Markets For Change social ad banned for damaging large retailer Harvey Norman sales

on July 5th, 2011

I woke up this morning to an interesting story: Markets for Change and GetUp have put together a controversial ad about Harvey Norman (Australian furniture retailer) contributing to Australian deforestation by their timber sourcing policies. The ad was subsequently banned, and an irate George Harvey came on television to say he’s getting aggressive emails from his customers threatening to never buy again.

The Claims

NHNreport cover Markets For Change social ad banned for damaging large retailer Harvey Norman sales

Environmental group Markets For Change (MFC) claims to have tracked timber from native forests in Australia to shipment to China for processing into furniture, and to final sale in Australia through Harvey Norman stores across the country.

With GetUp!, MFC planned to launch a television campaign targeting the company, which it accuses of contributing to the destruction of native forests.

UPDATE: the report this ad is based on can be downloaded from the: Markets For Change website.

The retort

George Harvey came on TV this morning, to say that he’s shocked at the emails pouring in and saying things like “You should be ashamed of yourselves” and “I’ll never buy from Harvey Norman again”. This type of customer response is probably something large supermarket chains have faced before in relation to factory farming, local produce and price dumping – but it sure seems to have been a first for Harvey Norman.

The arguments George Harvey brought in his own defence weren’t exactly persuasive: he stated that

  1. Harvey Norman does not control the source of timber used by their furniture providers
  2. They promote use of Australian timber and
  3. Even when buying furniture from overseas suppliers they request – where possible – that Australian timber be used.

That’s all very well, however:

  1. Harvey Norman is one of the largest buyers of furniture in Australia. I expect they do have enough power and influence to request their suppliers to use sustainable timber. A request they clearly do not make.
  2. More use of Australian timber means just that more Australian forests will disappear, assuming the GetUp claims are accurate
  3. Are they trying to convince us Chinese manufacturers are going to spend money on Australian timber? Not that it matters, deforestation in China is as bad as deforestation in Australia.

The Open Debate – or lack thereof

aussie forest Markets For Change social ad banned for damaging large retailer Harvey Norman sales

Now I have not read the report this ad is based on, yet; I do not have the background information on Harvey Norman’s – or any other retailer’s – timber sourcing policies. I cannot really say, at this time, whether GetUp is correct in their claims. But I would have welcomed an open discussion on this topic, so important to the unique Australian environment.

Instead, the ad (meant to be first of a campaign) has been banned by industry body Commercials Advice (CAD) on the basis that it might expose free-to-air TV stations to legal action. It’s still available online though, and for what it’s worth, you can view it here (top of the page). If the furniture industry has more information they would like to share with us, the interested public/customer, then I would very much like to hear it.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

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