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NGO-industrial complex

What could be wrong about planting trees?: The new push for more industrial tree plantations in the Global South

By Winfridus Overbeek - World Rainforest Movement, February 2020

What could be wrong about planting trees? Haven’t communities around the world been planting a diversity of trees since the dawn of human civilization?

Yes they have. But in more recent times, companies have also been planting trees, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the way they do so is very different from that of communities. They cover huge areas with trees from one single species, creating vast industrial or monoculture plantations devoid of biodiversity.

Today, these same companies plan to start a new round of massive expansion. Exploiting growing public awareness and concern about climate change, they argue that monoculture plantations are an excellent option to help solve some of the world’s most urgent problems: loss of forests, global heating and dependence on fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas).

The corporate argument is that plantations will encourage “forest restoration”, can serve as a natural “solution” to the climate emergency, or help foster a “bio-economy”.

The simple truth, however, is that the industries involved want more plantations simply to increase their profit margins. And other industries and polluters are also using such deceptive arguments, in order to hide their contributions to an ever-worsening social and environmental planetary crisis.

In this booklet, WRM aims to alert community groups and activists about the corporate push for a new round of industrial tree plantation expansion. It also reveals why planting trees on such a large scale can be extremely detrimental, in spite of seductive marketing campaigns claiming that these plantations will or could be a “solution” to the climate crisis.

Read the report (PDF).

Progressives in the Streets, Union-busters in the Sheets

By Marianne Garneau - Organizing Work, November 22, 2019

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen multiple headlines about social justice advocacy groups and other progressive nonprofits resisting their workers’ attempts to organize. The tactics range from hiring anti-union law firms and holding “captive audience” staff meetings challenging the need for a union, to ruthless responses like mass layoffs.

Basically, we’re witnessing the same anti-union playbook that we’re used to in the corporate or for-profit sector, applied within organizations that claim to have a mandate to actively fight for good. These organizations will even tout their support for unions and partnerships with them, and yet having one in-house, representing their own workers, is apparently intolerable.

We’ve said before on this site that a boss is a boss is a boss. Managers want to control wages and workflow, and any pushback against that will unleash a power struggle. But it’s worth digging into the particular form this takes at nonprofits: why workers at these ostensibly progressive institutions feel the need to organize, and why they face so much resistance.

This isn’t just about calling out the hypocrisy of so-called progressives. It’s about preparing nonprofit sector workers, who are often young and idealistic and inexperienced at asserting their rights, for what they might face from these employers, and inoculating them against the bosses’ attempts to convince them they don’t need or deserve a union.

Workers go to work for these organizations thinking they can do good, and assuming they will be treated well by employers committed to social justice. But it turns out that good treatment for workers is not a matter of philosophical commitment to progressive political values, but a matter of how power is distributed in the workplace.

A simple message to Clean Energy Jobs Bill supporters: This is not a comprehensive climate solution

By - Center for Sustainable Economy, January 30, 2018

Climate change is one of the most daunting challenges humanity has ever faced and requires a commensurate policy response. A robust climate agenda would consist of a number of key interventions to holistically address the issue, including:

  • Ramping down all major sources of greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible;
  • Making climate smart production the law not the exception;
  • Catalyzing wholesale changes in consumer behavior and public purchasing to scale up demand for goods and services with minimal carbon footprints;
  • Halting construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure;
  • Making a just transition to a 100% renewable energy and energy efficiency platform;
  • Divesting from the fossil fuel industry and redirecting those funds into sustainable alternatives;
  • Ensuring that communities most impacted by the consequences of climate change and risks associated with fossil fuel infrastructure and pollution are prioritized in adaptation plans and projects;
  • Halting the expansion of suburban sprawl and freeways and ensuring that we move as quickly as possible to public transit for all, and;
  • Rebuilding the resiliency of natural landscapes made vulnerable to climate change by bringing an end to industrial-scale forestry and agriculture practices and ensuring our land use practices enhance the drawdown—not the continued release – of carbon from the atmosphere.

Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs (CEJ) bill barely scratches the surface of these problems. As such, it should not be hyped up as a comprehensive climate solution for the entire state economy, but explained for what it is – a limited experiment in creating some green jobs and generating public revenues through a market-based greenhouse gas reduction mechanism that will be applied to about 100 facilities and affect just a fraction of the carbon emissions attributable to production, consumption and trade activities in the state.

WWF’s REDD project in Mai Ndombe, Democratic Republic of Congo: No consultation, no transparency, and communities paid less than DRC’s minimum wage

By Chris Lang - REDD Monitor, November 1, 2017

WWF’s largest REDD project in Africa is in Mai Ndombe province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to WWF, the results so far are “very encouraging”. On its website, WWF states that, “The participatory approach through local development committees has proven to be a success with effective achievements.”

But a recent report by the Congolese NGO, Ligue Congolaise de Lutte Contre la Corruption (LICOCO), challenges these claims. LICOCO’s report is based on an independent observation mission to the territory of Mushie in Mai Ndombe.

The report looks into whether WWF is implementing the governance tools developed by DRC’s National REDD+ Commission.

WWF was hired by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation of Nature and Sustainable Development to run the REDD project in four territories: Bolobo, Kwamouth, Mushie, and Yumbi. The project is part of a Forest Investment Program project titled Improved Forested Landscape Management Project (PGAPF), which has US$37.7 million funding from the World Bank.

Where Non-Profits Fear to Go: Report From Florida

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, September 25, 2017

The following is a report back for a relief trip to the Florida Keys made possible by the work of numerous folks involved with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR). The immense amount of support and solidarity provided for those in need exists through the collaboration of various communities to come together in times of crisis. This represents the perspective and response of anarchist comrades, yet there are a number of different political orientations for those involved with MADR. As the predatory nature of the State continues to benefit from disasters such as these, we feel it is crucial to give space to anti-state and anti-authoritarian voices in order to continue to remind us in the storm after the storm, who the true enemy is.

On 9/18 Monday morning at 3 AM a group of 9 folks left “The Hub” (5107 N. Central Ave.) in Tampa to drive to the Florida Keys with a 12 ft truck loaded with food, water, and other necessities, as the U.S. Highway 1 checkpoint established in Florida City after Hurricane Irma, was to be terminated Tuesday at 7:30 AM. Although police stated that only residents, business owners, disaster workers and supply vehicles with proper identification would be allowed to enter until further notice.

It had been a week since residents who were able to leave had evacuated and they were just now returning to their homes, or what was left of them. The hurricane’s last minute shift to the western coast of Florida put the Florida Keys (especially the Middle Keys such as Marathon, and Lower Keys; Big Key Pine, Little Torch Key, and Key West) directly in the storm’s path, as it made landfall on Sunday, September 10th.

In order to provide much needed aid to those neglected by the Red Cross and FEMA, we drove with a van full of medical supplies and a 12 ft moving truck filled with food, water, and other necessities to the poorest areas. Yet, before we even entered, there were a number of other obstacles in our way constructed by the State and the non-profit industrial complex looking to take advantage of successes in autonomous organizing and the opportunities that disaster provides. The immense amount of supplies that have been collected at “The Hub” in the past couple weeks was made possible through the long-standing connections between various radical communities and the donation of the space from the St. Paul Lutheran Church.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…

By Ali Tamlit - Red Pepper, April 23, 2017

To begin this story, cast your mind back a few months…

It’s May 2016. My facebook feed (the ultimate source of truth in our post-truth world) seems to be schizophrenic, or at least representing two entirely different worlds.

One world is the ‘green’ activists, who are in the middle of two weeks of global actions against fossil fuels. The spectacular actions in the US, Australia, the UK and most notably Ende Galende in Germany, have led some of my comrades to claim: “WE ARE WINNING!”

The other world is that of Monique Tilman, the young Black girl assaulted by an off duty police officer as she rode her bike in a car park. It is the world of police brutality, the world of indigenous people being dispossessed of their lands for tourism or ‘conservation’.

Surely, the ‘we’ that is winning can’t claim to include these people?

The green movement, under NGO leadership, seems to be content with shallow demands of CO2 reduction. Whilst the inextricable links between capitalism, ecological destruction, colonialism, white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy lie just below the surface, yet no one, within the nonprofit-industrial complex at least, seems to want to join the dots.

Why the NGOs won't lead the revolution

By Leela Yellesetty - Socialist Worker, March 29, 2017

FOR MANY who are outraged and want to do something about the human suffering and environmental devastation wrought by capitalism, volunteering or working for a nonprofit or non-governmental organization (NGO) is a natural place to turn. So why do socialists think this isn't the best way to address the problem?

There is no shortage of such organizations today. Most of them are engaged primarily in direct service work, providing a whole spectrum of needed resources such as housing, food, health care, child care, legal defense and so on. Often, these services fill the gap left by cuts in government funding and are a lifeline for those who otherwise couldn't afford or wouldn't have access to a basic necessity.

There are, of course, problems with some of these organizations: Many overwork and underpay their employees while executives award themselves fat paychecks. Unlike governmental agencies, they are free of any democratic accountability and can choose to impose their religious or political views on those they serve or employ.

But even for organizations which do good, needed work and genuinely attempt to be responsible and accountable to the communities they serve and the people who labor for them, there is a built-in limitation: They are only addressing the symptoms and not the cause of the problems.

Reflections on Angry Inuk: White Animal Saviour (Industrial) Complex* and the Perpetuation of Colonial Domination

By Darren Chang - PPEH Lab, March 18, 2017

Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s 2016 documentary, Angry Inuk, is a story about the erasure and domination of Indigenous peoples by colonial powers. The film impassionedly defends the seal hunt industry by revealing how Western environmental and animal advocacy NGOs (e.g., Greenpeace, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International), have devastated the livelihoods of Inuit communities that rely on the industry for subsistence. The NGOs have destroyed the Inuit seal trade economy by successfully campaigning the European Union to ban products made from seals, despite allowing an exception for the trading of Inuit seal products. This reflection examines how the strategies carried out by Western NGOs to achieve their “victory” are rooted in colonial-capitalism, white supremacy and Eurocentrism, and therefore reinforces colonial domination. Below, I focus on a few strategies employed by the NGOs, as highlighted in the film.

One strategy is that the NGOs deliberately mislead the public with select imagery of seals. For example, one segment shows how the NGOs continue to use images of white-coated seal pups in their campaign advertising, even though the slaughter of white-coated seal pups has been banned in Canada for over thirty years. Another segment shows how images of seals “crying” have been heavily used in advertising by the NGOs to pull on the public’s heartstrings for effective fundraising. However, tearing has no known relation to cognitive or emotional response in seals, and serves only to protect their corneas from salt. Arnaquq-Baril also plays a 1978 interview in which Paul Watson admits that targeting the seal hunt and exploiting images of harp seals have always been the easiest way for NGOs such as Greenpeace to raise funds. At the time of the interview, Watson had left Greenpeace and founded his own Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Years later, Watson and Sea Shepherd have gone on to raise money using the exact same strategies targeting the seal hunt. This manipulative profit-driven fundraising and advocacy strategy fits into the existing nonprofit industrial complex, where the growth of NGO organizational capacities is prioritized and pursued by appealing to the sentiments of the settler-colonial population and the state.

Other parts of the film illustrate how NGOs invoke nationalist and colonial discourses by shaming the government of Canada for allowing the seal hunt, and appealing to European sensibilities in lobbying the EU for the ban. These strategies rest on the Western civilizational binary logic that defines accepted Western practices as “civilized” and non-Western practices as “savage” or “barbaric”. Tracing the NGOs’ actions along this logic illuminates why the mostly-white Western animal advocacy NGOs tend to exert a disproportionate level of aggression to end culturally-specific animal exploitations and killings practiced by people of color. Meanwhile, campaigns to challenge the infinitely more destructive and violent animal exploitation industries founded, upheld and propagated by their fellow whites (e.g. industrial animal agriculture that brutally slaughters billions of animals yearly) are carried out with less intensity and far more civility.

More importantly, if we interpret the exception in the EU ban allowing Inuit seal products to continue being traded through the civilized/savage binary logic, we see how the Inuit exception could have led more Members of the European Parliament to support the overall ban. That is, the MEPs did not vote to ban seal products because they thought killing seals was immoral or unethical; instead, the MEPs banned seal products because seal hunting was associated with the “barbaric” Inuit, who the “civilized” Europeans preferred to distance themselves from. Moreover, to uphold this European self-aggrandizing fantasy, it was important to deny the Inuit their voice and presence. Therefore, in all the NGO campaigns against the seal hunt industry, the commercial seal hunt has been whitewashed, or portrayed as predominantly white. Simultaneously, Indigenous seal hunters who depend every bit as much on the commercial industry to maintain the price of seal products, were completely erased as members of the commercial seal hunt. Effectively, the Inuit exception fixes the Inuit seal hunters and their cultures and ways of life in the past. The underlying message of the Inuit exception is that while the EU allows the Inuit seal hunters to continue their way of life, they could never expect to be part of a modern industry, because there is no place for the Inuit way of life in modernity.

In emphasizing these racist NGO strategies, Angry Inuk reveals the ways in which colonizers disintegrate Indigenous sovereignty through their good intentions to “save” others. This time, however, unlike the earlier colonizers who tried to save Indigenous peoples from so-called savagery through genocide and assimilation, the white animal saviours reproduce this colonial process (regardless of their intentions) by attempting to save animals. What many white animal saviours need to confront is a problematic drive to save every individual animal in denial of ecological realities and the necessity for some Indigenous peoples to kill other species for subsistence. White animal saviours should also own up to their unethical, institutionally racist practices of NGO campaigning.

Not-for-Profit, Open for Business

By Sophia Burns - The North Star, December 15, 2016

One summer in college, I got a job canvassing for Greenpeace. We spent the morning getting pumped up by our supervisor about how we were really going to make a difference, then spent the afternoon on the sidewalk downtown asking passers-by for donations. As new hires, we had three probationary days to “make staff”: anyone who didn’t meet the quota would not be kept on, and those who did would be fired if they didn’t continue to deliver.

Every Monday, a new crop of fifteen or so recruits showed up. A week later, all but two or three would be gone. Almost nobody lasted more than a month. There was no union, the training wage was lower than the advertised staff wage, and the large bulk of the money we raised was brought in by trainees who never made staff.

While few nonprofit workplaces have conditions quite so extreme, low pay and long hours are par for the course at most NGOs. Union density in the field is quite low, and many nonprofits expect their employees to accept the conditions they impose in the name of “the mission” and a “nonprofit ethic” of selfless service. Often, members of the activist community see nonprofit jobs as very desirable – a chance to make a living by living their values and to do progressive organizing full-time. And, indeed, on-the-ground progressive politics frequently depends on the resources NGOs offer, including funding, legal infrastructure, and staffers’ time and labor. Certainly, when I worked for Greenpeace, few canvassers complained about the draconian quotas or extreme precarity – at any given time, any given worker would more likely than not be fired within a week, but we were “doing something real.” In comparison, retail didn’t seem to cut it.

Our jobs may have been precarious, but Greenpeace’s funding was not. While Greenpeace does not accept government or corporate contributions, most NGOs do, as well as foundation grants and individual “membership” donations. “Member,” of course, is an ambiguous word. A member of a book club will generally get to help choose the next book, and a member of a labor union will (in theory, at least) get to vote in internal elections and on contracts. However, a “member” of an advocacy group like Greenpeace donates money and doesn’t do a whole lot else. As a canvasser, I certainly wasn’t voting for candidates for the Board of Directors. Neither were the “members” I was signing up. And while Greenpeace is typical of policy-focused nonprofits in that it claims to speak for a broad constituency, it’s also typical in that those constituents don’t really get a say in the organizational and political decisions that determine the group’s activities. For most nonprofits, “joining” means donating (and occasionally receiving a mailer asking for even more donations).

Community-Driven Social Change in the Age of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

By staff - Murphy Institute, November 22, 2016

How can we make sense of the organizing coming out of today’s social change and resistance movements?

In a new article coming out in the Fordham Urban Law Journal, Professor Michael Haber connects many of today’s most important movements—from post-Occupy community organizing to the rise of the worker co-op movement to parts of the Movement for Black Lives—by looking at how activists’ growing understanding of the non-profit industrial complex has led to the creation of a new framework for social change practice, what he calls the community counter-institution.

Community counter-institutions have grown out of a decades-long tradition of anti-authoritarian activism, one with roots in women-of-color feminism and the service models of the Black Panther Party of the late 1960s and early 1970s, growing through the radical pacifist, anti-nuclear, LGBTQIA, and environmental movements of the 1970s and 1980s, continuing through the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and getting perhaps its greatest boost through the Occupy Movement in the early 2010s. The article traces this history, focusing on how activists in recent years have come to develop an alternative model for community-driven activism, one that breaks from the dominant non-profit forms of community organizing, service provision, and community economic development.

The article, CED After #OWS: From Community Economic Development to Anti-Authoritarian Community Counter-Institutions, describes how community counter-institutions have grown out of this tradition of anti-authoritarian activism, making three shifts away from conventional non-profit practices:

  1. From hierarchy to horizontalism and intersectionality. Community counter-institutions move away from hierarchically-structured non-profit forms toward horizontalism and intersectionality, shifting away from conventional non-profits to new ways of structuring our group relationships that strive to overcome all forms of domination, including those that have led once-activist groups to embrace certain structural traits of the business world.
  2. From community economic development to prefigurative politics. Community counter-institutions move away from traditional, market-based community economic development projects toward an embrace of prefigurativism, the use of processes in organizing and building a social change movement that are themselves already constructing the world we want to see.
  3. From empowerment to autonomy. Community counter-institutions move away from a focus on empowerment, in which community dialogue, group cohesion, and compromise are top priorities, and instead they prioritize autonomism, organizing and taking action toward shared goals through small groups connected with one another through decentralized networks.

In these bleak times, clear visions for community-driven social change activism, and thoughtful analyses of our current models are essential. Haber spells out challenges that activists and organizers to overcome, analyzing a wide range of projects including the Common Ground Collective, Hands Up United, Mayday Space, Occupy Sandy, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and is full of hundreds of footnotes for further reading.

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