Legitimacy struggles in palm oil controversies

Matteo Corciolani and co-authors have recently published research work on Palm Oil controversies:

Legitimacy struggles in palm oil controversies: An institutional perspective


Palm oil is an ingredient largely used in the food, energy and cosmetics industries. However, it is subject to controversies related to its being considered unhealthy and responsible for deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and human rights abuses. Nevertheless, palm oil is a rare topic of discussion in the literature on legitimacy struggles. Based on an automated content analysis of 3713 global newspaper articles, downloaded from LexisNexis covering the period 1979–2017, we longitudinally examined the evolution of palm oil discussions over time. With this method, we were able to focus on both the content and the style of communication. We thus obtained critical insights about how often different themes are mentioned in discussions on the palm oil market (i.e. the economic, environmental, health and social impacts of palm oil) and how three specific linguistic strategies are implemented by the media (i.e. a focus on promotion vs. prevention motivations, the adoption of analytic vs. narrative writing styles and references to specific vs. general stakeholders). In this way, we could better understand how different types of legitimacy have been emerging over time and in which geographic areas they have been most significant. In general, we show that pragmatic legitimacy is losing importance in favour of moral legitimacy and, more specifically, that pragmatic legitimacy remains the key for palm oil-producing countries, while moral legitimacy is more significant for palm oil-consuming countries. This study serves as a starting point for research on palm oil legitimacy struggles. Additionally, it offers useful insights for practitioners, policy makers and researchers in evaluating the status of the palm oil debate.