New Internationalist

Beneath the gloss…

Issue 393

Advertising promise vs reality

Company: Toyota

2005 advertising spend: $735 million
2005 sales: $173 billion
2005 profits: $11 billion
Product: Prius hybrid car

The image

TV and cinema adverts proclaim: ‘good news for planet earth… low emissions, high mileage… One small step on the accelerator, one giant leap for mankind.’

The reality

Toyota may be the world’s most profitable car company and the second largest, but it still doesn’t observe labour rights.
* 2005: workers at a supplier factory in Nicaragua revealed they were paid at below-subsistence levels, working 16 hours per day to earn a living wage.1
* Spring 2006: workers at the company’s factory in the Philippines asked for international support after 233 were sacked, including the entire union committee, after a ballot electing it as the workers’ representative body.2

War machines: manufactures light vehicles for military clients3, and Fuji Heavy Industries (with which it has cross-shareholdings) has joint ventures with the US Department of Defence to develop fighter aircraft.4

A funny shade of green: Prius may be touted as a planet-saving vehicle, but some of Toyota’s other activities are less favourable.
* Has lobbied against clean air and energy conservation legislation in the US – lobbying has stalled such legislation for a decade.5
* Accused by environmental campaigners of opposing smog and climate change rules in California, where the cars it sold in 2005 had worse average fuel efficiency than those in 1990 because of the impact of high-emission SUVs on overall fleet figures.6

Company: Unilever

2005 advertising spend: $6,296 million
2005 turnover: $49,967 million
2005 pre-tax profits: $5,984 million7
Product: Dove (body wash, soap, deodorant, lotions and facial cleanser)

The image

2004: Dove’s worldwide ‘Real Women’ advertising campaign launched.
2005: ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ launched. National websites in 39 countries across the Asia Pacific region, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and North America and ongoing ads. Slogans include ‘celebrate those curves’ and ‘free our girls from beauty stereotypes’ and feature images of older women and a range of body shapes.

The reality

One of the ingredients in Dove products is palm oil.
* 2005: British NGO ActionAid reported on conditions for small palm oil producers in Ghana. Produce was graded at the lowest possible level, and farmers complained that they simply received a slip at the end of the month once their crops had been taken away, heaped on mixed lorries. This lack of transparency was used to pay below market rates.8
* In Indonesia large monoculture plantations, on land once occupied by rainforest, are associated with workers’ rights abuses. In spring 2006 Unilever was challenged by its own European Works Councils to dissociate itself from Musim Mas, a major Indonesian palm oil supplier accused of ‘the mass firing of union members, eviction from their homes, the expulsion of children from their schools and the use of the police and judicial system to criminalize legitimate trade union activity.’9

Unilever’s troubles don’t end with palm oil.
* ActionAid’s concern included the eviction and harassment of adivasis (indigenous people) living in the area of tea plantations run by Hindustan Lever, the company’s Indian wing.8
* Farms supplying cotton seed to Hindustan Lever were also accused of using child labourers as young as 10 to work in fields doused in pesticides, which caused nausea and convulsions.8

Company: Starbucks

2005 revenues: $6.4 billion
2005 advertising spend: $87.7million
Product: coffee shops

The image

Starbucks shops have prominent window displays promoting the sale of fair trade coffee and describing the benefits for Majority World farmers.

The reality

Fair trade fractions: Starbucks makes much of fair trade coffee. But the company’s 2005 figures reveal that only 3.7% of the coffee it sold was from fair trade certified sources, with a further 24.6% coming via the company’s own ‘coffee and farmer equity’ scheme, which does not guarantee farmers a living wage when world coffee prices are low. Starbucks claims the scheme responds to the fact that fair trade certifiers will only work with small producer co-operatives and therefore can only supply a small proportion of world coffee production. But it has been criticized for not offering the stability of income in a volatile market which fair trade premiums guarantee.10
* Organizations like the US Organic Consumers’ Association (OCA) have called for a boycott of Starbucks for what they perceive as deceptive marketing, pointing out that the onus is on the customer to ask for fair trade coffee which is often not clearly marked, and that fair trade lines are rarely on the ‘coffee of the day’ promotional list.11

Some of Starbucks’ other suppliers also work under less than ideal conditions.
* 2001: the company admitted that some of its Christmas items were packaged by prison labourers.12

Cruel milk: The OCA boycotts Starbucks over its use of milk from cows injected with Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). Critics state that: ‘Virtually every industrial country, except for the US, has banned the sale of rBGH milk. Milk produced from cows injected with rBGH poses serious dangers to human health and the general welfare of dairy cows.’ The cattle suffer inflamed udders and produce milk containing high levels of pus.11

Fat cat: Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has astronomical pay levels ($2.5 million in 2005).13 He made speeches condemning Palestinian policy, praising the state of Israel during the Israeli re-invasion of the West Bank in 2002, and accepted awards from organizations which dispute any Palestinian right of residence in the West Bank and Gaza.14

Company: Tommy Hilfiger

2005 turnover: $1,781 million
Advertising expenditure not released.
Products: fashion items, perfume

The image

Hilfiger ads show a world of carefree, tanned young people often on beaches or in the countryside. The company sponsors sports events. Its children’s website offers games and celebrity features and its perfumes are represented by big names such as Beyonce Knowles and Enrique Iglesias.

The reality

Conduct unbecoming: Tommy Hilfiger has a Code of Conduct for conditions at its supplier factories which claims to protect workers’ rights. However, its record has been consistently poor.
* In the late 1990s it was one of many US clothes companies caught up in a class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of workers in Saipan (Pacific territories under US influence). A $20 million fund was eventually set up by the companies to recompense workers who had suffered forced labour conditions, 18-hour days and rat-infested housing.15
* In 2004 an Oxfam report recorded women in Chinese supplier factories working over 100 hours per week, with three women suffering injuries after passing out from exhaustion.16
* In 2003, workers at a Hilfiger supplier in Mexico were denied the right to unionize, and when human rights activists tried to investigate the situation they were beaten up.17 In 2003, another Hilfiger supplier in Thailand closed down a unionized factory, leaving workers without severance pay, and transferred contracts to new union-free plants.18

Sold!: In spring 2006 Hilfiger was bought out by investment funds managed by Apax Partners. Other Apax companies include military satellite providers Intelsat and UK supermarket Somerfield (criticized for stocking endangered species of fish and factory farmed meat).19
* Hilfiger’s perfume products (produced under license by Estée Lauder) have been criticized by Greenpeace and animal rights organization Naturewatch for containing potentially damaging chemicals and animal by-products.20,21

Company: BP

2005 turnover: $262 billion
Advertising expenditure not released.

The image

BP’s advertising campaigns of recent years have re-branded the old British Petroleum as ‘Beyond Petroleum’. Their website trumpets the company’s ‘plans to invest $8 billion over 10 years to develop low carbon energy solutions.’22

The reality

‘$8 billion over 10 years’ may sound like a lot, but pales in comparison to the profits of over $19 billion made by BP in 2005.22 BP has admitted that despite its ‘green’ claims the total climate change emissions from its products totalled 1,376 million tonnes, double that of the whole of Britain.22
Beyond belief: Despite its slogan of ‘beyond petroleum,’ oil is still BP’s biggest concern.
* March 2006: a badly corroded pipeline at BP’s Arctic operations burst, spilling thousands of litres of oil.23
* British Treasury calculations stated that if environmental damage were taken into account, BP’s 2005 profits of $19bn would show a loss of £18bn.24
* 2006: it was revealed that BP’s Amoco subsidiary was one of a number of oil companies which had allowed a working-class New York community to live on land contaminated with thousands of gallons of polluted water, causing high rates of cancer and respiratory illness.25

Strong arm: BP’s workers fare little better than the environment.
* March 2005: 15 workers killed and 170 injured in an explosion at the company’s Texas refinery; campaigners reported BP had the worst safety record of any oil company in the US.26 Fined the largest ever US health and safety penalty – $21 million – for the incident.
* 2005: Subject of a campaign urging investors to sell shares in the company over its continued operations in Sudan, where the Government has been involved in brutal human rights abuses.27
* Attracted controversy after proceeding with the Tangguh gas project in West Papua. The occupying Indonesian police and army have been involved in human rights abuses and appropriation of land in West Papua, and social problems such as alcohol abuse were said to be increasing in the area of the project.28

These case studies were researched and written by Sarah Irving of Ethical Consumer magazine (>,>).

  1. National Labor Committee, July 2005, ‘Arnecom auto parts workers in Nicaragua under attack’.
  2. CSR Asia Weekly, 1 March 2006.
  3. International Defence Directory 2004.
  4. Defence Data Ltd, June 2005.
  5. Greenpeace Business, November 2005.
  6. What On Earth, Winter 2005 (Friends of the Earth Scotland).
  7. June 2006.
  8. ActionAid, Power Hungry: Six Reasons to Regulate Agrifood Corporations, 2005.
  9. CSR Asia Weekly, 3 May 2006.
  10. The Guardian, 9 February 2006.
  11. June 2006.
  12. Seattle Weekly, 27 December 2001.
  13. Forbes Rich List 2005.
  14. William McDougall, ‘Starbucks: the cup that cheers’, ZNet, 11 July 2002.
  15. Multinational Monitor, January 1999.
  16. Oxfam, ‘Trading Away Our Rights: Women Working in Global Supply Chains’, 2004.
  17. Labour Behind the Label newsletter, March 2004.
  18. Clean Clothes Campaign, ‘“Runaway” employer at Thailand’s Par Garments; Gap CSR report raises transparency bar’, October 2003.
  19. Ethical Consumer, Nov/Dec 2005.
  20. September 2005
  21. Naturewatch Compassionate Shopping Guide 2005.
  23. The Independent, ‘Oil gushes into Arctic Ocean’, 29 March 2006.
  24. The Guardian, ‘Revealed: the real cost of BP profits’, 12 February 2006.
  25. Earth Island Journal, Summer 2006.
  26. Financial Times, ‘Workers put pressure on BP over safety’, 19 August 2005.
  27. 12 July 2005.
  28. Down to Earth (publication of the International Campaign for Ecological Justice in Indonesia), May 2005.

This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7

Comments on Beneath the gloss...

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

...And all is quiet.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Recently in Features

All Features

Popular tags

All tags

This article was originally published in issue 393

New Internationalist Magazine issue 393
Issue 393

More articles from this issue

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.