The Palm Scribe

Palm Oil Bosses and ‘toxic’ NGOs: Goliath whining about David

Palm Oil in Hand

I always find it laughable when corporations blame the bad publicity they receive on “black campaigns” waged by their rivals.

It is laughable because most of the time the bad publicity they receive is a reflection of their dismal inability to communicate well. Yet rather than to hold up a mirror and undertake to do things better, they take the easy and escapist way out by blaming others.

Major players in the palm oil industry fall in the same category of inept and defensive corporations. This is especially so in Malaysia where corporations and institutions have not had to contend in a free marketplace of ideas where the media is concerned, because the media is so tame and controlled in that country.

It was therefore unsurprising to read the story below headlined: “Malaysian Palm oil bosses urge action against ‘toxic’ environment groups’

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 4 (Reuters) – Malaysian palm oil industry officials on Tuesday urged the government to take action against environmental groups critical of the commodity, with one executive calling them “toxic entities”.

The cultivation of palm oil, which is used in everything from ice cream to lipstick, is blamed for large scale deforestation in Southeast Asia and for endangering wildlife, such as orangutans and pygmy elephants. Indonesia and Malaysia are the top two producers of palm oil.

Environmental groups, especially in Europe, have called on growers to be more sustainable and the European Union last year legislated to phase out palm oil use in renewable fuel by 2030 because of concerns about deforestation.

Franki Anthony Dass, chief advisor and value officer at Sime Darby Plantation – the world’s biggest palm oil company by land size – said non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were orchestrating attacks on palm oil.

“If they are so unfriendly, why allow them to be in our countries Malaysia and Indonesia,” he said at an industry forum in Kuala Lumpur. “We have the right to control this and do something drastic for once.”

For the palm oil bosses to say this, is as disingenuous and unsavory as Goliath complaining that David is a bully.

David may be aggressive and unfriendly. He may be accusatory and he may often than not take liberties with the facts to spin a negative story against the palm oil industry. And David could be gangsterish in attitude.

But Goliath has all the resources and strength to overcome David, if only it would stop being an unthinking, bumbling giant. As such it sounds churlish when Goliath runs to mummy to complain against David.

The truth in the Palm Oil industry is that its players have made great headway in sustainability practices, yet suffers from the legacy of years past when the industry, in its infancy could care less for the environment.

Palm oil players have the money and the resources behind them that the NGOs can only dream off to wage a battle for the hearts and minds of the public and consumers. They can play offense and be out there getting through the message that the industry is now largely sustainable and deserve to be supported.

Also read: NGOs Are Important in Monitoring Plantation Firms’ Compliance on Human Rights

Yet, instead of doing this most of the corporations retreat behind its wall off corporate spinmeisters who play a defensive game (respond, if at all, only when attacked) or who go out of the way convincing their bosses that they are winning the good fight by churning out good news content in their social media channels.

Such efforts do not work and explains why the NGOs frequently get the upper hand in a pissing contest between them and the corporations.

It is time for the corporations to wake up. Labeling the NGOs as “toxic” aren’t going to help, and getting rid of any NGOs who disagree with them is downright dangerous. Let’s not forget that if not for the pressure put on them by the NGOs, many of the corporations would not be that far down the road of sustainability as they are.

It is time for palm oil owners to take a bit of trouble to understand the immunizations process and hold their communications people responsible for losing the war of public perception to the NGOs. They are the real threat to the palm oil industry, not the NGOs.

Indonesian palm oil bosses would do well not to whine like their Malaysian counterparts and take some concrete action instead with some strategic communications.

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