The oat drink company, Oatly, has recently been criticised for its involvement with the Blackstone Group Inc., an American private equity investment management fund.
Oat milk is widely considered the most sustainable dairy alternative with a low carbon footprint, low water usage and environmentally-conscious waste, and Oatly is one of the leading manufacturers in the oat drink industry.
Oatly was founded in the 1990s by the Öste brothers in Sweden and it entered the American market in 2016; the company is now valued at $2 billion and its sales are increasing steadily year on year.
Blackstone invested in Oatly in July and bought a $200 million 10% stake in the company. Oatly’s decision to sell this stake to Blackstone has provoked considerable backlash from its consumers due to Blackstone’s connections and beliefs. Stephen Schwarzmann, Blackstone’s CEO, chairman and co-founder, has recently given $3 million to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action which supports the president’s re-election.
Oatly is heavily focused on sustainability and publishes a sustainability report every year on their website. They also state on their website:
“Our sole purpose as a company is to make it easy for people to turn what they eat and drink into personal moments of healthy joy without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process.”
However, President Trump has famously denied the existence of climate change in his tweets with statements such as, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
The involvement of Blackstone has left many Oatly consumers incensed; there has been a wave of rejection for Oatly across the social media and many people are attempting to ‘cancel’ Oatly. Blackstone has also been linked with Hidrovias, a Brazilian infrastructure company which has been accused of rainforest destruction and deforestation, but these accusations have been disputed and Blackstone has responded with the statement:
“The erroneous claims and mischaracterizations were blatantly wrong and irresponsible.”
Oatly has responded to the controversy with a long explanation at the forefront of their website.
Oatly has described Blackstone as, “an investment choice that makes for sensational headlines in a world where debates have become so dangerously black and white. But our thinking in working with Blackstone was quite the opposite of black and white; it was an intense thought process that was nuanced and in line with how we’ve often thought about change.”
Oatly emphasises the need for sustainability to become economically attractive in order to effect real change in the capitalist world.
“From a sustainability perspective, we are convinced that helping shift the focus of massive capital towards sustainable approaches is potentially the single most important thing we can do for the planet in the long-term.”
Oatly has defended their decision to accept investment from Blackstone and they believe that this will encourage more investment in the sustainability sector in the future.
As the business world moves towards more sustainable practices in order to mitigate its contributions to climate change, these sorts of uncomfortable alliances will become increasingly controversial. It will fall to consumers to decide whether they are comfortable with buying into these brands.