16 Jun 2011

There Aren't Plenty More Fish In The Sea

By Claire Parfitt
First green wash, now marine wash. If big companies want to save the oceans by funding movies, great - but why don't they improve their own environmental practices, asks Claire Parfitt
On 8 June, World Oceans Day, I saw Oceans: The Movie.

It was great. I mean, who doesn't like looking at cute, graceful animals in beautiful scenery with a classical soundtrack? The film screened at a fundraiser for the Protect our Coral Sea campaign, a cause that deserves hearty public support.

But there's something that really stings about this film and that is the hypocrisy inherent in having captains of industry — at the helm of the economic system that is destroying our oceans — producing a film about how important it is that we save them.

The movie was produced by DisneyNature, a division of one of the world's largest companies, which made almost US$40 billion last year. The company is known for abusing workers rights and using child labour in factory sweatshops around the world. Disney's use of toxic chemicals and its waste and energy consumption have also prompted questions from environmental advocates.

The film was also funded by the energy companies EDF and Total, among others.

Total is one of the world's largest oil and gas companies, and a major player in chemicals, earning 160 billion euros last year. The company has been embroiled several times in environmental disputes.

In 1999, the Total fuel tanker, Erika, sunk off the coast of Brittany and thousands of tons of oil leaked onto the shoreline. Total was ordered to pay nearly 200 million euros compensation for the pollution in 2008, despite the company's protests that it was not responsible. Total claims, on one hand, that it should not be held responsible because it is only a "user" of ships, and on the other, that it has 150 ships in the water at any given time, operating under the strictest of safety guidelines. 

Total is also among a number of multinational oil companies being pursued in relation to human rights and environmental offences in the Nigerian oil fields. A local NGO, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, claims "violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food, to work, to health, to water, to life and human dignity, to a clean and healthy environment, and to economic and social development" as a result of the oil extraction activities of Total and other companies.

The Nigerian court found that it had no jurisdiction over the foreign companies. The company has also faced claims of human rights abuse in Burma and environmental damage through gas flaring in Nigeria.

EDF is the world's largest utility company. It reported profits of more than 65 million euros in 2010 and produces over 20 per cent of the European Union's electricity — 75 per cent of which comes from nuclear power.

The company describes itself as "investing to protect the future" through "green" energy solutions, such as nuclear power. But it seems that EDF hasn't even convinced itself that it is clean and green. The company employed spies in France and the UK to infiltrate the offices of Greenpeace while the environmental organisation was then in the process of challenging EDF's expansion of its nuclear operations in the UK, where it is the largest electricity provider. Greenpeace was under surveillance periodically from 2004 to 2009, through the use of techniques such as illegal hacking.

So what is killing our oceans? According to the film, and reams of evidence from respected scientists and environmental defenders the world over, overfishing undermines the food chain; chemical pollution leaches into the water, killing animals, plants and vibrant ecosystems like coral reefs; and carbon emissions are warming everything up and disrupting the delicate balance that has been determined over millions of years.

The same companies who are sponsoring a film to draw attention to the state of the world's oceans have an influence over these problems. Total's oil spills, like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year, have caused irreparable environmental devastation, while gas flaring releases toxic fumes into the air and contributes to climate change. EDF's daily business activities add to the ever-present threat of another Chernobyl or Fukushima disaster, while generating tons of radioactive waste.

Total and EDF have both established philanthropic foundations to invest in feel-good, public relations exercises to polish up their tarnished images with the establishment of natural reserves, animal conservation projects and the like.

And after many years of public shaming, Disney has apparently become one of the world's most "responsible" companies. This honour comes as a result of Disney's compliance systems that enable the company to identify risks in relation to offences such as child labour. The U.S. Center for Health, Environment and Justice has also acknowledged the progress Disney has made with respect to the use of toxic chemicals, though there are still improvements to be made.

While the business activities of these particular companies do have an environmental impact that they can manage to some extent, the bigger problem is the economic system in which they operate. Oceans: The Movie holds the tacit suggestion that we can protect our oceans while the economy carries on with business as usual, subject to a bit of tinkering at the edges to green things up a bit. But can the environmental initiatives of these companies really provide the change needed to address the myriad global crises we face? We are kidding ourselves if we think that we can turn a system based on exploitation and inequality into a system that promotes sustainability.


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Posted Friday, June 17, 2011 - 10:16

Interesting article, and yes, my contempt for corporations' manipulation of the truth and hypocrisy makes me believe is probably true.
However there is one truth WE conveniently ignore.....OUR CULPABILITY in the ocean's pollution, denuding of edible life, acidification et al.
In no way does this dilute the corporation's fundamental amorality in their (a)buses.
Might I suggest until we as the public set the lead our tears are crocodile ones.
We should all be ashamed and more importantly do something about it .

Posted Friday, June 17, 2011 - 12:51

Claire Parfitt does well in recognizing the inherent hypocrisy in the promotion of this film. In many ways it is reminiscent of the vast sum of money tobacco companies spend every year on anti-smoking campaigns.
Firstly, however, I think it needs to be recognized that whatever environmental crimes these companies have committed, their promotion of a film highlighting the importance and vulnerability of the world's oceans is not one of them (as long as they are not jumping on the band wagon of environmental responsibility in order to help steer it to their own advantage).
Secondly, I think there needs to be a better appreciation of the practicalities of changing the world's energy dependence. The much maligned BP is actually one of the biggest investors in renewable technology and is slowly trying to transform their image from a petroleum company into an energy company. I honestly believe that if it were possible with minimal cost and inconvenience, most of the world's major energy companies would switch from fossil fuels and nuclear power to renewables such as wind and solar power tomorrow, but as we are all too aware, this is not the case. The transformation of energy source, for a society so heavily dependent on energy to sustain its economy and to preserve the quality of living of its people will take a well planned development of infrastructure; investment in renewable research and support for companies and workers whose current roles will become obsolete.
In conclusion, I think what we should take from this article is, yes, many of these companies are hypocritical in their promotion of this film, but rather than criticize, we should embrace this hypocrisy and ask these companies how they will move forward to more practically embrace the ideals they claim to uphold?

This user is a New Matilda supporter. douglas jones
Posted Saturday, June 18, 2011 - 09:43

douglas jones
Hypocricy and ours? Yes.
Corporations do whatthey need to in order to satisfy their legal obligation, make money for their investors. Simplistic the reality being more complicated, just to take an example. Are the incomes salary plus add ons, value formoney. Does ther discrepancy of remuneration justify in terms of larger profit. I think not. This is but one example. None the less companies can only invest in ventures likely to im,prove the balance sheet. This might be one should consumers feel that the problems of uncosted damage are being addressed. There is the hypocricity ourcompliance is ours.
There is a larger issue, though hardly fashionable in the wider world. Resources, in general not just oil or space in the atmosphere for our pollution, are becoming limiting. Water is a prime example, not just rainfall cxhanges and intensities but ground water as well.
So somehow production must be reduced. The method of production changed denying any externalities and having maximal recycling must be implemented or we dispose of our population excess or we reduce our consumption which of course feeds back into production levels profitability. We could as New Economics has suggested reduce our working week but this has problems similar to the above though perhaps by arotating workforce the associated problem of unemploy,ment might be partially solved. Maybe!
We need fairness for social cohesion mos tmoves toward austerity propose limiting the entitlements of some not all. Dangerous!

Posted Monday, June 20, 2011 - 10:48

Excellent article. As the saying goes 'Self praise is no recommendation'. Despite claims to decency, the Liberal Party isn't liberal. Despite purporting to represent 'ordinary working Australians, the Labor party isn't for labour. Despite waging war all over the globe in the name of democracy and freedom, the USA is opposed to democracy and social equality and has a history of imposing vicious dictators and waging war on all countries that desire independence and social decency through free elections if they don't obey the USA.
Why should we expect the true rulers of the world -- the multinationals -- to be different?