Hypocrisy in supermarket Iceland’s ban on palm oil

This is an opinion piece I wrote for The Palm Scribe:

Iceland Managing Director Richard Walker’s announcement that the frozen food chain will be banning the use of palm oil in its own brand products by the end of this year would strike some as a laudable and heroic effort to get the industry to be sustainable.

This is especially so when we see the youthful Walker being filmed, in a video released by Iceland Foods, braving forests, swamps  and what appears to be palm oil caused wastelands in Indonesia to uncover the truth about palm oil.

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In the video Walker is big on the word prove.

His visit to Indonesia, he said, has convinced him that “currently no major supermarket or food manufacturer can fully prove that the palm oil they use is truly sustainable and the damaged being cause to the global environment as precious rainforest continues to be lost.

he goes on, saying that Iceland’s ban on palm oil in its own brand products is a way to “prove to the food industry that there is no need to participate in the destruction of the rainforest.”

As such “removing palm oil is the only way we can prove to our customers that our products are not a cause of environmental destruction.”

Walker is young and idealistic. The 37-year old geography graduate from Durham University has been in this job for three years. Before that he was the International Business Director of Iceland. He is also the son of the founder and CEO of Iceland, Sir Malcom Walker.

Richard’s idealism is laudable. But has he been misguided in announcing the ban?

Here are three reasons why his decision may have been misguided:

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Jonan the Jonah of Transportation

Common sense is not common and nowhere is it more uncommon than in the mind of the Transport Minister Ignatius Jonan.

His latest feat of uncommon sense is in banning – and this is not very clear from statements his Ministry has made: online applications for commuter transport or anything less than three-wheeled modes of transport for commuting. This effectively puts a ban on Gojek and its imitators Grabike etc as well as Uber and its imitators. And there is some speculation that such a ban should apply to operators like Blue Bird too since they have a mobile app for ordering taxis.

This is such a WTF decision that it leaves most people flabbergasted and at a loss to find out how someone could be so extraordinarily stupid to sign off on a law like that.

Fortunately, President Jokowi is wise to this and in a Tweet this morning says he’ll be summoning Jonan to explain the ban. His excuse is that Ojeks are needed by the rakyat and no regulation should unduly inconvenience the rakyat.

Joko

While there is nothing wrong with championing the Ojek and the convenience of the Wong Cilik, there is another reason why Jokowi should give the over-promoted stationmaster of trains a drubbing: the banning of Gojek.

Gojek has evolved to be more than just a business in Indonesia. IT has become a symbol that many Indonesians hold dear on many levels. On one level is the fact that it is a home-grown success story; on another it represents the best of Indonesian creativity (of using technology to solve a huge problem that Indonesians face – traffic jams – by organising a readily available resource – the thousands of ojeks and their riders); on still another level it is a great startup success story in a field where there are very few successes.

All these reasons are good ones for the President to put Jonan out of his misery of holding a post that he is not ready for. Let’s not forget that this is the same minister who shot his mouth off on aviation investigations before the NTSC had a chance to do their work and on the banning of Airlines to sell air tickets at airports after a LionAir mishap.

So here’s a win-win solution for the President: Demote Jonan from Minister to his old post at the head of Indonesia’s Railway network. That way the nation would lose a bad minister and gain a good railway manager. Things will once again get back on track.