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National Trust members vote down Cadbury palm oil resolution at AGM

Rosanna Bienzobas, left, and Suzanne Morris. Picture: Keith Heppell
Rosanna Bienzobas, left, and Suzanne Morris. Picture: Keith Heppell

The two Milton mums whose resolution calling for the National Trust to end its £1.5million-a-year partnership with chocolate maker Cadbury were disappointed but unbowed after the resolution was voted down at the environmental organisation's AGM - with assistance from a discretionary vote by the chair.

Suzanne Morris and Rosanna Bienzobas are both long-term members of the National Trust. Their resolution was put on the agenda, and on Saturday (October 19) they travelled to the STEAM museum in Swindon, next door to the conservation charity's headquarters, for the AGM. There, they gave a presentation to the 500 attendees at the meeting on why the National Trust should have nothing to do with a company whose use of palm oil - associated with devastating deforestation - is ongoing.

The duo's presentation at the AGM went well, with Rosanna stating: “Cadbury is profiting from dirty and destructive environmental practices. Is it right that the National Trust should indirectly profit from these practices by continuing in partnership with such a company?”

"I have very mixed feelings because people said we'd spoken well and raised the issue in our presentation," said Suzanne immediately after the vote. "There was even support for our resolution from a Cadbury descendant, Bruce Cadbury. We got a massive number of votes so the concerns have been brought to their attention and there's a WWF report due in November and, as I understand it, if that sheds a bad light then they may reconsider the situation."

The WWF report due in November is the Palm Oil Scorecard, which lists retailers, suppliers and manufacturers and their palm oil use.

With membership standing at 5.5million there has been huge interest in the outcome to the resolution, which describes how Cadbury's owners, US-based multinational focusing on food and beverages Mondelez, have continued with palm oil despite disquiet about habitat displacement and child labour issues a well as the deforestation involved. The ingredient is used in foods, cosmetics, cleaning products and fuels. Mondelez, who bought Cadbury in 2011, has said it is attempting to improve transparency and sustainability policies.

However, there was one misunderstanding at the 2019 AGM.

"Rosanna introduced the motion and gave the facts on why palm oil is destructive," Suzanne noted. "There was a tricky point with the vote in the room at the AGM because we'd sourced data from Greenpeace International about the environmental effects of palm oil and one trustee was looking at the Greenpeace UK website which had older information, and clearly the weight of a trustee would have carried a lot more than we'd ever have, but people gave us a lot of support and the trustees said afterwards we'd given a really good presentation."

"It was ridiculous," Rosanna said today (October 20)of the mishap. "In addition to that, the votes at the AGM were 12,200-odd to 16,000, but there's a discretionary vote from the chair which happens when members assign their votes electronically to the chair on the day. There were 4,000 of these discretionary votes and if the chair had given them to us we would have just won. It's a bit irritating but it's what they do."

Oil palm plantations in Sabah. Recently planted oil palms can be seen in the bright green grassy areas and a tiny bit of natural rainforest still struggles for survival farther away.
Oil palm plantations in Sabah. Recently planted oil palms can be seen in the bright green grassy areas and a tiny bit of natural rainforest still struggles for survival farther away.

The issue clearly remains a live topic at the National Trust, since after the vote the Trust's director Hilary McGrady congratulated Rosanna.

"I wasn't expecting her to talk to me but she said 'you should be really pleased with what you've done, you've raised the issue and you had a compelling case'.

"She also added that by Easter next year there would be a 'rethink'. It was quite an emotional moment."

The National Trust said: "National Trust members at this year’s annual general meeting voted against a resolution to immediately end our partnership with Cadbury.

“This means hundreds of thousands of people can continue enjoying our Easter trails, where they enjoy family time outdoors while helping us to look after some of the nation’s most special places. Cadbury has been an important partner for 12 years, and has financially supported us as well as helped develop our Easter trails into the huge success we see today.

“However, our trustees have been keen to share members’ concerns to Cadbury so it has the opportunity to address them while we continue our own review and test the market for new suppliers for a refreshed Easter seasonal offer once our contract ends in 2021."

Rosanna responded: "The reason we wanted the Trust to end the sponsorship is that 25 orangutangs die every day for palm oil. How many more hectares have to be destroyed before they get the message? People will hopefully think a little bit more about the Easter trails in 2020 before they participate."

"The problem is that the outcome means that yet again profit is put before the wellbeing of the planet," concluded Suzanne.

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