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Environment

After Banned Palm Oil Ad, Iceland Has Let an 'Orangutan' Loose in London

Why Global Citizens Should Care 
The UN's Global Goals call for action on responsible consumption and production, as well as creating sustainable cities and communities. And the palm oil industry has come under international pressure to work to prevent deforestation, and to protect the forest homes of wildlife such as orangutans. Join us by taking action here in support of the Global Goals.

Surely you’ve seen the Iceland Christmas advert by now.

It’s been viewed millions of times on YouTube and Facebook; tweeted by everybody from James Corden to Michael Gove (three times, actually); and, despite a controversial television ban for being too “political,” it might just be the closest challenger to John Lewis’ monopoly on festive feels this year.

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The advert is a short animated film — originally created by environmental charity Greenpeace and voiced by actress Dame Emma Thompson — that follows an orangutan called Rang-tan whose home is under threat from the deforestation caused by extracting palm oil.

And to really drive the campaign home — Chris Rea-style — Iceland has brought its very own orangutan to London.

But hold fire on your #DontForceOrangutansToLiveInLondon petition. Iceland’s life-sized pet is actually a robot.

The animatronic orangutan, controlled remotely by a specialist who has studied ape behaviour, was created by the teams behind BBC TV shows Doctor Who and Sherlock, according to the Guardian.

After some serious sightseeing in London, it will head to Iceland stores all over the country, including Manchester and Birmingham, to find a “new home.”

It’s all to promote the campaign behind the advert — to stop the destruction of rainforests to produce palm oil and help save the 25 orangutans killed every day by the removal of their natural habitat, 80% of which has been lost over the past 20 years, according to the Orangutan Project.

And the “orangutan” has had quite the photoshoot around London today: sauntering around Parliament Square, meeting other (non-robotic) animals, boarding a red bus, and even climbing a 20 foot Christmas tree on Colin Street — in November!

So, why exactly was the advert banned?

Apparently it broke the 2003 Communications Act, according to commercial advert moderator Clearcast, because it’s “directed towards a political end.”

Iceland was the first major UK supermarket to remove palm oil from all of its own-brand products. So instead of screening the short film itself, Iceland will place 10-second ads promoting its palm oil-free products. 

Originally, the chain had allocated £500,000 to promote the Christmas advert — although the Guardian reports that this is not a significant budget for a major retailer.

Read More: Iceland's Christmas Ad Speaks Out Against Palm Oil and Deforestation — But It's Been Banned From TV

“Our stranded, distressed orangutan is a stark and potent symbol of the effects of deforestation,” said Richard Walker, Iceland’s managing director. “We are determined to be at the forefront of efforts to guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction and Iceland will continue to be a driving force until this environmental impact is drastically reduced.”

Now, there’s also an online petition demanding the advert be allowed on television. It’s amassed 890,000 signatures on Change.org, describing the short film as holding a “beautiful and important message.”

“Palm oil is a product that can be found in everything from shampoos and detergents to sandwiches and biscuits,” wrote petition creator Mark Topps. “It’s one of the most environmentally damaging industries, and each day 25 orangutans are killed. Its production wipes out rainforests and wildlife, driving animals like the orangutan to extinction.” 

“As a father of three who thinks this ad would help educate people about how their products are killing orangutans and their homes, I feel banning this advert is an injustice,” he added.