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By Mónica Vargas and Vicent Boix
In the world there are thousands of social groups that work commendably. In the same way, it would be interesting for consumer organizations to analyze whether it is ethical for these types of companies to finance this type of campaign, which in a calibrated way delves into the misfortunes of the poor and consumer sensitivity.
Sowing life or collecting euros?
The transnational Danone has started in Spain a presumed marketing maneuver called "Together We Sow Life" (JSV), which aims to reduce solidarity to the simple fact of buying yogurt and custard. For every Danone product that is sold in the coming weeks, the French multinational will give away a seed for various Red Cross projects in Africa. Before digestion was done with Actimel. Now, at the same price, it is possible to change the world, or at least, this is how it is announced on the campaign website, in very large letters and between exclamation marks.
However, the food crisis that JSV intends to combat is not born from a lack of food production, but among other causes of great corporate power, which in the world of food controls all the productive stages and that little by little it is eliminating small competitors. And here we have Danone, the first intensive dairy industry on the planet, the second in the world for bottled water and the second in "infant nutrition", among other "leaderships", such as destroying the world's peasant livestock, economically asphyxiating the small producers.
Danone, a multinational with annual sales of 14,000 million euros (1), will contribute 550,000 euros in three years (2) to JSV, that is, 183,000 per year, which represents 0.0013% of its sales. In the world of development cooperation, a € 183,000 project is a tiny project, which in this case has been enhanced through an advertising campaign that will certainly be much more expensive than your contribution to JSV, since only in In 2006, Danone spent 1 billion euros on advertising (3) worldwide, 80 of them in Spain. There is another way of assessing the financial effort that this solidarity project represents for Danone. We have taken the trouble to do a few calculations from the approximate 3 cents you earn for each yogurt, custard, etc. Do you know how long it takes Danone to obtain the money necessary to finance the 183,000 euros? ... Well, it will require selling 6 million units, which it will achieve in the next 14 hours !! Seen from another perspective, Danone will make the humanitarian investment profitable if it increases its sales by 0.6% in the three months of its campaign. (4) And I'm sure it will do so in much more, despite the crisis that Spanish families are going through. At Christmas we gave it our all.
Danone operates in impoverished countries, where as we know it is essential to support small farmers. However, their businesses are oriented to buying the milk necessary for their products from the macro-farms of companies and magnates. The best way to end family agriculture and livestock, as is being done in Spain.
In the ecological sphere, it should be noted that the energy and environmental cost of its activities is brutal. In Saudi Arabia, it is a partner in the largest farm in the world, where its tens of thousands of cows eat flour with more seeds in a single day than are destined for projects in Africa. Intensive farm to the limit, where a cow, without ever seeing the grass, lives half as long as another in Galicia, despite being showered daily with the scarce water in these countries. Only in the different phases in the field and on the farm, dozens of liters of water are required for each future yogurt. In addition, Danone projects extensive intensive farms in southern countries, which will require much more land and seeds to feed the cows than could be used to feed humans in dozens of JSV campaigns. In Spain, Danone has not guaranteed the absence of transgenic ingredients in Nutricia, Milupa, Dumex, Mellin, Cow & Gate and Blédina baby food products. In Mexico, it has not denied its presence in various dairy products, according to Greenpeace investigations. (5) That the jury for the "Best Spanish Food Company" award (organized by MAPA) awarded Danone the award in the environment category in 2006 is just one more example of the blindness and clumsiness that reigns in the ministry from where the extinction of hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers is allowed. (6)
In Latin America, it has business in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and recently entered Colombia, which it sees as a gateway to other nations such as Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. In Uruguay, it acquired - with the Brazilian AmBev - the bottled water company Salus, leading to numerous layoffs shortly thereafter. (7) In Brazil it obtained the Companhia Campineira de Alimentos and two years later the workforce had been reduced by 30%. (8) In August 2007, the Danone plant in Longchamps (Argentina) had to be temporarily closed due to problems in the ammonia accumulators that put employees and neighbors at risk. (9) In that continent, Danone has invested a lot of capital to hoard (along with Nestle, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola), a resource as vital as water. Many social organizations have harshly criticized its privatization because in some cases the business can be put before the basic needs of the population. (10)
Danone Advertising: The end justifies the means.
Danone is credited with violating the "International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes" on numerous occasions, (11) which was approved in 1981 by the World Health Organization, to protect breastfeeding and ensure proper marketing of breast milk substitutes, baby bottles, etc. The Code has provisions on advertising and labeling, which Danone would have violated according to the Global Network of Groups for Infant Feeding (IBFAN for its acronym in English). This organization works for the reduction of infant mortality through the promotion of breastfeeding and optimal infant feeding practices. (12)
In 2003, the British Medical Journal reported that more than 20 breast milk substitute products made by Danone and marketed in Togo and Burkina Faso violated the Code's labeling provisions. IBFAN revealed several more cases in various countries around the world where the Code had been broken. Texts focused on comparing breast milk with its substitutes and recommendations of certain products for babies under 6 months. Even IBFAN has denounced biased advertising and cleverly spun messages that subliminally disparage breastfeeding. (13) If any violation of the Code is serious, it is even more so when trying to advertise breast milk substitutes to be purchased, in countries where women have few economic resources or where water is scarce or of low quality.
These cases of misleading advertising are not isolated. In Spain, in 2004, the consumer organization FACUA denounced that Font Vella - the water of the Danone group - did not come from the spring of the same name. (14) In September 2008, this organization requested Danone to withdraw its advertising for custard, considering it “misleading”. The ad argued that two custards had the same percentage of fat as a glass of milk, but ignored other comparisons such as that "... the two custards provide up to four times the carbohydrates and almost twice the calories." (fifteen)
Returning to JSV, there is a peculiarity that deserves to be discussed. The contact on the project website does not refer to anyone from Danone and only to a member of the Red Cross. However, two emails are indicated that belong to two people from the multinational public relations company Weber Sandwick (WS), which suggests that JSV could be totally or partially organized or managed by this company. According to the European Observatory for Corporations, WS is one of the five largest lobbying firms in Brussels that are hired to pressure EU officials and advise their clients. (16)
WS has previously been designated to broadcast and orchestrate a humanitarian advertising campaign to achieve financial benefits for a client. In 2006 there was some controversy in the UK with an initiative called "Cancer United", which demanded equal access to new cancer treatments. According to several specialists, the campaign was financed by the pharmaceutical company Roche, publicized by WS and in the secretariat of the same there was no non-profit organization but WS itself. Speaking to "The Guardian" newspaper, Michael Coleman, a specialist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that "Governments will be pressured to increase their budgets for cancer drugs with the totally spurious argument of that this way it will be possible to improve the survival rate of the patients ”. (17) WS does business with other pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies such as sanofi-aventis, Bristol-Myers Celgene, Merck Laboratories, Pfizer, CSL Biotherapies, Eli Lilly or Genentech. (18) Some of these transnationals, along with other WS clients such as McDonald’s or Unilever, have been widely and harshly criticized by many social organizations due to their impacts and actions in different areas.
When solidarity becomes the opium of the people.
As a general rule, "first world" consciences live disturbed by the hardships suffered by the most disadvantaged. The vast majority recognize that the world is unjust and cruel, but few, very few, are those who, to a greater or lesser extent, acquire a political commitment, adjust their consumption habits, and become part of social activism. The vast majority, from the socially created and institutionalized comfort, think that the world cannot be changed and very few would be willing to do so assuming that this would lead to a decrease in their standard of living. The contradiction is obvious: the world is rotten, people have regrets but at the same time, almost no one is willing to do anything.
In this scenario and within the solidarity market, vase actions and organizations have triumphed, that is, those that are empty of any content that encourages a critical spirit, commitment and the fight for change. Its only axis of action is charity and welfare. Many people will think that it is enough, that with that a positive impact is already achieved, but what use is it if it does not improve the context in which the beneficiary populations live? In the face of the food price crisis in early 2008, which left 100 million more hungry, what is more logical? Eating yogurt or working to change the political and commercial causes that led to the crisis?
Through aggressive advertising campaigns they make people believe that by sponsoring a child, paying a membership fee or in this case, eating a yogurt, the world is going to change. They know how to manipulate the hearts of people who seek spiritual peace in the face of unreason and poverty. In exchange for money, they provide you with the supportive valerian dose that will relax your conscience without suggesting anything else. In this way they foster passivity, lull the masses, and perpetuate the system and injustice. Why the struggle and the commitment, if eating a yogurt I am going to change the world even when I know that it is not like that? Because I know right?
In the world there are thousands of social groups that work commendably.
Monica Vargas. Campaign Don't eat the world. www.notecomaselmundo.org
Vicent boix. Writer, author of the book "El parque de las hammocas". http://www.elparquedelashamacas.org
4- Danone will sell about 1 billion yogurts, custards, etc. in the next three months. It requires 6 million of these products to recoup the investment in seeds. This is 0.6% of your sales.
14 and 15- https://www.facua.org/es/noticia.php?Id=1333&IdAmbito=22