The boss of the Iceland supermarket chain has found himself at the centre of a strange smear campaign run by a Malaysian palm oil lobby group.
Richard Walker, who has been in the post for three years, was mocked for “inheriting” Iceland from his father, who founded it, and has been branded a scaremonger in a string of tweets and videos.
The group, called Faces Of Palm Oil, began sending messages to the managing director on April 10, a day after the company announced it wanted to be the first UK supermarket chain to remove palm oil from its own-brand products this year.
The campaign, which says it fighting on behalf of 650,000 “small Malaysian farmers”, began its offensive with a thread of tweets dismissing claims Walker had made in a promotional video about deforestation and the impacts of palm oil on wildlife.
The tweets were followed by video, posted on YouTube, in which Walker is derided for having “inherited from daddy a trust fund called Iceland”, and for flying to Borneo to “lecture Malaysians about the environment”.
“Richard only wants to attack poor palm oil small farmers in Africa & Asia,” the video claims.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, Walker described the campaign as an “unusual smear” but said the chain would not be changing its stance on palm oil.
He said the video appeared to be based on the “misconception that I’m against palm oil, which I’m not”. “Hopefully the more people that talk about it and understand it (palm oil), and the issues of deforestation, it will speed up meaningful change which is so desperately needed,” he said.
Farming of oil palm trees is said to have been responsible for about 8% of the world’s deforestation between 1990 and 2008 with forests being burned to clear areas where people can grow oil palms - even if it’s illegal.
Walker said that he agrees that palm oil is “high yielding... is a versatile crop and does have some benefits”, but said clearing rainforests for plantations was not an acceptable consequence.
“I’m absolutely 100% behind the idea of genuinely sustainable palm oil, but at the moment there isn’t such a thing,” he said.
Judging by comments left on Twitter, the Faces Of Palm Oil campaign has failed to gain any new supporters. “I used to not give a crap about palm oil, now I’ll be actively avoiding it,” one commenter wrote. Another said the group had “really shot yourselves in the foot”.
Faces of Palm Oil are yet to respond to a request for comment.