Survey: Brands’ Ethical Claims ‘A Con’

by | Jan 26, 2011

Most consumers don’t realize that multinational companies own many of the brands with reputations for ethics and sustainability, according to a survey to be published this week – and many are unhappy when they find out.

The survey by British consumer advocacy group Which? found that 74 percent of those surveyed did not know that Kraft owns chocolate brand Green & Black’s, and 96 percent did not know that PepsiCo UK owns apple juice maker Copella, the Guardian reports.

When informed of the brands’ ownership, more respondents had a negative reaction than a positive one. “Consumers are being misled,” said one respondent. Another commented, “I feel conned.”

Three-quarters of those questioned said they think companies should be clear about ownership on the brand’s packaging.

Two-thirds said they rate environmental and ethnical issues highly when deciding what brands to buy. But they view the ethics of brands and parent companies very differently. While 71 percent associate sauce brand Seeds of Change with environmental responsibility, only 15 percent say the same for its parent company, Mars.

Similarly, while 44 percent think Green & Black’s is socially responsible, only 11 percent feel that way about Kraft, which acquired Green & Black’s when it bought Cadbury’s last year. Cadbury’s bought Green & Black’s in 2005.

The study surveyed 2,110 Which? members.

Professor Craig Smith, the chair of ethics and social responsibility at the Insead Business School, said parent companies might try to dilute the values of the ethical companies they purchase. But he said, “Parent companies can give ethical brands the resources they need to expand their business and promote ethical products and environmental issues to a wider audience.”

Mark Palmer, the global brand director at Green & Black’s, said: “There haven’t been any changes to the specifications or recipes of our chocolate. Neither have there been any changes to [our] philosophy and values.”

In recent years Kraft dropped palm oil supplier Sinar Mas over deforestation claims and PepsiCo UK announced a plan to be fossil fuel-free by 2023.

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