There can't be much doubt that Greenpeace has become a significant factor in the seafood industry over the past few years. Positioning themselves as fishing experts, this environmental non-governmental organization (eNGO) leads protest actions against various seafood brands, acting on an agenda which they present as being in the public interest. But who selected this agenda? Is their agenda one created from a wide base of opinion or is it one that is created by a selected few? Before we answer these questions, let's first take a look at some examples of this agenda's effects on the seafood industry.
Every few years, Greenpeace produces its Tinned Tuna League Table. The most recent table was published in January 2011 rating various tuna brands on their level of sustainability fishing practices. These ratings are based on criteria that Greenpeace selects itself. Greenpeace publicizes the table widely, eliciting a variety of comment from brands, retailers, and consumers alike. The publication of this table is supplemented by the release of other “responsible” seafood ranking guides, among them the 2010 guide published in Japan. These guides are based on Greenpeace selected criteria, as well.
In addition to the tables and guides, Greenpeace launches “corporate campaigns,” selecting a targeted seafood brand they consider not sustainable enough. Recently the industry saw the Sealord brand in Auckland NZ categorized as “bad tuna;” positioned by Greenpeace as one that is caught “unsustainably.” Of course, the definition of “sustainable” is not set in stone and Greenpeace leveraged that fuzzy definition when they festooned some of Auckland's streets with anti-Sealord banners and posters, generally making a mess. Sealord responded by saying that the eNGO's campaign was “misleading in the extreme” while the local business association characterized the poster plastering as “tantamount to vandalism.”
Choosing to concentrate on demagoguery rather than constructive action, Greenpeace has been cited as not wanting to work with industry groups toward the improvement of tuna fishing techniques, and has been shown to choose to spend its time promoting “erroneous stories”, demanding an end to industrial fleet fishing and the Mediterranean bluefin fishery, as well as issuing self-defined studies condemning various national seafood retailers and industries.
There are many other examples, but the point is made that this eNGO has significant influence within and on the seafood industry. Now back to the central question: how widely selected is the agenda that Greenpeace enacts?
Greenpeace is operated as a semi-loose federation of national/regional offices. Greenpeace International oversees each office's activities with particular attention to approving campaigns such as the those described above. Each office is governed by a board of directors which is elected by a Greenpeace membership of volunteers, staff, or other activists who have shown commitment to the causes of this eNGO. It is the representatives from the individual offices (presumably the members of the board of directors from each national office) who elect the Greenpeace International board of directors. This sounds alright so far, I suppose. But let's dig a little deeper. Who elects the members of the national offices? The process for these elections, using the Greenpeace United States office as an example, is described below and is thought to be the similar for each national Greenpeace office.
Greenpeace US is a very tightly held organization, with a voting process that is just as tightly and closely controlled by a limited and carefully selected number of people. Let me explain.
In Section 2.1a of Greenpeace US's Bylaws, “Selection of Voting Members,” it states:
"The Voting Members of this corporation (referred to in these Bylaws as the “members”) shall consist of those individuals designated by the Board of Directors."
In Section 2.1, the Bylaws further state that Voting Members will be selected based on their work experience with Greenpeace US, or other Greenpeace divisions, or on their leadership in the environmental movement, and that the total number of members will be between 40 and 100.
So far what we see is an extremely narrow voting base chosen by the Board of Directors. And now, here's where the tight control comes in.
Section 2.3 of those same bylaws, “Rights of Voting Members,” says in sub-section A that Voting Members, among other “rights and privileges,” have:
"The right to vote for member-elected directors of the corporation (Greenpeace US) as provided in these Bylaws." (Parentheses mine.)
So, here we see that the Board of Directors select the Voting Members and the Voting Members select, at least some of, the directors on the board. And these narrowly-based opinions and less-than-democratic influences pass through to the international organization and the campaigns it approves.
Such a governance policy, lacking in wide democracy, provides for little openness, not much accountability, and sets up a situation where transparency can become nonexistent. All of this makes for a situation where democracy is forgotten and the power of this worldwide eNGO is concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of people.
We can see now that the answer to the questions posed in my first paragraph is that relatively few people create an agenda that has a disproportional effect on the seafood industry. Because of this absence of wide democracy in Greenpeace's agenda, an agenda that consequently becomes stoked on fear and sensationalism, the rest of us lack certainty that their ideas are representative of the general population.
Now, as so often happens, the answer to one question breeds yet another question.
The question now is not whether the Greenpeace agenda is determined by a selected few.
The question now is what do we do with this information?
I'll leave the answer to that one to ALL of you.