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Being bullied for not being part of the branding bonanza is such a bizarre concept it’s almost laughable. For the parents who opt to clothe, feed and give children more cheaply priced products to distribute their money, go through secondary school and are victimised by their less financially thrifty classmates. When many think of brand discrimination, an About A Boy-esque scene enters their brain, in which an oddly clad youngster is ripped to shreds by his conforming, more mainstream classmates. However, the branding nightmare has taken to encompass far more bizarre quirks over the years. Tesco crisps have become rucksack graffiti banter, non-Colgate toothpaste is deemed an offensive object study for art homework sketches, and ethical branding is the work of hippies. Hail the brand phenomenon, controlled by vast conglomerates who have miraculously hidden the murky depths of their must-have products.
Moving away from the lustre of designer trainers, another branding battle awaits the consumer. Thanks to Oxfam’s latest study, shoppers can find out how the UK’s biggest food providers fare in their use of workers, farms, land, climate change stats, branding transparency, water usage and treatment of their female workers. The results are humiliatingly, despairingly dire. Brand consciousness has been lost on the apparently untouchable likes of The Big Ten. They may be the talk of the school playground, but the bogus ethics of Britain’s most-loved brands leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
World renowned drinks company Coca Cola was once heralded to be a more popular namesake than that of Jesus. More than 1.8 billion bottles of their trademark soft drink sell per day, which makes the $190 billion dollar industry one of the richest in the world. With soft drinks Sprite and Fanta to their name as well as Minute Maid’s fruit juices, it is the biggest drinks pawn in the world. Despite its stronghold, however, the company’s ethics are in dire straits. Banned in several workplaces and university unions, the company has faced severe criticism for its pollution of developing countries’ soil and groundwater supplies. Given a desolutory score of 1/10 by the survey, it seems that the conglomerate has no plans to change its ways any time soon. “Coca Cola has little understanding of land issues and apparently little enthusiasm of engaging with them,” report Oxfam.
And if the results are not already worrying enough, it will shock many to discover that Nestle currently tops Oxfam’s leaderboard as the most ethical brand surveyed. Infamous for instructing mothers in the developing world to give their infants formula rather than breast milk, the company demanded in 2002 that a starved Ethiopia repay them £6 million worth of debts that they could not afford. Also named for seizing Mugabe-ran land and their prolific use of child labour, Nestle has starved Africa of much-needed funds, land and resources. Scoring 54%, the The Swiss company were crowned best of a bad bunch. Scoring lacklustre 7’s in three of their categories, the company’s treatment of women and responsible land use was unsurprisingly low-scoring.
Furthermore, the great brand scandal is not exclusive to foreign shores. Associated British Foods– which owns Twinings, Mazola, Patak’s and Ryvita—scored just 19% in the survey. Ranked as the worst of the Big Ten on climate change, it has been acknowledged that the company “do not set emissions targets for themselves, nor for their suppliers.” As well as scoring 1/10 for their climate change prevention efforts, the chain have scored the mark for their treatment of land and women. “On land issues, the company should stand for A Big Fail,” say Oxfam. With their highest score peaking at a disappointing 3/10, Associated British Foods prove that the big branding problem is right on our doorstep.
In the midst of a neatly packaged paradise, it can be hard to associate with the hardship of our products’s producers. In the comfort of our own homes, the developing world becomes as stunted in our imaginations as it does in the Big Ten’s priorities. Decades after the first big company scandals came to light, the same mistakes are being repeated again and again, and it seems that no one is listening. A willing capitalist or not, in a world in which companies mask companies to blur the truth, it is time that the British public questioned the meaning behind their brand devotion, and whether in adulthood we are even more seduced by brands than we were in the fervour of our finest schooldays.
For more information on The Big Ten, visit www.behindthebrands.org