On Wednesday February 23rd 2005, the Greenwash Guerrillas (GGs) visited the second day of the ‘Ethical Corporation Business/NGO Partnerships and Engagement London 2005 Conference’, happily subtitled “How to make sure everyone gets what they want”.
The GGs, donning protective clothing and greenwash detection equipment from a safe distance, (and thus attracting the interest of local bored constabulary), timed their entry into the Swiss Cottage Marriott Hotel to coincide with a co-presentation by BP and Flora & Fauna International (FFI). Energetic hotel security and said police soon had the GGs out on their ears though, not being happy at the thought of the cosy chowdown between NGOs and corporations being interrupted by the likes of us, down-at-heel superheroes and superheroines that we are.
Unsafely out of harm’s way on the pavement outside, we were soon met by two employees of conference-organising ‘Ethical Corporation’ magazine, agitated in particular by the arrival in a blaze of sirens of an unmarked police car containing several plainclothes cops. It was dangerous I know, but I did engage in some dialogue with these employees, explaining my view that the conference represented a new and sophisticated form of colonialism, ie. the north trampling on the poor and oppressed of the global south under the gentle guise of corporate social responsibility. To the argument that economic growth is finite and killing the planet, they said we had to live and work in the real world, which is code for engaging with MegaCorp and refusing to entertain the possibility of a different, more compassionate system than capitalism.
They gave off an aura of parental exasperation at the antics of their silly, idealistic kids, and that our presence might burst the phony ‘we’re doing this to help people and planet’ bubble they had manufactured inside the conference, back to which they soon scuttled.
The BP/FFI workshop was titled ‘Multi-nationals and biodiversity. An unlikely match’. But in fact BP and FFI have quite an intimate relationship: BP boss Lord Browne sits on the FFI board, and his company has funnelled cash into it since around 1985, (www.fauna-flora.org/partners/corporate.html) Another interesting fact, which reveals neatly the way top London cultural institutions play their part in keeping the status quo ticking over profitably, is that until recently, both Browne and FFI Vice-President David Attenborough sat on the board of the heavily BP-sponsored British Museum. I thought you would also be chilled to hear that Annelisa Grigg, who represented FFI at the conference, once worked at top world-saver and carbon trader KPMG, and recently wrote a paper entitled ‘Mainstreaming Biodiversity into Business’.
This workshop was one of many shocking possibilities for us to focus on, but we chose it since we’ve been taking direct action against BP’s Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, its art sponsorship and its very right to exist for quite a while now and we like to keep the pressure on if we can. Last year the conference was targeted by people who had Coca Cola in their sights, which maybe partly why the police kept trying to get us to cross the road and have even less impact on the conference than we were already having. Which we refused to do, I’m happy to add.
Anyway, back to the mean streets of Swiss Cottage. We stayed another hour, braving the snow, talking to and posing for the Ham & High (local newspaper), laughing at the ridiculous sight of 8 or so policemen guarding 4 GGs, and occasionally persuading a returning delegate to smuggle leaflets into the building. Then we headed off, with inevitable plainclothes police escort as far as the nearest caff.
What did we achieve? Put a little pressure on NGOs, whose employees are often far from comfortable at the increasing sell-out to big business, let the world know that there is resistance in the north and the south to the grinding down of every natural and human ‘resource’ into profit…and gave the bemused citizens of Swiss Cottage a bit of a laugh on a frozen Wednesday afternoon. Until the next time…
(side A) CAUTION: TOXIC GREENWASH HAZARD!
YOU HAVE ENTERED A RESTRICTED AREA. YOU MAY NEED TO BE QUARANTINED DUE TO GREENWASH INFECTION. DO NOT PANIC.
1. IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE FACTS
2. TAKE A HEALTHY DOES OF SCEPTICISM
3. ASK PLENTY OF HONEST QUESTIONS
4. TO MINIMISE TRANSMISSION OF THE VIRUS, DO NOT REPEAT WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD
5. DO NOT SHARE PLATFORMS WITH USERS OF GREENWASH.
THIS IS A PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING FROM THE GREENWASH GUERRILLAS
(side B) WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
WARNING! – you are within choking distance of a serious spillage of ultra-powerful super-sophisticated extra-toxic corporate greenwash; (greenwash = profit-seeking environmental whitewash.) Today at the ‘Ethical Corporation’ conference, leading corporate polluters, such as Rio Tinto, BP and Shell – to name just a few – will use this networking event to hide their environmentally devastating activities behind a phony environmental and social façade.
Climate chaos threatens to devastate the planet unless we stop burning fossil fuels. But the solution is simple: LPG (Leave Petroleum in the Ground). This conference, as well as the myth of ‘corporate social responsibility’, represents the selling out of much potential opposition to industry and government-peddled fossil fuel madness, and the betrayal of communities fighting for their lives in the global south. You can’t put a price on the atmosphere, and market environmentalism will not prevent market-driven catastrophes.
EXAMPLES OF TOP DOLLAR GREENWASH:
* Shell – 2005 is the 10th anniversary of the Shell-sanctioned murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa; ‘Shell’s commitment to corporate social responsibility looks shallow in the light of the sustained misery of the people of the Niger Delta.’ And despite an expensive series of adverts telling us of Shell’s commitment to renewable energy, Shell actually spends a miniscule 0.6% of its annual budget on renewables. In true greenwash fashion, Shell’s actions do not match its words.
* BP – the world’s second largest oil company and one of the world’s largest corporations, BP advertised its new identity as a leader in moving the world ‘Beyond Petroleum’. At the time, it touted its $45 million purchase of the largest Solarex solar energy corporation. But BP will spend $5 billion over five years for oil exploration in Alaska alone. See also http://www.baku.org.uk
* Rio Tinto – renowned for its environmental and human rights abuses, Rio Tinto has in the last few years tried to clean up its image. The company promises that its mining operations will have a minimal impact. Yet at its Kelian goldmine in Indonesia, environmental abuses are affecting the health of the surrounding community. The mine produces over 14 tons of gold per year using the cyanide heap-leaching process, which produces contaminated water.
The NGOs here today, eg. Flora & Fauna Int’l, Greenpeace & WWF, are legitimising this corporate spin, and compromising themselves into the bargain.
How can we prevent further spills of greenwash? Send us your thoughts and theories…
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