoiled for choice these days, and the popular conception of #WhatVegansEat is concomitantly turning tide.
Whilst I am pleased, thrilled, that veganism and vegan food is becoming tastier, easier, more accessible, I remain concerned about the insidious tactics of many large corporations who sense that there is much business acumen in making false promises and cashing in on the trend for producing ‘green’ or ethical goods. Specifically, buying out independent, ethical brands is about the height of disingenuousness where corporate greenwashing is concerned, and very much a ‘quick win’ as far as unethical parent companies are concerned (so long as consumers ignore the inconvenient truth).
Nevertheless, the sliding scale still applies to parent companies, as I’ve explored before. Some parent companies are better than others. When I first went to University back in 1999, our student union shop proudly boycotted Nestlé, and we just had to manage without our Caramacs. It was also rather en vogue to boycott Coca Cola, and though it seemed a bit more of an ordeal than eschewing a Toffee Crisp in favour of a Boost, we managed okay with other fizzy pop (and cheap lager).
The good, the bad, and Unilever
These days, so many corporations occupy a grey middle-ground, but there are some squatting resolutely at one end of the spectrum, taking a giant chocolate peanut butter flavoured shit right on top of all the smaller, indie, ethically-minded companies trying to get a foothold.
I’m afraid, dear readers, that one of these hideous giants is undoubtedly Unilever. A monstrous, powerful conglomerate that monopolises many brand types, Unilever is so grotesquely influential that it has an almost unrivalled ability to do good, and yet it is as ruthlessly profit-driven as can be.
Some issues of note:
- Ethical Consumer rates Unilever 4/20 for company ethics. This includes issues such as people, animals, environment, and politics.
- While Unilever insidiously enjoys the greenie-points of committing to sustainable palm oil use, Amnesty International has claimed that it (and other brands) use dangerous child labour on palm plantations.
- Unilever currently has Ethical Consumer’s worst company rating for animal testing.
- Unilever brand Ben & Jerry’s refused for a long time to disclose the source of their “fair trade” chocolate; in May 2017 after being petitioned, Ben & Jerry’s finally disclosed that their chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast, which is known for child labour/slavery abuses.
- Ethical Consumer calls for a current boycott of Ben & Jerry’s specifically, noting that it has an Israeli franchise that manufactures ice cream in Israel and sells it in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank…
“VTJP’s thinking on the necessity for a boycott reached a tipping point during Israel’s military assault against Gaza in the summer of 2014. 2,200 Palestinians were killed and more than 11,000 wounded. The casualties were overwhelmingly civilians.
Because Gaza’s morgues could not handle the horrific carnage, bodies of dead children and babies had to be stacked temporarily in ice cream freezers prior to burial.
While this massacre of innocents was being carried out, Ben & Jerry’s “peace & love” ice cream was passing through Israeli checkpoints, being transported on Jewish-only roads, and being sold to supermarkets and for catered events in Jewish-only settlements.”
To eat or not to eat?
Friends, you really must make your own informed decision on this. Personally, I avoid Unilever products wherever possible. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: until some reliable, non-anecdotal research is done on the success of vegan products in converting (and retaining) new vegans, it is nigh on impossible to try to balance this potential benefit against the many capitalist evils we may be supporting when we vote with our dollar(s).
I therefore urge you to consider alternatives to all Unilever products. I understand that you may wish to show them that there is a market for products that do not contain animal products, but they know this already. That is why they produce them, and profits are very often used to subsidise unethical practices on a large scale. As vegans we know that the animal-industrial complex does all that it can to hide the truth from consumers; Unilever is just a horse of a different colour. Perfection is impossible, but you guys, Unilever really is the very worst. Unilever really is the devil.
Folks, once when I was horribly sad and horribly poor I lived on McDonald’s hash browns for breakfast for a while. Sometimes when cash is very short I buy mountains of frozen potato products for cheap from Asda. Sometimes life is hard and we are very sad and we need ice cream. You can only do your best. But you should always, always, be informed.
Notes and further reading
The excellent Bearded Vegans podcast discussed this very issue in episode 04.
All photos are from Pixabay.
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