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Green Is The New Black

Oatly sold a $200 million stake to Blackstone. So what?

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oatly green is the new black

If you’ve been on Instagram and Twitter at all this weekend, you might have seen something about Oatly. Specifically, people are boycotting Oatly. WTF?! (Yeah, that’s us too.) Because news that Oatly sold shares to Blackstone resurfaced thanks to a Twitter thread and an Instagram post, and since then the conversation has grown exponentially. The question is: should Oatly be #cancelled or are people overreacting?




Haven’t been following? Here’s the brief on what went down. Over the weekend, climate activist Laura Young made an Instagram post and a Twitter thread detailing Oatly’s relationship with the Blackstone Group. Both of these went viral and made their rounds on the Internet, sparking heated conversations.

The post’s caption opens with: “popular oat-milk brand @oatly has links to deforestation in the Amazon!” Young follows with: “I am pretty late to this news flash, but earlier this year @oatly – the extremely popular, delicious, and environmentally conscious oat-based milk brand, has been invested in by the Blackstone Group. This means that they are part owned by a global investment group who have some pretty devastating work across the world.”

What “devastating work” exactly? We’ll delve deeper into this later on, but before that, we have to backtrack. Young is right: this isn’t new news. In fact, the $200m deal was agreed in July this year. But to be clear, this is what happened.



In July, Oatly sold a minority $200m stake to a group of high-profile investors. There are two points to note here: (a) the $200m didn’t exactly come from Blackstone alone, though Blackstone seems to have “led” the investment. And, (b) this is Oatly taking money from Blackstone. From various sources, we’re hearing that Oatly actively courted Blackstone for this money.

In any case: who are the group of high-profile investors who now own shares in Oatly? We’re talking big names in entertainment, consumer business and yes, international finance (i.e. Blackstone). At the time, Oatly said that the cash “would be used to fund expansion, including new production plants, and to create jobs in Europe, the US and Asia”. You wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the other big names, but you would for Blackstone (and this is what Young gets into in her Instagram post and Twitter thread—and her follow-up Instagram post (see below), and what got people riled up). Why?


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why are big investors in sustainable business such bad news? This post comes after my previous post about the news of Oatly selling 10% of their business to Blackstone (a large investment company) who have ties to deforestation in the Amazon, hiking up renting prices, and (the cherry on top) supporting Trump. But what does this mean when big investment comes to growing sustainable brands? is this not a good thing? is this not helping the market for sustainable products? I am going to give my opinion as to why this isn't good, and why when this has happened in the past (eg. Ecover to SC Johnson) it's time to find other brands to support. 1. Often this investment is not the be all and end all. It is not money needed to survive, it is often a large pot acquired more easily. In this specific case Oatly approached Blackstone for the money…even knowing everything they do about their money! 2. Accepting investment from big firms and then saying a small brand is going to try and influence them is naive. In this case, Oatly is a tiny fish in the huge ocean of Blackstone, and to think they can influence the likes of them is not a good reason to accept money tied up in all sorts of evil. Oatly is part owned by them, not the other way around (in this case Oatly is a $200 Million investment out of the $538 billion in assets under management Blackstone have – do you really think a tiny investment like Oatly can change the giant of Blackstone?) 3. Big unethical companies can then use small sustainable brands to greenwash and make themselves look better. Already Blackstone has used Oatly as a publicity stunt – just go and look at their Instagram bio for a start! They are using them for business gain! 4. Enormous profit earned back from this investment will fuel earth shattering projects; aka Amazon deforestation and Trump! Not good news. Specifically, Oatly's 10% owned by Blackstone, with a projected profit of $400 in 2021, will gain Blackstone an estimated $40 Million. 5. Where does this leave other small independent brands not 'selling out' to big investment firms? There are PLENTY of other sustainable brands to support with your money! [cont…]

A post shared by Laura Young🌿 (@lesswastelaura) on



For one: Blackstone owns a large part of Hidrovias do Brasil. Another Blackstone company, Pátria Investimentos, owns more than 50% of Hidrovias. (Blackstone itself directly owns an additional 10% stake, roughly.) And what’s wrong with Hidrovias? Last year, it came out that the Brazilian firm “is helping to transform the Amazon from jungle to farmland”. The article accuses Blackstone of being “a driving force behind Amazon deforestation”. Blackstone, of course, has denied the accusation. (We’re not sure who to believe, but we’re inclined to not give mammoth corporations—more on this later—like Blackstone the benefit of the doubt.)

And as The Guardian points out: “Notwithstanding that accusation, Blackstone’s [CEO] Schwartzman has been a prominent Wall Street supporter of Donald Trump. According to Bloomberg, the billionaire investor has donated $3m to Super Pac America First Nation, which supports the president’s re-election.”

(Yeah, we’ll let this one do the talking.)



Oatly knew this was a controversial decision. We know this because at the time Oatly’s chief executive Toni Petersson said this about getting Blackstone on board: that it was a clear indication that the world is heading in a “new, more sustainable direction.” Petersson added: “Investment from firms like Blackstone in companies like Oatly are a critical step in securing a future of focused green investment… and focuses on urgent, systemic efforts to address the climate crisis.”

Still with us? Let’s fast-forward to today. Oatly, having to defend its decision after the news resurfaced this weekend, has been responding with statements that echo (what is essentially) the same stance. The investment from Blackstone, it says, though an “unexpected choice”, “will help [it] expand [its] sustainable mission and create more plant-based products”. “It also steers capital that would’ve otherwise gone into another commercial investment into sustainability instead, making [Blackstone’s] investments greener.”

Further defending the controversial choice, Oatly added: “If we just shut out the companies that may make less sustainable choices, we won’t give them the chance to improve and make more sustainable choices, so global capital will keep being steered in a less sustainable direction.”

Oatly stands by the fact that “[it’s] still the same company with sustainability at the core of everything [it does].”



To make sure we don’t get lost in the weeds, let’s recap what Oatly was and is saying before moving on. First: that Blackstone investing in Oatly is a step towards sustainable—ethical?—investment, for Blackstone and more broadly, too. (Think moving the dirty money.) Second: that this move is good; it’s going to help Oatly do more good, and in the process give Blackstone an opportunity to do better too. Third: that this is amounting towards systemic action on the climate crisis. And finally: that Oatly is still the same Oatly it was before.

A lot to unpack, huh?



To what extent should Oatly be held accountable for (allegedly, actively) taking money from Blackstone? The Internet’s response has pretty much fallen into two camps. Cancel Oatly, or don’t.

The folks who want to, or are cancelling Oatly are saying any number, or all, of these things: Oatly needs to be held accountable. How could Oatly claim its “sole purpose as a company is to make it easy for people to turn what they eat and drink into personal moments of healthy joy without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process” (as it says on its website), while taking money from Blackstone, of all corporations? That’s having its cake, and eating it too. Also, stop trying to make green capitalism happen!

Then there are the folks who aren’t too comfortable with boycotting just yet. Money’s just money, right? As long as the money goes to sustainable companies, isn’t it still better than Blackstone’s money going to unsustainable ventures? And shouldn’t we let Oatly off the hook, since it’s doing good anyway? If we’re going to get pressed about anything, shouldn’t it be Blackstone?

Full disclosure: we still have no answers. But what we do know is that drawing a line between these two camps may be equivalent to drawing a false dichotomy and may ultimately eclipse hard, but productive conversations that we need to be having. To be clear: we’re not trying to play devil’s advocate—yikes—and defend corporations like Blackstone and Oatly (yes, Oatly is a corporation too)—double yikes. Perhaps we do need to take a firm stance against progressive companies like Oatly taking money from deeply unethical pockets. What we’re saying is that we don’t have the answers yet. And if you don’t either, what follows is food for thought.



We briefly discussed what’s wrong with Blackstone, but the truth is: there’s more to it than that. Award-winning filmmaker, producer and journalist Fredrik Gertten and expert and advocate on economic and social human rights Leilani Farha discussed this controversy back in July, and the 40-minute podcast episode is even more relevant now. In the episode, the pair detail what Blackstone they think stands for.

In sum: Blackstone is a private equity firm. It’s in the business of extraction. Farha explains: “the risk isn’t their own, the risk is other people’s money, and they don’t create that much value, they extract value.” And that, according to Farha, is exactly what Blackstone is trying to do by investing in Oatly: it’s “trying to extract profits from the company that will [eventually] benefit Blackstone’s investors.” Ultimately, “Blackstone is a profit-driven company. Period.” How do we know this?

Farha details: “Blackstone is a company that has preyed on the vulnerability and economic ruin of the families in the US in particular. That’s how they got their start in the real estate business: it was after the Global Financial Crisis. Families were economically distraught, facing bankruptcy and extreme poverty. Blackstone swooped, purchased the cheap debt of all those foreclosed homes, and turned those homes into rental accommodation and started charging exorbitant rent. Renting homes back to former homeowners. So they used the ruin of people—the economic ruin of people—for their own fortunes.”

And Farha believes that it’s also important to talk about Schwarzman (the CEO—who’s net worth, by the way, is $18.7 billion in 2020, and we’ve talked about how unethical billionaires are) and his connections with Trump. She says that while she tries not to get personal, “Schwarzman at the helm is a big player. […] You don’t get a seat at the President’s table unless you’re a big player.” Farha emphasises that it’s all connected: that by taking money from a company like Blackstone, Oatly is knowingly—whether it courted Blackstone or not—playing right into Blackstone’s hands.



Farha calls Oatly out in the podcast episode alongside Blackstone, saying that it’s made a $200m deal with Blackstone, “who cares nothing about people’s lives”, even though Oatly is all about being “a good company”. “I mean they control $324 billion worth of residential real estate. So the $200m that they gave to Oatly? […] Does that erase the $324 billion they’ve made off the backs of individuals who are just trying to make a decent life for themselves?”

This is greenwashing, Farha argues, and it goes even deeper than that. It’s just like how Blackstone’s CEO has “been investing in universities and research funds trying to show that he cares about education […] Oatly plays into this greenwashing […] they’re legitimising Blackstone, in a way.” Gertten adds that with Blackstone sitting on $600 billion worth of assets with “hardly any employees, they don’t really create jobs, but they’re out there fishing for profits everywhere […] Oatly says ‘we want to change the world’, [but] Blackstone invests money in a totally different direction.”

And beyond the greenwashing, Farha concludes, what Oatly has done is make the job of people who care about the planet and its people much harder. “Because now,” she says, “Blackstone is being celebrated through Oatly as progressive.” What she means to say here is that now we have to undo this association that has been made. (Kind of like when Michael Moore made Planet of the Humans and slammed fellow environmentalists along with renewables. Remember how we had to clean up the mess then?)


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Oatly have recently come under the spotlight because they have sold 30% of their shares to a state-owned Chinese Investment Company and 10% to Blackstone. The big question circling the digital realm is, have they sold their sole?⁣ ⁣ Blackstone is a private equity firm, who takes high net worth individuals, pensions and banks finances and invest in companies for profit. They have invested in a broad range f projects directly lined with deforestation projects in Brazil, one of their more notable projects being to try to build a highway through the centre of the Amazon rainforest. Blackstone has also played a in taking advantage of the vulnerable families after the 2008 crisis, purchasing cheap debt of homes and rented them out at unreachably high prices to the same families they evicted. If that’s not enough, Blackstone’s CEO is also a top donor to the Trump administration. ⁣ ⁣ Many of you have raised the question, as Oatly are a company who are striving to make the world a better place why didn’t they take investment from the various Green Funds out there? Or raisin money from the public in a more transparent way, rather than from a company with no environmental priorities. ⁣It’s really important to diferenitiate cancel culture and call out culture here, we are calling @oatly out in order to gain more transparency and accountability from the company moving forward. ⁣ Other questions that have arisen from our community are: ⁣ 1/ Do Oatly think this investment will really change Blackstone? ⁣ 2/ Why did Oatly choose Blackstone rather than other Green Funds to raise their capital? ⁣ 3/ Oatly claim to deliver “minimal environmental impact” but this doesn’t take into consideration the social impact of their investments… so we feel this is greenwashing to claim this?⁣ 4/ Accepting money from Blackstone has told the world they don’t really care about human rights or the welfare of their customers, let alone the environment? ⁣ ⁣ Swipe right to see other thoughts from our community. What do you think? 🥛

A post shared by Stories Behind Things (@storiesbehindthings) on



This is the question that logically follows, of course. Could Oatly have chosen more ethical options? For this, we return to Oatly’s statements, as detailed and recapped earlier. Oatly believes that yes, it could have gone for green funds, but now it’s taking money that could have gone elsewhere. In the podcast episode, Gertten puts it this way: Oatly thinks it’s “making dark money light in some way”, it’s “reshaping Blackstone”.

The next question then would be: can Oatly change Blackstone from the inside out? Certainly, that’s what people are wondering. Farha lays it all out: “If we’re looking at changemaking, Toni’s the CEO of an up-and-coming, very cool, business, product, etc. […] And what Toni did instead is he leaves it to [the activists] to try and push out the message that Blackstone is a human rights violator. Whereas Toni could have had—and has—a much more established platform [to do so]. And so for me, that’s part of the problem here [with] this insider approach.

By taking Blackstone’s money, is Toni right? That that somehow gets him and his company into some positions of power that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to […] does he get closer to that goal [of furthering the plant-based revolution and saving the planet, and also paving the way for more sustainable and ethical investment and moving the money] by taking this money from this big political power, Blackstone? I would say no. Because Blackstone doesn’t want to share their power with Oatly […] Blackstone just wants to take the profits out of Oatly and be profitable itself.”



Of course, Toni could be right. Green Is The New Black spoke to Vikas Garg, founder and CEO of abillionveg, a rapidly growing global Internet platform on a mission to help a billion people become plant-based by 2030. He believes that Oatly and Blackstone’s decision to work together is “a huge win-win for sustainability.” Blackstone, he highlights, is as “an industry leader in private equity, an industry that historically hasn’t been aligned with what’s good for the planet. [And so] this investment is recognition that doing good can also be immensely profitable.”

And might we be holding Oatly to too high of a standard here? Green Is The New Black also spoke to Assaad Razzouk, clean energy expert and the man behind The Angry Clean Energy Guy podcast, who points out that “all we know is that Blackstone bought 10% of the company. Blackstone is a huge firm with multitudes of different pockets,” which means that every business that takes investments from anywhere probably has a link to Blackstone, somehow or another. (And if we want Oatly to scale—more on this later—and do more good, then wouldn’t it need money?)



One of the more nitty-gritty questions here is what the 10% means. Razzouk, on one hand, is of the opinion that Blackstone isn’t necessarily acquiring any rights over the direction of the company. On the other hand, you have activists like Young, who in her follow-up Instagram post highlights that “enormous profit earned back from this investment will fuel earth-shattering projects; aka Amazon deforestation and Trump! […] Specifically, Oatly’s 10% owned by Blackstone, with a projected profit of $400 million in 2021, will gain Blackstone an estimated $40 million.”

Aja Barber, writer and sustainable fashion (and beyond, really) expert, questions her audience: “Do you know how much $40 million is?” She emphasises that—and we’re repeating it at this point but we also can’t stress this enough—it will go into actively harming the Amazon and re-electing Trump, among other things.

So here we have it: 10% may not be enough for Oatly to have a say in changing Blackstone from inside out. And at the same time, 10% is a lot to go into damaging, unethical projects. This appears to be a lose-lose situation, but we could also be proven wrong. In that Oatly could change Blackstone. And Blackstone could invest that 10% in ethical projects. Maybe Blackstone really is trying to do better. And then it would be a win-win.

We’ll leave it to you to decide which seems more probable.



Let’s talk about Oatly. The entire reason why we’re having this debate is that Oatly decided that it needs the money from Blackstone. Whether they actively courted Blackstone is beside the point—because even if they didn’t, they took the money anyway. And for what?

Oatly’s replies on its Twitter accounts are particularly revealing. This one reminds us that this is the industry that Oatly is playing in: Big Dairy. We’re not going to go into the unethical—and truly, inhumane—aspects of Big Dairy today. (You can read up on that, or watch any vegan documentary, really.) The point we’re getting at here is that Oatly is up against one of the most awful industries around. And maybe Oatly needs to grow exponentially to put up a good fight.

And to Oatly’s credit, it’s only entered the market four years ago and its success has been no easy feat. Last year’s sales doubled over 2018. Its growth has been immense, and it’s broken through to Asian markets, and upped the plant-based game by a lot. If we agree that Oatly’s exponential growth is good for sustainability and the climate, then perhaps taking money and scaling up is necessary. But here’s the kicker: why are we so obsessed with growth? Is growth inherently good or necessary? Can we say that Oatly’s growth is inherently a good thing?



This gets into the question: where do we draw the line? Farha, in response to Gertten mentioning that Oatly called this a difficult decision, says that “it seems a bit conventional to go off to the big money. Imagine if [Oatly] came out and said ‘we had an offer from Blackstone, $200 million’… can you imagine if [Oatly] turned them down: ‘no, friends, we need your help to raise that money […] we need real partners that share our values'”? That, Farha is suggesting, would have been the difficult decision.

Whether that’s a fair judgement or not we leave that up to you to decide, but certainly what needs to be discussed is whether or not growth—to what end, and how fast—is a sufficient enough justification for Oatly’s deal with Blackstone. For this, we need to get talking about business, power, greed, and growth. The post below from climate activist Josephine Becker (specifically, point 4) is a good place to start.

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Maaaaany are upset about recent news that @oatly is now part of Blackstone (yes the company that burns the Amazon and whose CEO is the largest Trump campaign donor; check posts by @wisewithwaste & @lesswastelaura ) . While we boycott Oatly, here some lessons: 1) Companies are not living entities, stop getting attached to them. The purity we expect from individuals compared to what we allow companies to get away with needs to change! . 2) To profit of capitalism (like Blackstone does) requires exploitation and injustices. Oatly might say they don’t agree with those actions but will happily accept money made of that exploitation…the result is the same! . 3) NO, we are not hurting the vegan movement bc animal rights should not be based on companies anyways. White vegan capitalism is based on exploitation; the boycott stands against all of that! . 4) Increase in Power and Greed are not sustainable. If Oatly was that concerned about the global milk market, why not invest in local businesses and redistributing wealth.. yes, bc they want to dominate everywhere for personal profit! A reminder to shop small and #supportlocal ! . 5) Social media CAN be a useful tool for holding these companies accountable.

A post shared by Josephine Becker (she/her) (@treesnpeace) on



Now, if point 4 made you uncomfortable, this is probably something you have to unpack. Yes, we’re going there: we need to talk about our discomfort with labelling Oatly a corporation, like Blackstone. Of course, Oatly isn’t as bad as explicitly unethical corporations (think: Amazon, H&M—more on this nuance later, along with our discussion about boycotting), but it is, ultimately, a corporation.

And like Barber points out in her IGTV: corporations have power. Speaking to her decision to boycott and call out Oatly, she adds that “we hold individuals to account but we don’t hold corporations to account […] it’s frustrating because as an individual, […] I feel that I’m held to a higher account than a corporation and I think that’s fucked up.” 

Here’s the thing: “Oatly,” Barber emphasises, “is a corporation. The thing that Oatly has done really well is they’ve done a great job of humanising themselves through social media.” The act of doing so, by the way, is the way in which corporations everywhere have begun to rebrand themselves… to sell more things to us. Barber likens Oatly’s behaviour to fast fashion companies, saying that it’s “taken a huge page out of [their books] of making it seem like instead of being a corporation, they’re an individual.”

This argument, of course, could be used to demonise Oatly, but that’s not the point here. As we’ve said: we’re not here to play devil’s advocate, nor are we here to defend corporations. Actively remembering to frame Oatly as a corporation helps us see that we should be able to hold them to account. Even if Oatly’s the “best” kind of corporation (whatever that means). And we need to be able to hold them to account… without worrying about two things. First: their “reputations” (corporations are not people). Second: their financial repercussions (if big enough, corporations don’t have to worry about this. And certainly, Oatly has made enough of a name for itself for us to not be worried).




As this Tweet gets at, the final questions related to this entire Oatly controversy are questions like these. How do we hold corporations accountable? How do we navigate the ethics of sustainable investment? Can (and how do) we as consumers act? This is perhaps the most productive part of the debate that we want to be getting into. Which, as mentioned, tends to get overshadowed with the way Instagram and Twitter polarises the issue. And that brings us to this…



Activists like Young, Barber, and sustainable fashion influencer Venetia La Manna have all declared that they’re ditching Oatly. There are few main issues with boycotting. The first: that boycotting is a privileged, neoliberal-capitalist approach to resolving the issue. In other words: it tends to be classist and individual-focused. Not to mention, it restricts our field of action to consumer action.

This isn’t to say that boycotting doesn’t have its strengths. Boycotting fast fashion, for example, is something we’ve advocated for a while now, to those who can afford to. Because that’s driven fast fashion companies to at least begin to address sustainability more seriously. But even then, this is a limited approach. And on top of that, boycotting Oatly is not as straightforward as boycotting a fast fashion company. After all, as we already mentioned, all brands are implicated in some way. It could be (Razzouk terms) “misdirected do-gooding”.



Maggie Zhou, sustainable fashion influencer, elaborated to Green Is The New Black: “I think the concept of an entirely ‘good’ or ‘ethical’ consumer is flawed and the ‘all or nothing’ approach can do more harm than good. Yes, we should hold brands accountable and expect better but if we demand unattainably perfect standards, it may deter people and businesses from even trying. We live within a broken system that is inexplicably tied with unethical practices. Not many of us can say that their mobile phone, food produce and household goods all come from perfectly ethical sources. 

I focus on becoming a ‘better’ consumer and within that, there’s an acknowledgement that neither I [n]or brands can be perfect. The boycotting of brands feels counterproductive, why are we turning our backs on people who are willing to listen and learn? I encourage ‘call-in’ culture which actually seeks to make change, rather than the often accusatory and gleeful admonishment that call-out culture thrives upon.” (PS: check out her podcast episode next week when she’ll talk more about the Oatly controversy.)

As Zhou alludes to, this is exactly the kind of ethical quandary that late-stage capitalism will love to have us stuck in.



So not only is boycotting classist and individual-focused, it also may be the easy way out. If we don’t at the same time have the hard conversations. What does it mean to be a consumer in this neoliberal, capitalist world? Our options are limited: make your own oat milk, shop alternatives to Oatly, call Oatly out on social media, etc.

Meanwhile, mammoth corporations keep on polluting (looking at you, Blackstone), without anyone to hold them accountable. Oatly is responding to Twitter memes, complaints. Sans any sort of groundbreaking dialogue. Capitalism, which Blackstone and Oatly, you and I, are equally a part of, forces us into a sticky situation. Where we’re more likely to point fingers at each other rather than think of ways to organise against the system.

Or maybe boycotting will work. Or maybe we don’t need to. Because maybe Oatly will prove us all wrong and Blackstone is going to move towards more ethical investments. Like we said: we have no answers for you—only food for thought. There’s no use crying over spilt (oat) milk: the system is broken, Oatly took money from Blackstone.

The more important question is: where do we go from here?



I, for one, want to see the conversation on social media acknowledge the fact that we’re in a broken system. Acknowledge the fact that boycotts will never be a sufficient answer. They are not the silver bullet. There isn’t one. I also want to see Oatly and Blackstone step up to have these hard conversations, and pave the way towards getting these bigger questions answered. Because God knows you and I certainly don’t have the answers.

But we owe it to each other to try and figure it out. And as always, the onus is on corporations, and people with power, to lead this. As consumers, as citizens, the most we can do is put the pressure on them to do so. And when we begin to see those conversations happening, we’ll begin to see the answers emerge. Until then, keep questioning, keep directing your anger at corporations, not people.

And maybe learn how to make some oat milk.

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Tammy (she/her) is an activist-in-progress and digital creator and communicator, based in sunny, tropical Singapore. Her mission is three-fold: (1) to make climate justice activism and theory more accessible; (2) to create digital and physical community and learning spaces towards a more just, regenerative, and loving world within our current one; (3) and to mobilise the best parts of social media in service of all this.