Is David the New Goliath?

Submitted by: Martyn Eustace 05/01/2015

Do corporates now live in fear of NGOs? The case of Resolute versus Greenpeace poses some new questions about CSR or NGOSR!

In the bad old days, corporate growth and greed ran rampant and companies cared little for the environment or thought much about their social responsibilities. Into this callous industrial world, ENGOs, Environmental Non-Governmental Organisations), were born to protect the world and all of God’s creatures.

Of course this is far from the truth but sets the scene for the complicated relationships that exist these days between governments, corporations and the multiplicity of ENGOs that have sprung up pursuing various aims.

According to Wikipedia, The term "non-governmental organization" was first coined in 1945, when the United Nations (UN) was created. The UN, itself an inter-governmental organization, made it possible for certain approved specialized international non-state agencies—i.e., non-governmental organizations—to be awarded observer status at its assemblies and some of its meetings. Later the term became used more widely. Today, according to the UN, any kind of private organization that is independent from government control can be termed an "NGO", provided it is not-for-profit, non-criminal and not simply an opposition political party’.

But perhaps it was the 60’s that saw the onset of the proliferation of NGOs? Student power, flower power and free love blossomed from the austerity of the post war years and this intensity of unconstrained intellectual freedom gestated many of the estimated 1.5 million NGOs that exist today in the USA. The worldwide total is unknown. As NGOs emerged they found increasing resonance with citizens who found a voice by which to exert influence in law making and socially acceptable practices.

There is no doubt that the world is a better place for their activity but, by their nature, NGOs can inspire and frustrate; sometimes in equal measure.

Let’s take the current case of Resolute v. Greenpeace. In the red corner we have Resolute Forest Products Inc., a global forestry company with sales exceeding $4.5bn. In the green corner there is Greenpeace, a well-known NGO funded from over 2.9 million supporters and foundation grants. These two have been locked in a battle over several years over allegations from Greenpeace that Resolute has been mismanaging its forestry practices. But what is different about this dispute is that the company has not taken the usual course of appeasement but stood up for what it believes is the truth.

It’s not the first time Greenpeace has been challenged and accused of misleading the public.  A few years back, their Tuna campaign was challenged by the industry using science-based facts, reports from academia, and even a humorous video poking fun at their new CEO and multi-million dollar yacht (www.tunafortomorrow.com).

And some prominent members of Greenpeace have left the organisation with criticism of its direction. Patrick Moore, ex-ceo of Greenpeace has done a full 180 and now supports sustainable forestry as a way to help save the planet (Patrick Moore, 2000).  His thoughts about Greenpeace can be found in his books; “Trees are the Answer” and “Confessions of a Greenpeace dropout; the making of a sensible environmentalist”.

It is not the purpose of this paper to go into the rights and wrongs of the case but the legal actions resorted to by Resolute have so far cost Greenpeace considerably in fees and reputation and there are further legal hearings to come.

According to Resolute CEO, Richard Garneau; “the ‘evidence’ collected by Greenpeace was definitively proven to be false and was initially withdrawn by Greenpeace. It was only after they continued repeating these inaccurate statements as truths that the company decided to file our lawsuit.

When Greenpeace left the CBFA, (Canada Boreal Forest Agreement), and began making inaccurate allegations concerning our company in December 2012, Resolute provided clear proof that these allegations were false. Ultimately, when faced with a legal challenge, Greenpeace acknowledged that its claims were untrue and issued a formal retraction. Greenpeace has persisted in promoting misinformation concerning Resolute, despite acknowledging further inaccuracies in their literature. The decision to proceed with legal action with respect to these false and misleading statements was not taken lightly.

Resolute has a responsibility to protect its own reputation and that of our valued employees, customers and partners. We have therefore endeavoured to correct misinformation and falsehoods concerning our operations, and have adopted a firm stance in the face of market campaigning.”

It used to be the case that, in the face of NGO criticism, many organisations would avoid conflict and roll over; even if they felt that the accusations were unfair, fearing the parking of a Rainbow Warrior in the corporate car park or placard waving activists outside their shop windows. But perhaps now times are changing? Are corporates now prepared, if they believe that an NGO is being deliberately inaccurate or exaggerating their assertions, to take a stand?

The stakes are now high and ENGO intervention can be costly on both sides. Greenpeace, pursuing their policy of direct action has targeted many well known consumer brands, who they believe are buying paper and forestry products from unsustainable sources, and, in many cases, secured changes in buying policies. So basing action on correct facts is vitally important as volume losses for businesses, and job security for their employees, are all at risk. For the ENGO, the cost of misdirected action can also be high and not all ENGO finances are healthy. In June of this year, the UK based Guardian newspaper reported on the “financial disarray” of Greenpeace’s budget

And perhaps corporates are learning that NGO actions are not always greeted with public sympathy. Only recently Greenpeace had to apologize for its actions during the UN Lima Climate Change Conference when they defaced an important UNESCO world heritage site in Peru;

In the case of Resolute v. Greenpeace, the battle continues. Despite being on the wrong end of several court hearings, and spending donated funds on legal fees, Greenpeace last week targeted another of Resolute’s customers, Best Buy, accusing them of ‘fuelling destruction in Canada’s boreal forests’

No doubt this new action will be added to the list of current litigation but are consumers now becoming wary of exaggerated claims?  Last year Two Sides took another NGO, The European Environmental Paper Network, to task for claiming that the Paper industry is ‘one of the most destructive industries of our time’. At the time, Two Sides issued a statement: “While many of the EEPN’s goals are compatible with those of Two Sides and its members, its use of misinformation, incorrect ‘facts’ and exaggerated claims about the industry tell a story to the average consumer and large institutional user which is completely at odds with reality and must be challenged”.

Countering Greenpeace’s activity in Canada, FPAC, the Forest Products Association of Canada, states

  • FPAC is the first association in the world to require its members be 100% third-party certified across all operations. Certification is an independent assessment that a company follows progressive environmental and social practices
  • Canada is a global leader in forest management. Canada has 150 million hectares or 40% of the world’s certified forest, by far the most in the world. Only about 10% of global forests are certified
  • Canada retains about 90% of its original forest cover, more than any other country in the world
  • Canada now has virtually zero deforestation. Canada’s rate of deforestation is 0.18 % a year and is mostly due to other industrial activities, urban development, transportation, recreation and hydroelectricity
  • A Yale University study recognized Canada's forestry regulations and laws as being among the most stringent in the world
  • A 2014 study by Leger Marketing found that the Canadian forest sector has the best environmental reputation in the world
  • FPAC member companies are also working with environmentalists under the landmark Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement to reduce ecological pressure on the boreal forest while enhancing economic opportunity in the forest sector

Further information about FPAC's approach to sustainability can be found in their Vision 2020 Report Card. - Pathways to Prosperity for Canada’s Forest Products Sector

So, observers of the dispute between Resolute and Greenpeace will be fascinated by the outcome. Perhaps ENGOs may come to realise, as have corporates before them, that consumers are increasingly savvy and now demand accuracy of information and integrity of campaigns.

The pulp and paper industry is one of the most regulated industrial sectors in the world and has actively embraced the ongoing challenge to improve its environmental performance and strengthen its relationship with the environmental movement. But, unique amongst industries, it is based on a natural, renewable and recyclable material whose preservation it relies upon for its future. 

Contacts:

Two Sides UK:    e: enquiries@twosides.info

Two Sides NA:    e: info@twosidesna.org