Shark fin: The battle for the soul of Cathay Pacific

Cathay still supporting

Currently there’s a number of metaphorical punch ups taking place in Hong Kong re shark fin air cargo. In one such battle the combatants are:-

In the red corner:-

Name: Cathay Pacific

Business activities: Passenger and cargo airline

Founded: 1946

Based: Cathay City, Hong Kong Airport

Subsidiaries: Air Hong Kong, Dragonair

Parent company: Swire Pacific

Revenue: HKD 102 billion (2015)

Profit attributable to shareholders: HKD 6 billion (2015)

Available man power including subsidiaries: 32 900

Underlying motives behind all decisions – profit

In the green corner:-

Name: Jess Henderson

Business activities: Volunteer vegan activitist, Juice bar assistant

Born: 1991

Based: Her mum’s place in Tseung Kwan O

Subsidiaries: None

Parents: Her mum & dad

Revenue: HKD a few thousand a month working in an HK juice bar. Volunteer work for the Hong Kong Shark Foundation is unpaid as is other activism

Profit attributable to shareholders: What shareholders?

Available man power including subsidiaries: People who she can convince what she is doing is right. Originally eight others. Other people now adding their support

Underlying motives behind all activist decisions: Save the world

cathay shark fin white background

So if you take a look at the sides it doesn’t seem very much of a contest. That isn’t how the plucky upstart from TKO sees things. Before describing how the contest is unravelling, a short explanation of shark finning:-

* Shark finning is the removal and retention of shark fins
* Shark fins command high financial value to make the Asian market perceived delicacy of shark fin soup
* De-finned sharks lack financial value and are thus thrown back into the ocean
* Every shark de-finned is helplessly condemned to sink and die
* With 73 million shark de-finned a year, finning is driving many shark species to extinction
* Since sharks are apex predators, destroying shark populations upsets oceanic ecosystems

25 May: Jess Henderson set up an online petition urging Cathay Pacific to go shark fin free (click highlighted text throughout article for external links)

27 May: The people behind the conservation movie, Racing Extinction, come out in support of Henderson’s petition. Makers of Racing Extinction, The Oceanic Preservation Society, previously produced the award winning movie on dolphin slaughter, The Cove

Cathay demo 1

29 May: Henderson and eight others dressed as sharks and carrying slogans took part in a flash mob demo. This was at Cathay’s HK airport check in desks. They followed this with a sit in leading to involvement from airport staff and security. The protest achieved its short term objective – bring more attention on Cathay’s persistence in cargoing shark fin:-

* Wild Aid Hong Kong promptly published a well worded piece in support of the Henderson orchestrated protest. No coincidence we suspect.

* The South China Morning Post covered the protest that same day

As Henderson said in the SCMP piece, “We got the idea after HK Express decided to go fin-free… so it’s perfect timing to put some pressure on Cathay and get them to re-look at their policy.”

Cathay demo 2

(Pic source: SCMP)

8 June: Branding in Asia publish an article titled, “Shark Fin Shipping Brings Cathay Pacific Continued Ridicule.” The article again referenced the Henderson organised demo.

10 June: Branding in Asia updated their article to add a PR response from Cathay. The response from Cathay contains standard animal industry PR slogans:-

* sustainable
* responsible sourcing

These marketing slogans used by the animal industry and its associates are intended to assuage feelings of guilt in their customers and employees. Other such euphemisms the animal industry regularly use include:-

* cruelty free
* humane slaughter

There’s a very worth watching movie named Merchants of Doubt. The movie gives fascinating insights into the murky world of corporate lobbying. As demonstrated perfectly by this 90 second clip, one point the film entertainingly makes is the importance of ‘expert opinion’ appearing to be independent from those supported by their ‘expert opinion’. If the experts giving their opinion appear independent from the body whose side they take then their credibility is elevated. Hence why corporations funnel money behind the scenes to set up and payroll ‘expert groups’ with PR friendly names. These same expert groups then roll out their opinions on cue from their paymasters. Unsurprisingly the seemingly independent groups consistently trot out messages supporting the activities of those who payroll them.

12 June: A letter is published in the SCMP from an alleged panel of experts. Again the use of sustainable is splashed around liberally. The stated overwhelming PR support of the authors for Cathay is unmistakeable. This seems a perfect example of the technique of using ‘independent experts’ demonstrated in Merchants of Doubt.

The SCMP letter:-

1) Includes a link to an online WWF article. World Wide Fund for Nature? It may as well be to the World Wrestling Federation. Where shall we start with the bundle of nonsense that is the World Wide Fund for Nature:-

a) The WWF long time President was King Juan Carlos of Spain. His not so majestic idea of august wisdom is being a passionate hunting enthusiast. Among the bears he has killed was an expectant mother to be

b) The UK figure head of the WWF is Prince Charles. His idea of a great day out is the lowness of riding around on horse back with friends in pursuit of a fox for a pack of hounds to rip to shreds

c) A German language documentary titled “Der Pakt Mit Dem Panda” (The Pact With The Panda), features numerous allegations against WWF. This includes green washing. In this case specifically that WWF provided sustainability certificates in return for corporate donations from Monsanto, Shell and Wilmar International (Wilmar are Asia’s largest agribusiness corporation). Activities WWF are said to green wash include massive scale GMO support, pollution cover ups and deforestation / habitat destruction.


d) Another German investigation led to the publication of a book named Pandaleaks (or Silence of the Pandas depending on the country of publication). The book is critical of WWF selling its soul to corporations devastating the environment such as food and beverage giant, Coca Cola.

e) Corporate Watch have branded the Roundtable on Sustainable Soya (RSS) as a WWF attempt to green wash the soya boom and soya’s manufacture for livestock. The beneficiaries of this corporate green wash are Unilever, Cargill and Syngenta. Similarly GMwatch have labelled WWF a loyal ally to agribiz

Conclusion of the points re WWF above:-

  • if the authors of the SCMP letter hold up the WWF as a role model, what does that say of the authors?

2) The SCMP letter references support of governments such as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Policy in the USA is massively influenced by corporate lobbyists (watch Merchants of Doubt again). Is it any surprise corporate stooges such as the authors of this letter are happy to claim backing from governments who exist to serve corporations?

3) The ‘experts’ state in their letter:-

“Sustainable shark fishing is important because sharks provide an important source of animal protein in many nations.”

Their comment is misleading:-

a) Finning is done at sea with the helpless de-finned shark thrown back into the water to die. Economics render the fins the only shark organ worth shipping to market

b) There’s respected people asserting that such is the atrocious  level of pollution in the seas, a mouthful of marine animal is a mouthful of:-

* Dioxins
* Mercury
* PCBs
* Radiation

Keen to try any of these delicacies from the world of scientific pollution? There’s a sea food restaurant near you.

Cathay shark fins

So who pays these ‘expert’ letter writers to come up with the material they publish? They’re unbiased? Don’t kid yourself.

What Cathay’s next move is time will tell. It is unlikely to be a removal of shark fin from their acceptable cargo policy. Cathay continually put up strong resistance in favour of shark fin cargo. Thus shark fin must be a lucrative product for them to cargo.

Of course there are others in HK challenging Cathay’s shark fin stance. Wild Aid and the HK Shark Foundation for example have already been mentioned. Similarly Gary Stokes at Sea Shepherd HK is a vocal critic of Cathay’s shark fin policy. Jess Henderson though gives Cathay someone else to contend with. The latest people this week to join the battle against Cathay are a group of HK international school children.

Jess Henderson’s next Cathay demo at HK airport is being arranged for 3 July.


2 thoughts on “Shark fin: The battle for the soul of Cathay Pacific

  1. Pingback: Cathay announce shark fin free policy |

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