‘A stark and potent symbol of the effects of deforestation’: The row over Iceland’s palm oil Christmas ad

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

PinPep, Iceland's animatronic orangutan, will be touring the UK this month
PinPep, Iceland's animatronic orangutan, will be touring the UK this month
A row has erupted after advertising regulator Clearcast refused to approve UK retailer Iceland’s Christmas advertising campaign focusing on the impact of palm oil production on deforestation for broadcast.

The advert, featuring a baby orangutan, was produced in partnership with environmental campaign group Greenpeace. Narrated by actress Emma Thompson, it tells the story of an orangutan who flees the destruction of the rainforest to live in a little girl’s bedroom.

According to data from Greenpeace, a rainforest area the size of 146 football pitches is cleared every hour to make way for palm oil production. The environmental group suggests palm oil production contributes to the death of 25 orangutans daily.

Iceland said the advert was “banned”​ because the critique of palm oil was deemed “too political”​ by Clearcast, the body responsible for pre-approving adverts on behalf of broadcasters in the UK.

‘A misunderstanding of the issue’

The news sparked widespread debate on social media. The ad has attracted almost 4.5m views on YouTube and more than 12m people have now watched the film on Facebook, with it gaining the support of numerous high-profile figures including James Corden and Paloma Faith. Over 700,000 people have signed a petition calling for the advert to be aired.

Clearcast insisted that this publicity is a “misunderstanding of the issue”​ and stressed that it’s responsibility is to uphold advertising regulations.

According to a statement from Clearcast MD Chris Mundy, the decision that the ad could not be broadcast was based on concerns that it was produced in association with Greenpeace, which could be classified as a political group. “Because the ad is based on material made by Greenpeace and has been promoted on the Greenpeace website for some time, Greenpeace need to demonstrate they are not a political advertiser,”​ he explained.

“It’s important to note that the concerns of Clearcast and the broadcasters do not extend to the content or message of the ad, ie Clearcast do not consider the ad itself to be political,”​ Mundy continued. “We understand what an important issue the ad raised.”

Iceland brings its message to the streets

Iceland Orangutan

Iceland is now touring an animatronic orangutan around locations in London to build on this publicity. Iceland’s Orangutan will be touring Iceland regional stores throughout November.

“Our stranded, distressed Orangutan is a stark and potent symbol of the effects of deforestation,”​ said Iceland MD Richard Walker.

The frozen food specialist, which has pledged to eliminate palm oil from own label products by the end of the year, is offering a Christmas range free from palm oil. The line includes mince pies, vegetarian centrepieces and desserts, with reworked recipes to remove palm oil without effecting quality or taste.

“We always try to give people a real choice about what they buy and this was a key driver of our decision to allow Iceland customers to join us in saying ‘no to palm oil’.

“We are determined to be at the forefront of efforts to guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction and Iceland will continue to be a driving force until this environmental impact is drastically reduced. I am immensely proud of the work our food development team has carried out to create this new Christmas range without palm oil – a celebration of our commitment to end its use before the year closes.”

Consumer concern growing

The public outcry over the ‘banning’ of Iceland’s palm oil campaign follows research commissioned by the retailer suggesting deforestation is becoming more of a concern for UK consumers.

A survey of 1,500 UK adults found palm oil an deforestation were among consumers’ top three environmental concerns, alongside food waste and single use plastics.

Despite expressing concerns, the study also found 56% of respondents were unaware of the effects palm oil production has on the rainforest. A vast majority, 93% of people asked, would like retailers to be doing more to make it clear which products contain palm oil.

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