There is a bit of a David and Goliath battle shaping up in the intellectual property domain, with NGO Fairtrade New Zealand and Australia taking on one of the world’s largest fruit suppliers, Dole bananas.
Dole has been on notice that its so-called ‘ethical choice’ label is misleading. A consumer might reasonably believe that it indicated that some third party verification proved that the fruit was in some way ‘ethical’ in the way that Fair Trade certified products are. The ethical choice label used by Dole is in fact just that, a label, with little in the way of genuine underpinning or substance.
This apparent case of greenwash is not only confusing for consumers, it also undermines the considerable investment and commitment of genuine third party certified distributors like All Good bananas . All Good product is more expensive than some others, because they pay growers a fair price, and ensure that everyone along the production and distribution chain is treated decently and honestly. (Disclosure : one of the principals of All Good is a personal friend of mine, and a sustainability hero, so please do your own investigation to see that I’m not making stuff up!).
So what has this to do with New Zealand’s place in the world? There has been a furore this week following the publication of an article in the New York Times, where the ‘reality’ of New Zealand’s clean green image is challenged. Kiwi ecologist Mike Joy has been vilified by some for daring to speak out about the divergence between the image and the reality.
Some may think that if you don’t like the message, the solution is to shoot the messenger. But there is too much at stake for that. Our export of primary produce, our tourism industry, our economic and social wellbeing, all rely heavily on the quality of our natural environment. We do live in a stunningly beautiful country, and can legitimately make some claims associated with that. But if we oversell the brand, if we make claims we cannot substantiate, if we cannot present an authentic value proposition, then we will be found out and the consequences would be severe.
No-one actually expects us to be 100%, no-one realistically expects perfection, but while we are so far short of that standard, and in danger of moving further away from it, then our ‘brand’ is in major trouble. Let’s continue to celebrate the good, while acknowledging and working to remedy our shortcomings. Let’s put our energy and efffort into cleaning it up, not covering it up.