Animal rights activists demand British coffee chain withdraw advertising campaign

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Costa Coffee outlet in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom. Animal welfare groups have written to the company demanding they withdraw a television advert featuring monkeys trying to make coffee.

Animal rights activists have demanded that the largest coffee chain in the United Kingdom pull a new advertising campaign because they fear that it will encourage viewers to buy monkeys as pets. The demands are likely to irritate Costa Coffee, who are determined to turn over a larger profit that their arch-rival, Starbucks. Five animal welfare groups have demanded that the advert, which features a futuristic room full of monkeys attempting to use coffee machines, be withdrawn.

In a letter to the Rainforest Alliance, the charities say that "the use of wild animals in this way is contrary to your stance on conservation and, in particular, on rainforest species". They urged the Alliance to revoke their endorsement of Costa products unless the adverts were withdrawn. The groups also wrote to the coffee chain, saying that they hoped that Costa — which has over 1,000 outlets in the UK — would "think it appropriate to cease using primates in future productions, and make the decision to withdraw the current advert".

The pressure on the coffee giant has led to fears that the company's relationship with the Rainforest Alliance—which "works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior"—may be under threat, since animal welfare groups have complained the new advert is in breach of the Alliance's code of conduct. The television advertisement depicts a number of monkeys being unable to use coffee machines, before a Costa barista hand-makes a cup of coffee. The advert, which features a voiceover by actor Bill Nighy, aired for the first time on Friday. Within hours, animal rights campaigners had demanded it be withdrawn. Manufacturers of products endorsed by the Rainforest Alliance must prove they "are demonstrating [their demand for] goods grown and harvested with respect for people, wildlife and the environment".

'Severely compromised'

A spokeswoman for Wild Futures, which runs a sanctuary for victims of the primate pet trade, said that she felt that, because they had been forced to appear in the advert, the welfare of the monkeys had been "severely compromised." She said: "With the release of this new advert, we feel the need to reiterate our long-held concerns on the use of wild animals in entertainment. While they are used in this way their welfare is severely compromised, and it has a knock-on effect in the trade in primates as pets."

According to The Observer, "the relationship between the appearance of exotic animals in the media and a corresponding increase in demand for them as pets is well documented." The demand to own clownfish as pets reportedly rocketed following the release of Disney Pixar's Finding Nemo, which featured one of the orange and white vertebrates as its main character.

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A file photo of a monkey. The Costa Coffee campaign features a number of the animals in a futuristic room attempting to make coffee.

The Alliance refused to comment specifically on the Costa advertising campaign, but said in a statement that it "objects to the use of captive wild animals in commercial advertising where a company is seeking to highlight or promote its relationship with the Rainforest Alliance or its use of Rainforest Alliance certified commodities". Wild Futures and other charities have, in the past, forced companies to withdraw campaigns they believe compromise animal's rights. The European Union was forced to pull a stop smoking advert last year after objections for animal welfare groups, and car manufaturer Dodge also withdrew an advert which featured a chimpanzee after animal rights groups lodged complaints.

The Code of Practice on the Welfare of Privately Kept Non-Human Primates states that "primates used for entertainment and in the media are often removed from their social group and hand-reared, causing distress to the infant, mother and other members of the group." The five charities have said they feel that, because the animals have been removed from their social group for the purposes of filming, Costa could be in contravention of three of the five needs as stated in the Animal Welfare Act.

Jim Slater, the marketing director of Costa Coffee vigourusly defended the adverts, insiting that "no compromise is made regarding animal welfare standards" in the adverts. "The monkeys were provided by a specialist organisation and have appeared in movies and on TV many times before." Speaking to Bakeryinfo.co.uk before the advert was launched, he added: “Costa is enjoying double-digit like-for-like sales growth, and we aim to continue this great momentum. Independent surveys consistently prove that coffee lovers prefer Costa, and this TV commercial will help us to explain the reasons why.”


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