The attack on business by environmental NGOs (ENGOs) is relentless. Greenpeace, one of the best known ENGOs, continually targets several corporations, particularly those in the resource industries. For example, it has sued Exxon Mobil for “sowing doubts” about climate change. One of Greenpeace’s favorite targets in Canada is Resolute Forest Products, the Montreal-based world’s largest newsprint producer.
Peter Foster outlines the history of Greenpeace’s attacks on Resolute in an excellent Financial Post column. Some of the highlights: Greenpeace is accusing Resolute of “destroying” Canadian boreal forest—a baseless claim, given that the company’s entire business depends on careful stewardship of the boreal forest. In fact, Resolute has planted over a billion trees there, and its operations have caused virtually no deforestation.
Yet, Greenpeace has used its baseless accusations to destroy Resolute’s reputation and customer relationships. The ENGO allegedly continually harassed companies such as Best Buy and Procter & Gamble for sourcing paper from Resolute and interfered with their online product reviews. Faced with such harassment campaigns, many companies eventually give up, as did Best Buy. In 2014 it announced that it would quit sourcing from Resolute in favor of suppliers that acquiesce with Greenpeace’s demands.
One company that has not caved in and started to appease Greenpeace in the hope of ending the harassment, is Resolute itself, led by its CEO Richard Garneau. I have praised the company and Mr. Garneau, my corporate hero, before in a previous post for their refusal to appease the company’s attackers and the principled defense of its right to do business and to make profits. In 2013, Resolute sued Greenpeace for defamation and interference with economic relations. (The courts are yet to hear the case).
Resolute deserves yet more praise for doing what is right. Last week, it launched another law suit against Greenpeace, this time under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act. As Foster reports, the suit alleges that “Greenpeace is a ‘global fraud’ that has ‘duped’ donors with ‘materially false and misleading claims’ … [and uses] its ‘fraudulently induced donations to perpetuate the corrupted entity itself and the salaries of its leaders and employees’.”
Why is such vigorous defense and calling out one’s attackers—even by turning the tables on them and suing them—the right thing for Resolute, or for any other company in its situation, to do? Because it is in the company’s long-term self-interest, by the standard of human survival and flourishing.
A company that wants to pursue its self-interest—to survive and to maximize its profits in the long term—must first claim the moral high ground. It must recognize that its production of material values, such as pulp and paper, is good because we (including the company and all those with whom it trades) need material values to benefit our lives. It must also grasp that the ENGOs such as Greenpeace are doing the opposite: they are trying to diminish human survival and flourishing by de-industrialization for the sake of a pristine planet not exploited by people. Such ENGO attacks against value-creating business are unjust: they are attacking the good for being good by promoting what is bad for human life. Recognizing this would give the company the moral certainty to stand up against its attackers and defend itself, as has been demonstrated by Resolute’s principled CEO Richard Garneau.
Appeasing attackers by compromising one’s principles never works, despite the hopes of many corporate leaders unlike Mr. Garneau. Groveling and appeasing does not make the attacks stop; doing so only encourages further attacks. By conceding the moral high ground to those who are trying to diminish our lives, companies’ like Best Buy are welcoming targets for more bullies to ask for more concessions.
The world needs more companies like Resolute Forest Products and more CEOs like Richard Garneau. They deserve the moral support of all of us care about human well-being—which depends on the long-term production of material values by business which is only possible when companies take care of the necessary resources, as Resolute does.