Why do people think Ben & Jerry’s is an ethical company?

A video version of this article is available here.


Recently I saw a talk by one of the staff at B Corporation Australia. I’d sort of heard of the B Corp certification, and knew a few companies that had achieved it, and was vaguely convinced that it was a good thing (with a small level of skepticism). After seeing the talk, however, I was almost totally convinced that it meant not very much.

If you aren’t already aware, to become a certified B Corp, your company is compared to others in the same industry, and must achieve a certain score across a number of criteria (80 out of 200), including governance, employees, community and the environment. Apparently, despite sounding low, this is actually very hard to achieve.

The benefits of being a certified B Corp are that your brand is seen as being ethical and becomes one that people want to buy, and also people will want to work for you.

My first main point of skepticism was at the end of the talk when I realised the speaker had not mentioned animals as being part of the criteria, both in terms of animal welfare and in terms of environmental impact. My worry was confirmed when she said that neither of these factors were taken into consideration during the evaluation process.

This means that implementing a company cafeteria program that encourages a plant-based diet, which is significantly more environmentally friendly than an omnivorous one, does not get counted. On the other hand, less effective ways of reducing environmental damage, like having solar panels, are rated relatively highly.

Also, it leads us to the obvious conclusion that a company can participate in as much animal cruelty as it likes and still become a certified B Corp, as long as it treats its employees well.

In particular, it’s worth noting that Ben & Jerry’s, a company which produces ice cream primarily from dairy (cow exploitation and cruelty) is a certified B Corp. In my mind, the certification at this point becomes almost meaningless, given the scale of suffering experienced by the cows probably outweighs the happiness of the employees of Ben & Jerry’s.

Does this photo (not shown here due to extreme graphic content) look like the source of milk used by an ethical company? This could very well be from the floor of a factory farm producing dairy cows which B & J’s eventually source their milk from.

To their credit, B & J’s do have a vegan product line slowly being released (not in Australia yet!), but until 100% of their products are vegan, I would argue that they shouldn’t be able to achieve the certification.

I was recommended to contact the B Corporation headquarters and suggest that they add animal related factors as a requirement, however haven’t heard back yet. I hope that they will do so, to make the criteria more meaningful in terms of actually producing positive outcomes for the wellbeing of individuals.

I also have other concerns about the criteria not covering the most important considerations for the wellbeing of employees and stakeholders, though I haven’t done enough research to determine whether this is a problem.


I’ve added this at the end, as the article was starting to look like an attack on Ben & Jerry’s specifically. I do want to make it clear that I think they are just one example of a company that probably shouldn’t get to call itself ethical.

It irks me that Ben & Jerry’s tweet things like “Black Lives Matter. Choosing to be silent in the face of such injustice is not an option.” without recognising that they are also contributing (in a big way) to another injustice to another species.

Their motto is ‘Peace, Love & Ice Cream’. I’m not sure they know what half of those words mean.

Why is fair trade worse than free trade?

Recently I’ve been asked this question a lot after casually mentioning in conversation that fair trade is actually worse than free trade. I decided to write out my thoughts here in full so I can refer back to it in the future. Feel free to use this to do the same!

Full credit for the original work is to Will MacAskill – many of the points here are originally from his book Doing Good Better.


The ‘Fairtrade’ licence is given to producers that have met specific criteria, for example meeting certain safety requirements and paying workers a minimum wage. People assume that this means it is better overall for the world’s most poor and exploited workers. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Because Fairtrade standards are so rigorous and difficult to meet, producers in the poorest developing nations are often unable to fulfil them and get the certification. Much of the Fairtrade production comes from moderately affluent nations (by relative standards at least), and so the money from purchasing Fairtrade is typically not going to the countries  and individuals that need it most.

Also, Fairtrade products cost more, but very little of the extra money ends up in the hands of the actual farmers. Most of it is taken by middlemen. To quote some independent estimates provided in Doing Good Better:

Dr Peter Griffiths, an economic consultant for the World Bank, worked out that for one British cafe chain, less than 1% of the additional price of their Fairtrade coffee reached coffee exporters in poor countries. finnish Professors Joni Valkila, Pertti Haaparanta and Niina Niemi found out that, of Fairtrade coffee sold in Finland, only 11% of the additional price reached the coffee-producing countries.

The list goes on.

In addition, the small amount of money that actually reaches the producers doesn’t necessarily result in greater wages for the employees. One study showed that Fairtrade workers in Ethiopia and Uganda consistently had lower wages and less desirable working conditions that those working in similar non-Fairtrade companies.

Finally, MacAskill concludes by saying:

Even a review commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation itself concluded that ‘there is limited evidence of the impact on workers of participation in Fairtrade’.

A much more effective way to improve the lives of the most poor would be to buy the cheaper, non-Fairtrade products and donating the savings to an effective poverty charity.

In short, buying fair trade instead of free trade redistributes money from the most poor to the moderately poor, it is a very ineffective means of getting money and positive outcomes to the poor in the first place.

Check out Doing Good Better for a lot more research on counterintuitive ways to do more (or less!) good in the world.

Why isn’t palm oil vegan?

I made a video version of this article here.


Today I discovered that many people don’t consider palm oil to be vegan. The short version of this story is that palm oil production is generally associated with a lot of rainforest deforestation, and therefore destruction of orangutan habitats, often resulting in the death of orangutans.

Fair enough.

But the average vegan still contributes to 0.3 animal deaths per year (not including insects!) as the result of food production (based on a simplified calculation by Matheny). Obviously, there are some foods that are worse than others. I’m going out on a limb here, but I daresay something like wheat is going to result in more deforestation, land use and animal death than something like apples (I could of course be very wrong, but the point is that some vegan foods are going to kill more animals than others).

However, I typically don’t see/hear vegans avoiding certain foods like wheat because of the animals killed. In fact, most vegans seem to blissfully ignore the fact that they contribute to animal death. Obviously, it’s impossible to eliminate your impact because you’re bound to accidentally step on an ant at some point in your life, but reducing your bread intake seems like a reasonably easy thing to do.

But why avoid palm oil and not wheat? One anonymous comment on Facebook seemed to sum it up.

Yeah I think it’s because of the immediate danger of extinction the species faces.

Interesting. Why is risk of extinction a key factor, but pain and death isn’t? Unless it plays a crucial role in the ecosystem, it seems like extinction wouldn’t really be that bad beyond the individual deaths. Why does a species as a whole get consideration?

I would argue that, if you’re going to avoid palm oil because it hurts orangutans, you should probably consider optimising your entire diet, not just avoiding one thing (beyond not eating animals, that is). If what you value is the wellbeing of animals, there are many ways to do that, and probably more efficient ways than just avoiding palm oil.

Of course, this is all complicated by the fact most animals in the wild have lives full of suffering. Do orangutans have natural lives in the wild that are not worth living? I don’t know, but I’m open to the idea. If that’s true, we would have to face the frustrating reality that maybe keeping orangutans alive is bad.

Morality is more complicated than you want it to be.

Interview with Barry Honeycombe – Founder & CEO at Plantalicious Limited

Barry Honeycombe is the founder and CEO of Plantalicious Limited, a company selling wholefood plant-based meat substitutes.barry-honeycombe

How and why did you become vegan?

For me, it was all about health. I’ve been a yo-yo dieter for the majority of my adult life. There is a history of heart disease in my family and my father had a massive heart attack aged 46 and nearly died. At the age of 61 my father passed away. This played on my mind and I spent many years trying to find a way to avoid the same fate. When I reached 51; 10 years off the age my father died, I read “the China study“. This book really changed my life, and may have saved my life! I then studied for a certificate in plant-based nutrition at E-Cornell University and the T Colin Campbell Foundation (M – I have a friend who did this course and highly recommends it).

Following on from this, I happened to be in the US and went to a “Farm to Fork’s” weekend which was held in Orange County. All of the food that was served at this event was whole food and plant-based and I met some really inspirational people. At the end of the weekend I came back to the UK and told my partner that I was changing my diet and I would no longer be eating anything with a face or mother. That was almost three years ago, and whilst initially I didn’t call myself a vegan I have gradually become one. So for me it was an imperative around health that propelled me towards becoming a vegan but as I read and learned more it only made me feel that I was making the right choice.

I hadn’t heard of Farms to Fork. Could you tell us a bit more about what the event involves?

Farms 2 Fork are the events of the Engine 2 Diet which was founded by Rip Esselstyn based on the work that his father did in the prevention and reversal of heart disease using a plant strong diet. The event was a weekend long retreat at a hotel where all of the chefs have been trained in the preparation of a whole food plant-based diet. The event involved various speakers and sessions all about the use of a whole food plant-based diet to revolutionise your health. I met some amazing people who I now count as my “food heroes”. Rips latest venture is a seven day rescue plan that helps people take control of their health through the use of plant-based diets.

Tell us a little about what you do now and how you got to that point.

The majority of my career was spent on aeroplanes and in hotels travelling all over the world, selling analytics to banks and financial services to manage either their risk or their pricing for Silicon Valley software companies. I did this for several companies for about 30 years. I was really fortunate that when I decided to establish my company my then employer, Nomis Solutions, were willing to let me work three days a week for them so that I could use the rest of the time to build my business.

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My business came about purely because I was unable to find high quality, delicious plant-based or vegan convenience foods which had the nutritional qualities that I was seeking.  All too often when I wanted something quick and convenient all I could find was something that was chock-full of salt, fat and sugar. As a result, I started making my own vegan convenience foods and my friends and partner asked me why didn’t I start selling them. It seemed like a good idea and that was the genesis of the company.  We spent the best part of two years developing the products and testing them in various markets across the UK and reformulating them based on customer feedback. Getting customer feedback is one of the most valuable things that we have done to date and that’s really shaped the products that we have today. 

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So now the company offers five products for retail and seven for foodservice. Our focus currently is on growing our food service business in order that we can use the revenue from this to fund some new packaging for retail. Currently our packaging is functional and only really suited to small independent retailers. We need to do a thorough look to ensure that the packaging connects with the consumer and conveys the key messages that our products are delicious, healthy and made with natural ingredients.

Why do you think having high quality meat substitutes is important for the animals?

What I’ve found is that the better the quality the meat substitute, particularly the flavour and texture, the more likely people are to choose it and consume it regularly. The most obvious market for our products are vegans and vegetarians who already buy our kind of products. However, it’s the flexitarians or people looking for a tasty alternative to meat for Veganuary or Meatless Mondays or organisations wishing to add some meatless options to their menu that really make the difference.

The rapidly growing number of the vegans in the UK was reported recently, however the study also commented on the huge rise in people adopting a flexitarian approach where they eat some meatless meals each week. I think it’s that market where having high quality meat substitutes probably has the most impact for animals. My reason for saying this is that when you’re eating a burger you have a certain expectation as to how it will chew; the resistance and the flavour.

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Many products that are labelled “burger” don’t provide that kind of experience for the consumer. What we found is that providing a tasty and familiar product means that people are eating a burger and are not concerned as to where the proteins come from. We are not trying to mimic meat as many organisations seem to be in the US, rather we are trying to give people an alternative which is familiar and comfortable and that meets or exceeds their expectation when they eat it in terms of flavour and texture, and certainly something that is superior when it comes to comparing our nutritional information with a similar product made from animal proteins.

What skills would you suggest are most valuable to learn early for starting and running a great business?

The first word that comes to mind when answering this question is “resilience”. Having not come from the food industry, I entered it with a degree of arrogance.  I was confident that because my friends and partner liked my products, that everybody would immediately embrace them, order them, add them to their menus and want to retell them! Being told that somebody doesn’t like your products, or you should change something about them is very difficult for an entrepreneur to accept, let alone act upon.

One of the things that I found very early on was to listen to what customers were saying, whilst holding onto the principles on which I founded the business, I still had to act and respond based to the feedback being given to me. It is extremely hard to maintain positivity when people are criticising your packaging etc. You really do need a robust sense of self belief and belief in your products whilst maintaining an open mind and listening to the feedback that is being provided. 

The second skill is one that was said to me many times, and that’s to “know your numbers”. We went through an agonising time when we had to take a very in-depth look at our pricing in order to re-evaluate our pricing strategy and positioning in the market. This was a difficult, time-consuming and a painful process but hugely worthwhile as we came out of it really understanding the costs involved in making our products and the price that is necessary for us and our partners to achieve a margin from them.

The third insight is to be persistent. We all know that JK Rowling didn’t get a publisher for the Harry Potter books on her first try. It’s the same for any new product. Knowing why somebody should buy your product and what the benefit is to them is absolutely imperative. Communicating that is just as important. This goes hand-in-hand with resilience because you will need both to be able to make a success of what you’re doing.

What is your biggest insight on encouraging regard for animals?

The biggest insight for me with regard to animals came from looking at the animal protein based competitors to my products. If a supermarket sells four Aberdeen Angus burgers for £1, then think about how much of that £1 was spent on packaging, advertising and the margin for the producer, wholesaler and retailer. Just how much was left to pay for the ingredients and for the animal husbandry of the animals gave their lives for this product? It made me realise just how the meat and dairy industry behave in order to provide food at the costs expected by the consumer and the supermarkets. The sooner we realise that it makes no sense to turn plants into animal proteins to feed the human race the better.

What one movie, piece of literature or other medium has most shifted your views?

For me, my journey began with the need to improve my health and so the materials that most shifted my views were “the China Study” and the film “Forks over Knives”. The other book then made an impact on me was: “Rethink Food: 100+ Doctors Can’t Be Wrong” as well as the work of Dr Michael Greger.

That we can solve the global obesity crisis and reduce significantly the financial strain on the National Health Service here in the UK simply by the promotion of the widespread adoption of a  whole food, plant-based diet.

What is one thing that you believe which almost no one else does?

That we can solve the global obesity crisis and reduce significantly the financial strain on the National Health Service here in the UK simply by the promotion of the widespread adoption of a  whole food, plant-based diet.

What’s next for you?

Our strategy as a business is to focus on building our food service partners and then using the cash flow that this creates to finance a complete revamp of our packaging for retail. Our plans then are to promote both retail and foodservice formats of our products and to build the brand through entry into multiple retailers. Simultaneously we will need to look at either ramping up our in-house production or outsourcing the production of one or more products to a third-party as demand increases. Once we are firmly established in both the foodservice and retail markets in the UK we will look at the best models to either export or manufacture our products under licence in other markets that are attractive to us.

Thanks for taking the time to chat Barry!

Definitely check out Plantalicious‘ products, their plant-based burger looks ridiculous.

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