THE GREENPEACE CASE

Sergio Elguezábal
Jul 16, 2018 · 9 min read

Decisive plot which in recent weeks has involved executives from the powerful ONG in harassment and abuse issues against its employees.

A recent overturn affecting several flanks of this case has been decisive. Complaints that started internally in 2015, and were then spread through social networks, have finally reached justice. On the other hand, given the paralysis of the local Board of Directors headed by Martín Santos, Greenpeace International has taken the reins of affairs and is promoting a large internal research. The investigation process is coordinated by Edward Harrington, second ranking member of the International Board of Directors and Aida Vila Rovira, Political and Legal Counselor. They have Greenpeace Andina (the block integrated by Argentina, Chile and Colombia) in their sight, but they also promote the review of all labor policies in the rest of their world agencies. Interviews and collection of internal information started in June and will end at the end of August. In addition, they have appointed two lawyers specialized in labor law and gender issues in Argentina, whose names they keep in reserve to grant transparency and remove possible pressures.

The main member involved in the local complaints is Martín Prieto, 57 years old, lawyer and Executive Director of Greenpeace in Buenos Aires for 23 years. The judicial complaint in the ordinary courts was filed on May 2, 2018 and the cover of the file textually reads: “We have come to file a criminal complaint against the Executive Director of Greenpeace Andina, Martín Prieto, Leonardo Silva and others for the crimes of sexual and labor harassment, misappropriation of resources belonging to the Greenpeace organization, obscene exhibitionism, harassment, correspondence violation, theft, defamation, labor and psychological violence to the detriment of women …”. After the judicial fair they will begin to take statements from the first witnesses.

The name of one of the complainants is crossed out by express request and in favor of safeguarding her privacy

María Eugenia Testa, Political and Environmental Communications Counselor, member of the executive staff of Greenpeace until 2014, heads the current demand with three other former employees. She started together with a group of women that had been damaged like her and today promotes a global action backed by hundreds of employees who are part of the recognized environmental organization.

The crisis affecting Greenpeace Argentina today due to accusations of labor persecution, mistreatment and sexual harassment make visible what is happening in a good part of our private and public organizations. It is the reflection of an old concept of power that enthroned obstinate, arrogant and chauvinistic leaderships. A misguided way of seeing relationships between people. What happened inside the offices of Greenpeace in Buenos Aires is something similar to a plastic bag in the sea. We know that it damages the ecosystem and, at the same time, this bag is a clear indicator that there are millions scattered in the ocean. So many that they already form islands the size of a country. The tons of bags that contaminate us are like inappropriate relations, still widespread in labor structures. They corrupt us, they intoxicate us and will end up suffocating us.

Brief history of recent weeks

Although the denunciations against Martín Prieto and part of the executive staff of Greenpeace began three years ago, important events for the clarification of the alleged crimes took place in the last weeks.

Given the inaction of the local office, on March 22 of current year, a group of 43 acting volunteers required explanations through an internal communication addressed to the Executive Director of Greenpeace. They said: “We demand that the accused staff members present their disclaimers, that their dismissals or preventive withdrawal be evaluated until the situation is resolved… That clear mechanisms be provided for eventual denunciations of other cases, that the statute of the organization be made available and that a process of democratization be promoted to guarantee transparency in all processes of election or appointment of authorities.”

One month later, on April 10, 2018, the claim was extended to the Board of Directors of Greenpeace International. A letter was presented by 240 employees from different Greenpeace offices to Jennifer Morgan and Bunny McDiarmid –Executive Directors of Greenpeace International- with copy to the Chairwoman of the Board, Ayesah Imam, demanding an independent investigation. In two months, that letter has brought together about 400 adhesions from employees of Greenpeace in Spain, Great Britain, United States, Brazil, Italy and Norway among others.

“At this time, for many of us, Greenpeace is not a safe place to file complaints of labor persecution, mistreatment and sexual harassment. Seeing the way in which Greenpeace is handling the accusations in Argentina, attributing them to political motives, is a very distressing experience.”

“We do not feel that the organization is even listening carefully to the people who make a complaint. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. It seems that Greenpeace is actively trying to discredit them…”

The Directors addressed by letter, Morgan and McDiarmid, responded immediately. It is a key mail because, for the first time, Greenpeace seems to take them seriously. These are the central paragraphs of the institutional response of Greenpeace International from their headquarters in Amsterdam:

“We are very concerned to learn that for you Greenpeace does not always seem to be a safe place to make complaints of labor persecution, mistreatment and sexual harassment. This is unacceptable and we want to work with you to change it. We take the situation in Argentina very seriously. We understand that there are many questions about Greenpeace Andina. We also have questions. With regard to the concerns that appear in your letter these are our answers: Greenpeace International Integrity Officer Susan Sinnett is in Greenpeace Andino this week to study the historical allegations and verify that the necessary research processes, recommendations and follow-up steps have been implemented. Susan will send her report directly to us and to the Andean Greenpeace Board of Directors. The Greenpeace Andina response team is led by its Campaign Director, Amanda Starbuck. Amanda joined Andina in 2016 and is not involved in any of the complaints. In addition, Amanda sends us daily updates. We realize that this is a trigger for people, but it is absolutely essential that we find the right balance between transparency and confidentiality, while ensuring accountability. We are committed to ensuring that all women have the opportunity to join a forum that will span the entire organization over the next eight weeks. As part of this initiative, we will analyze how to capture information and act on results. We will find a way to make a report for the global organization and take elements to present them to the Meeting of Executive Directors in June. We greet you with deep respect and hope for the future.”

The email, with the signatures of Jennifer Morgan and Bunny McDiarmid, Executive Directors of Greenpeace International, certified a new line of action that definitely put the Buenos Aires office in the spotlight but, at the same time, enabled channels for women from other latitudes to have also the opportunity to denounce their superiors in cases of abuse that begin to come to light. (So much so that at the aforementioned June meeting attended by Global Executive Directors, the central theme was gender violence.)

On April 19, 40 former employees and volunteers publicly denounced the facts through a strong statement. In the open letter they specify 19 different accusations of sexual harassment, labor persecution, disqualification of women, foul language, discrimination, violation of correspondence and even exhibitions (they refer to Prieto) in underwear in front of women employees.

Lorena Pujó — María Eugenia Testa — Consuelo Bilbao

They also note that the complaints were presented in a timely manner before the Board of Directors of Greenpeace International and before the Board of Greenpeace Argentina, which continues to be chaired by journalist, lawyer and environmental activist Martín Santos. “Although persecution and harassment at work have been generalized, those who have suffered most of it are women due to the unequal power relations that characterize our society and this organization in particular.” Later they state that the management of Martín Prietonot only did it undermine the humanitarian sense own of the third sector, but it also did great damage to an organization that knew how to lead the environmental struggle and put it on the agenda.”

Facing the varied and decisive events (public letters, actions in the ordinary justice and intervention of Greenpeace International), the office in Buenos Aires was forced to reconsider the absolute refusal of the events. But it continued with the close defense of its Executive Director now with a forced license. Their position is reflected in the contents of an email addressed to all members of the local representation. It is signed by “Amanda and Nati”, i.e. Amanda Starbuck and Natalia Machain, currently in charge of the organization. In the communication they announce that Martín Prieto, until then Executive Director of Greenpeace Andina, “will take extraordinary leave” and then, “when the process finishes, the results will be informed and the corresponding decisions will be taken and, at that moment, Martín (by Martín Prieto) will return to his position normally

Martín Prieto

The Greenpeace office in Argentina communicated through its new representative, Natalia Machain that it will not provide information on the facts that are being investigated. In their website there is no information referring to any of the accusations that led to the lawsuit, the internal investigation ordered by Greenpeace International or the numerous complaints that are published on social networks.

What does a man in underpants have to do with those feats of Greenpeace around the world? Possibly the members of the Board have the answer but they have not yet given it. The Board of Directors of Greenpeace for Argentina, Chile and Colombia is composed of Martín Santos (Chairman), Horacio Brum (Treasurer), Gabriela Graffigna Souto and Adrián Mourelos (Secretaries), Geraldine Melgoza and Diego Rivera (Directors).

Historically, Greenpeace has faced the powerful interests of governments and corporations that, when discovered, try to discredit the organization. This time it is different: its own employees are questioning the internal methods and the lack of response to the complaints of sexual harassment and labor abuses.

Forty years ago, Greenpeace was a small troop of anti-nuclear and Quaker activists, a religious society of cheerful and committed friends. Men and then women, all very willing to fight for ideals of peace and collective welfare, joined them.

The organization put the foundations of a historic struggle based on the tenacity with which they undertook each of their actions.

The development of operations in increasingly difficult contexts and the pragmatism towards which the leadership veered in the last decades imposed a vertical order in the decisions of Greenpeace. A corporate leadership that relegated women and did not take into consideration the welfare or concerns of all the people acting on their behalf. Those criteria today are unacceptable. Good treatment, cordiality among people, doing what we proclaim, respect for the rights of women and men alike, are prized for all of us.

Hopefully Greenpeace has the capacity to take true actions: fast, diligent and with immediate effect. That the actions of Greenpeace outdoors be reflected inside the organization: to assert the rights of all in front of oil companies that pollute, barbarians that continue to destroy forests, fishing vessels that depredate the seas or governments insensitive to the common welfare.

Click here for listening to the testimonies of the complainants.

Translation: Stella Pazos

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Sergio Elguezábal

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Periodista, editor de radio y tv. Conferencista en tema de comunicación, ambiente y sustentabilidad. http://sergioelguezabal.com/