…Utterly silent on crimes of corporate partners like ExxonMobil
By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
There is the age-old saying “you never bite the hands that feed you.”
With that in mind, what if it is found that that ranks of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) were taking money from the deep pockets of high profile criminals? Would it still enjoy the trust of the nation?
By the same standards, what if it is discovered that Conservation International (CI) was being funded both locally and internationally by the very companies that cause harm to the environment? What if CI calls such companies its “corporate partners?” Should Guyana trust CI to look out for its best interest as it relates to the operations of oil companies here—particularly ExxonMobil?
BG Group, BHP Billiton, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Shell, Toyota Motor Corporation and United Airlines are just a few of CI’s 84 corporate partners internationally. (See full list here: https://www.conservation.org/partners/pages/default.aspx) These are some of the biggest companies in the world, responsible for appalling levels of pollution.
CI is listed as an American nonprofit environmental organization. Its goal is to protect nature as a source of food, fresh water, livelihoods and a stable climate. Since it was founded in 1987, the outfit has spearheaded countless conservation and climate programmes.
However, critics say CI is hopelessly compromised, and it represents the worst of what the old-guard environmental movement has become: fat, wealthy, and addicted to the largesse of polluting corporate donors.
Many have noted CI’s utter silence with regard to the many environmental crimes of their corporate partners. For example, it has been silent on Total’s tar sands extraction in Madagascar, or even BP’s in Canada, which has been described by Greenpeace as the greatest environmental crime in history.
A few years ago, (2011) Redd+ noted that journalists from the London-based magazine Don’t Panic decided to find out whether CI was “anything more than a green PR company.” They went undercover to see just how far CI would go to help polluting industry. Given the list of corporate polluters that CI is already working with, the first challenge was to find a company sufficiently heinous to make the point that CI will work with just about anyone.( http://www.redd-monitor.org/2011/05/12/conservation-international-%E2%80%9Care-they-any-more-than-a-green-pr-company%E2%80%9D/.)
Don’t Panic pretended to be the biggest multinational arms company in the world: Lockheed Martin. Don’t Panic notes that, “Lockheed sells US$30 billion a year of stuff to kill people with, including missiles, fighter jets, some alleged depleted uranium bombs.”
Don’t Panic subsequently produced a 12-minute video about Conservation International which allegedly had no problem doing business with the Lockheed. In fact, CI invited Lockheed Martin to become part of its Business Sustainability Council, for only US$37,500 a year. (View entire video here: http://www.dontpaniconline.com/DPTV/undercover-with-conservation-international.)
Huffington Post also reported that Christine MacDonald, a journalist and author of the 2008 book “Green Inc.,” said no one should be surprised by the exchange between CI and the Don’t Panic journalists.
MacDonald also said it was worth noting that in the video, the CI representative never suggests that her organization could actually improve Lockheed’s environmental practices — only its image.
But Justin Ward, the Vice President for business practices at Conservation International at that time, said in a telephone interview that the video is misleading, in part because it represents just one slice of a whole range of interactions, including a variety of phone calls and emails that taken together, provide a fuller picture of how Conservation International deals with potential corporate partners.
Still, MacDonald said it was hard to view the video and not wonder whether, in real world situations, conservation groups working with business executives were not akin to lambs among wolves.
Fortune Magazine reported that incidents like these represent a dramatic turnabout from the time, not all that long ago, when big business and the environmental movement were frequently at loggerheads. Now they often share common goals, and those on both sides of these partnerships say it makes sense for companies to pay groups like Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund for their expert help.
“Judge us on what we and the companies together are able to do for the environment,” says Glenn Prickett, a senior vice president at Conservational International.
“By that standard, they’re doing well.”
A paper by William M. Adams published in the Journal of Polical Ecology explores the “surprising closeness and apparent warmth of the relations between biodiversity conservation organizations and corporations”.
The paper is titled, “Sleeping with the enemy? Biodiversity conservation, corporations and the green economy.” Adams traces the partnerships between conservation organizations and the mining industry to a series of initiatives starting in the 1990s. He said that an obvious problem with conservationists partnering with corporations is what Adams calls the “fundamental nature of capitalism”.
Adams said, “Corporations need to make only slight changes to their corporate strategies. But for the conservation organizations working with corporations, the ideological and organizational changes are significant. Biting the hand that feeds, by criticizing corporate partners is out of the question.” He said, too, that conservation organizations that work closely with corporations start to look more like corporations themselves.
Adams writes that the partnership between conservation organizations and corporations is a Faustian bargain, “A deal with the devil to acquire power in exchange for the soul”. http://www.conservation-watch.org/2017/03/21/greenwashing-capitalism-conservations-cosy-relationship-with-corporations/.
So far, while there has been much talk about the several weaknesses in ExxonMobil’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA); and the absence of a public detailed oil spill response plan, CI has been silent. Not a word was spoken about these and other ills.
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