Alberta Politics

the hypocrisy of ethical oil’s chiquita banana boycott.

Ethical Oil
Ethical Oil?

If you have been paying any attention to Canadian politics on Twitter or have tuned into any of the Sun Media outlets over the past few days, you will have undoubtably noticed that the greenwashing website “Ethical Oil” has launched the Great Canadian Banana Boycott. Reacting to the Chiquita company’s decision to direct its transportation providers “to avoid, where possible, fuels from tarsands refineries,” the website is urging Canadians to boycott Chiquita bananas and related products.

Inspired by conservative political pundit Ezra Levant‘s book by the same name, the Ethical Oil website purports to “encourage people, businesses and governments to choose Ethical Oil from Canada, its oil sands and other liberal democracies.” The website suggests that “ethical oil” is a “fair trade” alternative to “conflict oil” exploited in some of our world’s more politically oppressive and environmentally reckless countries.

Pointing to Chiquita’s chequered past as the United Fruit Company, the website and its opportunistic political supporters, including Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and a handful of Conservative Party Members of Parliament have joined the fray pledging personal boycotts.

Starting with Mr. Levant, the Ethical Oil mantra has becomes a rotating door for young conservative activists. Until recently, the website was maintained by Alykhan Velshi, a former staffer to Conservative Minister Jason Kenney. Mr. Velshi now works as director of planning for Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s office. The website’s current spokesperson, Kathryn Marshall, is a former organizer with the Wildrose Party Club on the University of Calgary campus (her husband Hamish Marshall is a pollster and the former Manager of Strategic Planning for Prime Minister Harper).

There is no doubt that countries Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Nigeria have earned their reputations for having horrible human rights and environmental records, but I have never heard Ethical Oil directly challenge the multinational oil companies that operate in those countries. Many of the same companies that exploit “conflict oil” from these oppressive countries also happily operate in Alberta’s oil sands and employ many thousands of Canadians.

The multi-national oil company Royal Dutch Shell is a 60% owner of the Athabasca Oil Sands project. Shell also has significant operations in Saudi Arabia and is well-known for its unethical actions in Nigeria.

According to repots from The Guardian newspaper:

Court documents now reveal that in the 1990s Shell routinely worked with Nigeria’s military and mobile police to suppress resistance to its oil activities, often from activists in Ogoniland, in the delta region.

The company has been sued many times over its conduct in Nigeria. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) say oil companies working in the delta, of which Shell is the largest, have overseen a “human rights tragedy”. Most of the alleged human rights abuses, they say, follow the companies’ refusal to abide by acceptable environmental standards.

On November 9, 2011, Amnesty International called on Shell to make an initial $1 billion payment to clean up oil pollution in the Niger Delta.

Even Suncor, a company with deep roots in Alberta’s oilsands, only recently withdrew its foreign workers from energy operations in Syria. Despite decades of human rights abuses, Suncor only slowed down its Syrian operations (formerly run by Petro-Canada) when the European Union and the United Nations imposed sanctions on the country.

As the Ethical Oil website denounces and promotes boycotts of companies that question the environmental record of Alberta’s oilsands, the website does nothing to promote a boycott of unethical oil producers, like Shell, that make billions of dollars exploiting their definition of ‘conflict oil.’

The arguments put forward by Ethical Oil are misleading and disingenuous. They compare bananas to oranges and drive the debate away from the real issue – our unsustainable dependence on fossil fuels and the incredible environmental toll that multinational oil companies are enacting both overseas and in Alberta’s oilsands.

22 replies on “the hypocrisy of ethical oil’s chiquita banana boycott.”

Great post, Dave. It’s actually kind of comical to hear the human rights mantra from people who don’t usually give human rights the time of day.

Excellent, Dave. (One of) the problem(s) with Ezra is that he yells the loudest… and there are a great many people who believe volume wins.

There’s nothing intrinsically ethical (or unethical) about oil. Only those of us who extract it, buy it, sell it, or use it have any chance to apply ethics (your Shell illustration). Ethical Oil’s straw man argument needs to be confronted wherever it’s used.

Personally, however, I’ve decided to eat only ethical tropical fruit… though I will sneak an unethical spud from time to time… if no one’s looking.

I see a lot of people on both sides of this issue wearing blinders. As much as it is inconvenient for those who want black and white delineations between what is right and what is wrong, there is a lot of grey here. Both viewpoints have merit and really only run into problems when they argue their position to the exclusion of others.

It is valid to consider the human rights and environmental record for the location of origin for the product you are consuming. To do otherwise is to turn one’s back on the whole fair trade movement. The arguements against Angola’s diamonds fairly pertain to Nigeria’s oil as well.

However, producing oil in a jurisdiction that respects rule of law and local environmental standards does not take away from one’s responsibility to work tirelessly to reduce the CO2 footprint you create, a truly global issue.

Overall, a little more honesty on both sides of this arguement would allow the admission that neither side is inherently “right” or “wrong”, but that both have relevance. The short term question really needs to be framed is more along the lines of is an X% increase in global CO2 output worse that the oppression of village Y and the environmental devastation of Z hectares of land.

In the long term, continuing to use this equation to shine a spotlight on the producers of both “ethical” and “low carbon” oil should be used as a motivator to each to improve their side of the equation.

An unhealthy obsession with bananas? please consult your therapist immediately. Thanks to Levant, Hastman, Smith, Kenney and the rest for shining a spotlight on this troubling condition.

Great post! Graham Thomson hit it today too:

According to a recent paper in the Canadian Journal of Political Science (that is much more interesting than its title would suggest: “Playing Defence: Early Responses to Conflict Expansion in the Oilsands Policy Subsystem”), government and industry “have persistently avoided and then defied criticisms. When defiance and avoidance became harder to justify, they turned to a type of manipulation by inviting stakeholders, including aboriginal groups and environmentalists, into consultation processes that dragged on without producing meaningful policy change.”

An issue that seems to have fallen off the radar is the Alberta Government’s proposed “world class” oilsands environmental monitoring program. Almost a year after the province acknowledged the systemic failures of the existing monitoring regime (RAMP), it struck an expert panel to help Alberta Environment develop a program that encompassed both the scientific rigour and basic competence to effectively monitor the environmental impact of the oilsands.

The panel presented their recommendations in June. The province, however, has yet to announce what aspects of the report will be included in a new monitoring program, what a new monitoring program will look like, and when it’s expected to be in operation.

In the meantime, the province still relies on RAMP, which it acknowledges to be incompetent, to show the current environmental impact. Further, it has no hesitation granting oilsands developments (Joslyn Mine North) and expansions from proposals that rely on the same faulty data.

The best way to fend of attacks and boycotts on the oilsands is not through ethical oil slogans or the caricatures of niqab wearing women eating bananas. It’s through the industry’s strong performance on key environmental indicators.

With a competent monitoring program and our emissions in check, we can win over detractors, resonate with socially conscious consumers, and better ensure Alberta’s future prosperity.

Whatever company Shell, BP (remember the Gulf explosion and continual untruths told of the quantity being leaked and complete lack of any real ‘corrective’ measures to fix it) Dutch, Petro Canada – bottom line – there is no envirofriendly means of drilling, dredging, floating, shipping of fossil fuel. If you support the concept of investing, researching and using renewable energy then we need to support any Corporations that are moving in this direction. Those still adamant on keeping the oil dependency alive do so for finanical gain only, to profit directly or indirectly. They don’t see enough money to be made by being environmentally conscious. Thus, since MONEY TALKS, by showing your support(spending your money on products) from those companies trying to reduce carbon footprint it sends a stronger message than anything else possibly could and would send shivers down to the ‘bottom line’ of other Corporations.

The idea that Shell in Saudi Arabia is less worthy of your money than Shell in Alberta is silly. The idea that Saudi Arabia is less worthy of your money than Alberta is less silly. Alberta is considerably less likely to be “harbouring” people with anti-american objectives.

Are they trying to divert the issue away from environmental concenrs and toward security concerns? Clearly. Is it hypocritical? No.

Sun Media is turning this almost non-issue about bananas into a front page story that has dominated their headlines for days. It’s interesting to hear as well, a report by them saying the Alberta premier is being heavily criticised for not wanting to get involved with these “spin” politics. I wonder how many of these “critics” work for Sun Media or other conservative/oil advocating groups. I have a hunch it is alot. Sun Media tries to pass itself off as an unbiased alternative to the CBC (which really isnt all that biased compared to how far Sun blatently swings to the right) but they end up creating stories about things that difert our attention from the real problems our world is currently facing.

Ezra is onto something with ethical oil, perhaps we might be able to get ethical politicians, ethical bureaucrats, ethical lawyers, ethical corporations, ethical thinktanks, ethical media. For now, lets settle for ethical bananas, they are more tangible and believable. Ezra should ask for an ethical premier.

What the response to Chiquita’s policy change should have been is that for every organization out there deciding not to use bitumen products there are more who are willing to pay for the slack. Chiquita has the right not to buy bitumen products, consumers have the right not to buy Chiquita products.

That said, I’d be interested to know what Chiquita’s carbon footprint is. Unless Chiquita is using sailing vessels, I suspect their footprint is sizeable.
And anyone who suggests we can simply replace oil with alternatives needs to learn about energy density (how big a wind farm would be needed to produce a RELIABLE on-demand power supply similar to a 1000MW coal plant).

If Dave wants to boycott Shell and other multinationals, he is free to do it. I am not sure where he will get his gasoline from though.

I think it is an invalid comparision that it being brought up here. We are comparing the origon of the oil and not who is bringing it into production. Morevoer many of the countries outside of Canada have nationalized a lot of their production, which is why the big multinationals are turning the attention to the oil sands.

Dave’s argument falls down because the concept of “ethical oil” is about countries, not companies. It’s not “yay Shell, boo Sinopec” but “yay Canada, boo Iran/Saudi Arabia/Nigeria/Sudan/etc”.

If anything, your examples of Shell and Suncor prove their point: those companies behave ethically when operating in Canada, and unethically when operating in Nigeria and Syria. Likewise, I suspect Sinopec’s Alberta projects are far better than their Sudanese ones.

If more oil is pumped from Canada at the expense of Sudan or wherever, it makes little if any difference to amount of C02 in the atmosphere. But it does make a big difference to the people would’ve gotten killed over blood oil.

And that’s one big reason why we should support Canada’s oilsands.

It really doesn’t matter what Chiquita does or what Shell or Suncor do or don’t do, they will pretty much do as they please. The ‘nanas will get bought somewhere and the oil will get drilled for and mined for, guaranteed. The only reason the oil-sands have become the poster child for eco-ists is due to the theory of anthropogenic global warming driven by anthropogenic CO2 emissions. This is a theory. It is untested and unproven. There is no measurable real world data that is statistically significant that supports this theory. These are facts.Unfortunately for those who are disciples of the Church of Global Warming (oops, i guess the planet isn’t warming after all…so i guess it’s ‘climate change’….it can’t change…Mother Nature is exempt somehow) this is all so much inconvenient static that isn’t good for ‘The Cause’.

Thank you for this post Dave. The main media completely distorted this story.
I am glad you set the record straight!
Ethical business, after all, should be ethical everywhere a company does business.

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