Advertising

“Consider this decision final”: Australian businesses mull class action after Facebook bans hemp-related advertising

Dominic Powell /

hemp

Darius Dunn, managing director of Made in Hemp. Source: Supplied.

Australian small businesses selling hemp foods and products have been banned from advertising their products on Facebook and Instagram, despite hemp being legal to grow and sell in the country.

These businesses, who sell products ranging from hemp clothing to hemp seed milk, have told SmartCompany their businesses have been crippled by the advertising ban, leaving them unable to reach new customers on social media. As a result, some business owners have told SmartCompany they are considering a “David vs Goliath” class action lawsuit.

Heidi Peuten runs Sydney-based healthfoods business Ulu Hye alongside her lifelong best friend and co-founder Vasia Vogias. The duo launched their business just one year ago, offering sustainable plant-based milk alternatives, or ‘mylk’.

Ulu Hye has two products, a nut-based mylk and a hemp seed-based mylk. However, Peuten tells SmartCompany her business has been “hugely set back” by Facebook’s policies, claiming not only have her ads been banned, but her page’s reach restricted also.

“Facebook and Instagram are our number one places to advertise and promote, but we’ve been permanently barred from advertising on there,” she says.

In correspondence seen by SmartCompany, Ulu Hye was told by support staff at Instagram and Facebook its ads did not follow the company’s advertising policies and had therefore been disabled.

“There’s no further action you may take here. We don’t support ads for your business model,” Facebook told the business.

“Please consider this decision final.”

Advertising policies inaccurate

The advertising policies set out by Facebook on its website contain rules relating to both restricted and prohibited content. According to the policy, companies may not promote the sale or use of “illegal, prescription or recreational drugs”, including a number of examples of images which would lead to the ads being banned.

On the left, Facebook’s examples of restricted imagery for ads. On the right, an image of Ulu Hye’s hemp mylk the business tried to have promoted.

However, these advertising policies do not apply to hemp products, as selling hemp products in Australia has been legal for decades, with the sale of hemp seed food legalised by the Department of Health in November 2017. Additionally, the only restrictions placed by the Department of Health on the marketing of hemp products is that the advertisements have no “reference to psychoactive activity”.

Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant, grown specifically for industrial purposes, with the seeds of the hemp plant being recognised as a health food due to its high protein, omega-3 and omega-6 content.

Most importantly, hemp does not contain (or only contains in very low levels), delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive substance which is present in high doses in marijuana plants. The hemp plant is also highly sustainable and eco-friendly, being able to be grown in many conditions across the world.

Despite this, misconceptions have caused hemp to be lumped in with its illicit cousin, marijuana, and global legislation has frequently conflated the two, causing great harm to the hemp industry.

Class action considered

Darius Dunn is the managing director at Made in Hemp, an online and bricks-and-mortar hemp-product retailer, which has been selling things such as hemp-based clothes, skincare and homewares since 2004.

He tells SmartCompany his company’s advertising has also been restricted by Facebook, believing that as far as the social media giant is concerned, “hemp is cannabis”.

Ulu Hye founders Vasia Vogias and Heidi Peuten. Source: Supplied.

Dunn says he’s far from the only business affected by the ban, with he and other SMEs in the industry currently considering a class action lawsuit against the company, being left with no other viable advertising channels, and with concerns his page may be permanently shut down.

“We are being considerably limited in our ability to advertise. I’ve worked in advertising before, and as far as I’m concerned Facebook and Instagram are the best ways to advertise,” he says.

“They’ve got no clue, and no interest in fixing it.”

Dunn and his business have had extensive correspondence with Facebook about the ban, with the business owner being told the reason his posts were being banned was due to the possibility of his ads appearing in countries where hemp was illegal.

Correspondence seen by SmartCompany shows Made in Hemp being advised that hemp is “illegal in many parts of the world” as reasoning for the ads being banned.

“Firstly, show me where in the world hemp clothing is illegal,” he says.

“Secondly, I’m using Facebook’s own system to target people within 50 kilometres of my shop, it shouldn’t be shown overseas at all.”

“And if it were so controversial, why should my page be able to exist in the first place? Anyone can come and look at it.”

However, despite Facebook’s ban, Made in Hemp says some of its ads are approved randomly and “out of the blue”, further confusing the business owner over the reasoning and consistency behind Facebook’s ban.

Facebook clarifies ban on “ingestible hemp”

In a statement to SmartCompany, a Facebook spokesperson said its global advertising policy “does not permit any ads for ingestible hemp”.

“Products which advertise ingestible hemp — such as seeds or hemp-based products — are therefore not permitted. Even if hemp is legally allowed to be sold in some countries, it may still be illegal to advertise or sell in other countries and so our policy on this remains strict,” the spokesperson says.

“We are always reviewing and improving our policies so this may be an area we review further in the future.”

However, this response does little to answer Dunn’s questions, as much of Made in Hemp’s products do not involve ‘ingestible’ hemp, such as his skincare products and clothing products.

“We’ve been trying to get advertising up about the shop itself, just saying we’re called ‘Made in Hemp’ and we’re at this address. That’s not promoting food or anything ingestible,” he says.

SmartCompany understands Facebook considers ads about non-ingestible hemp products as acceptable, so long as the ad itself does not allude to the inclusion of hemp in the product.

In response, Dunn questions the point of the ads if they can’t include references to hemp.

“This is something that you want to be promoted, not restricted,” he says.

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany. Email him at [email protected].

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