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Challenging Corporate Power




Corporate Campaigns and the Power of Grassroots Organizing

mistubishi campaignFrom the greatest risks come the greatest rewards. A primary distinction of RAN’s campaigns has been the nerve to challenge some of the largest institutions in the world whose business models rely on the destruction of our environment, health and climate. RAN was one of the first organizations inside the U.S. to actively campaign against the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the three largest intergovernmental financial institutions controlling large amounts of the planet’s monetary wealth.

Another distinction has been RAN’s persistent strategy of focusing on corporations as an avenue of change. RAN was one of the first organizations to develop a corporate campaign model aimed at holding companies accountable in the court of public opinion. At the time, asking companies like Burger King to institute voluntary environmental policies was a risky departure from traditional activist tactics that focused on the political and legal systems. RAN blended this new strategic focus with traditional direct action techniques: sit-ins, protests, and other public displays of dissent.

It was a risk that has continued to pay off.

RAN’s success against Burger King in 1987 accomplished two things: it exposed the vulnerable side of public-facing corporations and institutions and provided a glimpse of the emerging power of grassroots market activism. Fueled by frustration with Reagan-era environmental policies, RAN was able to catalyze a grassroots movement inside the United States to take action to help save rainforests around the world.

RAN quickly saw significant victories with measurable results: U.S.-based Scott Paper was forced to cancel a pulp mill that would have clear-cut two million acres of Indonesian rainforest, Dupont-owned Conoco pulled out of a multimillion dollar oil project within the borders of Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Stone Container’s plans to build a rainforest chip mill in Honduras were scrapped, The Puna rainforest in Hawaii was saved from a geothermal power plant, and Indigenous communities throughout South America secured title to millions of acres of their ancestral lands.

Challenging Corporate Power collage
Photos: Mark Westlund / RAN; Zachary Singer; RAN Archives; The San Francisco Examiner; Eric Slomanson / slomophotos.com

In addition to each of these campaign successes producing immediate, on-the-ground results, they also catalyzed a new, sophisticated stage in the evolution of RAN’s corporate campaigns. In 1992, RAN launched a campaign to change the policies and practices of the Mitsubishi Corporation – at the time the single largest corporate contributor to rainforest destruction across the globe. After six years of tenacious campaigning, Mitsubishi agreed to substantial concessions, including a pledge to end the use of old-growth forest products and a transition to alternative fibers in its packaging products. Simultaenously, in 1994, RAN pushed Hollywood’s major film studios to agree to phase out the use of lauan – a tropical forest hardwood used in set design – and to adopt a purchasing policy that had them using alternative wood products. This single action dramatically shifted demand for tropical hardwoods like lauan, with far-reaching implications on logging operations throughout the regions it was harvested.

In 1997, RAN’s ambitions reached higher and began targeting entire sectors, starting with pushing Home Depot to stop selling wood torn from the world’s last old-growth forests. The campaign unleashed thousands of grassroots activists who staged demonstrations at hundreds of Home Depot stores across America. In 1999, Home Depot released a policy stating it would no longer sell or buy wood from old growth forests, a move The Vancouver Sun stated “did more to change B.C. logging practices than 10 years of environmental wars and decades of government regulation” and TIME Magazine referred to as “The Top Environmental Story of 1999.” Within the next year, home improvement retailers Wickes Lumber, HomeBase, Menard’s, Lowe’s, 84 Lumber and Payless Cashways, along with homebuilders Centex Homes, Kaufman & Broad, and Ryland Homes, would all agree to phase-out products from endangered old-growth forests, an industry-wide shift that would eventually lead to the protection of more than three million acres in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest.

The Home Depot victory proved that targeting industry giants could transform whole sectors and lead to considerable outcomes for forests and the people who depend on them, successfully laying the groundwork for RAN’s model of aggressive, strategic corporate campaigning.

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Lindsey Allen is a world-class campaigner with more than a decade of experience and an unmatched track record pressuring and inspiring some of the world’s largest corporations to protect rainforests. Allen has spent her career preventing commodity expansion into globally critical forest areas, and has played a central role in achieving some of the most significant corporate policy commitments to protect forests over the past decade.
Rainforest Action Network campaigns for the forests, their inhabitants and the natural systems that sustain life by transforming the global marketplace through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action. The strength of this Network stems from the bold activists, engaged donors, dedicated online advocates, frontline allies and vigilant organizations that work with us to challenge corporate power and to stand for thriving ecosystems around the globe.
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