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Milton members urge National Trust to end relationship with Cadbury over palm oil




Palm oil plantations cut through the forest in the north-eastern Borneo, state of Sabah, Malaysia
Palm oil plantations cut through the forest in the north-eastern Borneo, state of Sabah, Malaysia

Easter egg hunts at National Trust properties are a family favourite family past-time.

But now two Milton mums have put forward a resolution calling for the charity to end its £1.5million-a-year relationship with Cadbury because the chocolate giant still uses palm oil.

Associated with devastating deforestation, the ingredient is used in a host of everyday items such as foods, cosmetics, cleaning products and fuels. Suzanne Morris and Rosanna Bienzobas argue a conservation charity should have nothing to do with a company that persists in using the plant-based oil.

Their 5.5million fellow members can vote on the resolution until October 11 and the result will be announced at the National Trust’s AGM on October 19.

“We’re doing this as concerned mums,” says Suzanne. “I’ve been passionate about the deforestation emergency and rainforest destruction for 30 years and just now, being a mum and seeing the fact that it’s still going on…”

“And getting worse…” interjects long-term friend Rosanna.

“I don’t want my daughter or grandchildren to turn around and say to me: ‘What did you do?’” Suzanne continues. “And I want to be able to answer ‘I did everything I could’. We also rely on our natural world and as a species we do seem to be ignoring that.”

Every year, the trust attracts thousands to its Easter egg hunts, at which Cadbury chocolate is given away. Properties such as Anglesey Abbey, Wicken Fen and Wimpole Hall are among those which take part.

An Easter egg hunt portrays a rustic idyll far from the reality of the child labour involved in palm oil production
An Easter egg hunt portrays a rustic idyll far from the reality of the child labour involved in palm oil production

A written response to the pair’s resolution by the board of trustees states that the 12-year partnership with Cadbury “has allowed us to offer many more people the opportunity to enjoy and connect with nature and it generates around £1.5million every year – which helps support the work we do to protect and improve our environment”.

However, the two long-term members argue no amount of money is worth it if the trust’s core principals have to be compromised.

“What we can’t believe is that nobody has raised this issue before,” says Suzanne. “In 12 years of working with Cadbury, no members have said ‘Hold on a minute…’”

Cadbury was acquired by Kraft in 2010 and then demerged from Kraft to become part of Mondelez, a US-based multinational focusing on food and beverages, in 2011.

In 2016 Mondelez pulled Cadbury out of the Fairtrade scheme and brought all Cadbury lines within its in-house fair trade scheme, Cocoa Life, which is seen as less accountable to outside agencies.

However, a due diligence report in 2017 for the trust looked at Mondelez’s practices and concluded it had a “reasonable assurance that Mondelez had programmes in place to address environmental issues associated with producing chocolate”.

The immediate concern for Rosanna and Su, however, is that their resolution may not receive the attention it deserves.

“We looked at previous resolutions and the most votes we’d seen on any of them was a few thousand votes – in a membership of 5.5 million,” says Suzanne.

“Members generally are quite comfortable because they think ‘It’s the National Trust, they wouldn’t partner with an unethical organisation’. But this partnership is totally incompatible with the stated aims of the National Trust and that’s why it’s right that it’s being challenged. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s organisations saying one thing and doing another.”

Milton-based Rosanna Bienzobas, left, and Suzanne Morris are long-term National Trust members who have called a resolution aimed at the trust's 5½million members. Picture: Keith Heppell
Milton-based Rosanna Bienzobas, left, and Suzanne Morris are long-term National Trust members who have called a resolution aimed at the trust's 5½million members. Picture: Keith Heppell

Rosanna and Suzanne began to think about the resolution at Easter.

“I texted Su asking if she wanted to take the girls to the Easter egg hunt,” recalls Rosanna. “She said she didn’t want to take part with her daughter. Later she explained it was to do with Cadbury’s use of palm oil in its chocolate and I started looking into it and I was so angry, disappointed and upset about what I found.

“That night, quite independently, we both wrote letters to [National Trust director-general] Hilary McGrady about why they were doing this and got fobbed off with the usual line. We got slightly different replies. Suzanne mentioned the AGMs… Neither of us are good at backing down when we know something is wrong.”

Suzanne adds: “What’s that saying? ‘Worried mums do better research than the CIA’?”

To put the resolution forward, 50 signatories were required by the end of May to meet National Trust rules.

“We had to move fast,” says Rosanna. “We asked friends, family, the school, the local church... On the whole people were engaged in the issues when they heard about them.

“To be fair the National Trust is quite a democratic organisation in that they let members put forward resolutions.”

Meanwhile, the direct correspondence with the trust’s representatives resulted in a meeting in London.

“They said they’d prefer us to wait for a year and see if they could make some progress, and if we weren’t happy we could put the resolution through next year,” recalls Rosanna.

“We decided to go away and have a think, but we made our minds up pretty quickly,” says Suzanne.

“We decided the issue was so urgent – 25 orang-utans die every day – and we thought why wait a year? That’s just business as usual, but business as usual is what’s got us into this crisis. That’s the reason for all the climate campaigns that have sprung up. It felt like the National Trust, with all that it stands for, should be driving this conversation.”

Orang-utans in the rainforest. Thousands have been killed, and many indigenous people have lost their homes, because of palm oil land grabs
Orang-utans in the rainforest. Thousands have been killed, and many indigenous people have lost their homes, because of palm oil land grabs

Greenpeace’s 2018 ‘Dying for a Cookie’ report says orang-utans are “literally dying for a biscuit”. The environmental organisation used new mapping analysis to establish that Mondelez’s activities led to the destruction of 70,000 hectares of rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia – the world’s biggest palm oil sources – between 2015 and 2017, including 25,000 hectares of orang-utan habitat.

“The urgency of the situation needs addressing, that’s how I felt,” continues Suzanne. “I did say in the meeting that the National Trust could be a leading light. They have the ideal platform to lead the change on this. The IPCC report says we’ve got 11 years before it’s too late to reverse climate change. This is not a political point.”

“It’s not an option to stand by and do nothing,” confirms Rosanna.

“They should be saying ‘We can’t associate with you any more and when you’ve changed your ways we can look at you again’,” insists Suzanne. “The thing is, there’s currently no guaranteed sustainability trail for palm oil. Palm oil by definition cannot be ethically or sustainably sourced.”

Rosanna points to a recent study led by Prof Roberto Gatti, of Purdue University, Indiana, which shows that deforestation in so-called sustainable plantations is as great, if not greater than in non-sustainable plantations. Prof Gatti’s conclusion is that the sustainability claims of corporations, and their certification schemes, are simply ‘greenwashing’.

“Do we really need chocolate that much?” asks Rosanna.

“And do we need to bribe children with chocolate?” asks Suzanne.

The defence of the partnership by the National Trust hasn’t helped.

“There’s nowhere on the trust’s ‘List of 50 Things to Do Before You’re 11¾’ where it says ‘Be rewarded with a bar of chocolate for going for a walk – sourced using rainforest-destroying palm oil’ is there?” says Rosanna. “Do we need it?”

“Most kids wouldn’t be happy if they knew the chocolate was sourced using palm oil,” adds Suzanne. “Children are waking up to climate change, they understand the science. They have a natural affinity with animals and nature, certainly at the primary school level. The National Trust knows this with their ‘50 Things’. Children will start fighting for it if they are encouraged to get into nature. I said this in a letter to them – you’re trashing the environment.”

The duo accept not all members will share their sense of outrage.

Cadbury's Creme Eggs: the brand says that alternatives to palm oil would involve five times the amount of land
Cadbury's Creme Eggs: the brand says that alternatives to palm oil would involve five times the amount of land

Rosanna says: “More and more people are aware of environmental issues now – we obviously want our resolution to pass, but even if it fails we will have raised awareness of palm oil and the destruction caused bypalm oil plantations in the rainforest.”

Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil on earth, but its use is priced in indigenous people and animals being removed from their habitats, and there have been concerns over child labour on plantations in south-east Asia.

“Very ordinary people are starting to join the dots,” says Suzanne. “They’re getting concerned and are starting to look at the evidence. Companies are getting away with it less because consumers are becoming more aware.”

The National Trust has defended its partner on its website. A spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent: “A members’ resolution saying that our partnership with Cadbury should end immediately will be discussed at this October’s AGM, and members now have the opportunity to vote on the issue.

“Full details and voting information are being sent to members with their National Trust magazine, and can also be found at nationaltrust.org.uk/agm.

A Cadbury's spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent: “We were disappointed to learn of this resolution. We place a high value on our partnership with the National Trust, which has encouraged families to connect with nature and explore sites of natural beauty at Easter for the past 12 years, and we hope it continues for many years to come. We have provided the National Trust with a detailed response to the resolution and hope that its members take the time to fully understand what is a complex situation before voting.

“There are many reasons why we, and many others, use palm oil. Not least because other alternatives require five times more land to produce the same amount of oil. This is fundamentally important in a world that is fast running out of land for agriculture. That’s why we strongly believe that the best solution to deforestation is ensuring that all palm oil produced is 100 per cent sustainable and why, despite only buying 0.5 per cent of global production, we play a leadership role in advocating sector transformation.

“We source 100 per cent RSPO-certified palm oil – the most widely recognized standard for sustainable palm oil production, which guarantees that the standard of palm oil production is sustainable, but we want to go further and are working towards 100 per cent sustainability and transparency, not just for Cadbury, but across our entire industry to ensure the eradication of deforestation in the production of palm oil.”

Voting on the members' resolution ends on October 11.



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