December 1, 2010; Source: | Dumpster diving is not only messy, but if the charges brought against Dow Chemical and Sasol North America by Greenpeace USA win in court, it could also be costly. The environmental advocacy group claims that the two chemical companies, along with two public relations firms, conspired to unlawfully search its trash, break into its computers, and listen to phone calls.

In a 57-page federal court filing containing nine counts, including civil racketeering, trespassing, and invasion of privacy claims, Greenpeace alleges that from 1998 to 2000 it was subject to illegal surveillance designed to steal confidential information. In a statement, Greenpeace USA Executive Director Phil Radford described these actions as “underhanded tactics” that “interfered with valuable work we were undertaking to protect public health and expose environmental crimes.” Greenpeace claims the companies wanted to disrupt efforts to call attention to Dow’s use of chlorine in its manufacturing process and sales of products containing genetically modified organisms.

At the time of the spying, Bloomberg News reports that Greenpeace also turning its sights on communities it says were threatened by chemical pollutants, including Lake Charles, La., where Sasol has a manufacturing facility. Now—if the allegations prove to be true—you can add spying to the list of things the companies shouldn’t be doing.—Bruce Trachtenberg