America’s Big Five trade publishers have found themselves in the middle of a long-running battle between Greenpeace and Resolute Forest Products over the forest company’s logging practices in Canada’s boreal forest. Greenpeace has been campaigning for years to make Resolute change its polices in Canada’s northern forests, and the fight has taken a number of turns; one of the unexpected twists was Greenpeace’s decision to take a booth at this year’s BookExpo. The booth and ads in PW Show Daily and last week’s issue of PW magazine are designed to pressure Resolute to modify its forest practices and also to drop a lawsuit it brought against the environmental organization.
Responding to what it says are unsubstantiated claims Greenpeace has made against it, Resolute first filed a lawsuit in Canada in 2013 charging the organization with defamation and economic interference. It followed that up with a May 2016 lawsuit in Georgia alleging RICO violations and defamation. Greenpeace views that suit as creating a free-speech issue, claiming it is designed to silence the group and could silence other advocacy organizations.
Last September, the AAP joined with 11 other media groups in filing an amicus curiae brief in the Georgia case, arguing that if the lawsuit is upheld it could have a chilling effect on free speech rights. But in May, Greenpeace chose to put more heat on publishers to support its cause, releasing a report saying it learned that major U.S. publishers, despite backing free speech, are buying paper from Resolute sourced from disputed areas. Greenpeace also took a petition to BookExpo, signed by more than 100 authors, that called for publishers to stand up for free speech by opposing the Resolute lawsuits and pressure Resolute to engage in more sustainable forest practices.
Rodrigo Estrada, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said that though Greenpeace does not usually attend trade shows, the organization made an exception for BookExpo because it felt it was important to reach out to publishers to more clearly explain its position on the issue. Estrada added that Greenpeace seeks to reassure publishers that it doesn’t want to work against them but would rather work with them on sustainability and free speech issues. “The message isn’t that publishers are the bad guys,” Estrada said, adding that “we want to show them we aren’t the enemy.”
The Big Five publishers—which have all created environmental policies—have called the Greenpeace-Resolute fight a complicated issue (one person, off the record, called it a mess) and have expressed sympathy with some of Greenpeace’s objectives while opposing some of its tactics. A statement from Simon & Schuster sums up the general feeling among the publishers PW contacted: “Each party in the dispute has made claims, counterclaims and arguments in support of its positions about complicated issues, that, as publishers, we have little ability to judge or verify. We do, however, recognize the urgency of current environmental issues, the unalloyed right to free and responsible free speech in advocating for environmental and other causes, and the right to defend one’s reputation.”
The most vociferous support for Greenpeace came from Arnaud Nourry, chairman of Hachette Livre (parent company of the Hachette Book Group), which, along with its parent company Lagardère, takes sustainability issues very seriously. Nourry became aware of the Greenpeace campaign when Greenpeace France met with him in Paris to press its case. He wrote a letter to Richard Garneau, CEO of Resolute, stressing that using Forest Stewardship Council–certified paper is the “cornerstone” of its environmental policies and urging Resolute to use everything in its power to retain its FSC certification. Nourry also said that, though he has no intention of getting involved with the legal dispute between Resolute and Greenpeace, he thinks Resolute’s decision to use RICO statutes in its lawsuit was excessive and asked if there was another way it might respond to Greenpeace’s claims. Hachette was unhappy, however, with a press release Greenpeace sent out about Nourry’s letter bearing the heading “Hachette Livre Calls Resolute Legal Tactics Excessive,” which Hachette said mischaracterized Nourry’s response.
Resolute’s Garneau sent a response to Nourry, in which he took issue with almost every point Greenpeace raised. “I certainly share your chagrin that the various accusations being made by Greenpeace seem difficult to gauge,” Garneau wrote. He listed a number of initiatives Resolute has taken to improve its environmental record, including reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 73% from their 2000 level. As for its sustainability commitment—which Greenpeace said Resolute had “abandoned”—Garneau wrote, “We remain committed to maintaining our 100% forest management and chain of custody certifications to internationally recognized standards.”
Resolute spokesman Seth Kursman went so far as to call Greenpeace’s charge that it abandoned its sustainability policies an “irresponsible lie.” As for pursuing the RICO suit, Kursman said that Resolute has a fiduciary, moral, and ethical responsibility to move ahead with the case. He said Greenpeace’s charges contributed to Resolute closing mills and losing orders, which has not only hurt the company financially but damaged employees and other stakeholders.
In a statement, HarperCollins noted that, contrary to Greenpeace’s claim, though it buys paper from Resolute, it does not source any paper from the region in Canada that is the focus of Greenpeace’s efforts. The company added, “We vigorously support freedom of speech, including that of each author, organization, or company to express, or defend, its views.”
A statement from Penguin Random House noted that, though it can’t comment on the litigation, the company reaffirms “our ardent belief in responsible, truthful speech. We recognize and respect the right of all parties to draw attention to important causes, and to advocate their positions and perspectives.” On sustainability, PRH noted that it “strives to procure paper from suppliers who source responsibly” and expects suppliers to “respect and protect the rights of their workers, the forest, natural resources, and the local indigenous populations.”
The next step in the legal case will take place in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where the suit originally filed in Georgia was moved a few weeks ago. Publishers would like to see the two parties try to find a way to settle the dispute rather than trying to win favor in the court of public opinion.