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Is Greenwashing Vegan Exploitation or a Necessary Evil?
By Tyler, Global Vegans
Earlier this year, it was reported that Cadbury - one of Britain’s oldest chocolate manufacturers - is planning to release a Vegan alternative to its classic Dairy Milk chocolate bar. The company, which has consistently marketed its Dairy Milk bar using the ‘glass and a half of milk’ tagline, is now taking its first steps into plant-based markets.
Although Cadbury hasn’t officially announced the release of its Vegan Dairy Milk, the popular Instagram page Vegan Food UK posted screenshots of the bar featuring on Tesco’s website just last week. If the Instagram comments from excited consumers - and the success of the Vegan Galaxy range, which was released in the UK this time last year - are anything to go by, we can expect the plant-based Dairy Milk to be hugely popular.
So, why does this news leave a sour taste in our mouths?
Perhaps it’s because Cadbury is just another big-name brand capitalising on the growing Vegan market while continuing to exploit animals on an unimaginable scale. When companies like Cadbury put profit over compassion, it’s difficult not to remain sceptical about their motives. The manufacturer’s move towards plant-based products is just another example of greenwashing - something Vegans are quickly becoming prime targets for.
Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Cadbury’s commitment to exploiting cows while creating a wholesome, happy farmyard image is nothing new. In 2017, the manufacturer established an ‘Adopt a Cow’ initiative, allowing customers to support (or at least, pretend to support) one of the British cows milked for its Dairy Milk Buttons line. This comes after a 2016 article claiming that Cadbury requires 150 million litres of fresh milk to produce the chocolate products lining UK shelves - at the expense of 23,000 cows.
Cadbury isn’t the only brand hiding its sinister practices behind family-friendly marketing. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen an influx of restaurants offering plant-based alternatives to the most popular items on their menu - despite their business models relying on the mass slaughter of chickens, pigs, cows and fish. KFC, Burger King, McDonald’s and Nando’s are amongst the companies that have brought out plant-based meals in the last two years, co-opting the Vegan movement while murdering thousands of animals and feigning concern for their welfare.
There’s an obvious moral conundrum to consider here. Of course, watching the once ‘unusual’ Vegan movement fly into the mainstream is hugely encouraging. Veganism no longer feels as inaccessible as it once did; people can now transition to an animal-free lifestyle while still enjoying familiar comforts such as pub lunches and post-night-out takeaways.
Today, it is also much easier to find Vegan recipes for your favourite dishes and desserts, using plant-based substitutions - such as dairy-free butter from Flora - in place of essential animal ingredients. With so many well-known restaurants and household food brands (including Birds Eye and Richmond Sausages) lining supermarket shelves, the ‘inconvenience’ excuse has also been swept out from underneath even the most stubborn of meat-eaters’ feet.
However, we can’t shake the feeling that Vegans are being taken advantage of. Big-name brands are using insidious greenwashing tactics to pocket the plant pound without aligning their brand values with those of the Vegan community. We can see this clearly in every sector; from the food industry to fashion and beauty, greenwashing is everywhere. The rise in people following a Vegan lifestyle has simply highlighted a gap in the market for money-grabbing companies to capitalise on.
Greenwashing is what allows Nando’s to position its plant-based wrap as part of its fight against climate change - despite the fact its “very poor” chicken welfare sees thousands of soya-fed birds growing so quickly that they develop deformities. It’s what allows Greggs to benefit from a 58% profit increase following the release of its Vegan sausage roll, without needing to remove its original from the shelves. It’s also what allows shoe manufacturers like Adidas to launch a line of ‘sustainable’ Vegan trainers while continuing to sell leather and suede to the masses.
Large corporations cashing in on the steady rise of Veganism aren’t likely to stop any time soon. With marketing opportunities like Veganuary offering an easy, profitable way to attract the plant-based vote, we can expect many manufacturers to jump on the bandwagon. We can’t stop this - and maybe we shouldn’t try. Perhaps, despite its flaws, this is the only way we can convince society to embrace Veganism.
Nevertheless, we should always put our money where our mouths are and support 100% Vegan businesses where we can. There are so many fantastic companies selling Vegan-friendly products (check out our Vegan Directory for all the inspiration you need!) that making cruelty-free consumer choices has never been easier. And, guess what? Truly sustainable companies don’t need to greenwash their marketing.