Jet-Set Greenpeace Exec Causes Angry Staff to Call for Resignation

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July 25, 2014;The Guardian

Greenpeace’s mission is to use a variety of methods to “expose global environmental problems and to promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.” While these methods, called direct action, usually might involve chasing oil tankers or sitting in historic trees, now forty Greenpeace employees have waged a direct action against their own senior leadership.

In a letter to leadership, staff members stated, “Every time we criticize politicians or companies, this story will come back, as we are already experiencing. Campaigners are getting questioned by companies and politicians. If Greenpeace does not walk the talk, why should others do so?”

The issue to which staff is responding is that Greenpeace’s International Program Director, Pascal Husting, was given permission to use air travel to commute, regularly taking a plane from his home in Luxembourg to work in Amsterdam. (As the uproar ensued, Husting agreed to take the train, although he has not as of yet.)

This is the latest in a series of challenges that have befallen the environmental rights giant. As described in leaked internal documents given to the Guardian, the organization is “beset by personnel problems and a lack of rigorous processes, leading to errors, substandard work and a souring of relationships between its Amsterdam headquarters and offices around the world.”

Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace’s executive director, “admits that internal communications are a ‘huge problem’ and staff have ‘good reason’ to be upset at a range of problems.” An example of these internal communication issues can be seen through the tensions in the Husting case. Naidoo has said that Husting “hasn’t got much of an option until he can move. He wishes there was an express train between his home and his office, but it would currently be a 12-hour round-trip by train.” In response, the staff states that Naidoo does not “seem to grasp how public opinion works and does not seem aware of the magnitude of the long-term reputational damage that has been caused by commuting by plane and the chosen media response.”

As Greenpeace has long worked at creating a strong social movement with high-profile direct actions that have galvanized the environmental community, let’s hope the recent internal direct actions from staff toward Greenpeace leadership can again be pointed outward again. The environmental movement needs them.—John Brothers.

  • Ted Ford Webb

    I worked with Greenpeace some years ago. At that time, the Greenpeace Board was elected at the annual membership meeting. Members included staff and retired staff, who were usually in the majority at these meetings. No surprise that the elected Board members closely mirrored the views of staff. Back in the day, that led to the decision to provide full health coverage to Greenpeace canvassers, which nearly bankrupted Greenpeace US in a matter of months.

    Here in New England, many small towns have an annual meetings where the budget is approved and projects are voted up or down. In some small towns, town residents who were also town employees constituted the majority. They tended to over spend, and eventually Charter reform was called for to assure employees don’t pack the vote.

    Until someone invents a better way, an organization without an independent Board is at risk. Welcoming the views and input from an engaged staff is important, but those views need to be balanced against an outside and broad based perspective.