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Corporate Espionage versus Environmental Activism

Corporate espionage vs environmental extremism

It’s  a war on democracy!

Big corporations have partnered with spy agencies and private intelligence firms to combat environmental activism and non profit organizations!

So screamed the headlines from a recent edition of the British newspaper, The Guardian, claiming this was a “disturbing picture of a global corporate espionage programme that is out of control.”

The article goes on to detail the measures that corporations are taking to counteract environmental activism and non profit organizations which don’t work to the Company’s advantage. Sensational bombshells include:

  • As much as one in four activist actually being a spy for corporations
  • Hacking into computers
  • Private Intelligence gathering
  • Corporate espionage facilitated by the American government body, the FBI

On the other side of the pond, one dedicated Canadian scientist, produced yet another article detailing the US backing for so much of the anti-oil campaigns going on in Canada. Ms. Krause was keeping a blog detailing her sleuthing into the funding for environmental activism in Canada. From her research, she estimates that over $US$300 million has been poured into the environmental movement in Canada in the last 10 years or so. Her latest article details the movement of $3.2 million into Canadian environmental groups just in the last few months, to fund anything that is anti development of tar sands. The list of grateful recipients is long.

Although, I am not fond of spying in any form, the question does have to be asked, what riches are the Companies reaping for their spying?!

The Guardian article states that Chevron hired a journalist via a private investigations firm. The charges? Back in the mid 1960s to 1992, Texaco is accused of dumping 16 billion gallons of oily, higly toxic waste water into the Amazon waterways. This occurred when Texaco was running oil operations in a consortium with Petroecuador, which at the time, was  the fledgling state oil company for Ecuador. According to Chevron, before it acquired Texaco, Texaco fully remediated its share of the environmental impact and and was certified by agencies of the Ecuadorian government, and received a complete released from Ecaudor’s national provincial and municipal governments .

Case closed? No.

Despite this, the battle raged on for compensation and funds to complete the clean up. Petroecaudor, the 62.5% partner in the petrol partnership of the 1960s-1990s, has not participated in any of its share to clean up the environmental damage. It estimated in 2009 it would cost $70 million to clean up the remaining environmental damage. And yet, Chevron was awarded a $19 billion fine in punitive damaged from the lower court of in Lago Agrio. This was recently reduced to $9.5 billion in Ecuador’s National Court of Justice, and the battle will rage on in the courts of the United Nations.

So at the moment, Chevron, who have never inflicted any environmental damage on Ecuador, are on the hook for $9.5 billion fine to clean up an environmental disaster that is estimated to only need about $70 million to clean up. When does Petroecuador have to pay it’s share???

Did Corporate Espionage benefit Chevron? Doesn’t look like it…

The article also went onto detail how some energy companies also used information from the FBI and CIA to spy on various animal rights, human rights and environmental activist groups. Well, there is no doubt with the leaked documents of Snowden confirming everyone’s gloomy suspicions the United States was indeed silently trying to implement operation Big Brother, but it is mildly surprising that the USA was actually selling information and not hoarding it for themselves! Maybe that’s why they were annoyed with Snowden – he gave away an awful lot of profit there…

But what benefit do the Big Corporations get from indulging in espionage? No answers were forthcoming in the Guardian article – the main focus of this article seemed to be the anger at the fact the Big Corporations were engaging in espionage against the environmental activists at all!

So what benefits are the Big Corporations getting from corporate espionage? If anything, their heyday was back in the 1950s and early 1960s when the likes of Big Tobacco hid a growing correlation between smoking cigarettes and cancer. Fast forward to the 1990s and 2000s, and the list is long of Big Corporations fighting huge uphill battles to carry out their business – for better or worse, for example:

The list goes on – Big Corporations are probably more under siege today than ever – be it natural resource development, modification of food, repression of work conditions in third world countries. Not only are they expected to not develop anything which might have even the slightest impact on the environment, human or animal life, they are now being asked to not develop anything at all!

So when a company has a victory over the antics of the environmental activists and NGO’s, do they crow about it from the roof tops?

Well, I looked and I couldn’t find much. If they are having victories, the odds are they are keeping quiet about it because if they said anything, it might draw the attention of the environmental activists and/or NGO’s.

In fact, the only thing Companies can try and quietly brag about is their social license. David McLaughlin provides a very good on companies and social license on the Huffington Post. Where once ‘ongoing public approval’ was bestowed project by project, now it is being applied to the Company’s  themselves, and the odds are, even if they can win ‘social license’ in one area, they will be loosing it just as rapidly on another front. The example provided in the Huffington Post was of conservative government of Canada working with oil companies to try and decrease the environmental risks associated. Despite huge strides being made, the sentiment of the environmentalists was the industry was cleaning itself up – in no small part due to a raft of changes to laws on chemicals, toxic and waste material – but it wasn’t doing enough about climate change.

McLaughlin sums up the situation nicely with these words:

“Social license was never meant to be zero-sum or winner-take-all. But this is where we have arrived.

Frankly, there’s enough blame to go around for why. Environmentalists equating any fossil fuel development as world-ending; energy companies resisting even modest carbon management schemes to reduce emissions; and governments reducing regulatory oversight while maximizing the political rhetoric surrounding its policies”

Sometimes the work done by environmental activist is at least, informative – it allows us to make a decision on whether we wish to continue supporting (read: purchasing) a Company’s product/service. But when the environmental activist movement pushes beyond exposure into trying to influence us to an extreme point of view, the environmental activists seem to become extremists instead, trying to beat people into following their doctrine to the detriment of society as a whole.

Similarly, Company’s run the risk of loosing their clients, customers and social license if they pursue activities which are also deemed by some or many to be a detriment to society as a whole.

So who gets to decide? The problem today is there does not seem to be much in the way of genuine, independent, doesn’t-matter-what-the-results-are funding. Worse, even if a party with money wishes to fund research, no matter what the results are, they still run the risk of being perceived as biased by the party who isn’t pleased with the results.

In addition, even if the research IS conducted, but the results are not favorable, as is increasingly being recognized, negative results are not published. In the end, the information being published is always perceived as being biased – if a company funded the research, it’s “only published” if it favors the company, if a foundation or charitable body funded it, its “only published” if it favors the charity or foundations principles, if the government funds it, it is only published if it backs up the direction the government wishes to go.

As a result, it is very difficult to get any party to recognise any research as inherently unbiased in today’s world, and that creates increasingly more and more polarised and extreme views which aren’t necessarily in the best interests of human society and our interaction with the planet.

Maybe as the ancient philosophers said, “everything in moderation,” should apply to conducting constructive research and interpreting the results.

Do you think that all research today is biased? Are the methods used by environmental activists, corporations or governments to get and distribute information acceptable? Are their methods of broadcasting the results acceptable? Please include your thoughts below in the comment section.

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