Complaint filed against misleading Malaysian Palm Oil Council advert
Friends of the Earth International have filed a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) about an internet banner advert of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) with the words "Sustainable. Food Security. Societal Advancement. This is Palm Oil."
The advert was displayed on the Guardian Environment Blog website at least on the March 28, 2011, probably longer. We believe it constitutes a breach of the British code of advertising, sales promotion and direct marketing.
Already on January 9, 2008 and on August 27, 2009 the ASA found that a TV advert and a print advert respectively by MPOC with equivalent claims about the sustainability of palm oil breached rules and should not reappear.
MPOC have chosen to disrespect the ASA’s ruling and have continued to produce misleading adverts about the sustainability of palm oil.
Friends of the Earth is worried that future adverts of MPOC will continue to ignore the Code and asks the ASA to utilise the full range of penalties at its disposal in response.
In particular Friends of the Earth suggests that:
- MPOC publish an advert of the same size that explains that their previous advert was misleading.
- The ASA advises UK media not to publish any adverts of MPOC for a substantial period, as they consistently mislead.
Relevant articles of the Code
3.1 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove all claims, whether direct or implied, that are capable of objective substantiation.
3.2 If there is a significant division of informed opinion about any claims made in a marketing communication they should not be portrayed as generally agreed.
7.1 No marketing communication should mislead, or be likely to mislead, by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise.
49.2 Claims such as ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘wholly biodegradable’ should not be used without qualification unless marketers can provide convincing evidence that their product will cause no environmental damage when taking into account the full life cycle of the product. Qualified claims and comparisons such as ‘greener’ or ‘friendlier’ may be acceptable if marketers can substantiate that their product provides an overall improvement in environmental terms either against their competitors’ or their own previous products.
49.3 Where there is a significant division of scientific opinion or where evidence is inconclusive this should be reflected in any statements made in the marketing communication. Marketers should not suggest that their claims command universal acceptance if that is not the case.
Areas of complaint
1. The banner advert says ”Sustainable. Food Security. Societal Advancement. This is Palm Oil.”
This is contravention of principle 49.2 as the use of the term “Sustainable” in this context implies that palm oil is a particularly environmentally friendly product, while the marketer cannot provide convincing evidence that palm oil will cause no environmental damage when taking into account the full life cycle of the product.
The use of the term "sustainable" in this context is also in breach of
- principle 3.1 as the claim that palm oil is always sustainable cannot be substantiated.
- principle 3.2 as MPOC portrays their claims in a way that suggests they generally accepted, despite that there is significant division of informed opinion about the environmental and social impacts of palm oil.
- principle 7.1 as MPOC misleads the reader by making inaccurate claims in contradiction to generally accepted evidence for major negative environmental impacts of palm oil plantations.
- principle 49.2 the claim that palm oil is “sustainable” is similar to “environmental friendly” and the marketer cannot provide convincing evidence that palm oil will cause no environmental damage when taking account the full life cycle.
- principle 49.3 as the ad suggest that the claim that palm oil is sustainable command universal acceptance while this is not the case.