Making the rounds of online environmental media this past week, I’ve hardly been able to help but notice what must be one of the most impressive examples of online grassroots organizing I’ve ever seen: a major effort to hold Nestlé accountable for its use of rainforest-destroying palm oil. Though the campaign was initiated by Greenpeace, it now seems to have in many ways taken on a life of its own. Online activists have, among other things, flooded Nestlé’s Facebook page to become “un-fans” and register their concern that the palm oil used by Nestlé is driving deforestation in Indonesia – which is threatening one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world while also turning a major carbon sink into a giant source of global warming pollution.
As someone who thinks a lot about creative activism, I’ve been impressed with how effectively Greenpeace has utilized YouTube and Facebook to kick off this campaign. It seems to have started with the creation of a YouTube video (below) that Nestlé tried to censor, which links palm oil-containing products like the KitKat to destruction of rainforests and the last remaining areas of orangutan habitat in Indonesia. According to most reports, Nestlé’s attempt to suppress the video backfired, encouraging angry online activists to make the clip go viral on the Internet, comment on Nestlé’s Facebook page, and send over 100,000 complaints to the company through a Greenpeace email tool. Greenpeace reports Nestlé is now blocking their emails, but urges people to give the company a call and demand it sever ties with destructive palm oil.
Not only have activists succeeded in making their point to Nestlé directly – they’ve also made this a big enough story to get the attention of major news outlets around the world. This has not only served to put Nestlé under the spotlight, but raised the profile of Indonesia’s disappearing rainforests generally. Nestlé, clearly freaked about its public image, stated soon after the launch of the campaign last week that it would no longer purchase palm oil directly from Sinar Mas – the biggest palm oil company in Indonesia and one of the main destroyers of that country’s rainforests. Yet Greenpeace points out the company still buys from Sinar Mas indirectly through other palm oil suppliers like Cargill.
Watching the online activity around Nestlé unfold over the last week has made me think long and hard about how social media sites might be used to put some serious pressure on other companies whose burning of fossil fuels and destruction of forests is holding the planet hostage. Which corporation might be next after Nestlé? Maybe some of the companies intent on cooking the planet with coal, obliterating forests for tar sands, or spreading global warming denial. I think the Nestlé palm oil campaign is not only an impressive thing in itself, but an excellent reminder of how much well-organized online activism can accomplish. So great work to Greenpeace on the launch of an inspiring campaign, and let’s see what other companies social media activists can make squirm through online organizing.