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Corporatization is weakening activism


At the beginning of the 1970s Greenpeace was a motley band of peaceniks and environmentalists living in our home province of British Columbia in Canada. Now the Amsterdam headquarters of Greenpeace manages a multimillion-dollar brand, with scores of branches worldwide, thousands of employees, and millions of financial supporters.


The history of Greenpeace is one of courage and daring defiance, and the organization has long protested both unsustainable production and wasteful consumption. But like every multinational NGO, Greenpeace is under great pressure to achieve short-term results, which are now so essential for raising the money required to pay a burgeoning staff and finance projects.


In 2011 one of Greenpeace`s big ‘victories’ was convincing Barbie-doll manufacturer Mattel to remove illegal rainforest wood from its cardboard-box packaging. This campaign certainly has its merits, and Greenpeace may think of it as a win.


But it`s not. Praising Mattel and calling this a victory may enhance public trust in the Greenpeace brand, but it also legitimizes the trade and consumption that Greenpeace has long opposed, and which lie at the root of unsustainable patterns of growth and development.


All NGOs want to gain the public`s trust, and in recent years they have done well on that score. The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer ranked NGOs as the world’s most trusted institution – the seventh year in a row that they have come out on top of business, media, and governments.


Trusted brands like Amnesty International and WWF are now going toe-to-toe with Coke, McDonald’s, and Nike. As Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, John Quelch, and Bernard Simonin point out, over the past decade both Amnesty International and WWF have remained among Europe’s top five most trusted brands, with Amnesty at number 1 in 2004, beating out Microsoft and Michelin. That year Amnesty ranked 13th in the United States, just behind corporate brands such as UPS, Proctor & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson.

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