John West isn’t sure what to do about the sharks on its roof and the spoof ads online. It shows corporates fight a new challenge online, writes Greenpeace Australia CEO David Ritter.
It’s not everyday the police have to negotiate with sharks — or at least activists dressed up as sharks — but that is what has been going on outside John West’s corporate NQ, a nondescript office in Moorabin this morning.
Greenpeace is campaigning against the seafood company to move to more sustainable tuna fishing practices. And this morning we took the step of climbing on the roof of John West’s premises, complete with banner and shark costumes.
Tuna, obviously, is not necessarily the sexiest of campaign issues. I guess many of us probably have images of lonely tins at the back of the cupboard in student share houses — hardly a memory to inspire campaigning passion.
But tuna is the single largest fishery in the world and absolutely crucial to the economies of the Pacific island nations. Further, some methods of catching tuna are responsible for tens of thousands of tonnes of unnecessary killing of marine animals. The biggest problem is the use of floating gimmicks called fish aggregation devices which cause the animals to school around them, before the whole lot gets scooped up in a giant net called a purse seine. John West sells more tuna caught in this way than anyone else in Australia.
We’ve been trying to persuade John West to make the change for weeks, but they’ve not responded. Instead, they’ve been trying the rather old school style of trying to clamp down on things. On October 30, one of our billboards was removed from near John West’s head office in Melbourne. The small family-owned company, Independent Outdoor Media (IOM), which owns the billboard, cut things short following “commercial pressure”. John West’s owner Simplot is one of Australia’s largest food companies — owners of popular brands like Leggo’s and Birds Eye. It is not far-fetched to imagine Simplot throwing around its hefty media-buying weight to overpower a small media supplier.
Then there is the curious run of events on social media.
Increasingly, corporations are out there on social media. Following some unwelcome attention from people who had seen the Greenpeace campaign, John West appeared to close access to its Facebook page to people outside Australia and New Zealand. The bizarre consequence is that despite John West relying on Pacific resources to make their profits, Pacific Islanders were barred from talking to the company on social media.
The best guess is that John West might have been responding to concerns from its namesake John West in the UK (there is no legal connection between the company). John West UK has already made the shift to more sustainable tuna sourcing and would presumably not want its brand dragged down by the backward Australian company.
John West hasn’t responded to Greenpeace’s requests to meet or talk, nor have they responded to any media queries this past month. The point about social media, though — as the celebrated Nestle fiasco made so clear — is that futilely trying to shut things down is never the wise option for a corporate that is under fire.
Stop press: as I file this, John West has asked that the sharks come off the roof and we come in for a meeting.