Koch Industries among investors set to take over UK supermarket Morrisons

The largest private company in the U.S. and the family that owns it have financially supported a network of groups working to downplay the threat of climate change and kill off legislation designed to cut emissions.

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SOURCEDesmog Blog
Morrisons supermarket in Northumberland. Credit: Jim Barton (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Supermarket chain Morrisons is set to be snapped up by a group of U.S. investors that includes a subsidiary of fossil fuel giant Koch Industries, known for funding numerous climate science denial groups across the country.

The £6.3 billion takeover bid of the U.K.’s fourth largest supermarket group, which campaigners fear could represent a “worrying shift”, is being led by U.S. private equity firm Fortress Investment Group, owner of Majestic Wine. 

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, one of the world’s biggest pension funds that manages pensions for all Canadian employees, is also providing funding.

Profits from Koch Industries, the largest private company in the U.S., have been used to support a sprawling network of libertarian, anti-regulation think tanks and lobby groups that have worked to cast doubt on mainstream climate science and oppose climate legislation.

Koch-funded groups have included the Heartland InstituteAmericans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Founded in the 1920s by Fred C. Koch, Koch Industries is now run by his son Charles and last year reported revenue of $114 billion.

Its largest business is in oil refining and chemicals but the company also has interests in finance and commodities trading.

It also owns companies involved in the manufacture of agricultural fertilizers and cattle ranching, as well as being the largest foreign leaseholder of the Canadian oil sands industry.

‘Worrying Shift’

The news comes as the agriculture sector comes under increased pressure to cut its emissions.

Jessica Sinclair Taylor, Head of Policy at the food and farming-focused environmental charity Feedback, said: “The way we produce food and consume food is one of the biggest drivers of the climate crisis. The UK’s supermarkets are already failing to tackle the environmental damage caused by the products they produce and sell. 

“This takeover, if it goes ahead, may indicate a worrying shift in the wrong direction – even further towards short-term profit over the long-term health of people and the planet.”

Feedback recently published a report that judged Morrisons to be the third worst U.K. supermarket for its climate change strategy.

A spokesperson for activist group Extinction Rebellion, Jessica Townsend, said the Kochs’ commercial and philanthropic activities were leading directly to climate change and biodiversity loss, which scientists warn could threaten food security.

“The fact the Kochs are also nefarious, and often covert, funders of climate denial and delayism means their move into the U.K. food market can only be regarded with dismay,” she added.

DeSmog revealed last year that a number of U.K. supermarkets were members of the trade association Logistics U.K., which had boasted about delaying the introduction of Clean Air Zones, designed to cut air pollution, in various U.K. cities. Morrisons, previously reported to belong to the industry body, refused to confirm whether it was still a member.

The takeover bid represents a significant shift in the U.K. supermarket sector, according to Richard Lim, of research consultants Retail Economics, who told the BBC the deal “signals the biggest shakeup in the U.K. grocery sector for over a decade”.

The board has recommended Morrisons go ahead with the deal, which still needs to be approved by shareholders, but other rival bids could still be made.

Morrisons and Koch Industries have been contacted for comment.

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Rich Collett-White
Rich Collett-White is Deputy Editor of DeSmog. He joined the organisation in December 2018 as a UK researcher and reporter, having previously worked in communications for the climate charity Operation Noah. He has since pursued investigations into climate misinformation, government policy and industry lobbying, which have been covered by the Guardian, Independent and Times. He previously worked in campaigns and communications for the charity Operation Noah. He graduated from Oxford University with a French and Russian degree in 2015, after which he volunteered with grassroots climate activist groups and worked as a freelance translator.

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