NGO targets 'unethical' business

Friends of the Earth's corporate campaigning tactics for this summer's AGM season will be focused on parliamentary activities, in order to impress upon MPs the need for legislation to curb corporate bad behaviour.

This week, as part of its parliamentary season, the charity is holding a briefing, co-hosted by Win Griffiths MP, chair of the Indonesian All-Party Group, to highlight the damaging effects of the trade in palm oil.

Representatives of Friends of the Earth's partner organisations in Indonesia, and a biologist from Papua New Guinea, will raise awareness of the exploitation of communities and the destruction of rainforests connected with the South East Asian palm oil trade.

They will also expose links between the trade and UK companies, including HSBC and Cadbury Schweppes, whose AGMs are on 21 and 28 May.

In the past, the charity has concentrated on attending the AGMs of companies on its target list, such as BAE Systems, Shell, and Tesco. It bought a nominal amount of shares in each company in order to send staff or supporters to the meeting and question the board as shareholders.

But this year, as well as attending the AGMs, Friends of the Earth is arranging a series of parliamentary receptions at which MPs, company representatives, investors and journalists are invited to meet people from other countries who are directly affected by the activities of a company.

The charity will arrange for the visitors to be brought to the UK to tell their story to coincide with the company's AGM.

The change in strategy was prompted by the success of a pilot last year for Shell's AGM, when people living next to Shell's operations in Nigeria, the US and South Africa joined Friends of the Earth at Shell's AGM in London. The then chairman, Sir Philip Watts, listened to their concerns and assured them that they would be looked into.

This year, many of Shell's neighbours will be back in London for the AGM to remind the oil giant of the promises made. The charity is planning action around the AGMs of 15 businesses, including Sainsbury's, BP, BAT, HSBC and British Airways, hosting receptions flagging up the damage particular industries inflict on communities overseas.

Friends of the Earth is a member of the Core coalition of more than 30 charities, which is lobbying the Government to introduce mandatory social and environmental reporting, new legal duties on directors, and foreign direct liability, so that communities abroad can seek redress in the UK for damage resulting from the operations of UK companies.

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