Jun 18/98: Daishowa boycott did its job


The Toronto Star
June 18, 1998
Naomi Klein

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only. It may contain biased and distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context.]

It is clear that Kevin Thomas can't quite believe his eyes.

He is holding a map, which arrived by fax from forestry giant Daishowa just moments ago. The map is of a 10,000 square kilometre area in northern Alberta representing territory claimed by the Lubicon Cree. The area is at the centre of a fierce land-claim dispute for which the federal government has failed to negotiate a settlement in 65 years.

Attached to the map is a letter from the president of Daishowa pledging "not to harvest or purchase timber" in the contested area until the land claim is resolved. This is what Thomas and his colleagues in Friends of the Lubicon have been demanding for seven years. They got it last week.

Up until then, Daishowa had insisted on its right to log the area based on an agreement it had with the government of Alberta, though it did put its operations on hold. The Lubicon argued that the province had no right to auction off natural resources which were not its to sell.

In 1991, the Friends called for a boycott of Daishowa products. Since Daishowa doesn't sell directly to the public but rather supplies paper goods to large companies, the Friends couldn't take its case directly to the people. Instead, it traced Daishowa's paper bags to several high-profile buyers, including Pizza Pizza and Woolworth's. Unlike Daishowa, brand image and customer relations are of central importance to these companies.

Daishowa took the Friends to court, claiming the boycott was unlawful and had cost it $14 million in lost revenue. But on April 14, an Ontario Court judge ruled in favour of the activists. After the ruling, the Friends vowed to bring back the boycott with renewed force, unless Daishowa pledged to stay off the disputed land, which brings us back to the fax.

The Lubicon's victory should serve as a warning to all other faceless resource-based corporations which have been able to conduct their operations in relative secrecy. Mines and clear-cutting programs may attract the ire of environmentalists and Native bands, but we all know how unresponsive logging and mining giants can be to those concerns - even when people are literally lying down in front of their bulldozers.

And why should the companies care? They deal exclusively with governments and corporate clients which transform raw resources into consumer goods. Since they don't sell to the public, they don't have to worry about their public image - which is precisely why violent clashes in remote areas of the wilderness are so common.

Up until now, it's been the big brand names which have had to worry about consumer campaigns. Nike has been scarred by sweatshop scandals and Shell oil - which stamps its name on the commodity it extracts - continues to face international outrage over the environmental and human rights abuses its drilling has caused on Ogoni land in Nigeria.

The timing of the Lubicon's breakthrough couldn't be better. Every week there are more horrifying reports about Canadian mining companies utterly failing to respect the heath, safety and sovereignty of peoples around the world - from the Philippines, to Spain, to Indonesia to Kyrgyzstan to our own Voisey's Bay.

The Friends of the Lubicon's boycott demonstrates that even natural resource companies will not be exempt from the mounting calls for corporate accountability. Investigative activists can track their resources' progression through the economy until the point where they turn into consumer goods and public pressure can be applied. This point may be when nickel turns into batteries, old growth wood into furniture, gold into jewelry - the possibilities are limitless.

All along, Daishowa has claimed it was being unfairly targeted because the dispute was between the band and government. In many ways, that is absolutely true. Since the Lubicon applied for a land settlement in 1933, the federal government - though conceding to the band's right to a reserve - has refused to negotiate in good faith. In the meantime, resource extraction has caused massive damage to the ecosystem and the Lubicon way of life.

The targeting of a corporation was an act of desperation. "The government was never going to settle so long as the Lubicon people were the only ones suffering - the only ones unable to carry on with business as usual," says Thomas.

Now that Daishowa's multi-million-dollar operations in the area are directly linked to a resolution of the land claim, the Lubicon have some very influential company in their long wait.

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