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Ohio-based Chiquita has discovered that kowtowing to eco-fascism is not without its costs. The famous banana company is facing made-in-Canada outrage for caving in to NGO ForestEthics by committing not to use oil from the Alberta oil sands, and to “expose” those that do.

The oil sands has become the main target (and fund-raising opportunity) for radical green groups. The recent decision by the U.S. administration to hold up approval of the Alberta-to-Gulf Coast Keystone XL pipeline was a major coup, and has encouraged radical NGOs to up their campaigns of lies and intimidation.

One well-worn technique is to demand of U.S. companies — “When did you stop beating your wife?”-style — whether they are using “dirty” oil sands oil.

Last year, ForestEthics, a veteran of anti-corporate thuggery, sent a demand to Chiquita. Senior vice-president Manuel Rodriguez sent a grovelling response committing “to directing our transportation providers to avoid, where possible, fuels from tar sands refineries and to adopt a strategy of continuous improvement towards the elimination of those fuels.” ForestEthics released Mr. Rodriguez’s letter with much fanfare.

For once, however, there was pushback. The Canadian organization EthicalOil.org — which was set up to make the case for the oil sands — launched a radio attack ad against Chiquita and organized a protest outside an Edmonton Safeway store, complete with sombreros and ponchos. The ad called Chiquita a “foreign bully” (a particularly sensitive point given the company’s “banana republic” past as the United Fruit Company), and pondered whether Chiquita preferred oil from “OPEC dictatorships.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several Cabinet ministers stepped up to denounce Chiquita either directly or indirectly. The Alberta Enterprise Group called for a Chiquita boycott. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers wrote to Chiquita asking where it was getting its (mis)information.

Although touting the moral credentials of commodities is a potential minefield, it is difficult not to cheer this initiative. California-based ForestEthics, an anti-capitalist organization that is — ironically but not untypically — supported by money from capitalist foundations, has run roughshod over truth and jobs for too long. Its previous corporate victims included U.S. clothing giant Limited Brands, which was brought to heel for the crime of using paper in its Victoria’s Secret catalogues, and thus allegedly threatening the Canadian Boreal forest. Rather than attempt to refute ForestEthics misrepresentations, Limited Brands paid to “work with” the NGO, thus setting a precedent for green extortion. Earlier this year, ForestEthics released an ad featuring California grocery chain Trader Joe’s previously untrumpeted acquiescence in the anti oil sands campaign. It didn’t bother to ask Trader Joe’s permission. Did Trader Joe’s complain? No. It was obviously too scared. ForestEthics has other campaigns going to force Walmart and Safeway to condemn the oil sands.

Some companies have sought to rush to the front of the anti-oil sands parade without being pushed. These include the British bath products company Lush, which gets its scientific objectivity from ForestEthics’ fellows Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network. According to Lush, “If left unchallenged, the tar sands will turn an area the size of Florida into a toxic sacrifice zone.”

ForestEthics achieved another enormous symbolic victory last year in joining forces with similarly self-selected guardians of the planet to dictate an agreement with the Forest Products Association of Canada that claimed to sanitize vast swathes of land that had been permitted for logging. Not only did this give credence to claims that the FPAC had previously refuted as “simplistic and biased,” but it made Canadian governments look like also-rans in the policy formulation department.

This kind of “corporate social responsibility” has — as Milton Friedman famously suggested — always been a slippery slope. Every time a corporation caves in, it opens the door to further encroachments. For example, ForestEthics used Chiquita’s letter to bolster its attack on rival fruit company Dole. “Dole Bananas: Brought to you by dirty Tar Sands oil,” claims the ForestEthics website, inviting its acolytes to use social media to pressure Dole. Dole’s response? To grovel. The company’s vice-president of worldwide corporate responsibility and sustainability, Sylvain Cuperlier, went on YouTube to claim that the company didn’t use oil sands oil, as far as it knew, but begged ForestEthics to “share information” with them.

ForestEthics response was that this just wasn’t good enough: “[A] business as large as Dole is filthy with Tar Sands unless, like Chiquita, they are actively working to get it out of their footprint. ForestEthics has repeatedly asked Dole to disclose the refinery sources of origin for the fuel they use, but they haven’t.”

By what right does ForestEthics demand information from anybody? Who gave them, or any of their fellows, a “social licence?” In the interests of transparency, let’s have a full accounting from ForestEthics of all the money they have received from the corporations who have been bullied into “working with them.”

Meanwhile here, in all its tawdriness, is “stakeholder capitalism:” green-cloaked shakedown artists dictating corporate policy on the basis of misinformation and intimidation.

Four years ago, Chiquita paid a stiff fine for buying mafia-style “protection” from South American thugs masquerading as freedom fighters. Is trying to buy protection from the mendacious green lobby any different?

Financial Post, 28 December 2011