Localwashing: How corporate America is co-opting “local”
image by Anastasia Vasilakis / www.anastasiavasilakis.com
HSBC, one of the biggest banks on the planet, has taken to calling itself “the world’s local bank.” Starbucks is removing its name from at least three of its Seattle outlets, the first of which just reopened as “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea.” Winn-Dixie, a 500-outlet supermarket chain, recently launched a new ad campaign under the tagline “Local flavor since 1956.” The International Council of Shopping Centers, a consortium of mall owners and developers, has poured millions of dollars into television ads urging people to “Shop Local”—at their nearest mall.
This new variation on corporate greenwashing—localwashing—is, like the buy-local movement itself, most advanced in the context of food. Hellmann’s, the mayonnaise brand owned by the processed-food giant Unilever, is test-driving a new “Eat Real, Eat Local” initiative in Canada. Frito-Lay’s television commercials use farmers as pitchmen to position the company’s potato chips as local food, while the poultry giant Foster Farms is labeling its packages of chicken “locally grown.”
Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble has launched a video blog site under the banner “All bookselling is local.” The site, which features “local book news” and recommendations from employees of stores in such evocative-sounding locales as Surprise, Arizona, seems designed to disguise what Barnes & Noble is—a highly centralized corporation where decisions about what books to stock are made by a handful of buyers—and to present the chain instead as a collection of independent-minded booksellers.
Shopping malls, chambers of commerce, and economic development agencies from Orlando to Spokane also are appropriating the phrase “buy local” to urge consumers to patronize nearby malls and chain stores. In March, leaders of a new Buy Local campaign in Fresno, California, assembled in front of the Fashion Fair Mall for a kickoff press conference. Flanked by stores like Anthropologie and The Cheesecake Factory, officials from the Economic Development Corporation of Fresno County explained that choosing to “buy local” helps the region’s economy and cited a study that found that for every $100 spent locally, $45 stays in the community.
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