Hellman’s Mayonnaise, a brand owned by the multinational corporation Unilever, currently has an “eat local” campaign in Canada. As part of it, they put out this video (found at BrandFreak) highlighting how much food Canada imports:

Hellmann’s – It’s Time for Real from CRUSH on Vimeo.

What I find odd here is that Unilever owns a large number of food brands (as well as non-food ones), including Hellman’s, Wishbone, Ben & Jerry’s, Bertolli, Lipton, Knorr, and Slim-Fast (check here for some images of organic brands owned by Unilever). The Lipton web page notes that Lipton is “…making a big splash in the global beverages market…” The main Unilever food page announces,

We have the heritage and knowledge to move effortlessly between cuisines and countries.

So on the one hand, according to wikipedia,

The company promotes sustainability and started a sustainable agriculture programme in 1998.[7] In May 2007 it became the first tea company to commit to sourcing all its tea in a sustainable manner, employing the Rainforest Alliance, an international environmental NGO, to certify its tea estates in East Africa, as well as third-party suppliers in Africa and other parts of the world. It declared its aim to have all Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe certified by 2010, followed by all Lipton tea bags globally by 2015.

Covalence, an ethical reputation ranking agency, placed Unilever at the top of its ranking based on positive versus negative news coverage for 2007.

Those are admirable goals by any standard, and food/globalization activists often push for that type of responsible corporate citizenship.

On the other hand…Unilever owns 400+ brands, many of which are dependent upon global sourcing and distribution; they in no way contribute to or encourage local eating, and if people really began eating locally, Unilever’s market share would suffer dramatically. And there are questions about how well it lives up to its sustainability goals.

We’ve seen these contradictions from Unilever before: the company owns both Axe and Dove, brands that are often marketed in ways that conflict with one another.

One way to look at this is that Unilever is making efforts to encourage sustainability and other policies that many critics would appreciate, within a global marketplace that constrains their efforts. The more cynical view is that such contradictory messages in effect allow corporations to “have it all.” Don’t care about sustainability, working conditions, and so on? Chances are you’re buying Unilever brands by default. But if you do care about such issues, you can feel good about buying at least some Unilever brands–those that have a marketing strategy designed to appeal to you. And doing so in no way threatens Unilever’s overall profitability.

So, readers, whatcha think?

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