Recently i saw The Vegan Society has announced that Nestle had launched new vegan latte drinks with the Vegan Society approved logo.
Surprise, surprise they got a lot of stick for it, given Nestle’s practices over the years. How could an organization such as the Vegan Society dare to ‘endorse’ Nestle by approving one of their products to carry its logo? Surely this is unethical and against the very values they stand for? The Vegan Society responded saying they endorse only products not companies. Many people threatened to withdraw their membership in protest.
Ok, I understand. I’m not rushing out to buy one of these new products. But some perspective please. Are the Vegan Society helping large corporations engage in co-optation or vegan-washing? Are multinationals jumping in on a thunderous vegan bandwagon? Arguably yes.
I’ve seen all this play out with Fairtrade certification, there are innumerable products available with a fair trade certified logo that are from Big Corp. Has it harmed or helped the cause of fair trade? Both. You bring a wider audience, more revenue to those who need it but the risks of diluting the fair trade brand are high, and now we see some large companies creating their own ‘fair’ label, which carries far less accountability. But to ask that the Vegan Society become some kind of moral, ethical arbitrator of companies is not workable either, not yet anyway. Nestle seems a perfect case of Big Bad Corp, but where do you draw the line? What about supermarket own-brands? Or those smaller vegan companies who get bought out by the multinationals? It’s not so clear cut.
Should the Vegan Society have refused to endorse these Nestle products? Quite possibly yes, but on what grounds? By all means don’t buy their products, I won’t be doing so. To really try to see the amount of work necessary to investigate how ethical a company is, please turn to Ethical Consumer.
But it is a question worth asking: should the Vegan Society be held up as an organisation that considers the ethics of a company, not purely the product itself? How many Vegan Society Approved products would disappear from the supermarket shelf? And would that be a good thing?