Photo: pixelthing, Flickr
Using Facebook and Youtube, Greenpeace stared down Nestle, and Nestle blinked.
According to the London Independent newspaper, Nestle -- the giant, Swiss-based food conglomerate that operates in 86 countries around the world and employs hundreds of thousands of people -- had been under virtual fire for three months for its use of palm oil in many of its products, especially KitKat, Aero and Quality Street.
Greenpeace asserted that the palm oil was harvested unethically, at the expense of indigenous forests and the wildlife (like Orangutans) that live in them.
The palm oil controversy was not originally aimed solely at Nestle. Many food companies use it, of course, including Cadbury and Mars, competing confectioners to Nestle. But when certain methods of palm oil farming were exposed as unethical, those companies vowed to stick to sustainable farming practices.
But Nestle dragged its feet, promising only to meet the latest acceptable date of 2015 set by the World Wildlife Fund, reports the Independent, so Greenpeace grew impatient and waged a media campaign that some might term virtual guerrilla warfare (or gorilla warfare, as the case may be).
Activists began swarming Nestle's official Facebook page, posting lists of Nestle products containing palm oil to boycott and generally expressing their profound disapproval. "Indonesian forests are being torn down to grow palm oil, which is the vegetable fat of choice for companies worldwide, including Nestlé," Greenpeace complained to the Independent. "But while many companies such as Unilever and Kraft are making efforts to disassociate themselves from the worst practices of the palm oil industry, Nestlé has done diddly squat."
Nestle is no stranger to massive boycotts, of course; if anyone understands the damage campaigns like this can inflict, surely they do. According to the Independent, one million people watched Greenpeace's spoof advert for KitKat, despite its being taken off YouTube temporarily after a legal threat. After several weeks of social-media thrashing, the company sent up the white flag.
On Monday, Nestle announced it would work with the Geneva-based Forest Trust to effect change in its palm oil harvesting policies. Nestle chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, called on Greenpeace to work constructively with the company to help bring about the moratorium on deforestation. "We are the first people who would work with you," he insisted. (If you've got good French skills, watch his response on Nestle's website.)
Given how viral the social media campaign became, other corporations are surely taking note.
Related: Cargill Called Out For Rainforest Destruction