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The Nature Conservancy is a worldwide organisation that does terrific work patrolling sensitive rain forests, coral reefs and other habitats threatened by human activities. You can – this is a quote from their website – "follow a hawksbill turtle on her migration across the Pacific Ocean's Coral Sea and learn how The Nature Conservancy is working to protect imperiled marine habitats". While Saving our Seas, they are also "Rescuing the Rivers".

You or I, captivated by the macaws, turtles and other charming beasts that inhabit The Nature Conservancy's website, may experience an uncontrollable urge to dip into our pockets. But it isn't the likes of us that gave TNC a bank balance last year of $593,123,898. The big money comes from corporate backers - companies like General Motors, which has given well over $10,000,000 in cash and trucks over the past decade. Most environmental organisations might baulk at allying themselves to a company whose products are the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the US, but the Nature Conservancy positively welcomes corporate polluters. It even offers them the sanctuary of its name and reputation. They can become "Brand Identity Partners" and "can align their products or corporate image with the Conservancy."

Odd, because "as a nonprofit organization, The Nature Conservancy is prohibited from endorsing the products, services, or viewpoints of any company or organization" (quoted from TNC's own legal small print).

TNC tells us that Alcoa Foundation (Alcoa is the world's largest aluminium company) will give $500,000 over five years "to help protect five critical forest systems around the world." The five forests include the mangrove forests of Brazil’s Amazon basin, and Mexico’s Ajos-Bavispe National Forest.

Aye aye, this is odd. It's less than a year since Corpwatch announced that:

Alcoa, the world's largest aluminum company, has announced plans to construct at least three large dams in the Brazilian Amazon. These dams will guarantee a supply of energy for Alcoa's Alumar plant in São Luis (a project of Alcoa, BHP Billiton, and Alcan), and will permit the plant's expansion. This comes at a time when Brazilian consumers have been required to cut back their energy consumption due to power shortages. Alcoa is the single largest consumer of electricity in Brazil, and its Alumar plant receives one-quarter of the energy generated by the Tucuruí dam, which has had an enormous impact on the rainforest and its inhabitants. The dams planned by Alcoa will flood indigenous reserves, including the territories of the Surui-Aiwekar, Karajá, Apinajé, Gavião, Krahô, and Krikati peoples, as well as protected ecological reserves and other critical wetlands in the rainforest. Tens of thousands of families will lose their homes and livelihood, including family farmers, fisherfolk, babaçu palm nut gatherers, and ceramic makers.

Protect the forests? From whom? Check Alcoa's environmental attitude here. Also here. And while you're at it, here. Oh, and here.

But what really fascinated us was The Nature Conservancy’s International Leadership Council, which
is full of names you will recognise. There is Unocal, accused of aiding the genocides of Burma's SLORC junta. Exxon, of Exxon Valdez fame, the strangest of partners to an organisation which seeks "to protect imperiled marine habitats". There's that darling of the environmental movement, Monsanto. And Enron, last word in corporate rectitude.

General Motors, of course, is an ILC member. Its Chairman Jack Smith sits on the Conservancy’s national Board of Governors and co-chairs the Conservancy’s billion dollar Campaign for Conservation. No, you are not dreaming. This is the same General Motors which was recently forced to spend $500 million cleaning up a site on the St Lawrence River into which it had dumped tons of waste screamingly rich in PCBs (highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls – wait a minute, aren't we supposed to be "Rescuing the Rivers"? From whom?)

Here is the list of TNC's chosen few – membership is by invitation and, needless to say, payment of a fee.

3M Corporation
AOL Time Warner
American Electric Power Company
AT&T Company
Bank of America
The Boeing Company
Centex Corporation
The Coca-Cola Company
DaimlerChrysler Corporation
Delta Air Lines, Inc.
Dow Chemical Company
Duke Energy Corporation
Eastman Kodak Company
Enron International
ExxonMobil Corporation
General Electric Company
General Motors Corporation
Georgia-Pacific Corporation

The Home Depot
International Paper
Johnson & Johnson
Leucadia National Corporation
Lockheed Martin Corporation
MBNA America Bank, N.A.
MeadWestvaco Corporation
Monsanto Company
Pfizer, Inc.
PG&E Corporation
The Procter & Gamble Company
Public Service Company of New Mexico
Rockwell International
S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.
Toyota Motor Services of North America
TXU Corporation
Weyerhaeuser Company

One found oneself wondering - was there in fact a single decent corporate citizen in the entire list?

We set about a little rudimentary gumshoeing. Nothing that anyone armed with a browser and cognisant of Google couldn't do for themselves in an afternoon. We found that this organisation that professes to be saving rivers has on its Leadership Council five of the top-ten polluters of US rivers with cancer-causing chemicals. And six of the top-ten polluters of US rivers with birth defect-causing toxins.* Both lists include Dow Chemical. Only one company on the ILC has (so far as our brief researches could establish) not been involved in pollution, environmental despoliation, child labour, abuse of animal or human rights, or been indicted for corporate crime. See our findings here.
* PIRG Report: 'Troubled Waters, 1998' based on figures from US EPA Toxic Release Inventory

These are the desperados who booed when their swanky luncheon was interrupted by the jhaadoo of Bhopal. Frankly, we doubt if they were shocked to learn that criminal charges are pending against Carbide and will soon be applied to Dow. In the last dozen years, just three members of The Nature Conservancy's International Leadership Council, Boeing, AT&T and General Electric, have between them amassed 113 offences (including felonies to which they have pleaded guilty) and paid out in fines, penalties, restitution or settlement a total of $1,356,922,555.00.*
*Project on Government Oversight, 'Federal Contractor Misconduct', 2002

Finally, consider these facts about The Nature Conservancy's favourite corporation, General Motors. Even after GM spent $500 million cleaning up its site on the St Lawrence River, one lagoon remains to be dredged. This place is so polluted that it is known to local Akwesasne Indians as "Contaminant Cove". It is still a potent threat to the health of Indian families. Fish from the river cannot be eaten, wells which once provided drinking water to families living near the GM facilities are unusable and families have to use bottled water.

$500 million to clean up a polluted site? Poisoned water? Severe danger to health of Indian families?

Aye aye, where have we heard that before?