Credibility of green groups questioned

KUALA LUMPUR: Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth (FOE), Wetlands International and World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) could play invaluable roles in highlighting environmental problems and promote public and corporate oversight.

But when these non-governmental organisations become biased and apply double standards in their whistleblowing, many begin to doubt their credibility.

"Public trust and integrity are the essence of any NGO should we want to stay true to our purpose and remain relevant in today's context," said Malaysian Nature Society president Tan Sri Dr Salleh Mohd Nor.

"In the last decade, we've seen an increasing presence of foreign green NGOs in Southeast Asia. The objective of these foreign green and animal rights NGOs in setting up affiliates here is questionable," he told the New Straits Times in an interview here.

Examples include Amsterdam-based Friends of the Earth (FOE) giving financial support to Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Swiss-headquartered WWF funding anti-palm oil lobbyist Wetlands, which in turn contributes to Global Environment Centre, a non-profit organisation set up in Malaysia to support the protection of the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources.

There is also the UK-based Oxfam International giving money to Indonesian NGO Sawit Watch that purports to "highlight the negative social and environmental impacts of oil palm".

Earlier this week, Malaysia's Registrar of Societies Datuk Mohd Alias Kalil warned that Sahabat Alam Malaysia would be deregistered if in the fight for its cause, it is proven to indulge in extremist acts that threatens the country's interests.

When asked to comment, Salleh said: "At Malaysian Nature Society, we cherish the right to speak up for the conservation of nature but we're certainly not an extremist group. In fact, we don't agree with Greenpeace, FOE, Wetlands, Sawit Watch and WWF's biased approach, specifically their anti-palm oil lobby."

"We're a green NGO but we do not lobby against select industries or seek representation at negotiating tables to set up trade barriers disguised as environmentally-friendly measures."

Salleh said the Malaysian Nature Society had, throughout its 70 years of existence, stuck to its core activities of expeditions and explorations into the deep jungles and caves to inculcate love for nature among its members. "As the oldest green NGO in Malaysia, we take pride in being transparent. We have never haboured any hidden agenda or ulterior motives. We publish all contributions and expenses in our annual reports. I can assure you every sen is accounted for," he said.

Today, it is an undisputable fact that financially strong NGOs like Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Greenpeace, FOE, Wetlands, Oxfam International and WWF wield great clout at international decision-making forums on global warming. One would expect that with great power, comes great responsibility.

But to date, it is unclear whether these NGOs have institutionalised external oversight of their decision-makings.

Are there independent audits to determine the effects of their policies and practices on the orang-utans and indigenous people they claim to be helping? These NGOs are whistleblowers, judge and jury, all roled into one -- a stark contrast to independent boards in corporations.

On the other hand, oil palm plantation companies, whether listed on the stock exchange or privately held are a responsible lot by virtue of the industry being tightly regulated. About 50 corporates involved in palm oil-related businesses are listed on Bursa Malaysia.

Related party transactions and profit/loss accounts are open to public and regulatory scrutiny. Every oil palm planter, miller, refiner, trader and cargo forwarder is subjected to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board's (MPOB) stringent regulation.

This means the government keeps tab of agricultural land planted with oil palm trees, quality of seedlings that are planted in the estates, how much palm oil is produced and how soon and the quality of oil shipped out. Every shipment is reported to MPOB within 24 hours. Those in the industry who do not comply face heavy penalties.

Sahabat Alam at a loss over Registrar's warning
KUALA LUMPUR: Sahabat Alam Malaysia, an affiliate of Amsterdam-based Friends of the Earth, does not want to speculate on the motive behind the Registrar of Societies' warning about its possible deregistration.

Earlier this week, the Registrar of Societies (ROS), Datuk Mohd Alias Kalil warned that SAM can be deregistered as a non-governmental organisation if there is proof that it is involved in activities which threaten the nation's interests. Speaking from Miri, Alias said ROS is monitoring SAM closely and any other NGOs which acted extremely in their cause.

In a telephone interview from Penang yesterday, SAM secretary Meenakshi Raman said: "We don't know what motivated the ROS to give such warning. "We were caught by surprise when we saw it in the news. There was no official letter from ROS, so we shall wait and see."

Friends of the Earth and affiliates have in the last five years blamed the oil palm industry's rapid growth to deforestation and peatland degradation, which in turn is blamed for species extinction, worsening climate change and the displacement of indigenous people.

It lobbies for a moratorium on the conversion of forests and peat land into plantations be it oil palm, rubber or timber species.

Asked if SAM received funding from Friends of the Earth headquarters in Amsterdam, Meenakshi replied: "Yes, we do ... just like other affiliates in other countries. We don't see any problem with this."

"We're a credible organisation and we take our cause seriously."

To a question whether SAM considered whether lobbying for a moratorium on forest and peatland could serve as trade barriers seeking to limit the growth of the oil palm and rubber industry, she replied: "We stand by the view that agriculture has to be sustainably-produced and we're concerned about deforestation."

"We hold the view that our activities are consistent with the government's policy on environmental protection. We don't see how we're acting against the interests of our country."

Reference materials:-
Friends of the Earth (FOE) & Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) report - Malaysian Palm Oil, Green Gold or Greenwash
Malaysian Palm Oil Council respond to FOE & SAM report
Wetlands International calls for a moratorium on palm oil from tropical peatlands
Greenpeace - How the Palm Oil Industry is Cooking the Climate
Sahabat Alam Malaysia protest against Malaysia's National Biofuel Policy
WWF Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands report on Rainforest for biodiesel?

Malaysian Palm Oil blog
Malaysia's Forest - looking ahead to 2020
From food to fuel, synergies in palm oil
Malaysia's palm biodiesel

12 Responses to Credibility of green groups questioned

  1. Shame on you for misquoting Tan Sri Dr. Salleh in your recent article. If this is how you define professional journalism in Malaysia, then please do brush up on your reporting skills.

  2. Actually, it is a shame that Life's a beach is so quick to make a judgement. I'm one of the witness in the newsroom where telephone conversation between the reporter and Tan Sri Dr Salleh took place. The Malaysian Nature Society president repeatedly said there's nothing to clarify because he is clear about what he had said.

    From that point, it became obvious that there are certain quarters within whose view differ from the society's president. The Society's announcement as directed by the link provided by Mr or Ms Anonymous is not made with consent or approval by the society's president, Tan Sri Salleh.

    In this internet age, it is so much easier to assert a situation that did not transpired. Fortunately, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, as regulator, is doing its job in keeping a close watch of blogs, including this. Visitors who place their comments to stretch the truth may produce an immediate desired outcome. Eventually, the whole truth shall prevail.

  3. Good article! Very informative. I shall be reading more of your articles to understand more on the palm oil industry. Keep up the good work!!

  4. Life's a beach, are u a member of MNS? Are you trying to give our good Tan Sri a bad name? Shame on you!

  5. To green NGOs from developed countries, let's inculcate love for nature, not hate for oil palms. Oil palm trees have souls, too. NAMO AMITABHA BUDDHA! Peace be with all, humans are part of nature.

  6. Please refer to Copenhagen Summit.... they did't see an elephant in front of their eyes, but they talk about ants in developing countries.

  7. Oil palm was introduced to Malaysia & Indonesia from Africa when both countries were colonised by the Bristish and the Dutch respectively.

    The tropical climate and soils in these two countries are just favourable for oil palm development and cultivation.

    Now, isn't it a blessing from God that we are able to produce palm oil to feed the millions of people?

  8. Check out this "Friends of the EU" report by London-based free trade lobbyist International Policy Network at

    Environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have enormous influence in the European Union. However, some of the most vocal green groups are actually funded directly by the EU to lobby it.

    In the last 10 years, EU's funding to Friends of the Earth Europe funding increased by 325%. The amount of money channelled to WWF European Policy Office also went up by 270%.

  9. I too agree with Curious75.....Why is the MNS statement,, not written by Tan Sri Salleh himself?

    Those who have vested interests are unwittingly revealing their true colours. Lies may win battles but the TRUTH wins wars!

  10. MONEY.. lie for it, spy for it, kill for it, die for it.

    You're saluting the flag, your country trusts you
    Now you're wearing a badge, you're called the "Just Few"
    And you're fighting the wars, a soldier must do
    I'll never betray or deceive you my friend
    If you show me the cash, then I will take it
    If you tell me to cry, then I will fake it
    If you give me your hand, then I will shake it

    You'll do anything for money...
    Anything, anything, anything for money
    I'ld lie for you, die for you
    I'ld even sell my soul to the devil!

    You say you wouldn't do it for all the money in the world
    I don't think so!!
    If I show you the man, you will sell him
    If I ask you to lie, you will do him
    If you're dealing with God, then you will hell him
    You'll do anything for money

    Greenies...if you want money, earn it with dignity!

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