In a globally connected world that is engrossed with news and developments that have any remote connection to ‘going green’, ‘sustainability’, ‘environmentalism’, ‘green agenda’ or ‘activism’, emotions run high on all sides. Riding on the back of these emotions, a vulnerable public and an industry that is too scared to respond; the NGOs are winning in Asia.
Of course, an inexperienced president in Asia and his minister only help this cause. The industry does that what it thinks knows best: negotiating itself out of the issues with the NGOs but failing to recognize the political and economic consequences. NGOs are global, transnational and highly interconnected. Very few political leaders in Asia understand the complexities of transnational NGOs.
Businesses react in the “traditional way of doing business the Asian way” hoping, what many executives call, “getting rid of the monkey”. Unlikely, if we take the statements made by Rolf Skar, one of the Greenpeace activists named in the U.S. federal R.I.C.O indictment (see appendix). He was quoted by the Guardian saying,
“We don’t have permanent friends or enemies. The only thing we’re loyal to is the cause. If Kimberly-Clark screws up tomorrow, we’ll be right back at their throats. And they know that. The fact that they’ve survived in a cage with a with a wild animal for five years means more than some green stamp by another NGO.”
The key words to take away are: loyal to the “cause”, “no permanent friends”, “screw up and we’ll be right back at their throats”, “surviving” a “wild animal in a cage means more than a [legal] certification”.
Asian corporations in Southeast Asia, with the exception of a few Indian and Canadian companies, have surrendered after campaigns against the super-rich, perceived as corrupt mega-conglomerates. After successful aggressive campaigning Asian companies suffer from the loss of banking facilities.
For example, in February 2015, Greenpeace shared with the Singapore based Eco-Business, a letter to customers stating “the bank said that “based on further internal analysis, Banco Santander has decided to not renew the current funding to APRIL and will not be extending further funding at this stage.” Allegations against Credit Suisse followed in March 2015.
The competitor APP suffered a similar faith. In 2011, a website wrote, “ING banking group has also refused to do business with APP and all this has hit the company hard, prompting its retaliation against Greenpeace”. At one point, APP touted a 2010 report by an outside auditor that accused Greenpeace of fabricating data to slam the company, wrote the Wall Street Journal.
In the meantime the government of India under prime minister Modi, banned Greenpeace, froze the accounts of the group in April 2015 and fired a warning shot across the bow of some of donors. A different outcome.
Attacks against the centers of power has become a blood sport by the Guardianistas and pseudo self-declared apostles of doomsday cultures of the world environment. And after Indonesia, Malaysia is next, China follows.
What is striking is the U.S. federal indictment points the causation between creating “causes” for more funding and activism and the corporate fear that grips the Asian corporate boardrooms when it comes to Greenpeace and their NGOs. NGOs regularly recycle the old allegations of evil corrupt, Asian power hungry moguls, who manipulate the powers of the land and deprive the poor farmers, so the allegations. And so far, in Asia, it works. Corporate Asians buckle regularly.
Platitudes galore about the transnational foreign NGOs who sound more like the Nazis demonizing the “evil capitalists” rather than having credible solutions to real issues. The narrative is subtle and if carefully examined, is not unlike any of the many other extremist movements.
The list of corporate victims is long: The Hatfields and McCoys of Asia, the Indonesian mega-conglomerates Asia Pulp Paper (APP) and its competitors APRIL, Golden Agri Resources (GAR), Asian Agri and Wilmar, the Malaysian IOI, Musim Mas, and many others to name a few. No one is spared for the cause.
Pro-NGO media celebrate the success but demands on the industry by environmentalists become increasingly radical in ideology and lack the societal benefits the groups claim.
Occasionally, the penny drops. The Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture declaring the IPOP as a cartel-like structure and finally, in 2016 it was dissolved. But, the Indonesian president just does not get the message.
Jokowi’s land redistribution policy is another environmental folly and a repeat of failed U.S. economic emancipation strategy liberating the slaves in the South after the American civil war. The aim to “return land” to the liberated slaves only further drove the South into poverty; it neither economically stimulated the South nor liberated the slaves.
Today, repeating the same lunatic redistribution strategy in Asia is having a disastrous effect on the Indonesian economy. The recent spectacular failure of the South African land reform should serve Asian leaders of a stark warning.
In a recent interview with the Guardian, Kumi Naidoo, the former international director of Greenpeace (who has now taken over the reins at Africa Civil Society Centre) was quoted as saying, “The struggle has never been about saving the planet.”
Corporations and policy officials in Asia take notice: It was never about saving the planet!
Naidoo was not known as an environmentalist when he took the job at Greenpeace and a U.S.-based site stated, “What was the environment in an altruistic sense was changed into a radical socio-economic political movement with a pseudo-environmental facade.”
So why is the reaction by the Indian government so different than in Southeast Asia? It started with leaked reports showing the country’s Intelligence Bureau reporting that foreign-funded NGOs are actively stalling development of Asia’s largest economy, sending shock waves across the Indian administration. India estimated a 2-3 per cent loss of GDP because of NGO actions.
After all, this represents approximately 62 billion USD. Today, similar GDP losses are suffered by Malaysia and Indonesia matching roughly the Indonesian budget deficit for 2015/16. But the administrations in Southeast Asia are not getting the memos.
“Identified foreign donors cleverly disguise their donations as funding…The NGOs become the central players in setting the agenda, drafting documents, writing in the media, highlighting scholars-turned-activists and lobbying diplomats and government. These foreign donors lead local NGOs to provide field reports which are used to build a record against India and serve as tools for the strategic foreign policy interests of the Western government,” noted the Indian IB report.
The Indian government identified seven sectors/projects stalled because of NGO-created agitations against nuclear power plants, uranium mines, coal-fired power plants, farm biotechnology, mega industrial projects, hydroelectric plants, and extractive industries. Identifying several foreign-funded NGOs that are “negatively impacting economic development” was vehemently denied by some NGOs. But the facts were hard to dispute.
After some deliberations, the Indian government declared Greenpeace and some of its funders as a threat to national economic security and revoked their operating permit. The Ford Foundation, a was put on notice for meddling in national affairs.
A recent independent study confirmed the assumptions made by the Indian government. “A significant number of Indian NGOs (funded by donors based in the US, the UK, Germany, The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries) have been noticed to be using people centric issues to create an environment which lends itself to stalling development projects,” the report said.
Interestingly, Greenpeace Indonesia has begun targeting the Indonesian government’s power plants in Java with an identical campaign. However, observers note that the Jokowi administration just “is not getting it”, referring to the implications of NGO campaigning.
On 3 May 2016, the U.S. NGO 350.org called for actions in Indonesia, among others. The website wrote,
“There will be a mass action of thousands of people at the Presidential palace in Jakarta on 11 May. The action will include participants from many of the communities leading resistance to coal projects from around the country. The mobilisation will target President Joko Widodo demanding he revise his ambitious 35,000 Megawatt energy plan by moving away from coal and embracing renewable energy. A few days later there will be one or more actions at the site of coal infrastructure projects.”
In a separate report funded by the Packard foundation for the Climate Land Use Alliance (CLUA), a front for the U.S. ClimateWorks Foundation (CWF), consisting of U.S. industrial legacy foundations, like the Ford Motor Company, Duke Energy, and printing giant Hewlett Packard and its foundations, Frances Seymour, the former Director for the Center of Forestry Research wrote,
“The availability of funding from foreign philanthropic foundations, mostly industrial legacy foundations, provides transnational environmental NGOs with an advantage: Private donors are not as limited by political constraints as public funding sources.”
Mrs. Seymour’s husband was a well-known financial backer for U.S. president Obama during his re-election campaign in the past. It raises the question if foreign NGOs overstep their social permit. No longer is the narrative about saving trees but about political change, and, targeting political democratic elected leaders.
Too Stupid or Too rich?
The complex world of militant NGOs and their impact on the national and economic security of countries they operate in has long been a subject of discussion for the academia, the media, and the intelligentsia. The debate often descends into an emotional one with most of the targeted companies are just not getting the damage NGO actions cause. In a November 2015 online article, Ezra Levant of The Rebel said,
“We’re too rich or too stupid to take steps against groups like Greenpeace who are always attacking our industries. India doesn’t have that luxury, so they’re kicking Greenpeace out.”
The move by the Indian government was widely applauded by the Indian public with 86 percent of the Indian public approving the government banning Greenpeace.
A Canadian forest company was another victim having enough and sued Greenpeace under the R.I.C.O criminal racketeering and organized crime act in U.S. federal court (and see appendix). In the indictment Greenpeace activists surface with a history of targeting Asian companies.
In the case of Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah, there are operational goals which serve political objectives. Greenpeace operations in neighboring Indonesia are on-going and are often transferred into Malaysian territorial space. “Fact-finding” missions, eco-tourism trips and similar events are part of the on-going campaign preparations against Malaysian State and oil palm industrial interests.
The recent appearance of the BMF at the ITTO conference in Kuala Lumpur is but one example. These transnational environmental groups operate against the interests of Malaysian society and not merely against one industry sector or the other.
In Sabah, the Guas Coalition formed due to “frustration” concerning the “many unsustainable developments” occurring in the state that allegedly “were not adhering to the rule of law and the procedures set” (Daily Express 2015). One year earlier, the Bruno Mansur Fund filed a lawsuit against UBS Bank over its ties with Sabah’s Chief Minister, Musa Aman, who allegedly deposited money from a kickback scheme with the bank.
Changing the political dynamics in Sabah and Sarawak will change the legislative relationship with the centre in Kuala Lumpur. Once the power paradigms in Sabah and Sarawak are changed, legislative changes and regime change will follow. The recent public events by Greenpeace Malaysia in Malacca, Johor and Klang/Kelang are the beginning of the formation of a national anti-industry, anti-government movement. The prize is political change.
Transnational NGOs do not qualify as civil society groups. Transnational NGOs are not organic national groups despite a large number of local activists that have joined these NGOs. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the U.S. Rainforest Action Network, FERN and the Forest Peoples Programme, as well as The Forest Trust, are foreign, are often profit-oriented entities.
In the context of Malaysian legislation, these actors should not be eligible for the privileges and protections of the Malaysian state and, as their titles suggest, are foreign-funded direct action groups.
Activism Impacts Development
Admissions by NGOs of their role in 75 per cent market loss are astonishing and a concern for reality. Monies were paid by U.S. donors to use Indonesian officials to obstruct U.S. EPA status of Indonesian palm oil. It worked, the palm oil industry and paper and pulp are still taxed up to 107 per cent by the U.S. Many executives take the view that NGO campaigns against others – i.e. the competitor – does not affect their business. This is a short-term view and one that is flawed. The majority of NGOs are strategically oriented with a 20-year vision. They are designed to influence the bottom line affecting the industry and, therefore, the national economy, as a whole.
A 2011 study shows the Indonesian market lost 33-50 per cent of its competitiveness as a result of “mainly negative campaigning” by European militant action groups. Indonesia has associated activism with proxy wars and as a latent threat to society.
Examining the root causes in detail, loss of foreign currency exchange, loss of market share and unemployment in the formal and informal labor sectors are the result of NGO actions and hold serious implications for governments in the region. A 2011 World Bank study titled, The Economic Benefit of Palm Oil to Indonesia, identified negative NGO campaigning as the main cause for the loss of competitiveness in the global market.
The argument that converting to a green culture will results in returning profits is equally flawed. Very little tangible empirical evidence is present that shows NGO campaigns provide sustained, palpable benefits to shareholders, the public, or the environment.
Examination of the stock performance of the companies that followed the green order compared to those who did not showed that the strategy did not pay off in terms of market movement. On the contrary, the stocks of these companies kept declining while that of the non-green ones kept rising. Critically examined, the going-green by APP and other competitors has not provided any tangible shareholder value.
The success in NGO operations lies in the negativity of its narrative. NGO “business consultancies” argue for companies to understand NGOs, thereby asking a rhetoric contentious question – why should corporations understands NGOs. On the contrary, shouldn’t service providers help business instead? It poses the question if these new actors are NGO poseurs.
In the recent example of the issue of haze that seemingly emanated from Indonesia but engulfed large parts of East and South East Asia, including Singapore, the transnational NGOs was an “opportunity”, one that was aptly grabbed and turned around ultimately resulting in souring relations between all the countries involved. The so-called environment agenda resulted in trade losses and loss of face for all the countries involved.
Historically, any radical transformation, of socio, economic or political change has seldom delivered on its promise. Take the Arab Spring, for example – politically ill conceived, social media-inspired, this kind of political activism caused an economic and political disaster, and has amplified the instability in the Middle East.
For the industry and policy officials, this is a wake-up call since these strategies are straight out of the textbooks on economic warfare. A well-known Jakarta-based Dutch commentator argued in an academic publication about the use of U.S. insurgency manual to use eco-warfare to pursue conservation.
Companies are often not equipped to understand the political world of the NGO and initially respond with the usual PR counter campaigns. Once this fails, corporate panic grips the boardroom and corporations surrender. The predictable pattern of throwing money at the NGOs and hoping this will make the problem to go to some other company – ideally, a competitor, follows.
Once demands are made, the ‘wild animal’ – as Greenpeace executives put it – remains at the “throat” of the company. NGOs understand this dynamic very well by strategically targeting their victims. Another factor that determines the effectiveness of the NGO campaigns is the practice of targeting one industry leader in the hopes that its capitulation will encourage others to “flip” and become environmentally friendly.
Fact: NGOs Are Winning, Boycotts, Divestment & Sanctions
In July 2014, then presidential candidate Jokowi made promises to AMAN to change constitutional laws favoring indigenous rights in return for support from the leftist leaning NGOs to get Jokowi elected into office. Since the election, the NGOs are calling in favors from the president almost every other month.
The direct action NGOs have succeeded to impact economic policy of prime industries. This includes halting of dams for generating power – the oil industry warns production could be halved by 2025 if bank divestment’s continue. NGOs are redrawing land ownership and redistribution of private land ownership, as was seen in Indonesia in 2015. The Jokowi administration plans to redistribute about 32-36 million hectares of state forests to indigenous communities. The industry is forced to surrender 20 per cent of its land holding to communities.
Radical activism triggered the most radical changes in land ownership unseen since 1963. This policy uncertainty does not provide comfort to investors. There are promises of land being used for political voting power in 2019 to create a new center of political voting power likely creates more destabilization to Indonesia reverting industrial development into some kind of environmental gaga-land. Indonesia is set to suffer the same decline of its foreign currency economy, increase inflation as a result of foreign interventionism.
An increasing body of evidence shows that since 1997, Asian companies – primarily Indonesian and Malaysian – are targeted by Greenpeace. Asia is described as the battlefield in which environmental ‘wars’ are being fought. Evidence shows a constructed campaign to undermine the economic value of palm oil, paper, and pulp by targeting this strategic industry. Nevertheless, comparing financial performance of the now “greened” companies shows companies who are not subscribed to radical transformation outperform the so called “green companies” who suffered losses consistently for the past three years. Being green has, so far, not created profits.
Whereas, the NGOs argue this is done to protect the environment, they themselves are no longer the bearers of the eco-flame. Instead, revolutionary themes are very much in the center of the narratives, with La Luta Continua (the struggle continues) being a slogan within the NGO circles for some time.
Using the Indian government’s calculation as a base, the Indonesian government’s annual loss due to negative NGO campaigning was US$47 to US$71 billion. Greenpeace announced a “victory” over Asian Pulp and Paper after nine years of campaigning. This campaign, if viewed only from the loss to the Government of Indonesia, resulted in a loss of a minimum US$429 billion/4,513,320,000 trillion USD to Indonesia.
Recent findings suggest that the loss to Malaysian palm oil industry in the range of 3 per cent to 3.5 per cent GDP per annum is a conservative and reasonable estimate. In monetary terms, negative environmental NGO campaigning costs Indonesians citizen an estimated USD 11.5 billion per annum.
With USD 11.5 billion per annum riding on its decisive powers, the question is: Is the Indonesian government paying attention to what the policy makers in India have to say? Both the countries opened their doors to NGOs under the lens of democracy. Instead, both received raw deals where foreign hands fed dissent under their many strategic facades. Are policy makers in paying heed?
Unlikely, taking the recent announcements of the president into account. Interestingly, the recognition of the threat to Indonesia (and ergo, Malaysia) comes from unexpected quarters.
The Indonesia Defense department policy study group and the parliament declared Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, locally known as Walhi, as “global economic terrorists”.
But the administration, who is in pursuit of fleeting popularity ratings, seems like it is not getting the message. It would require sophisticated comprehension by the Jokowi and Najib administration and a pragmatic policy approach rather than following some green fantasy, which sounds good, makes you feel good, but lacks serious economic scale nor benefits society, its people, or the planet.