Some questions for a Conservation International board member

By Chris Lang, 3rd June 2011, Source: REDD-Monitor

Some questions for a Conservation International board member: Victoria Tauli Corpuz

Last month, journalists from Don’t Panic went undercover as representatives of Lockheed Martin and contacted Conservation International, to see what one of the world’s largest conservation organisations could do to improve their image. Not surprisingly, considering the companies already on CI’s list of Corporate Partners, CI was happy to help.

CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business put out a statementa week after Don’t Panic’s video came out, defending CI’s cosy relationship with polluting industry. The statement is posted in full below. Predictably, the statement makes no mention of the fact that CI has already accepted money from Lockheed Martin. Nor does the statement explain how accepting money from the world’s largest arms manufacturer complies with CI’s Mission Statement of empowering societies “to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the well-being of humanity.”

CI’s statement explains that “We only work with corporations after doing due diligence on their commitment to improving environmental performance.” But as the organisation’s list of Corporate Partners illustrates, CI’s “due diligence” has failed to exclude some serious planet trashers. CI’s Co-founder, Chairman, and CEO, Peter Seligman, repeats the due diligence argument in an article for Huffington Post: “Partnerships for the Planet: Why We Must Engage Corporations”:

What was recorded on the tape and emails was simply an initial conversation with a corporation that approached us. But initial conversations are only a first step in a long process of due diligence about an organization’s commitment to environmental leadership.

It sounds reasonable. Until, that is, you look at the companies that have passed this “long process of due diligence” to reach what Seligman happily describes as “environmental leadership”. Here are three of them: Monsanto, Shell and Chevron.

As Daniel Kessler, Greenpeace International’s Communications Manager, comments, the issue is not “engaging” with corporations, “it’s the quid pro quo that’s of concern. To many observers, CI’s engagement provides a safe space for many corporatio ns to continue business-a s-usual, all while our environmen tal problems worsen.”

The membership of CI’s board reveals just how corporate friendly the organisation is. Members include Rob Walton (Wal-Mart), Gordon Moore (Intel), Heidi Miller (JPMorgan Chase) and Orin Smith (Starbucks). Oh, and Wes Bush, President and CEO of Northrop Grumman, an arms manufacturer.

But the board is not only made up of corporate representatives. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Executive Director of Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy and Research Education) in the Philippines, is a board-member of CI. REDD-Monitor interviewed Tauli-Corpuz in 2008, and I thought it would be interesting to ask her some questions about her role on the board of CI. I sent the questions on 12 May 2011 (questions 8 and 9, the following day) and asked for a response by 20 May 2011 but requested that “If you need more time, please let me know.” Tauli-Corpuz has, so far, declined to reply. REDD-Monitor looks forward to posting Tauli-Corpuz’s response to these questions.

1. Presumably you are aware that Conservation International’s Corporate Partners include some of the biggest polluters on the planet. Does it concern you that, as a board member, you are lending legitimacy to CI’s policy on corporations?

2. Could you please explain how Conservation International believe that allowing an arms manufacturer (Northrop Grumman Corporation) as a Corporate Partner is in compliance with CI’s mission? Just to remind you, CI’s mission states:

“Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the well-being of humanity.”

3. Similar questions could be raised about many of the other companies on CI’s Corporate Partners list. Have you raised this point at past board meetings and if so, what was the response? If not, will you be doing so in future?

4. Is there any company that is so bad that you would resign your position on CI’s board if they were to become a CI Corporate Partner?

5. Do you feel uncomfortable as someone who has worked for many years to uphold indigenous peoples’ rights being on the board of an organisation that is very cosy with corporations that have a record of destroying indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and their environments?

6. Has Conservation International ever kicked any corporation off their Corporate Partner list?

7. When I interviewed you in Poznan in 2008, you stated that “At this point I cannot categorically say I am for or against carbon trading.” Conservation International’s website has a “carbon calculator”, which allows people to calculate their yearly carbon emissions and make a donation towards CI’s forest conservation projects to offset these emissions. Does your presence on CI’s board mean that you are now in favour of carbon trading? If not, have you raised the issue of carbon trading in CI board meetings? What was the response?

8. When did you become a member of CI’s board? Why did you decide to accept the invitation to become a board member? What do you hope to achieve by being a board member of CI?

9. What would Conservation International have to do to convince you that you should resign from the board?

STATEMENT FROM CI A Conservation International employee was recently involved in a conversation in London with two individuals posing as representatives of a U.S. defense contractor. The individuals set up an elaborate hoax, including fake identities, a phony corporate website and a made-up inquiry about the corporation’s interest in conservation. The meeting, phone conversations, and email conversations were heavily edited to remove key parts, while using other parts out of context to paint an inaccurate and incomplete picture of Conservation International’s work with the private sector. This story is currently circulating on the Internet.

Conservation International has actively engaged with corporations for more than 20 years for the purpose of improving environmental practices and conserving nature. We challenge and collaborate with companies to both improve their business practices and invest proactively in conservation initiatives. Our commitment is to engage with corporations to minimize environmental impact and to encourage them to proactively participate in programs to preserve healthy ecosystems and biodiversity. This is why we created the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business. We only work with corporations after doing due diligence on their commitment to improving environmental performance.

We recognize, understand and respect the views of those who believe that accepting funding from corporations creates a conflict of interest. CI’s position has always been that corporate financial support – communicated transparently, directed toward vital conservation programs, and linked to our expectation that our partners will pursue best environmental business practices – does not compromise our integrity, independence or effectiveness. We seriously consider the risks and responsibilities of such partnerships. To this end, we conduct due diligence to ensure that the corporations are committed to significant, substantive improvement before we enter into any such partnerships, and to ensure that they maintain their commitment to environmental stewardship.

Conservation International engages with corporations from a wide range of industries to improve business policies and practices, and incorporate environmental protection into corporate decision making. We created the Business and Sustainability Council as a forum for corporate leaders to work with each other to identify key issues and promote ways to institute pro-environmental practices. We support and promote data-driven tools like the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool for Business (IBAT) to help companies understand environmental risks and make better-informed decisions. Corporations pay a fee to subscribe to IBAT, which is available free-of-charge for non-profit and academic institutions.

We believe that corporations have a responsibility to embrace environmentally and socially responsible business practices and to invest in the conservation of critical ecosystems that they and their customers depend upon for their well-being. By engaging in mutually beneficial partnerships with influential corporations, we have the opportunity to transform global markets and industry standards toward the realization of CI’s mission.

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