Greenpeace tactics have many seeing red
Author: Alan Oxley
Publication: The Financial Review
Environmental warriors should know that war has rules, writes Alan Oxley.
Greenpeace loves controversy. It's a modern day Robin Hood riding inflatable boats instead of horses and shooting videos instead of arrows.
Greenpeace claims to follow Gandhi's model of non-violent direct action. It reflects more the radical activists in the 1960s who broke the law to create sensation to win publicity.
So Greenpeace trespasses, creates disturbance, slanders and breaks international maritime law to create video files for the evening news. Is this about to change? It recently signed on to a code of conduct for non-governmental organisations that calls for honesty, fair comment, responsible public criticism and high standards of behaviour. What is its record?
It describes companies that have broken no law as corporate criminals. Shell, Nufarm, Monsanto and McDonald's have had the treatment.
Last year it profiled Charlie Banks, chief executive of a large UK publicly listed company, the Wolseley group, in a glossy report sensationally titled Partners In Crime: the UK timber trade, Chinese sweatshop, and Malaysian robber barons in Papua New Guinea's rainforests.
Wolseley's crime was to import timber from China that may have included timber from PNG. Greenpeace claims most timber in PNG is illegally logged. SGS, a reputable Swiss-based inspection company, monitors exports of logs for the PNG government. The company reports it has never seen a log exported that did not come from a legally licensed concession.
PNG has the misfortune to have a bit part in Greenpeace's global campaign for a treaty to control forestry. Greenpeace claims the Paradise Forests in PNG are on the verge of destruction. That is not true. Nearly two-thirds of PNG is forest and one-third of that is not earmarked for any commercial use.
Yale University reports deforestation has virtually halted. The Food and Agricultural Organisation reports that PNG's take from forestry is below its sustainable yield.
Greenpeace has publicised allegations of rape of workers and criminal and human rights abuse of employees and villagers against the largest forestry company in PNG, Rimbunan Hijau. None stands scrutiny. It accuses the company of devastating the Solomon Islands. It has never operated there.
The company is Malaysian-owned. Greenpeace has used innuendo about the Chinese ethnicity of the owners in terms that would not be acceptable in Australia. It is an old hand in the South Pacific and knows the issues.
Greenpeace has created a cynical definition of legality. Unless government administration of all regulations is up to date, any action taken under regulation is illegal.
Greenpeace boasts that more than a dozen companies in Europe have agreed not to buy timber from PNG.
What about the people of PNG? Social indicators are falling, HIV/AIDS is rising, and three-quarters of children in rural areas do not attend school. Forestry employs 10,000 people, generates up to 9 per cent of gross domestic product, $100 million in tax revenue and $250 million in exports. Greenpeace is pushing for eco-forestry, which is uneconomic. The people of PNG would suffer.
Greenpeace has not publicised in PNG its accession to the code of conduct. If it did, people would be right to wonder if it meant to exclude actions that affected the poor in developing countries.
Alan Oxley is principal of ITS Global, consultants on global issues. The company consults to Rimbunan Hijau on forestry, development and sustainability.