How to Resist Corporate Deception and Greenwashing Hypocrisy

Corporate hypocrisy is a masterclass in deceit, where companies promote their so-called social responsibility, while their actions tell a completely different story. This chasm between sparkling company promises and grim reality erodes the trust of citizens and shatters the ethical foundations of our communities.

Take JBS, a meat processing giant that pledged to fight deforestation but was caught sourcing cattle from illegally deforested Amazon land. Or Cartier, a luxury brand that prides itself on ethical sourcing yet was found using conflict gold and advertising their products using indigenous Amazonian peoples they violently dispossessed. Then there’s IOI, a palm oil producer boasting about their “sustainability” while contributing to massive environmental destruction. Such brazen acts of deception ignite public outrage, often sparking more public discontent that the original acts of deception.

The Anatomy of Corporate Deception

Corporate hypocrisy involves making grand moral claims, failing to meet those claims, deceiving stakeholders, and profiting from this deceit. Industries like tobacco and palm oil are notorious for such behaviour. Despite pledging not to target young people, tobacco companies continued to do so. Similarly, palm oil producer IOI violated the zero-burning policy they helped establish, leading to significant public backlash and lost business from major companies like Unilever (7).

Unmasking Corporate Hypocrisy: An Experiment

An 2020 experiment by German researchers tested whether people view corporate hypocrisy as harshly as individual hypocrisy. Participants read scenarios involving private individuals, managers, and firms, all behaving hypocritically. Results showed that both corporate and individual hypocrisies are condemned strongly, with corporations judged more harshly due to perceived greed and lack of empathy (7).

What You Can Do About Corporate Deception and Greenwashing Hypocrisy

Corporate hypocrisy is a masterclass in deceit, where companies promote their so-called social responsibility, while their actions tell a completely different story. This chasm between sparkling company promises and grim reality erodes the trust of citizens and shatters the ethical foundations of our communities.

Take JBS, a meat processing giant that pledged to fight deforestation but was caught sourcing cattle from illegally deforested Amazon land. Or Cartier, a luxury brand that prides itself on ethical sourcing yet was found using conflict gold and advertising their products using indigenous Amazonian peoples they violently dispossessed. Then there’s IOI, a palm oil producer boasting about their “sustainability” while contributing to massive environmental destruction. Such brazen acts of deception ignite public outrage, often sparking more public discontent that the original acts of deception.

The Anatomy of Corporate Deception

Corporate hypocrisy involves making grand moral claims, failing to meet those claims, deceiving stakeholders, and profiting from this deceit. Industries like tobacco and palm oil are notorious for such behaviour. Despite pledging not to target young people, tobacco companies continued to do so. Similarly, palm oil producer IOI violated the zero-burning policy they helped establish, leading to significant public backlash and lost business from major companies like Unilever (7).

Unmasking Corporate Hypocrisy: An Experiment

An 2020 experiment by German researchers tested whether people view corporate hypocrisy as harshly as individual hypocrisy. Participants read scenarios involving private individuals, managers, and firms, all behaving hypocritically. Results showed that both corporate and individual hypocrisies are condemned strongly, with corporations judged more harshly due to perceived greed and lack of empathy (7).

Palm Oil Industry: Repeated Greenwashing and Hypocrisy

Greenwashing is a deceptive practice where companies falsely portray their products as environmentally friendly. The palm oil industry has been notorious for this, particularly under the guise of “sustainable” palm oil certified by the RSPO. Every global supermarket brand has been implicated in this greenwashing. They claim adherence to “sustainable” practices, while concurrently engaging in environmentally destructive activities that result in violent land-grabbing, human rights abuses, ecocide and putting at-risk species closer to extinction .

In Guatemala, despite RSPO certification, palm oil deforestation continues at alarming rates, harming local ecosystems and communities. A 2023 research paper from the University of Michigan highlighted that certifying products as sustainable does not necessarily prevent environmental destruction (5, 9).

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IOI: A Tale of Broken Promises

In 2004, IOI, a major Malaysian palm oil producer, co-founded the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to champion sustainable palm oil production. A key aspect of their commitment was a “zero-burning policy” aimed at preventing deforestation. However, IOI’s actions starkly contradicted their pledges. NGOs like Milieudefensie and Friends of the Earth Europe accused IOI of clearing rainforests in Indonesia, with aerial images and local reports providing irrefutable evidence (7).

In 2015, the sustainability advisor Aidenvironment filed a formal complaint, leading to IOI’s suspension from the RSPO in 2016. This suspension was a significant blow, resulting in financial losses as major companies like Unilever, Kellogg, and Mars severed ties. Despite eventually meeting the RSPO’s conditions and being reinstated, IOI deserved the resulting damage to their reputation. Their blatant disregard for the zero-burning policy they helped establish highlighted their hypocrisy and undermined their credibility as a promoter of sustainable practices (7).

More Greenwashing in the Palm Oil Industry

Unilever and RSPO Certification: Unilever, a major player in the palm oil market, has faced criticism for promoting its use of RSPO-certified palm oil as sustainable. Investigations revealed that despite these claims, Unilever sourced palm oil from suppliers involved in deforestation and habitat destruction. The RSPO certification itself has been criticised for weak enforcement and allowing members to continue harmful practices under the “sustainable” label, (6).

Nestlé and “No Deforestation” Pledge: Nestlé made a high-profile pledge to achieve zero deforestation by 2020, claiming its palm oil would no longer contribute to forest loss. However, reports surfaced showing that Nestlé’s suppliers were still involved in deforestation, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. This discrepancy between Nestlé’s public commitments and actual practices highlights the extent of greenwashing in the palm oil industry, (6).

PepsiCo and Supplier Controversies: PepsiCo has also been implicated in greenwashing. While the company advertises its commitment to sourcing “sustainable” RSPO palm oil, it has been linked to suppliers violating human rights and environmental laws over many years. Investigations found that these suppliers were involved in illegal land clearing and exploitation of indigenous communities, (6).

JBS: The Beef Industry’s Hypocritical Greenwashing

JBS, the world’s largest beef producer, has been sued by Attorney General Letitia James for misrepresenting their products as sustainable. The lawsuit, filed in early 2024, highlights how JBS falsely marketed their beef as eco-friendly while engaging in practices harmful to the environment. This case mirrors the deceptive tactics seen in the palm oil industry, underscoring the widespread nature of corporate greenwashing, (2).

Cartier and the Gold Mining Scandal: A Glittering Facade

The luxury brand Cartier has also been implicated in corporate hypocrisy and greenwashing. Cartier used images of the Amazon Yanomami tribe, which has been devastated by illegal gold mining, in their marketing campaigns to promote their gold jewelry as ethically sourced, (4). Activist Barbara Crane Navarro highlighted the hypocrisy of this act, exposing how Cartier’s practices contribute to environmental destruction and the exploitation of indigenous communities, (4).

Boycotts: A Powerful Weapon Against Corporate Hypocrisy

Boycotts are a significant and powerful lever in calling corporate greed and hypocrisy to account. Research shows that boycotts can effectively influence corporate behaviour by impacting their profits and public image (3). For example, Nestlé faced a successful boycott campaign against deforestation for palm oil in its supply chain, leading to policy changes. Continuous public pressure through boycotts holds corporations accountable and drives them towards more transparent practices (8).

Studies indicate that boycotts can drive significant changes. For instance, according to John and Klein (2003), boycotts are effective in signaling consumer dissatisfaction and can lead to substantial financial impacts (8).

Participate in Creative and Collective Action Against Corporate Hypocrisy

Companies must align their actions with their public statements to maintain trust and avoid the severe public backlash that accompanies perceived deception. Consumers play a critical role by participating in boycotts and demanding transparency and accountability from corporations, (1, 8).

Collective action is not limited to boycotts. Creating art, writing, and music to expose corporate hypocrisy are powerful forms activism in themselves. This can amplify messages and mobilise public sentiment. These creative expressions resonate deeply with people, inspiring them to take action. The work of activist-artist Barbara Crane Navarro’s work in exposing Cartier’s hypocrisy through art and advocacy is a testament to the impact of combining creativity with activism, (1).

To further harness the power of collective action, individuals and organisations can participate in various forms of activism as described on the Palm Oil Detectives website. By engaging in creative forms of activism both online and in-person and by participating in consumer boycotts, we can all hold corporations accountable and drive meaningful change towards a more ethical world.


Palm Oil Detectives is a global collective of animal rights and indigenous rights advocates. Together we expose the devastating impacts of palm oil, gold and meat deforestation on wildlife and indigenous communities. The Palm Oil Detectives #Boycott4Wildlife movement empowers activists, scientists, conservationists and creatives worldwide to #BoycottPalmOil and advocate for genuine alternatives to ecocide.
Read more: https://palmoildetectives.com/
https://x.com/PalmOilDetect
https://m.youtube.co/@Palmoildetectives
https://mastodonapp.uk/@palmoildetectives

References

  1. Creatives and Conservationists for Cool Creatures (2021). Palm Oil Detectives. Retrieved from Palm Oil Detectives
  2. Attorney General James Sues World’s Largest Beef Producer for Misrepresenting Products as Sustainable. (2024). Retrieved from Attorney General NY Press Release
  3. Boycotts: Do They Work and Why Participate in Them? (2021). Palm Oil Detectives. Retrieved from Palm Oil Detectives
  4. Cartier uses images of Amazon tribe devastated by illegal gold mining; critics call that hypocrisy. (2023). Retrieved from CTV News
  5. Friedrich, M. (2023). Greenwashing in the palm oil industry: Lies, deception, and the fight for sustainability. Journal of Environmental Management, 336, 117–130. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2023.01.2938
  6. Greenwashing Tactic 7: Lying. (2021). Palm Oil Detectives. Retrieved from Palm Oil Detectives
  7. Jauernig, J., Uhl, M., & Valentinov, V. (2021). The ethics of corporate hypocrisy: An experimental approach. Futures, 102757. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2021.102757
  8. John, A., & Klein, J. (2003). The Boycott Puzzle: Consumer Motivations for Purchase Sacrifice. Management Science, 49(9), 1196-1209. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4134035
  9. Palm Oil Deforestation in Guatemala: Certifying Products as Sustainable is No Panacea. (2023). Palm Oil Detectives. Retrieved from Palm Oil Detectives

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