More Australian companies are facing an online backlash over halal-certified products in an organised attack by a network of Islamophobic groups on social media.

Mike Holt, chief executive officer of the Queensland-based anti-Islam lobby group Restore Australia, told Crikey’s sister site SmartCompany his group was indirectly responsible for the recent spate of social media campaigns against halal-certified Australian companies.

Holt described the decision by South Australian dairy manufacturer The Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company to drop its halal certification in the face of online criticism last weekend as a “success”. “Absolutely, it’s the first time we’ve actually had a company say it’s because of all the pressure we have decided to stop,” he said.

Holt, a former One Nation candidate, says Restore Australia has been the main group to promote the halal boycott and is working in collaboration with Facebook groups, including the prominent page Boycott Halal Australia, to launch an organised attack on companies using halal products. Boycott Halal Australia has more than 33,000 likes on its Facebook page, and the international page of the Boycott Halal group has more than 50,600 followers.

While Holt says Restore Australia is not directly involved in the administration of that page, he says he is in frequent communication with its organisers. Boycott Halal Australia directs its followers to a website, Halal Choices, which lists known halal-certified companies in Australia.

Anti-halal protesters have attacked numerous companies in recent weeks, including Red Rooster, which has said its products are not halal certified and has “no plans to become halal certified”, and Four’n Twenty Pies, which has responded that less than 5% of its pie range is halal.

In recent weeks, a number of businesses have spoken out about the online abuse they have received over halal products. Police were called in to investigate threats made against the Byron Bay Cookie Company over its halal-certified biscuits.

Restore Australia has previously been found to have contributed to broader anti-Islamic activities. In June, Fairfax reported Restore Australia had given up to $10,000 to fight the construction of a mosque in Bendigo. Holt has previously designed a campaign against Cadbury chocolates over their halal certification. In a post on his website, Holt urges customers to buy, open and then return chocolate bars for a refund:

“We recommend saying that you found out Cadbury’s Chocolates are blessed by an Islamic imam and you cannot eat food blessed by a false god … Under the law, merchants MUST refund your money…and because the packaging is damaged they can’t put it back on the shelf to re-sell. They will be forced to return it to Cadbury’s Chocolate for a refund.”

Holt says as a result of the campaign Cadbury had been forced to up its advertising budget and close its Tasmanian factory for several weeks. “We don’t want to hurt Australian businesses, but if they betray Australia, we will tell them,” he said.

Holt, like many of the anti-halal posters on social media, says some of the money paid by companies for halal certification goes directly to funding terrorist organisations. Boycott Halal has argued the Muslim Association of Canada is a contributor to a Hamas fund collector.

But James Mathews, spokesperson for the Australian Food & Grocery Council, says halal certification is undertaken by accredited religious organisations, all audited by the Australian Federal Police.

“This campaign is one of misinformation,” said Mathews, who likens the certification process to gaining “organic” status for a product.

Dr Muhammad Khan, chief executive officer of Halal Australia, one of 21 registered halal certification organisations in Australia, also says Holt’s claim is nonsense. “We have a proper system in place to identify and detect if someone is doing the wrong thing,” Khan said. “There is no point of the claim that we are funding terrorism.”

Halal Australia charges a non-refundable one-off application fee of $110 for a site to be halal certified, and $55 for each additional site. The company must provide documents for assessment and then a Halal Australia will perform a site visit, to check if the site and products meet the criteria for halal certification.

Khan says Halal Australia makes little profit above the administration fees on the process. “We are trying to facilitate this process to help the company make extra revenue,” he said. He says many of his clients want halal certification to tap into overseas markets, particularly for catering contracts with international airlines.

He says the anti-halal groups are motivated by Islamaphobia, plain and simple. “It has nothing to do with halal, it’s an excuse for phobia against the Muslim population,” he said. “It can have repercussions in the importing countries that Australia at large is anti-Muslim.”

*This article was originally published at SmartCompany

Peter Fray

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