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.