Tesco changes its tune on Unicef

Great to see a happy resolution to the bitter two-month long dispute between Tesco and Unicef over the slogan ‘Change for Good’. Below is the wording of a letter in Today’s Irish Times from Tesco’s marketing director, Kenny Jacobs:

“I refer to the Opinion article by John Gibbons (August 27th). It is unfortunate that Mr Gibbons did not contact Tesco on the matter. An agreement has been reached between Tesco Ireland and Unicef Ireland whereby Tesco will no longer use the term “Change for Good” after September 11th, 2009. Tesco will support Unicef Ireland with an in-store fundraising opportunity in the coming months and continue to support Unicef Ireland’s ongoing campaign with Pampers to eliminate maternal and neo-natal tetanus.

With regard to the other points made by Mr Gibbons, we would have been happy to clarify rather than have him make continuous incorrect statements. For the record, each year Tesco buys almost €2 billion worth of Irish food and drink products. Of this, €655 million is exported to Tesco stores throughout the world, making Tesco Group a bigger export destination for Irish food than France, Germany or the US. The company is one of the biggest supporters of Irish agriculture, with all fresh beef and lamb coming from Irish farms. All fresh milk in Tesco stores comes from Irish diaries and when in season approximately 80 per cent of fresh vegetables are Irish.

The Change for Good price cuts brought Border pricing to the Republic and has been widely welcomed by customers. Price reductions of an average of 22 per cent apply across 12,500 products. New ranges have been introduced, improving choice for customers.”

Mr Jacobs studiously avoids addressing how Tesco could have done this in the first place, or the fact that they continued this blanket campaign for over two months in the teeth of trenchant criticism from Unicef. He also avoids stating when this “settlement” with Unicef was achieved. He is correct in saying that I did not contact Tesco in advance of the article being published. Unicef Ireland posted an article on its website on July 24th last condemning Tesco in the strongest possible terms for its effective sabotage of a long-running Unicef campaign slogan.

The statement went so far as to “…call on members of the public who have children’s welfare at heart, to consider carefully who they support when making consumer choices”. In other words, they are calling on the public to consider boycotting Tesco. For the record, that article is still available on the Unicef site.

If my article this week or setting up Everylittlehelps.ie in any way encouraged or facilitated a settlement in what was looking like quite a nasty dispute, then that’s a good outcome. Regrettably, numerous efforts on my part to get a direct comment from Unicef Ireland ahead of publication went unanswered, leaving me (not unreasonably) to depend on the detailed statement then – and now – on their website about the matter, quoting Unicef Ireland executive director, Melanie Verwoerd. Had there been any inkling of a settlement prior to my article appearing on Thursday, Unicef had every opportunity to inform me (or the media generally) of that, or indeed, to update a 5-week old statement on its own website.

Indeed, if a settlement was in fact reached a week or so ago, how odd that neither organisation appears to have made any effort to put this important information in the public domain. It is quite ironic to see the above letter in today’s newspaper and to be still able to log on to the Unicef Ireland site and read: “It is the first time in UNICEF’s history that a commercial entity (Tesco) has purposely set out to capitalise on one of our campaigns and subsequently damage an income stream which several of our programmes for children are dependant on”.

Had such a settlement actually preceded the publication of my article on Thursday, I would have been happy to state that fact, but whether or not some deal has been cobbled together in the last day or two (or week or two) between Tesco and Unicef Ireland in no way alters the essence of my Irish Times article, which was to draw attention to the alarming growth in power of the multiples. The Unicef saga remains a vivid illustration of and timely warning about the abuses that inevitably flow from market domination.

In essence, if a multiple will do this to a reputable charity, in full public view, it gives you some insight into both their corporate mindset and to the degree of arrogance and hubris displayed by their marketing department.

Meanwhile, the online petition has now been filled in by over 200 people. Nice to see some positive comments elsewhere on the issue:


ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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6 Responses to Tesco changes its tune on Unicef

  1. David Quinn says:

    While in no way wishing to defend Tesco’s use of Unicef’s slogan “change for good” I think it is in the public interest that it be pointed out that John Gibbons is a director of MedMedia whose clients are the pharmaceutical companies that benefit commercially from Unicef’s vaccination programme.

  2. John Gibbons says:

    David, your comment is so ludicrous, I’m choosing to post it. Should we take it that you are thus opposed to vaccination programs? Otherwise, what on earth is your point? I co-founded a healthcare communications company over 18 years ago. We produce medical and nursing journals.

    I also founded Irishhealth.com nine years ago, this is today Ireland’s largest health website for the general public. Yes, we also operate a creative agency specialising in pharma and healthcare, and yes, shock, horror, some of our clients are pharmaceutical companies.

    If you can twist that into my running some pro-Unicef campaign so that the companies who (presumably, I have absolutely no idea of the specifics) provide vaccines to Unicef and others to vaccinate poor children in the third world against deadly childhood diseases, then fair play, David.

    For the record, I carry no torch for Unicef; do I think vaccination is a good idea? Absolutely.

  3. David Quinn says:

    My point is that you have a business interest in this issue that as a journalist I think you should have declared. The pharmaceutical industry goes to great lengths to protect its interests and the recent revelations from Australia where Merck where exposed as having paid Elsevier (the publishing house behind The Lancet) to publish 6 scentific looking medical journals which contained articles promoting a product (Vioxx) they knew was dangerous show that one needs to constantly question not only the content of what is being said in the media but also who is saying it and what if anything do they stand to gain.
    I think this quote from arecent article is worth mentioning “Recently unveiled court documents in the U.S. show that ghostwriters paid by pharmaceutical company played a major role in producing 26 scientific papers backing the use of hormone replacement therapy in women, suggesting that the level of hidden industry influence on medical literature is broader than previously known.” The pharmaceutical company in question is Wyeth.
    Both of the companies I have mentioned are clients of your Public Relations company.
    I am pretty sure that the majority of Irish Times readers are unaware of the above.

  4. John Gibbons says:

    David, if you can find a scintilla of evidence of commercial influence in my writing for the Irish Times, I’d suggest you point it out. Neither I nor my company ghost-write scientific papers for pharma companies. The issues you are referring to are far, far beyond the scope of any Dublin-based agency servicing the Irish affiliate of a multinational.

    (for the record, we are not, and never have been, a “Public Relations company”, as you incorrectly describe above).

    David, I believe your point here is tenuous in the extreme, but I can understand how you arrived at it. Every syllable of what I do journalistically is available for public scrutiny – how many other people can say the same viz. the transparency of what they do? How about you – what’s your angle in all this? What’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, I’m sure you’ll agree.

    I agree entirely with you on the need for transparency and accountability. I have never made the slightest attempt to conceal my ‘day job’. The About Us page on my website (http://www.climatechange.ie/about.html) has always been totally up-front about my other interests, there for anyone with access to Google to find in under a minute.

    Had I even the vaguest inkling that someone could equate writing an article pointing out that it’s not nice for Tesco to pinch a children’s charity slogan with some underhand plot to sell more vaccines/drugs, maybe I would have made such a declaration. Should I also have declared that I have actually shopped in Tesco the odd time as well? It may be true, but it’s hardly the point. Hope this covers it for you David and thanks for your contributions. JG

  5. David Quinn says:

    John, I became interested in the topic of vaccinations when my son was born and having had problems with my immune system I wanted to reassure myself of their safety and necessity before agreeing to go ahead with the recommended schedule. I spent hundreds of hours trying to come an informed decision. One of the things that made this quite process difficult was discovering was just how much of the literature including scientific papers on the subject is compromised by the financial interests of pharmaceutical companies. The other thing I discovered was how much of the information that is damaging to big pharmaceutical companies never makes it into the mainstream media.
    To highlight just one example – Pfizer recently settled a lawsuit in Nigeria for $75 million taken against them for killing 11 children and severely damaging dozens more. Pfizer under the pretence of doing charity work (why even Unicef are not above suspicion) tested a new drug on children without consent and then tried to cover their actions up. Now to my mind the acknowledgement by a business with such a big presence in Ireland that they had killed 11 children is newsworthy. The Irish Times however despite having briefly mentioned the start of proceedings some years previously failed to give it even a cursory mention even though this was such a big story that it inspired the movie ‘The Constant Gardener’. Could this omission have anything to do with the fact that The Irish Times had only finished hosting a series of public debates sponsored by Pfizer and were like yourself conducting business with them? All I can say is read Noam Chomsky’s searing statistically based analysis of the media ‘Manufacturing Consent’ and try tell me it couldn’t.
    Vaccinations are big business. Reuters recently reported an estimate that the market for global vaccines would be worth $36.3 billion by 2013. Given the above and the fact that some of your clients stand to lose business as a result of Unicef as you said losing revenue I think you should have mentioned your business interest.

    Answer me this John, if Tesco was one of MedMedia’s clients do you think you would have run this campaign?

  6. John Gibbons says:

    David, apologies for delay in reviewing your last post. Monday–Weds lunchtime is dominated by getting my weekly column in to the Irish Times, so the blog gets neglected till that’s done.

    Your interest in vaccines is indeed unusual, for any non-medically qualified person to invest hundreds of hours in researching this topic is indeed remarkable. I’m not a spokesperson for Pfizer or the Irish Times. I certainly think the latter’s record over 150 years speaks for itself. No newspaper is ever going to get everything right when it produces tens of thousands of reports a year, usually under huge time constraints, but to accuse a genuinely “independent” paper, controlled by a Trust specifically to protect it from commercial taint, of being part of a pro-Pfizer conspiracy is, I would suggest, stretching the point a bit.

    I laid out my stall as clearly as I could in my article on July 23rd last, see link below:

    If you haven’t already, I’d strongly recommend ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre. He deals with media incompetence and occasional mendacity, but he also covers the nonsensical scare stories that have been pedalled for years about vaccines and related conspiracies. (fair play to you for managing to actually read Chomsky – I enjoy his politics, but find his writing style like wading through molasses.).

    I take your point re. your belief that my “business interest” should have been mentioned. I assure you that had it crossed my mind, or had even the remotest bearing on the piece, I’d have been more than happy to do so. Bear in mind that this dialogue is taking place “in the public domain” by being posted on this website. Were I interested in suppressing this discussion, I could have simply deleted your comments.

    On your final point: if a judge’s child were accused of throwing a brick through a Garda station window, would that judge see fit to hear the case? Absolutely not. He would recuse himself on the grounds of conflict of interest. I would not knowingly either praise or vilify a client in my newspaper column for the same reason.

    I know of journalists who are married to judges. Do they write about their spouses’ judgments? Of course not. Does that mean it’s a conspiracy? I don’t think so. Ireland, as you know, is a pretty small country.

    Thanks David, I’ve been happy to give this discussion a fair amount of time, but am now wrapping it up. JG

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