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not all is equal. what choice will you make?

How Chiquita screwed up — twice

Ethical Oil December 19, 2011

Chris Ivey, who blogs under the name “Shoestring Millionaire” isn’t actually a millionaire, as he confesses on his blog. He’s not some revered social media guru. But he does have some pretty good common sense when it comes to recognizing how companies can screw things up badly with ham-handed, yet hollow attempts at exploiting “corporate social responsibility” trends, and social media trends.

And he does a pretty solid job of how Chiquita — clearly looking to score some cheap brownie points, and then panicking over the damage that caused — has acted incredibly stupidly in announcing its decision to boycott oil from Canada.

First of all, he points out, grocery shoppers don’t normally give a fig about the ethics about most commodity products: we don’t have time to evaluate the corporate histories of every one of the dozens of products we stuff in our carts every time we’re at the supermarket. That’s actually lucky for Chiquita: for a company with a history entangled in terrorism, murder and corruption, the less shoppers know, or care, about its background the better.

Shoppers don’t care, that is, until you do something that backfires. As Chiquita did when it insulted Canadians by declaring that our oil was not good enough for its trucking fleet. The company’s boycott didn’t just anger Canadians: It angered Americans who understand that Canadian oil is a better fit with western, liberal, democratic values than OPEC’s conflict oil, too. As Ivey writes:

They responded to lobbying by a small group of environmentalists without thinking of the larger consequences of their act. The fact is that the viewpoint held by Forest Ethics is not universally shared by Americans. The White House decision to delay the Keystone project, (which has effectively killed it), has been widely denounced as a poor political decision that gains little for the environment while having the very real effect of eliminating thousands of jobs.

Regardless of where you might personally stand on the issue, five minutes’ research on Google would show that this is a controversial issue that any wise PR manager would tell you to steer clear of. There’s no conceivable benefit for a produce company to stake political capital in an issue which is bound to alienate a large part of the market no matter which side they choose.

That was Chiquita’s first mistake. Its second mistake was to begin censoring anyone who disagreed with its decision, by deleting comments on its facebook page that criticized Chiquita’s support for conflict oil. That just made customers angrier, and the flood of negative comments increased. Ivey took some great screenshots of the page, that showed how the battle between conscientious consumers and the banana barons played out. You can see them at the bottom of this post. It also sent all kinds of amateur researchers scouring the web to learn a little bit more about the company that would claim to be more ethical than our Canadian oil producers. And in Chiquita’s case — the company that inspired the term “Banana Republic” thanks to its support for corrupt dictators — there was a lot of dirt to dig up.

All of this has combined to get the media’s attention and now Chiquita is in the news not because anyone thinks it made the right decision, but because there’s debate over just how much damage its done with its decision to so directly insult one of its major export markets.

We expect other PR managers at other companies will think twice before allowing their company to become the next victim to Forest Ethics’ anti-Canadian pressure tactics after this. That’s good. When you’re dealing with an extremist environmental group like Forest Ethics, that’s known to exaggerate and fabricate, thinking for yourself is always a wise course.

Here’s those screenshots — proof of how badly this has all gone off the rails for Chiquita:
















Comments (9)

  1. Squash the Banana. I will no longer buy another Cheiquita product, ever. There brand is rotten and corrupt period …bigots.

  2. That is the beauty of a free market….they choose not to use our products, we choose not to use theirs… problem….there are other companies that have bananas….not too many countries have non conflict oil……….

  3. Don’t forget to boycott “Fresh Express” Pre-mixed Salads as well… Is part of the Chiquita product line…

  4. Is anyone else as tired as I am of corporations and extremists dictating my value system and morality?

    Never again will I buy a Chiquita product. I am also ready to start boycotting retailers that stock their product. Enough is enough.

  5. Avon has also chosen to boycott oilsands oil as well, based on pressure from Forest Ethics. From their website….

    95 Years before the first woman was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court …
    77 Years before the first woman traveled into space …
    76 years before the first woman took the reins of a Fortune 500 company …
    34 years before women in the U.S. had the right to vote …
    17 years before the first woman won the Nobel Prize …

    Avon offered women the opportunity to be CEOs of their own businesses and control their economic destinies.

    Avon, 125 years of empowering women.

    Any hypocrisy here?

  6. Subicholidayvilla December 19, 2011 at 23:37

    I just became aware of this decision by Chiquita this evening. I went to Metro groceries for a small order and noted that they have Chiquita bananas . I am boycotting any purchase of their products and have advised Metro on their website that they should change suppliers.

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