Industry Goes on Global Offensive Against Environmentalists
Targeting funding, internet activities
This from: Inside EPA Weekly Report Vol.21, no.37-September 15,
Several industry sectors have begun efforts to counteract recent gains by environmentalists on international and trade issues, ranging from preemptive attempts to block charitable foundations from funding environmentalists to the use of internet "intelligence" collection agencies to track and potentially cripple activists efforts on a global scale, according to industry officials and confidential industry strategy documents.
Environmentalists say the new initiatives constitute an unprecedented offensive on their ability to engage in the debate over the effect of international trade, as well as economic and political globalization, on the environment.
Industry officials by and large defend their efforts, saying that the measures are legal and necessary in order to keep track of the numerous campaigns environmentalists have launched in the international arena.
According to documents obtained by Inside EPA, Sony Co. this summer prepared an "action plan" for counteracting the efforts of several domestic and international environmental groups--including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. The plan includes such activities as "pre-funding intervention" and creates a "detailed monitoring and contact network" to track the activities of these groups. A copy of the strategy is available on our online document service, IWP Extra.
Sony presented the document during a July technology sector meeting in Brussels on the so-called "WEE" directive--a European Union proposal that would phase out a raft of toxic substances in electronics and would require manufacturers to take back their products for recycling once their useful consumer life is over. The WEE initiative has been heavily lobbied by several U.S. environmental groups, but bitterly opposed by most multinational electronics firms.
The Sony paper and sources close to the issue say the monitoring network would employ one of the dozens of new internet "intelligence" agencies --such as London-based Infonics PLC--that monitor chat rooms, e-mail lists, electronic bulletin boards, online news services, newsgroups and other sources of public information for specific data requested by a company or industry group. This information includes press releases and news stories, discussions of particular issues and campaigns, and overall strategy, and is typically compiled in digest form for subscribers to the service.
Although sources with Infonics were not available for comment, the company has been involved in international environmental issues in the past, most notably when it hired Royal Dutch Shell, Inc. to polish its corporate image after the Nigerian military executed a local environmentalist who was fighting to require Shell to address contamination.
An industry official says "pre-funding intervention" means providing groups with industry data prior to the beginning of their campaigns to ensure "they have good information" about company products and practices.
But an observer familiar with industry efforts says it likely refers to a growing movement in the business community to take industry problems with activists' agendas directly to donors, charitable foundations and companies that sponsor the environmental organizations, in an effort to stall the campaigns before they even commence.
Sources say the Sony paper only highlights what some contend is a growing movement in the industry to try and cripple environmentalists and other activists organizations because of their demands on trade issues. Sources also point to a new website truthabouttrade.com--that was reportedly set up by the agribusiness sector in response to last year's protests at the World Trade Organization (WTO)
meeting in Seattle. The organizers of the site have collected a list of environmental groups that took part in the protests, their sponsors, and a list of "myths" about trade and environment and their rebuttals including charges that that global warming is not a real phenomenon and that the government should not protect certain species from extinction due to human activities.
Environmentalists say the site is a clear attempt to intimidate charitable foundations into not providing the groups with funds.
And while the groups' site stops short of actually calling for the foundations to halt funding for these groups, it does say "we intend to shine a very bright light on these groups, and hold them accountable for their actions."
Activists say the efforts could set a dangerous precedent, and warn of an industry "Big Brother" mentality that seems to be becoming more prevalent in the business community. One observer says the Sony strategy also appears to be the first example of a coordinated, international effort by business to monitor and counteract activists' efforts.
Several sources say that prior to the Seattle demonstrations, much of the industry did not view environmentalist working on trade issues as a threat. But after protesters--led in large part by environmental and labor groups--successfully shut down the WTO meetings and their subsequent wins in the realm of public opinion, many in the business community have begun to take notice and are actively seeking a way to address the situation.
Click here to see leaked Sony presentation.