Back in the summer of 2020, Blackstone Group invested in Oatly, buying a 10% stake for $200 million, inciting a big reaction including a lot of folk talking about boycotting Oatly products.
Articles were written, pointing out why Blackstone is bad (possible link to Amazon deforestation, CEO is a Trump fanboy, impact on housing) and often asking the old question: Is there ethical consumption under capitalism? One article led with the headline, Is There No Ethical Oat Milk Consumption Under Capitalism? Blackstone often responded to these posts with statements arguing that the corporation is not, in fact, bad.
In response to recent criticism, a representative of Blackstone Group shared a blog post it published last year with Refinery29. The post refutes claims that Hidrovias owns, controls, or has any interest in the road in question. The representative also noted that many of Blackstone’s most senior executives — including president Jon Gray and vice-chairman Tony James — are major fundraisers for Joe Biden and Democratic Party causes.
I reviewed Oatly ice cream in a post on Ethical Bargains and gave it a pretty respectable score of 3.5 out of 5 Green Stars. Points were lost, but not so much because of the Blackstone investment – more due to a lack of transparency from Oatly over the main ingredients, besides oats – coconut oil, sugar, chocolate.
I guess my main thought on reaction to the Blackstone investment is this:
Do we not want corporations to change for the better?
Let’s say that you conclude that Blackstone is less ethical than average investment firm. Would you not rather that it took steps in the right direction? Or do you want them to be “bad” forever? The extreme stances that a lot of folk have adopted over the last decade don’t really allow a lot of room for growth.
In the case of a change in new corporate ownership (partial ownership, in this case) of a brand, the key thing that I watch for is maintenance of ethical standards. If Oatly’s standards slipped significantly after the investment from Blackstone then I would consider avoiding the brand. This does sometimes happen – for example see the evaluation of Earth Balance, now owned by Conagra Brands.
Often, however, standards are maintained fairly well and the parent company becomes a little better in the process. In the case of Oatly, I see room for improvement but, based on the most recent corporate sustainability report, the company seems to be on an upward trajectory. See also, this discussion on whether you should trust ethical brands that are owned by less ethical corporations. I guess this topic is on my mind a lot, lately 🙂
What do you think?
For more info, take a look at my review of Oatly ice cream.