Blackstone’s investment in Oatly

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.

Oatly chocolate chip vegan ice cream is pictured above a graphic showing an ethical rating of 3.5 green stars for social and environmetnal impact. Blackstone’s investment in Oatly

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.

11 thoughts on “Blackstone’s investment in Oatly

  1. Thank you! Wonderful perspective… is a person/company bad forever? I believe what we see here is the power of the consumer to make choices and companies to answer.. even if profit is their goal, maybe there is more than one way to get to the goal of sustainable consumerism. That’s why we need more support behind ethical consumer resources such as The Green Star Project. We appreciate all your efforts to provide this.

  2. Maybe they should get their sustainable corporation rating first and then let us decide. The problem is we rarely know the whole Corporate story until it becomes egregious behavior – like Amazon trying to bust unions before they got a toehold — and then it’s usually too late, James.😡

    1. That’s an idea – if Blackstone wanted to demonstrate a commitment then it could apply for B-Corp membership.
      I think Oatly is above-average, even if the Blackstone funding tarnished its reputation a little (which is debatable).

  3. Have also been thinking about this and wanted to say how much posts like this really help not only focus these vague questions towards definitive action points and concerns, but also spread the message about what we as earthlings value. Thank you.

  4. Foggy brain today (more than usual — hehe) so not sure about any of this except that part of me is always a tad sad when big corps (those tied to everything I’m trying to untether from) get their claws into smaller corps I like. Your question, though, highlights to me that my view is mostly narrow and unforgiving. Aligning is a newer biz model that helps smaller corps grow with cash infusions/marketing boosts while keeping control of their brand (i.e. Herschel in Vancouver). However, like someone wrote, we don’t often know if the liaison is good until it’s too late. And now, my foggy brain is heading to the dark side where I see big corps ‘investing’ in smaller corps with a fiendish plan: to eventually dismantle the free spirited littluns so the big players can continue their goal to dominate the world’s food production. Blah, blah. Apologies and thanks so much for your research and clear head. 🙂

    1. Hey Frances! I sometimes feel the same way – especially if the corp buys the entire company and also has competing brands.
      I think it’s different in this case, although Oatly stock price has gone steadily downhill since last summer, so you never know!
      (In reality many plant-based food stocks have been on a downward trend over the last year, so it’s not just Oatly.)

      1. Why do you think that is, J? It appears more people are eating veg/vegan. Surely plant based producers are generally doing better for us/the planet even if they aren’t perfect, or is that not always the case?

        1. As far as the stock prices go, I think it’s just a cyclical market thing. At least I hope it is… :/
          Yeah that’s an important point to remember – plant-based foods are better in the vast majority of cases.
          There are exception (like Earth Balance vegan spread) but it generally applies. Thanks for the reminder of that simple truth!

  5. You make a good point. In my opinion, we should show support when a company is going in the right direction because most companies are unethical in some way or another but even making an effort no matter how small is more than most companies do.

Leave a Reply