The Iceland Christmas advert and HSBC

According to Greenpeace, quoted in the above article , HSBC has $18bn invested in the palm oil industry, which is responsible for wholesale destruction of rainforest and orangutan habitat, endangering their very survival.

Iceland Foods made a decision to stop using palm oil in their own products in order to protect the orangutan population and repurposed a Greenpeace campaigning film which highlights the effect of deforestation on the survival of orangutans which states at the end of the advert that is no longer uses palm oil. The advert was not cleared for broadcast by a company called Clearcast, who said it was “too political” and in breach of Advertising Standards rules.

Who is Clearcast? It is a company set up in 2008, the year of the financial crisis, by all the independent TV companies to serve as a clearing house for adverts – to vet them for broadcast suitability. The shareholders are Channel 4, Turner, Interactive Digital Sales, Viacom, GMTV, BSB, Channel 5 and ITV and the directors mostly personnel from those companies. When it was set up, Clearcast took borrowings from HSBC and HSBC took a debenture over the company. A debenture is like a mortgage, and just as you can’t do as you wish with the mortgagee’s security, Clearcast cannot do as it wishes with the company. It is at risk of HSBC calling in the loan at any time. The debenture consists of a fixed and floating charge – meaning that all property of the company,  physical, intellectual and financial belongs to HSBC as security.

These are the terms of the debenture.

The charge remains unsatisfied, so HSBC continues to have considerable control over the company. As a matter of interest, Iceland Foods is also bankrolled by HSBC who has a fixed and floating charge over their assets. I doubt that HSBC, with its huge investment in palm oil would have been too bothered about Iceland not using it in their products. However, to be seen to be campaigning against their interests in collaboration with long time adversary Greenpeace, is beyond the pale. I believe this is why the advert was not cleared for broadcast. I’m not necessarily suggesting that HSBC had any direct involvement, just that Clearcast would not want to bite the hand that feeds it.

Clearcast said the advert was “too political”. However, Greenpeace is an NGO which takes no money from governments. A campaigning NGO that does take money from governments is the World Wildlife Fund. They recently had an advert cleared for broadcast. The difference is that WWF has “worked” with HSBC since 2002:

When I tweeted about this yesterday the Telegraph’s consumer affairs editor, Katie Morley called me bonkers (which I am used to from mainstream media journalists). The Telegraph is well known for its suppression of damaging HSBC stories because of advertising revenue, and two of its journalists Peter Oborne and Harry Wilson resigned over it.

This from HSBC’s Stuart Gulliver to parliament shows how they manipulate the media for favourable coverage

For me, the most disturbing aspect of this story is that HSBC has such control over the company that self-regulates adverts on UK TV. I have been saying for years that HSBC spends a fortune advertising to control the message (80% of their profits are made in Asia, they don’t need UK current accounts), but I hadn’t realised they were embedded into the actual decision making surrounding adverts. The channels over which Clearcast exerts its HSBC bankrolled powers are: