Campaign flushes jobs down toilet

KATHERINE RICH
Last updated 05:00 06/12/2011

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OPINION: The issues raised in the Greenpeace campaign have already taken their toll on the Dunedin factory.

GREENPEACE has a role in raising important environmental issues, but its continued attack on Dunedin company Cottonsoft is wrongly targeted and the only potential losses will be felt by New Zealanders.

The Kiwi men and women of Cottonsoft are made of strong stuff but, over the past few months, they have faced a public persecution by Greenpeace in a process which makes the Salem Witch Trials look fair. They've been treated as sustainability "witches".

They've had their products attacked. They've been accused of being tiger killers, of "trashing Indonesian rainforests", and of other outrageous environmental crimes.

Anyone who doesn't believe this should have a look at a YouTube video entitled "Tiger Dies for Cottonsoft Toilet Paper" - an absolutely distressing video showing the slow death of a tiger, but which has absolutely nothing to do with the New Zealand company.

Greenpeace's campaign has been executed with military precision. They have methodically made contact with retailers, the media, and customers - anyone remotely connected, except the company itself.

During this they have continued to refuse to meet Cottonsoft to allow them the natural justice of discussing accusations and presenting their environmental credentials.

There has been a barrage of scientific results and conflicting accounts. Is it any wonder shoppers are confused? It shouldn't be so confusing because the real issues are pretty simple.

Many might be surprised to know that, contrary to the impression created by Greenpeace, Cottonsoft has full chain-of-custody certification for its products, meaning that every step of the production process is tracked. Cottonsoft took this initiative long before they were in Greenpeace's sights because staff wanted to be assured their products were above reproach. This certification and the strict processes in place to earn such certification are done to assure consumers that the fibre used by Cottonsoft comes from plantation sources.

There is nothing sophisticated about the term "plantation sources".

It simply means that the source is a commercial forest which has been planted, harvested and planted again with new seedlings. Commercial forestry is also a big part of the New Zealand economy, and wood remains one of the world's most renewable resources.

Certification is vital to New Zealand companies. Being far from markets makes it difficult to check the sustainability of every imported production component. Companies use independent certification systems to assure themselves they've done all they can to source goods of a certain standard.

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Cottonsoft's certification was awarded by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), independent certifiers based in Switzerland. PEFC is used by more than 8000 firms around the world. There are other such programmes, but Greenpeace endorses just one over all others, which has raised eyebrows around the world and lead to accusations of "racketeering".

I don't doubt the sincerity of Greenpeace in raising these issues, but it is focusing on the wrong people, and its only victims are New Zealanders.

Greenpeace has a successful campaign formula. Regardless of the issue, it nominates a local scapegoat and uses Kiwi brands to grab headlines and highlight what is essentially an offshore issue. In this campaign, the issue is deforestation and illegal logging in Indonesia, even though Cottonsoft sources product from plantation sources only and certainly doesn't produce anything from illegal logs. Greenpeace's attack on Cottonsoft as a proxy for beating up an Indonesian company leads only to unfairness and misdirected anger. It's exactly like punishing an innocent and obedient child for the perceived sins of an offshore and absentee parent.

Kiwis pride themselves on speaking their minds, but let's not kid ourselves about what is at stake here. If the attacks are maintained on this New Zealand company, then the only losses will be to New Zealanders in terms of lost jobs and lost manufacturing. Cottonsoft has 130 workers, many of whom have worked for the company for more than 20 years. The issues raised in the Greenpeace campaign, and beforehand, have already taken their toll on the Dunedin factory.

Numerous grocery companies have been subject to similar Greenpeace campaigns following the same successful formula. It has made New Zealand one of Greenpeace's most lucrative markets for donations. According to Greenpeace's annual report, Kiwis donate more cash than the billions of people in China, India, Brazil and South East Asia combined. Is it any wonder that Kiwi companies are such popular targets?

Greenpeace has a role in raising environmental issues but, in this case, the blowtorch is misdirected at people who are doing all they can to do the right thing.

Katherine Rich is the chief executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council.

- The Dominion Post

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