Wanted! CEOs with Courage and True Ethic

Published on 19th April 2005


The litany of alleged offenses follows a script: fragile ecosystems, environmental devastation, irresponsible investment, huge profits, human rights violations, indigenous people imperiled. So do the demands: transparency, accountability, ethics, social responsibility.

The tactics are equally familiar. Launch A website, issue denunciations. Enlist grade school teachers whose students can write letters to the CEO. Harass the CEO at home. Stage protests at corporate offices. Claim to be stakeholders who must be given a role in all decisions, so that company policies henceforth reflect activist demands.

The World Bank caved in several years ago, followed by Citigroup, Bank of America, and a few oil and mining companies. Now JP Morgan Chase and other companies are in the crosshairs of activist groups like Rainforest Action Network.

RAN?s focus is on rainforests and fossil fuels. But its websites and rhetoric show that is just the tip of the iceberg. The group?s Global Finance Project director told Wall Street Journal business analyst Alan Murray: ?I personally do not want them to lend to oil companies.? Mining and timber companies are also high on her list.

Moreover, RAN is just one element in what Professor Jarol Manheim (author of Biz Wars and Death of a Thousand Cuts) calls an elaborate network of foundations, advocacy groups, unions and other institutions. All are determined to advance their anti-corporate, anti-development agenda, which includes strident opposition to pesticides, biotechnology, electricity and other modern technologies.

All employ economic, legal, political, media and psychological warfare, to convince companies that surrender is preferable to continued resistance. And all launch their attacks under the banner of sustainable development and corporate social responsibility ? as defined and interpreted by the activists. 

The attacks sully reputations and impact bottom lines. Less obvious but more insidious is their effect on investment, innovation, employment, and our economic future and standard of living. Worst of all, the campaigns trample on the human rights of the world?s most destitute people, keep them impoverished, and send many early to graves.

Worldwide, two billion people still don?t have electricity, water purification, sewage treatment or refrigeration. Indoor pollution from their wood and dung fires causes four million deaths a year from lung infections and tuberculosis, while unsafe water and spoiled food cause intestinal diseases that kill another 6 million.

Over 800 million people are chronically undernourished, and 200 million children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. A half-million children go blind annually, and 2 million die from diseases they would likely survive with better nutrition.

Malaria, sleeping sickness and other insect-borne diseases infect half a billion people every year in sub-Saharan Africa, killing four million and contributing massively to the region?s economic devastation.

Abundant, reliable, affordable electricity would generate jobs and prosperity, dramatically reduce lung and intestinal diseases, and help preserve woodland habitats and wildlife. Biotechnology would reduce crop losses from insects and plant disease, help alleviate hunger and malnutrition, and decrease the amount of land that must be cultivated to feed growing populations. Pesticides would control mosquitoes and flies that spread killer diseases.

But extremist groups ? and the foundations, companies and governments that support them ? strongly oppose fossil fuel, nuclear and hydroelectric power projects, biotechnology, pesticides, and bank financing of projects that would generate jobs and hope for the future.

To deflect criticism over their callous policies, they promote solar panels that power a light bulb and radio in mud huts; wind turbines that spoil scenic vistas and kill birds; subsistence farming that is land and labor intensive, and subject to massive crop loss; and bed nets that are at best 40% effective in reducing malaria.

?What right does RAN have to dictate choices for poor people, who never enjoy the safe water, plentiful food, nice homes and modern technologies these protesters take for granted?? Uganda-native Diana Koymuhendo demands.

The Congress of Racial Equality went head-to-head with RAN demonstrators April 12 in front of JP Morgan?s Manhattan headquarters, to spotlight the truth behind these campaigns. Up to now, the bank has had the courage and ethics to resist their pressure tactics, and recognize that the real stakeholders are poor people whose needs, wishes and rights are violated by the radical groups. We hope, and the Third World prays, that the bank will not lose its resolve.

Rainforest Action wants JP Morgan to change its business practices and standards, and give the activists a principle advisory role ? even effective veto power over lending decisions. This is the shameful arrangement the World Bank agreed to and, as Washington Post journalist Sebastian Mallaby has shown, the decision has seriously compromised its functions.

With Citigroup and Bank of America having done likewise, the cumulative effect of these capitulations could be disastrous for poor developing countries. They need serious investment, not a few eco-tourism or eco-activist jobs. Their principle resources are oil, timber, minerals and hardworking people ? and RAN and its colleagues are strangling their financial options, and prolonging the Third World?s misery, malnutrition, disease and death.

JP Morgan?s standards already meet or exceed modern social norms. That they don?t reflect RAN?s eco-centric agenda is irrelevant. Indeed, it is the protesters? ? and their financial backers? ? morals, practices, and standards of honesty, transparency and accountability that merit scrutiny and reform.

RAN hectoring corporate America about ethics and human rights is like Jeffrey Dahmer lecturing ministers about the sanctity of human life. Putting RAN on a company?s CSR advisory panel is akin to having Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe on the UN Human Rights Commission ? and granting it favored tax treatment as a 501(c)(3) educational charity is equally absurd.

Why, then, have these pressure campaigns been so successful?

First, even the corporate targets don?t grasp the true nature and scope of this global war on business and development. Neither they, the general public nor rank-and-file environmentalists realize how harmful these eco-imperialist policies are to the world?s poorest people.

Second, incessant attacks over many years ? coupled with the minimal respect that people now have for corporations and their leaders in the wake of recent scandals ? have left too many CEOs without the courage, credibility or Churchillian spirit to fight on. Instead, they seek a Neville Chamberlain solution: peace for their time, feeding the crocodile and hoping it will eat them last.

Third, the public, regulators and environmentalists alike often employ a monstrous double standard. Where American or European lives are at risk ? even from speculative or specious threats like arsenic in drinking water, pesticide residues on grapes or a droplet of mercury from a broken thermometer ? no law is too tough, no cost too high, to safeguard the populace. But when Third World lives are threatened by real, immediate, life-or-death dangers that kill literally millions year after year, inaction prevails.

Fourth, few of today?s urbanites understand how our economy works, or where their consumer products, health and prosperity really come from: land and holes in the ground, through an often messy business that extracts and transforms basic resources into valuable, life-giving technologies. That ignorance makes them easy prey for eco-charlatans who need recruits to harass and intimidate companies.

Last, few are willing to challenge the radicals to put their money, their lives ? and their children?s lives ? where their mouths are. To go native ? all the way. To live in Africa or the Amazon rainforest, among millions of mosquitoes and tsetse flies, without benefit of electricity, refrigeration, clean water, pesticides, insect repellants, screens, medical care or automobiles.

It?s easy to idealize and idolize Nature and indigenous lifestyles. Until one has to live that life. Only then does one realize, in the words of Kenyan Akinye Arunga, that it means ?indigenous poverty, indigenous malnutrition, indigenous disease and childhood death.?

So CORE salutes JP Morgan Chase and CEO William Harrison for having had the courage and morality to stand up to radical activists and their lies and pressure tactics. We only hope you won?t go wobbly on us. ______________ 

Niger Innis is national spokesman for CORE. Paul Driessen is its senior policy advisor and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power ∙ Black death.

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