One of the main reasons Oatly is so popular is because it makes a delicious dairy-alternative that is much more sustainable than almond milk. This is precisely why news that the brand recently sold a 10%, $200 million (£150m) stake to an investment group led by private-equity firm Blackstone Group hurts so bad. When news of this sale broke back in July, we, like so many others, were distracted by the fact that the group includes Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and Jay-Z's entertainment company. Now, however, it has come to the attention of many that Blackstone's chairman and CEO Stephen A Schwarzman recently gave $3 million (£2.6m) to a pro-Trump super PAC called America First Action and has been a "close confidant of the president's since his inauguration," according to CNBC. Blackstone recently hired lobbyist David Urban, who also has ties to President Trump.
While the links to President Trump, who has openly mocked The Green New Deal, pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord, and expressed doubt that climate change is real, are bad enough for eco-conscious consumers of Oatly, it's not the only reason former fans are mad about the deal. Last year, Blackstone invested in Hidrovias do Brasil, a Brazilian company that has been accused of "contributing to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest through deforestation and the development of a highway to facilitate the farming and export of grain and soybeans," Eater reports. These alleged actions are, of course, antithetical to the reasons so many adore Oatly.
Since Blackstone's controversial business dealings and leadership have garnered attention, former Oatly fans have taken to Twitter to announce that they will, with great sadness, no longer by buying its product.
Oatly has been frantically responding to various tweets from users announcing their boycott of the brand, and in many of its replies, the company has linked to its official response. "On multiple occasions, we've found ourselves stepping on the toes of both our friends and those who disagree with our mission, and now we've gone and done it again. This time it's about our current need for funding, specifically 400 million U.S. dollars, in order to continue to grow as sustainably as possible as the demand for our products continues to skyrocket, both in our current markets as well as new markets," Oatly said in a statement recently published on its website. "$200 million was secured through a green-deal bank loan where we are committed by the terms of the loan to ensure that all of our investments are in sustainable solutions. The other $200 million came through an investment from Blackstone, an investment choice that makes for sensational headlines in a world where debates have become so dangerously black and white."
Oatly fans may remember what was dubbed "the great oat milk shortage of 2018," which was caused by the small company's inability to keep up with soaring demands and led to Oatly prices skyrocketing and baristas limiting oat milk orders at cafés around the country. The brand seems to have turned to outside investors as a way to prevent that from happening again, especially now that oat milk is officially mainstream. Still, consumers desperately wish the brand had chosen another partner to help with sustainable growth. In response to that, Oatly wrote, "Blackstone is like the biggest supermarket of the private equity sector. We thought that if we could convince them that it’s as profitable (and in the long-term even more profitable) to invest in a sustainability company like Oatly, then all the other private equity firms of the world would look, listen and start to steer their collective worth of 4 trillion US dollars into green investments."
The good news for consumers is that since oat milk has grown — in large part thanks to Oatly — beyond being a niche vegan trend, there are many brands now on the market. That means Oatly lovers can experiment and find their favourite non-Oatly oat milk brand. We must point out, however, that if you're going to boycott Oatly for its investor's transgressions, you should also do your research on Silk, Califia Farms, Planet Oat, and others. It may turn out that there simply is no ethical oat milk consumption under capitalism.
In response to recent criticism, a representative of Blackstone Group shared a blog post it published last year with Refinery29. The post refutes claims that Hidrovias owns, controls, or has any interest in the road in question. The representative also noted that many of Blackstone's most senior executives — including president Jon Gray and vice-chairman Tony James — are major fundraisers for Joe Biden and Democratic Party causes.