The green policemanUnited Kingdom
The world's multinational corporations may have extraordinary power, but they become decidedly nervous when they know that Greenpeace is on their case.
One chief executive of a global company, when asked why he wanted to meet with the international NGO, responded candidly: "We would rather be sitting round the dinner table with you than being placed on your menu."
UK executive director John Sauven is proud of the fact that Greenpeace continues to live up to its original slogan of 'making waves' but recognises that the only way of confronting the multiplicity of problems facing the world, ranging from climate change and loss of biodiversity to deforestation, is systemic change.
That is no easy task. Sauven, without even pausing to take a breath, ranges across the barriers to change, from the blinkered concentration of companies on the bottom line and government refusal to regulate markets to the short-termism of pension funds and the overbearing power of the oil companies.
What he finds particularly frustrating is the inability of Western governments to take action. While there is a can-do attitude to change in China, he sees the US and Europe showing symptons of depression; bogged down in multi-trillion dollar wars and unable to get their act together to enact even basic legislation needed to create a true low carbon economy.
Greenpeace's role as green policeman
He says there are many pressure groups and individuals that are pushing for a sustainable future and it is important that Greenpeace understands its particular place and role.
"We do not have all of the solutions, or answers, or power to bring about the transformation," he says. "We have to look at what our role is within the bigger movement and it is to ask the uncomfortable questions, to hold the spotlight to those in power.
"We are effectively the green policeman, investigating and exposing wrongdoing and ensuring that those in power do what they have promised.
"There are a lot of talking shops and discussions and roundtables and they will suck a lot of time and effort and energy, including that of NGOs. Our role has to be to barge into those meetings and stir them up – are we seeing real change on the ground – we have to see that rainforests and fish stocks are being protected."
Direct action versus engagement
In recent years Greenpeace, alongside other NGOs like the WWF, has changed its tactics and started to engage directly with companies rather than just attacking them from the outside.
There are those within the sustainability movement who worry that Greenpeace is in danger of losing its clarity of purpose and edge by doing this.
There was opposition from some supporters, for example, when it joined forces with Coca-Cola to launch a campaign to create climate friendly refrigeration.
Sauven justifies its stance by saying that the timeframes to prevent irrevocable damage to the planet and society are so tight that it is important Greenpeace gets access to the top table of corporations.
At the same time, he recognises that there is only so far Greenpeace can go to changing the behaviour of companies from the inside, for when push comes to shove, they are unable to move their gaze away from the bottom line.
"There is a limit to how far you can go with corporations as they are answerable to their shareholders and driven by profits," says Sauven. "They may sometimes appear to act from altruism but in reality that is only if they think it is valuable to protect the brand or to get a marketing advantage over a competitor."
Concentrating firepower on multinationals
The decision to concentrate Greenpeace's firepower on a few multinationals came out of a recognition that the globalisation of the world economy had put enormous power in their hands and that profound change could take place only by steering them in a different direction. Sauven says: "When we were looking, for example, at the drivers of Amazon rainforest destruction – soya, cattle and palm oil - what we were finding is the number of corporations behind these was tiny.
"When it came to soya, there were three US and one Brazilian corporation providing all the capital input to farmers and contracting to buy their produce – they were controlling thousands of farmers."
While Greenpeace has been working on the 'inside' with some corporations, Sauven says there is no risk of it losing its appetite to take direct action when companies fail to act responsibly.
"It's interesting because in school textbooks, Greenpeace is seen as an outsider organisation," says Sauven. "But actually our power comes from being outsiders and insiders. What is important is that we fiercely guard our independence and don't rely on external funding, apart from our supporters, which is unlike nearly every other NGO."
Effectiveness of campagin against Nestlé
When Greenpeace does decide to act, it usually does so incredibly effectively. Sauven points to the success of its recent campaign against Nestlé over its purchase of Palm Oil from Sinar Mas, which it accuses of being involved in illegal rainforest clearance in Indonesia.
Its Kit Kat viral campaign was viewed by two million people and around 350,000 emails were sent to the Nestle chief executive.
Not only did Nestlé and a number of other companies cancel their contracts with Sinar Mas but Sauven says the effect went much deeper: "It was a ferocious battle with Nestlé and as a result we have seen a dramatic shift from the leadership down about dealing with raw commodities. There are also signs of that in Unilever and some privately owned companies like Mars in the US."
Sauven says that in the past companies were able to claim ignorance of where all their raw materials came from but that this excuse no longer was valid given there was so much information available about supply chains. Greenpeace had also sought to show through the Nestlé campaign that companies will pay a high price if they are shown to be acting in an unsustainable manner.
The human face of the big corporations
While Sauven is no friend of the multinationals, and has a particular distaste for the private American commodities conglomerate Cargill, he has also formed a more rounded view by seeing them from the inside, and recognises that the biggest agent of change is often a new leader taking charge.
"It's easy to see these companies as monolithic faceless structures with auto-morons who do not feel or think but that is not true," he says. "I have learnt that these companies are made up of ordinary people– some of whom are passionate and hold the same values as us. They do not actively want to exploit people but they feel hampered by the structures in place.
"But change often comes from key individuals and sometimes it takes a new boss coming in. The old chief executive of Unilever was not that interested but the new guy Paul Polman is much more engaged and sent a clear message to the company which frees up a lot of people who want to do the right thing but were not able to."
Targeting oil companies and pension funds
While Greenpeace has so far been taking on what it calls soft targets – companies whose brands are vulnerable in the market place, it now plans to take on the big energy companies which it believes are so powerful that they dictate their terms to governments.
Sauven says the oil companies are still a long way from recognising they need to help transform our energy supplies and are responding to increasing demand by searching for new oil supplies in ever more dangerous deep-water locations or from the destructive mining of tar sands.
"We have to unpick supply and demand," says Sauven. "What you can see is all the graphs going up; population, resource use and so on and the oil companies justify their actions by saying they are meeting demand. Our whole system therefore remains based around consumption and economic growth.
"The other way is looking at how you reduce demand. We need to confront that. This is a winnable campaign. We can break the hold of these corporations that think as a pack if we can show there will be less demand for their products and the true value of investing in alternative sources of energy.
"We need to convince the pension funds to change. The BP spill will make that easier because they were looking for a high-dividend, short-term return and BP showed that actually this is a quite high risk investment and a threat to their dividend income.
Most governments are bankrupt so we need the pension funds to realise it is savvy to invest in building a low carbon economy. Rather than bankroll high risk frontier oil, they should be investing in the new technology we will need for the future."
El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.
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