06. 07. 2017

When Will Environmental NGOs Step Up to Help Some of the World’s Poorest People?

Jonathon Porritt Blog

Through the partnership that Forum for the Future has with Sime Darby (the world’s largest palm oil company), I visited Liberia back in May. To see some of their ongoing development work there.

I haven’t really been able to get many of the thoughts and images arising from that visit out of my mind since then.

And I left with a powerful amalgam of emotions – anger, shame and hope – that inform this extended article.

I hope you have a chance to look at it yourself, and please then distribute as widely as you can:
Dispatches from the Front Line

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27. 07. 2017
Robert Hii

Thanks for speaking up on this issue. I've often wondered myself when environmental NGOs will actually start to do something for local communities when their demands to protect forests are made thousands of miles away from people in big cities.

There's no saving of any forests unless local communities are engaged. If that engagement calls for the clearing of some of their forests, then so be it.

17. 07. 2017
Monique van Wijnbergen

Dear Jonathon, this is an excellent and very well written article. We are facing similar challenges in Sierra Leone and it is crucial to get this story out to a wide range of audiences. I'll share it with passion!

Best regards,

17. 07. 2017
Andrew Britton

Dear Jonathon

Thank you for writing this excellent article. Personally, as consultant to businesses on responsible sourcing issues, I have long advocated the need for pragmatism and compromise to businesses seeking to responsibly produce or source commodities from developing countries. However, when reputations of global brands can be so quickly shredded by adverse publicity, this can sometimes be a challenging argument to make.

As your article eloquently describes, all to often there is a disconnect between the concerns of (however well meaning) advocacy organisations in Europe or the US and those of the people on-the-ground. It is a far easier business decision to disengage from a troubling issue or region than it is to remain engaged and seek to contribute towards solutions. This is particularly true when the business requires long-term investment - such as palm oil where companies won't be able to gain commercial harvests until the trees are around four years old. Similar challenges to those you describe in your article can be found in other sectors, such as mineral supply chains.

Whilst it is entirely right that businesses are challenged to act responsibly and are held to account by their stakeholders, it is also vital that the importance of business as a driver of socio-economic development is recognised. If we are to protect our planet, we must also eradicate poverty.

Kind regards

13. 07. 2017
Sander van den Ende

Dear Jonathon, Thank you very much for this well written article. I grew up in Liberia and your descriptions brought alive my memories of the country and its people. I completely agree that a change in the idealist positions which has brought about this stalemate is necessary. Especially since the people impacted had really no say and the net impact will be detrimental to biodiversity conservation. I look forward to more of your insights to this very complicated issue. Kind Regards, Sander

11. 07. 2017
Oliver Smith

Dear Jonathon,

I read your article with a growing sense of our shared frustration; I think that the NGO movement needs to genuinely and radically shift the centre of gravity from brand and money to the needs of the people it should be serving. Sadly most of the NGOs large and small lack the vision and appropriate governance to change - and to grasp that bringing money into communities like the one you visited is the one essential thing that is a prerequisite to future change.

I'm looking to do some work on NGO governance and management to this end, so perhaps I could pick your brains later in the year?

Best wishes


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