‘Dirty oil’ vs. ‘blood bananas’ slugfest

A battle for ‘ethical’ status pit Chiquita against an oil lobby with links to the Conservative government

A 'dirty oil' vs. 'blood banana' slugfest

iStock; Chuck Burton/AP

On the surface it’s a silly affair, no more serious than a banana peel pratfall. It began in November, when Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International—the banana company—wrote a letter committing to avoid “fuels from tar sands refineries” while vowing to work toward the “elimination of those fuels.” That pledge was in response to an anti-oil-sands campaign mounted by ForestEthics, an activist group based in San Francisco’s fabled Haight-Ashbury, the one-time hippie district, against Chiquita and Dole, another fruit giant. “Say no to rotten tar sands bananas,” reads the campaign’s website, rottenbananas.org, part of a broader campaign drawing attention to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would funnel Alberta crude to Texas, but which has now been put on hold over environmental concerns.

What ensued was a fight between environmentalists on the one hand and pro-oil-sands lobbyists on the other, over who can claim to be “ethical.” ForestEthics often wins these battles. Ten years ago, to cite one example, similar persuasion forced the U.S. office supply chain Staples Inc. to sell more recycled paper, a commitment that required it to introduce fundamental changes to its procurement practices. “When we find that wild places and forests are being destroyed, we determine which corporations are purchasing the products of that destruction,” ForestEthics says on its website. “If a corporation refuses to change its practices, we hold that company publicly accountable—with protests, websites, email campaigns, national advertisements, and more.” In other words, the group goes on to boast, “we turn our corporate adversaries into allies.”

With Chiquita it’s been tougher going. That’s in large part due to a counterattack engineered by the Alberta-based Ethical Oil Institute, a pro-industry group that touts Canada’s oil sands as more “ethical” than oil sourced from human rights basket cases like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. In response to Chiquita’s promise to forgo oil sands crude “where possible,” Ethical Oil launched a campaign to boycott its bananas. The gambit spawned what the group calls a “grassroots” movement among Canadians, who began voicing their disapproval of Chiquita via Facebook and Twitter (one handle that appeared: @BloodBananas). “Canadians should be fighting back,” Ethical Oil spokeswoman Kathryn Marshall says. “We’re proud of our record when it comes to the environment and human rights, and we’re sick of being picked on—we’re the good guys, not the bad guys.”

A number of federal cabinet ministers joined in: “I gather that Chiquita Bananas has no problem with Iranian oil, but is boycotting Canadian oil. No more Chiquita bananas for me,” wrote Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on Twitter. At the same time, Ethical Oil began publicizing low points in Chiquita’s history—major fruit purveyors enjoyed terrific power in South America’s so-called “banana republics,” and Chiquita once paid a fine for handing money over to Colombian terrorists. It was exactly the smear job the company had sought to avoid by agreeing to the ForestEthics commitment in the first place.

Yet despite Ethical Oil’s “grassroots” claims, there are undeniable links to the Tories. The website ethicaloil.org is the brainchild of Ezra Levant, a one-time activist with the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties, a Conservative war roomer in the 2008 federal election, and now a columnist and TV host with Sun News. His book Ethical Oil came out last year. The group’s profile grew under Alykhan Velshi, who left a job as Kenney’s director of communications last summer to run the website as Ethical Oil’s spokesman. In November, Velshi switched jobs again and returned to Ottawa, this time to the PM’s office. No wonder the Tory government’s energy and environment rhetoric has begun to echo the group’s “ethical oil” talking points. Yet Marshall, Velshi’s replacement, dismisses charges that the group has become a government propaganda arm as “conspiracy theories.”

The fact is, though, that all sides are playing PR games here. To start with, the idea that Chiquita could ever avoid oil sands oil just isn’t feasible. “Chiquita cannot differentiate at the fuel pump which crude comes from the oil sands and which comes from other places,” says Janet Annesley of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. “The cynic would say their commitment was for marketing reasons.”


‘Dirty oil’ vs. ‘blood bananas’ slugfest

  1. I know what happens when one wrestles a pig, but what happens when two pigs wrestle each other?

    • hotdogs wrapped in bacon fat?

  2. On the surface it’s a silly affair, no more serious than a banana peel pratfall.”

    OK, I was going to read this article, but the very first sentence is garbage.  Companies boycotting Canada’s resource sector is an exceedingly serious affair.  “Silly” seems a word lacking in gravitas when speaking of the first wave of a boycott of a sector worth hundreds of billions of dollars and that puts roofs over peoples’ heads and food on their tables.   

    It’s getting to the point where legislation should be considered which would ban anti-economy types from enjoying any and all fruits of a modern economy.   If they want to destroy our economy then make them pay the price – send them to the forest with the clothes on their back and ban them from all incorporated municipalities, which should be heaven for them.

    • You want “anti-economy types” to not be allowed to enjoy the fruits of a modern economy, and Ethical Oil wants to stop people from enjoying bananas, also a fruit of the modern economy…

  3. As a result of ForestEthics’ campaign of bullying I wrote a letter on behalf of my household to Dole encouraging them to remain steadfast.

    Chiquita’s cowardice may have lost them my family’s business but if Dole stands up for itself and Canada instead of kowtowing to ForestEthics my family will certainly stand with them.  

  4. I now do not buy Chiquita bananas, or Fresh Express from the same company. No Chiquita stuff will be purchased by me, or apparently my friends and relatives. I want no part of a company that proudly boasts its support for anti-oil sands, pro-middle east and Venezuelan blood oil.

    • very convenient to pull your ‘friends and relatives’ in support of your ‘stand’.. not sure how one can confirm that statement…

  5. Well that was a vacuous analysis. The real story is that a corporation tried to piggy back on what they thought was a popular cause to improve their public image, only to have their crass machinations back-fire horribly.

  6. For some reason, I’ve been following this because a rogue RT appeared on my Twitter, and I followed, amused to find that Albertan Conservatives adopting the tactics and language of leftist tactics.  Herbert Chavez and the grapes this is not!

    I guess they’ve learned a thing or two from the Trotskyite-turned-Neo-Con crowd in the States…

    The Ethical Oil twitter feed is pretty hysterical – in both of the popular meanings of the word…  It went from lauding the great sacrifices made by a franchisee of The Cheesecake Cafe in abstaining from using Chiqita bananas in some drippy desert of his to warning me against Hollywood Liberals and, uh, people from “the tennis clubs of New York.”

    Also, the constant refrain about what’s best for Canadians (and who knows it?) is pretty rich coming from Alberta, the sullen uncool nouveau riche cousin of all the provinces of Canada.  Maybe we should nationalize the Albertan oil industry (again!) for the benefit of all Canadians?  That’d be the most ethical oil, no?

    • They’ve even adopted the victimization complex of leftie politics!

      “Ethical Oil spokeswoman Kathryn Marshall says. “We’re proud of our
      record when it comes to the environment and human rights, and we’re sick
      of being picked on—we’re the good guys, not the bad guys.'”

    • “…nationalize the Albertan oil industry (again!)…”

      Let me tell you, the first time was NOT for the benefit of all Canadians. I lived through the disasterous National Energy Policy era when Trudeau and his bunch deliberately destroyed oil exploration in the West. Many of us, myself included, lost jobs, homes and businesses as a result. I didn’t see anyone from the East offering help to the floundering West in those dark days…so I think complaining about Alberta now is just a bit hypocritical.

  7. What a crock of shit. Levant has been exposed for the dirty mnded, no substance tory he is. Who ever said his comments have any merit. My dogs ass makes more sense when it talks. The Agenda is self full filling. Just to say something enough does not mean it is the truth! Oil is all dirty where as a banana is re-newable energy. Lets move past this rape and plunder attitude of current 1% and into a more intelligent society. Smokin Joe

    • Banana is a re-newable energy?  Even after they clear-cut the rainforest to establish the banana plantations?  Bananas are probably one of the worst culprits for rainforest deforestation, after coffee.

  8. Now there’s a breathtaking collision of dirt bag, fascist pigs. Each now spraying artificial fragrance, skunk like, with, ‘tales’, in the air.  Each born of some evil cartoon, manufacturing separate hells on earth, deserving of each other but the rest of us pay for the ruination each time one of them waves their evil wand. 
    It would be otherwise be sh.. funny if it wasn’t Chiquita Banana, Stephen Harper and…The Jewish Zundle.

  9. Ethical oil? . That does not make sense. 
    Nobody will notice the difference when you fill your tank.
    Again, ethical oil, laughable.

  10. Never have two companies so wrong in their actions been so right about each other.

  11. We sure avoid chiquita bananas and (non)fresh express salad. Hey, Delaney, maybe you shouldn’t be so close to your dog’ s ass. Sounds bad. Can’t wait until Nov.6 when the world(maybe not Kenya)will be rid of the forever fool in the White House. What a relief! If Canada hasn’t managed to deliver its oil to Asia, America will be lucky, able to heat their homes, run their big, beautiful cars, etc. The forever fool must be gone forever. I love Del Monte.

  12. Yeah, a real slugfest – or it would be, if only they weren’t all such cowards that they head for the hills at the thought of facing *me*.

    …Slowly Alykhan Velshi and Stephen Harper slouched towards Alberta, waiting to be paid…

  13. What about the fact that Chiquita is attacking a very important Canadian industry that brings billions of dollars into our economy every year? The Tory government must stand up to these allegations . Good for them! We need to use PR to discount the false claims by foreign lobbyists.

  14. Hey Smoking Joe Delaney – seems like you have that smoking dope, Occupy thing going full blast.

    You make some pretty nasty comments about Levant (the standard refuge of lefties – no argument, no reason, just spewing hate) but can you specifically tell us one thing – just one – where Levant is dead wrong? Something that shows his rants have no substance whatsoever? Prove that your comment has any substance at all? Or are you as bad or worse than the guy your dumping on.

  15. ethical oil is the same side of coin a “clean coal”

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