First-ever advertising complaint: flight advertising TUI encourages environmentally damaging behaviour

Advertising may not incite behaviour that is harmful to health or highly damaging to the environment, the Dutch Advertising Code states. For the first time, the Dutch advertising watchdog (Reclame Code Commissie - Advertising Code Committee) is handling a complaint about this. A ruling in this case could have far-reaching consequences for other advertisements that are harmful to the environment and health.

The Advertising Code Committee (RCC) is often in the news with complaints about misleading sustainability claims (greenwashing), such as advertisements by Shell, KLM or Primark. On 4 April, the RCC will handle a different kind of complaint for the first time, based on a recent amendment to the Advertising Code. According to that amendment, advertisements may not encourage behaviour that is harmful to public health and highly damaging to the environment (see note below).

Advertising Fossil-Free filed a complaint against a TUI television ad for flight holidays to the Turkish Riviera based on this provision. According to Advertising Fossil Free, this advertisement incites harmful behaviour, as flying causes a lot of climate and health damage.

Advertising Fossil Free is assisted in the complaint by lawyers from Walden Grene and Ecolytico. Lawyer Berber Brouwer (Walden Grene): "If the RCC follows our argument, this could have major consequences for other advertisements that incite behaviour that is harmful to the environment or health. Think, for example, of advertisements for cruise travel, fast fashion or a fast food beef burger." Advertising Fossil Free has filed a similar complaint about SunWeb's cruise travel advertisements. The organisation does not rule out other complaints to follow.

The TUI commercial was among those shown in the commercial break preceding the eight o'clock news. Rémi ter Haar (campaigner Advertising Fossil-Free): "Every day in the news we see the far-reaching consequences of climate disruption; deadly heatwaves, floods, forest fires, crop failures. But before and after that same newscast, we are seduced by advertisements for air travel that get us into even deeper trouble. There is no way to explain that anymore, is there?"

Note on legal matters
Article 2 of the Nederlandse Reclame Code (NRC - Dutch advertising standard) states that advertising should be in accordance with the law, truth, good taste and decency. As of 1 July 2023, the Advertising Code Foundation has made a number of changes, including an addition to the explanatory note to Article 2 NRC. According to the explanation, Article 2 NRC also includes the obligation that advertising may not incite behaviour that is harmful to health or safety or highly harmful to the environment. According to the Advertising Code Foundation, this is a repair of existing EU obligations (Audiovisual Media Services Directive, Article 9 under paragraph 1 C iii and iv) that were no longer explicitly mentioned in the new Sustainability Advertising Code in the NRC.