Procter & Gamble’s environmental controversy escalates with protest in company’s hometown

Wednesday March 31, 2021

Activists broadcast radio messages to thousands of Cincinnati residents, employees: ‘Charmin destroys forests’

CINCINNATI, OHIO — An unusual protest took place during rush hour along one of Cincinnati’s busiest streets on Wednesday, March 31, as activists broadcast radio messages educating city residents and Procter & Gamble employees about the environmental and human rights impacts of the world’s largest consumer goods company.

The protest happened just days after Procter & Gamble outlined its plans to investors to address issues in its supply chains for palm oil and pulp. P&G’s announcement, which was a response to concerns initially raised by shareholders at the company’s annual meeting in October 2020, was met with disappointment by advocacy groups for failing to adequately address how the company will end deforestation, the degradation of intact primary forests and threatened species habitat, and associated human rights abuses in its supply chains. 

“P&G’s shareholders gave the company a clear directive to deal with the financial threats caused by the deforestation and forest degradation in its supply chains. Instead, P&G announced inadequate plans and signaled it is comfortable being complicit in primary forest destruction. We’re here today delivering a message to Cincinnati residents and P&G employees: It’s time to take responsibility and stop making products from climate-critical forests,” said Jen Mendoza, Forest Campaigner at Stand.earth.

As a portable sound system blared messages like “When you think of Procter & Gamble’s brands, from Charmin toilet paper to Oil of Olay, do you think of human rights violations, and destroying healthy forests critical to Indigenous people and threatened species? Well, you should!” from speakers, they simultaneously traveled through invisible airwaves to any listeners tuned in nearby. For two hours, activists dressed as Charmin bears and caribou stood at the Kenwood Mall intersection at Montgomery Rd, holding up signs displaying the radio frequency 87.9 FM and encouraging rush hour motorists to listen in.

The messages were simple: P&G is complicit in the destruction of the world’s critical primary forests — including in the boreal forest of Canada, where the company sources some of its fiber to make products like Charmin — and its supply chain issues are a reputational and financial threat to the company. Intact or primary forests like the boreal have never been industrially logged, and provide ecosystem functions critical to mitigating the worst impact of climate change.

“Procter & Gamble’s new environmental commitments simply don’t go far enough to prevent its suppliers from destroying primary forests or adequately addressing human rights concerns — and it has to stop. Instead, these commitments allow P&G to continue making toilet paper and other products from globally important primary forests and threatened species habitat — during a climate and biodiversity crisis, which is greenwashing at its finest,” said Tyson Miller, Forest Programs Director at Stand.earth.

ACTIVISTS RAMP UP PRESSURE

Activists have ramped up their pressure on P&G in recent months, after the October 2020 shareholder vote where 67% of investors asked the company to deal with issues in its palm oil and pulp supply chains. 

Representatives from international advocacy groups including Stand.earth met with P&G executives to outline what the company needs to do to clean up its supply chains, sharing concerns about the company’s relationships with pulp suppliers who log in key intact areas of the boreal forest in Canadathat are home to threatened species of caribou (reindeer). The Canadian federal government established scientific thresholds to ensure the survival of these species, but none of Procter & Gamble’s suppliers are required to stop logging in threatened areas that cross these thresholds. 

The groups also raised concerns about controversial palm oil suppliers in the tropical forests of Indonesia and Malaysia associated with ongoing deforestation and widespread human rights abuses, including the use of forced labor and the violation of Free, Prior and Informed Consent. In its latest announcement, P&G made no commitments or timelines to stop or phase out of doing business with problematic suppliers.

In recent weeks, activists have gone door-to-door in Cincinnati neighborhoods to deliver thousands of postcards on how P&G’s suppliers destroy forests and cut down trees for Charmin toilet paper. (They wore masks and followed other COVID-safe practices.) They also hung up posters reading “Charmin: 100% forest destroying, 0% recycled” on lampposts throughout the city, and held nighttime light projections on prominent downtown buildings with the message “Charmin destroys forests.” See photos here.

ABOUT THE ISSUE WITH TISSUE CAMPAIGN

P&G’s recent announcement comes more than two years after the launch of the Issue with Tissuecampaign against Procter & Gamble for making toilet paper and tissue products from endangered forests and threatened species habitat.   

Over the past two years, advocacy groups have released an Issue with Tissue scorecard and an Issue with Tissue 2.0 flunking Charmin and other P&G brands on sustainability, created a “blind wipe” video spoofing Charmin over its softness claims, held a protest outside Procter & Gamble’s shareholder meetingfeaturing a chainsaw-wielding bear, got Santa arrested for delivering coal to Procter & Gamble’s headquarters, delivered a tongue-in-cheek Earth Day message about folding vs. wadding toilet paper, released a poll showing 85% of Americans want toilet paper makers to use more environmentally responsible materials, and supported religious leaders in Cincinnati in sending a letter to Procter & Gamble about the moral imperative of addressing climate change.

###

Media contact: Virginia Cleaveland, Communications Manager, media@stand.earth, +1 510 858 9902 (Pacific Time)
Interviews available with activists on the ground in Cincinnati