An Open Letter to Corporate Ethics International

From the CEI website "rethink Alberta" campaign

By A. B. Thomas

On Wednesday July 14, 2010, Corporate Ethics International put up billboards in several American cities that compared the Alberta Tar Sands oil extraction projects to the BP oil disaster. The advertising campaign is aimed at discouraging tourism to Alberta as a way to protest the project. It would appear that the logic in this campaign would be that if people do not come to Alberta, the loss of tourists’ dollars will put pressure on the Alberta government to shut down the investors, research and development of the oil sands projects. In two weeks the group plans to start their “Rethink Alberta” anti-tourism campaign in the United Kingdom.

What I’d like to say, if I were a metrosexualized e-duh-cated Albertan, is politely offer these points in opposition to your ad campaign. Political goals should be left in the political arena.  If your membership has issues with oil companies and government policy, then that is where the resources for bribes, strong arming and haranguing should be focused. I realize that as an American entity, it is only natural that you emulate your government’s tactics in getting your ends met when there isn’t the public’s support behind your forthrightness.

It would be negligent of me if I did not point out that Corporate Ethics International is headquartered in San Francisco, California.   I cannot but wonder why you would focus your ad campaign on a foreign oil project as a terrible polluter of the Earth when your own country is teeming with ‘evilness’.  Alberta has the Rocky Mountains, The Royal Tyrell Museum, The Blackfoot Interpretive Centre, large sections of crown land expressively put as wildlife conversation areas, the Torrington Gopher Museum and lakes upon lakes, streams upon streams, that are ideal for fishing and swimming – all projects that are protected and maintained through Alberta government funding.  A look through the various informational windows around the San Francisco area on ecological concerns seems to show an overt lack of statements with “preserved and maintained by Corporate Ethics International” emblazoned upon the sites.  Alberta is at least attempting to find solutions to the potential pollution problems of the tar sands projects, including those caps suggested by the Kyoto protocol, a document that the United States refused to sign. Empty talk is pretty cheap, and hardly an erstwhile pursuit in terms of impacting changes.

Examples of sabotaging another nation for America’s oil interest is well established; the attempt to sink the USS Liberty in order to get a leg hold in the “new” Middle East, the “weapons of mass destruction” and the ensuing  policies of dismantling the power structure and military to ensure that Iraq would not recover its independence before American interests could be established; or overthrowing the Afghanistan government initially supported when it refused to obey the whims for a pipeline to secure oil from a fair market that would include Pakistan, Iran and China. It is duplicitous to throw blame onto a region supplying the American demand for oil and its products; perhaps there is also the belief that once you wipe with toilet paper the feces is no longer owned by you but the manufacturer of the toilet paper. I would think that ‘ethically’, it would be repugnant to backdoor a political motive by striking at the ordinary citizens of a foreign power, but monkey see, monkey do, I guess. I would think that it would be in your best interests to be better than that, if you are truly attempting to create a positive affect.

Strategies that bastardize a specific culture, in this case, the Albertan peoples, is not a platform that one can stake a solid position worthy of being listened to. It is depressing, yet expected, that you would take a page from the American government once again to portray Albertans as thoughtless and uncaring about the land in which we dwell in.  Just as all Russians were not out to kill everyone during the Cold War, and just as not all Muslims are terrorists today, by painting these broad strokes of ill-defined caricatures you demean all those who hold that cultural flag with honour.  If you truly want to paint the darkest of pictures about the citizens of the province of Alberta, let’s just add a few other things to your add campaign, shall we? To appeal to the Christian fundamentalists, place raping a baby; for racists, have a black man raping a beaten and battered woman and for the animal activists, let’s add a Native hunter laughing while a bear writhes in agony with an arrow sticking half out of one of its eyes. To further destroy Alberta’s image, let’s not forget to have a lawyer serving papers to a business person for not having in big bold letters “warning your coffee is hot” – wait, sorry, that’s the American justice system hard at work, not Canadian. Perhaps, in light of your tactics, it would be of the utmost importance to remove the word “ethics” from your brand name as you are intent on proving “corporate ethics” is essentially an oxymoron.

I could not help but  notice that one of the other campaigns you are engaged in is the “Big Box” protest – the protest of large retailers who are squeezing out not only small businesses but the producers of the products by demanding lower prices, which in turn, forces lesser wages for those employees.  What struck me as odd is that Corporate Ethics International is a conglomeration, according to your website, of at least a hundred smaller organizations – in effect becoming what you purport to oppose, a “Big Box”.  How is the Corporate Ethics International “protest power” through mutual alignment of resources any different than Walmart’s buying power? The desired result is the same for both: more bang for the least amount of buck.

As I said, I’d like to, but the fact of the matter is that I’m just Small Town Alberta, and being so, the only response I can make is this:

photo taken by: en:User:Adrian Pingstone in July 2004 and released to the public domain

Plant ‘em, buckos, plant ‘em.

9 Comments on “An Open Letter to Corporate Ethics International”

  1. first of all, well said, but where are the penis and vagina references ?? Everything you say is true, we are “shits” down here, but I read this twice looking for some sexual stuff, I am learning quite a lot from you … America, the racist and bankrupt (moral and financial) capitol of the world is just two farts away from being a second world nation .. pay us no mind .. if I weren’t allergic to moose hair I would vacation in Alberta tomorrow ….. just keep you 8 year old away from me .. just sayin ….

  2. I wish some of these anxious do-gooders would take up the campaign against Northern Dynasty, Anglo-American and their proposed Pebbles mine. Of course, that might be picking on someone a little too big for their britches. Sort of like Peta, who would rather pick on the poor fishermen, trying to convince them a fish is a sea kitten, so they would feel guilty about harvesting their primary source of livelihood; then go after the insufferable monsters of corporate farming.

    There isn’t anything comparable to what has happened to the Gulf states, but if we make the choice of diamonds over a pristine environment, there will be. I personally feel the sooner we get off oil dependency, the better, but realistically i know this isn’t going to happen right away. We haven’t placed the infrastructure for alternative energy into place, and until we do, the world is going to keep demanding oil.

  3. I think you hit it right on the head – campaigns like this are aimed to get the bystander in front of the real target, and I would think they would target companies like Northern Dynasty and Anglo-American if Alaska if they had something comparable to it that had ended in a significantly overt disaster. I have to say that I disagree though on that it is the lack of infrastructure that has stalled the alternate energy capitalization, I think it is more of the short term time and costs that are far too high that most companies do not feel the average consumer can or will be willing to afford in decreasing oil dependency. I think that once the initial costs can be brought down, there will be a willingness on the companies to eat up a lot of their profit for the first couple or several years in order to gain long term clientele. But for now, cheaper is better.

  4. I think you should try and focus less on ad hominem arguments against the individuals behind this campaign and more on the positive message they are trying to get across to many Albertans who might not know what is going on in their own back yard. From on educated Albertan to another.

  5. Randers, thanks for the comment – whether it sounds like I appreciate it or not, I do. I do see your point, however, this is how I see it. The problem is that the ad is not positive in any remote sense – does it make people aware of the severity of the leak in Alberta? No. Does it say how quickly it was cleaned up? No. Does the ad address the water shed issue in Fort Chipyewan? No. Is the ad campaign aimed at Albertans? No. Is the ad aimed at Canadians? No. The ads are in several American cites with plans to put them up in the UK, but there is nothing about a Canadian campaign. Does the ad offer any alternate solutions? No. Does the ad say, “Oh, and by the way, stay far far away from the United States, we just created the worst environmental disaster in history? No. Does the ad dis-proportionalize the leak in Alberta? Yes. Is the ad intended to blackball Alberta tourism? Yes.

    If you wish to affect change in an area, you go to the people of that area and have a dialogue, that way there is a sense of understanding from both sides. What Corporate Ethics international has done in this campaign is play upon a person’s sense of outrage at an issue based on an incident that cannot be compared. In this case, while both deal with crude oil spills, this is where the similarity ends. The processes of retrieving the oil (which the raw material is quite different as well), maintaining, storing and transporting are entirely different. The ocean is not the tar sands; there are different hazards that have to be addressed. Transparency is paramount if a government, corporation or professional hack lobby group conglomerate wishes to deal with the public. We no longer live in a feudal system where the overlords are the only ones who have the ‘e-duh-cation’ required to make an informed decision to which is then applied to their peons. Despite the stereotype of Albertans all being gun totin’, bible thumpin’ hillbillies who are the real life equivalent of Jed, Granny, Jethro and Ellie-May, we are pretty quick to catch onto what’s bad for our little piece of Canada. When Trudeau thought it was a good idea to tax the hell out of Alberta to throw cash in Ontario and Quebec’s way back in the eighties, we dashed that wet dream pretty darn fast. Albertans are holding the oil companies accountable with their tar sands projects and are far from getting a free ride. If Corporate Ethics International were a conglomerate of people who truly gave a damn, they would have come up to Alberta but instead, they went the easy money way out.

  6. I look forward to some kind of dialogue on this issue with you. Mainly because I am a research librarian for CEI and have learned a great deal about the pro and con of boycott campaigns.

    First, CEI’s rethinkAlberta campaign is a coalition of people and groups. The majority of whom are Canadian. And on the ground in Alberta. And, the majority of preplanning on this campaign was spent in Alberta trying to talk to the major corporate stakeholders. They refuse to do anything. So did the Alberta Government.

    So, while you may hate the campaign and you may disagree with it entirely, your characterization of CEI, the coalition, the motives and much else is entirely wrong and just whiny. I am sure you may think it easy to craft a campaign about a moratorium on expansion of energy infrastructure run by multinationals with bazillions of cash and lawyers. And you may think it easy to do this about a province that the major consumers have never heard of. And you have so many suggestions about how this could be done more ethically and legally and ride in on a white horse. Which is why you have done such a campaign too, right? Or any campaign? Or made any effort to change the damaging pattern of corporate behaviour playing out in Alberta and across North America?

    Corporate campaigns are dangerous beasts. And I give kudos to those in my organization who are crafting rethinkAlberta – they now have the ear of parliament. They have agitated Alberta government into visibility. They have gotten needed scientific scrutiny and political pressure to bear on the situation. They have pushed hard on the social justice issues that make a major focus on energy problems world wide by standing hand in hand with the IEN.

    The “money way out”!!! What a great joke. The money way out is the same old corporate tune that is pumping Alberta dry at your expense and you waste your breath to lambaste the tactics finally taken after all others were exhausted. Only, you didn’t think at all about the FACT that this campaign is one of the last and most visible efforts that the coalition has been making for years.

    Your derision is duly noted and, in short, your take on this campaign is fine in that everyone is entitled to an opinion. But yours isn’t a thoughtful, circumspect or educated opinion at all. And, unlike the work being done by people who know what is happening in Alberta and globally, your opinion does nothing at all.

  7. Let’s not forget Cheryl that most of the people on Rethink Alberta’s site on Facebook say nothing, and it’s about 70% defending Alberta from this so called boycott of tourism. Your analogies of corporate big wigs and lawyers throwing around hand fulls of money to crush human concerns is quite frankly boring and dumb. Corporate Ethics International should most likely clean up their own backyard and address the concerns happening in California first because nobody likes hypocrisy and by the pro/anti numbers on Rethink Alberta you’re falling on your faces. Alberta is a great place and I suppose you’d have to come look firsthand instead of lobbing grenades of ignorance from a toxic wasteland.

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