How anti-Halal campaigners threaten small businesses

The current campaign against Halal-certified food is a perfect example of how organizations don’t choose which issues they will become involved with . . .  and how facts don’t always seem to matter.

The South Australian yoghurt maker Fleurieu was happy to pay for Halal-certification of its product to win a $50,000 contract to supply Emirates Airlines. But the small company then found itself the target of a vicious social media campaign claiming that Halal fees pay for terrorism. Unprepared for such an onslaught the dairy company caved in, and then came under attack for “yielding to bullies.”

It’s just the latest company to be targeted by coordinated groups who believe that Halal-certification is “unAustralian” and that money raised helps to fund terrorism and sharia law. Even Federal MP George Christensen jumped into the fray against Halal-certification of Vegemite. “It’s lovely to know,” he opined, “that a jar of the salty black stuff is sponsoring the advocacy of robbing women of all their marital rights.”

Of course Halal-certification of foods has been around for decades, beginning mainly with export meat destined for Moslem countries.  And for good reason too.  The most recent analysis shows that the Halal food represents more than 17% of the entire global food market.

Some of the largest multinational food brands – such as Cadbury and Kellogg’s and Nestle – have long been targets for having their products approved for Islamic dietary requirements. For example, last year a young women was arrested for putting “Beware, Halal food funds terrorists” stickers on Nestle coffee and Milo in a Brisbane supermarket. However, the recent tactic by the anti-Halal activists is to target smaller companies, which may not have the willingness or resources to resist a persistent issue management campaign.

While the Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company understandably bowed to pressure and dropped its Halal-certification, the campaigners chose a much tougher nut when they attacked the Byron Bay Cookie Company over its ANZAC biscuits.  The fact that the iconic biscuits commemorate the ANZAC troops who landed on Gallipoli in 1915 to fight Moslem Turks seemed to particularly incense the activists, who reportedly launched an eight-month tirade of abusive phone calls and threats.

The bakery, whose products have been Halal-certified for almost ten years, finally responded by calling in the police, who confirm that such use of telecommunication equipment could earn up to three years in prison. But as journalist Malcolm Farr pointed out on TV’s The Insiders: “If these people really think this money is going to terrorists, they should stop buying petrol.”

Most importantly this ongoing campaign highlights how easy it is for an innocent company just doing normal business to find itself caught up in an unrelenting issue battle. The options are to fight or to cave in, and sometimes that has to be a decision determined not only by the business bottom line.

 

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About managingoutcomes

Issue and crisis management expert
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