Leading plant-based milk brand Oatly is facing boycotts from previously loyal customers after it sold a 10% stake in the business to a consortium led by Blackstone, a US private equity firm with links to Donald Trump and alleged involvement in deforestation in the Amazon.
Swedish-headquartered Oatly last month announced that it had ‘further bolstered its plant-based movement through an agreement to invest $200 million in equity led by Blackstone Growth (BXG)’.
Initial media and consumer attention centred on the high profile celebrities and business names also involved in the investment, including Oprah Winfrey, Roc Nation, Natalie Portman and former Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz.
But attention has since switched to the lead investor, BXG, part of Blackstone Group. Activists and some Oatly consumers have highlighted the fact that Blackstone co-founder and CEO Stephen Schwartzman has made reported political donations to Donald Trump, including to America First Action, which supports Trump’s re-election. They also make claims – vigorously denied by Blackstone – that one or more businesses part-owned by Blackstone have been involved in deforestation in the Amazon.
For Oatly’s CEO Toni Petersson, the investment ‘demonstrates a major step in funding sustainable, society-altering companies’. Defending the controversial decision to partner with Blackstone, he adds: “It is my belief that capital has to turn green and do so for the right reasons. Since we re-launched our brand in 2013, our focus has been to positively impact society by enabling people to change their lives with better, more environmentally responsible food choices, and in so doing, re-shape the food system to better contribute to the future of the planet. We chose to partner with Blackstone Growth because of their tremendous resources and unique reach. Our new partners’ commitment to supporting us and furthering our mission is a clear indication of where the world is heading, which is in a new, more sustainable direction.”
We think it’s time that you get some answers about how your favourite plant-based company in the whole world could let you down so massively. It’s just that we don’t feel we’ve let you down.
But climate campaigners warn that Oatly’s sustainability ethos is undermined by the Blackstone CEO’s financial links to the Trump re-election campaign. They highlight the Trump Administration’s reversal of over 100 environmental rules, from greenhouse gas emission targets to air pollution restrictions, water quality standards and toxic waste controls.
Last week Oatly consumers took to social media to criticize the company for its involvement with Blackstone, and in some cases to announce they will now be boycotting the brand.
On Facebook, Helen Banington posted: “Purchasing Oatly goes towards electing Trump. Can there be any more mis-matched partnership. I’m gutted by the choice is a no brainer.” Stuart Fraser said: “Such a stupid stance, there are so many other sources without tainted connection – this is about profit over principles. Karma will hopefully see this cost you 10% of your business revenue.”
In response Oatly, now valued at $2 billion, posted: “…We think it’s time that you get some answers about how your favourite plant-based company in the whole world could let you down so massively. It’s just that we don’t feel we’ve let you down. In fact, we are convinced that Blackstone’s investment in Oatly will strengthen the global sustainability movement substantially and help us gain ground in dealing with the long-term irreversible effects of climate change. We have never been more determined and dedicated to succeed in our mission of creating long-term societal change for the benefit of the planet than we are right now.”