CDB's 2015 report on "Effective Communication and Cooperation between Chinese NGOs and Businesses"
This article is part of CDB’s Special Focus on ‘Effective Communication and Cooperation between NGOs and Business’. It originally formed the tenth case study in CDB’s latest research report which we released in July 2015 (you can view the original here). Over the next few weeks we will be publishing translations of the ten case studies contained in that report. The case studies detail partnerships between Chinese NGOs, foundations, and businesses.
Chinese NGOs seeking to cooperate with businesses can find that their principles are tested when identifying potential partners. Polluting companies that have been criticized by environmental protection organizations might look to support an education program; those that have a bad international corporate social responsibility (CSR) record might set up a public welfare award domestically or provide financial support to a well-known domestic public welfare organization. Organizations in the public welfare sector have continuously discussed the following question: should organizations active in environmental protection, education, welfare and other sectors band together to boycott companies with bad track records, or should they accept money from these sources in order to secure the survival of the organization? Perhaps accepting money doesn’t necessarily mean that an organization can no longer oppose the company? In the public welfare sector, it’s already difficult to find common ground on these issues.
Some NGOs believe that business and public welfare should be separated, that public welfare must maintain its purity and shouldn’t be misused as a vehicle for corporate “contraband”; other experts emphasize that completely separating business from public welfare would hinder social innovation. In seeking to strengthen the value of social partnerships they argue that the traditional view of not seeking returns from engaging in public welfare needs to be dispelled and social return stressed. Overall they say that if public interest issues are linked with the unique capabilities of industry, then both sides stand to gain.
Case study: APP Youth Public Service Internship program causes confusion
Small NGOs can find corporate assistance alluring.Tempted by easy money and greater freedom of operation, many organizations establish long-term cooperative relationships with businesses. Behind the alluring façade, however, the demands of the business are often at odds with the principles of the organization, and different groups have different views on whether to closely guard those principles or acquiesce to the company’s demands.
The “APP Youth Public Service Internship” is a public service program initiated by the Students in Free Enterprise Group (now known as Enactus) at Shanghai International Studies University and financed by the Huang Yi Cong Foundation, a subsidiary of the Indonesian Sinar Mas APP Group. The goal of the program is to select excellent university students who will spend their summer vacation engaged in public service, thereby providing NGOs with high quality human resources. With the financial support of the Sinar Mas APP Group, the program was a success in 2010 and 2011.
Just as the “APP Youth Public Service Internship” was beginning its campus tour in preparation for the third year of the program in 2012, public welfare activist “Jian Gemin” published a number of articles on his blog concerning “investigations into APP’s forest destruction.” On Weibo, he commented that “in view of the fact that the APP Group is ignoring its corporate errors and continuing to destroy forests, I’m calling for a boycott of the APP Youth Public Service Internship program and for all public welfare cooperation with APP to stop until it makes the latest environmental statistics public, promises to implement biodiversity protection and accepts regular civil society supervision of its activities.” On the day his post appeared on Weibo, seven NGOs that participate in the program responded by stopping their cooperation with the Huang Yi Cong Foundation.
In fact, that boycott was only one instance of the APP Group generating controversy over “forest destruction.” In November 2004, Greenpeace released an investigative report to the media on the destruction of forests in Yunnan by the Sinar Mas Group, accusing the company of destroying local forests and creating serious ecological risks. The report received widespread public attention, with government ministries, APP and Greenpeace all sticking to competing versions of the story. Even though there were dissenting voices, the Greenpeace boycott was broadly implemented. In response, a large group of international companies, including Unilever, Nestle and Burger King ended their cooperation with APP.
After Jian Gemin called on public welfare groups to boycott the APP Youth Public Service Internship program, Greenpeace joined in without hesitation. During an “APP Youth Public Service Internship” event at Beijing Forestry University shortly after Jian Gemin made his comments, Greenpeace activists protested by dressing up as “homeless” animals. The event had to be called off as a result of the Greenpeace protest. Other campus events also had to be canceled under the pressure from Greenpeace. In addition, Greenpeace sent a steady stream of letters to the relevant NGOs, sharing evidence it had obtained of APP’s forest destruction and demanding that these groups reconsider their participation in the program.
As a result of the boycott implemented by Greenpeace and other public welfare activists, the APP Youth Public Service Internship Program came under fire from all sides, with NGOs that had planned on participating in the program stating that they would cease working with the Huang Yi Cong Foundation. On Weibo, the Shining Stone Community Action Center announced that “we have already withdrawn from the APP Youth Public Service Internship program. We firmly oppose to APP’s destruction of forests and will not use paper products from APP or its subsidiaries in our offices. In the future, Shining Stone will be more cautious in selecting cooperation partners.” Only one month later, 12 of the 28 participating NGOs had formally announced their withdrawal from the program.
In fact, APP is not the first company to have encountered this type of boycott. As early as 2000, when “Ford Motor Conservation and Environmental Grants” were introduced to China, opponents demanded that domestic environmental organizations give up the large-scale financial support provided by Ford. After ten years of hard work, however, Ford has made a significant contribution to environmental protection in China. Indeed, “Ford Motor Conservation and Environmental Grants” have earned considerable public trust. This fundamental shift led many to believe that not only should APP’s program not be boycotted, but that NGOs in need of support should be encouraged to cooperate with APP and help the company improve its corporate development principles.
As the initiator of the resistance to APP’s “Public Service Internship” program, Jian Gemin has his own thoughts on the issue. He believes that moral standards need to be maintained when an NGO and a company cooperate. When choosing a company to work with, organizations need to consider whether or not it has a negative CSR record. In the APP case, for instance, many environmental protection organizations had accepted financial support from APP. With strong expertise, these groups should have first conducted an impartial investigation into the accusations of “forest destruction” and refrained from deciding on whether or not to work with APP until a conclusion on the “forest destruction” issue had been reached. Direct cooperation with APP would have considerably misled the public.
In that case, shouldn’t we reject all cooperation programs of this kind? Jian Gemin’s answer is no. He believes that when companies choose a public welfare program to support, they quite understandably choose those run by NGOs close to their own area of business. NGOs don’t have to totally reject this kind of cooperation. If the interests of the company match the position of the organization and they are able to provide real assistance to beneficiary groups, then the cooperation will likely be win-win. But if the company makes obvious directive demands in the course of their cooperation, then the public interest organization must heighten its vigilance. Regarding the APP program, Jian Gemin was particularly dissatisfied with the fact that the interns had to visit the Sinar Mas paper factory before the start of the internship and report publicly on what they gained from the visit. In his view, university students still lack the ability to make objective judgments about technical environmental problems. For APP to invite students to comment might encourage them to identify with irrational values. The intent was clearly to “greenwash” and it reduced the entire internship program to a kind of APP “greenwash”.
Facing criticism from Jian Gemin and Greenpeace, one public interest organization after the other responded to the situation. One organization that had participated in the APP Public Service Internship Program in the first year said it had made an agreement with APP that no advertising of any kind would be allowed during the duration their cooperation. “They [APP] broke the agreement, however, and said that this year there will certainly be advertising again. It was blatant “greenwashing,” so we resolutely withdrew from the program.” Another institution said that until APP provided a positive response to the Greenpeace query on “forest destruction,” it would not cooperate with APP in any way.
Amidst the wave of opposition, a few voices were firmly in favor of NGOs working together with APP. In the eyes of the supporters, the role played by the Huang Yi Cong Foundation was limited to organizing, coordinating and supervising. The foundation did not directly engage in any improper behavior. Boycotting the program merely because of questions regarding APP’s actions would only harm its enthusiasm for participating in public welfare. Some public welfare activists shared the view that as long as programs like the APP Youth Public Service Internship include a concrete investment on the part of the company, NGOs can accept the financial assistance in good conscience. Even if the source of the funding is questionable, the funds can benefit society by passing through the NGO. Furthermore, by participating in the public welfare process and interacting with NGOs, companies can continuously increase their understanding of public welfare, improve their operational activities and take on greater social responsibility. Indeed, objectively speaking, the investments of the Huang Yi Cong Foundation provide clear support to the participating NGOs in the short-term and can potentially foster a group of high quality public welfare activists in the long-term, something extremely beneficial to the development of the sector. The more ardent of the supporting voices asked: “why can’t companies with bad records do good things? Is it that only companies with an ‘impeccable’ record have the qualifications for taking on social responsibility and improving their corporate structure? If NGOs only boycott and don’t try to affect change through cooperation with companies, then what exactly is the value of their existence?” In 2011, the “APP Youth Public Interest Internship” was chosen by the “China Philanthropy Times” and “Global Philanthropy Magazine” as an “Outstanding Case of CSR by a Multinational Corporation” and as one of the “2011 Ten Model Chinese Corporate Public Welfare Programs.” This recognition confirms the innovative nature and value of the “APP Youth Public Interest Program”.
Looking beyond the debate between supporters and opponents, the Huang Yi Cong Foundation, as the organizer of the internship program, also suffered. The Foundation believes that the “APP Youth Public Service Internship” is a fundamentally good program that not only provides human resources support to NGOs by selecting excellent students to work in those organizations, but also plants the seeds of public service in the hearts of the participating students. Not only did the boycott make it difficult for the foundation to continue its work, but many of the participating organizations lost support they had been counting on under pressure. In the end, everyone was worse off. The three employees of the “APP Youth Public Service Internship” program had no choice but to stop working on public welfare projects and instead work overtime responding to the wave of opposition to their program.
In fact, Jian Gemin’s original intent in boycotting APP was to turn the issue into a topic of public discussion, so that the public welfare sector could reflect on the bottom line for cooperation between companies and public welfare groups. It seems as if things didn’t turn out the way he had hoped. By September 2014, the program was entering its fifth year and a total of 171 students had completed summer internships through the program. The APP Youth Public Service Internship program still exists and the 2011 controversy has gradually subsided. Each organization likely had its own reasons for supporting or opposing the program. If NGOs are not given a diverse space for development, however, then their struggle with corporate power will result in a similar controversy and another group of NGOs unsure what to do.
被环保组织批评的污染企业，可能去支持教育项目；在国际上企业社会责任上劣迹昭著的，可能在国内设立公益奖项，要么资助国内著名的公益组织……业内公益组 织从未停止过讨论，是不分环保、教育，助残等领域，形成共同体，一致抵制有劣迹企业；还是钱先拿来，先让机构活下来？甚至拿到钱也不代表不继续与该企业斗 争？在公益领域里，对这些讨论已经难以形成一个统一的标准。传统公益组织人认为商业和公益要分开，公益要纯粹，不要挟带营利的“私货”；但也有专家强调， 如果将公益和商业泾渭分明地分开，会妨碍社会创新。要加强社会伙伴价值，首先要破除传统的做公益不求回报的观念，而是要讲求社会回报；要破除公益和商业截 然分裂的情况，讲求公益和商业的结合；公益和企业的整合一定要考虑公益资源可持续发展的问题，让公益议题跟产业特性能够有直接联系，而且能相互增益。通过 社会合作伙伴合作，可以优势互补，整合各自的资源，促进社会创新和可持续发展（钱为家，2011）。
但就在“APP青年公益实习”开始进行2012年第三期高校巡回宣讲时，公益人士“简格民”却在博客发表多篇“金光APP毁林调查”的文章，并通过微博呼 吁“鉴于APP集团忽视企业错误，毁林不倦，希望呼吁抵制APP青年公益实习计划，停止一切与APP有关的公益合作，直至APP把最新的环境数据公开；承 诺对生物多样性的保护并落实；接受社会的定期监督。”微博发表当天就有7家参与此项目的公益组织作出回应，停止了与黄奕聪基金会的合作。
而这一次简格民呼吁公益组织抵制APP公益实习项目后，绿色和平也毫不犹豫地加入了。在随后的北京林业大学的“APP青年公益实习”宣讲会上，绿色和平的 志愿者装扮成无家可归的动物表示抗议，在绿色和平的抗议下，宣讲会不欢而散。之后的几场高校宣讲也都因绿色和平的施压而取消。除此之外，绿色和平还不断致 函给相关公益组织，展示绿色和平获得的APP毁林证据，要求这些公益组织对是否参加这一项目做出慎重考虑。
在一批公益人士和绿色和平的强烈抵制下，APP青年公益实习项目陷入了四面楚歌的境地，不断有参与青年公益实习项目的公益组织宣布停止与黄奕聪基金会的合 作。社区参与行动服务中心就在其微博宣布“目前已退出APP青年公益实习项目。我们同样坚决反对APP的毁林行为，我们所有的办公用纸均不选用APP及其 旗下产品，今后社区参与行动会更加慎重选择合作伙伴。”短短一个月之后，28家参与该项目的公益组织组织中，已经有12家正式宣布退出。
其实，APP并不是第一家遭到此类抵制的企业。早在2000年，“福特汽车环保奖”进入中国时，就有反对者要求国内的环保组织放弃福特高额的资助。但是经 过十年的努力，福特在中国的环保领域做出了巨大贡献，“福特汽车环保奖”反而成了一个颇具公信力的奖项。这一巨大的转变让许多人认为，不仅不应该抵制 APP的项目，反而应该鼓励有需求的公益组织参与到与APP的合作中，以此来帮助APP更好地转变企业发展理念。
作为反对“APP公益实习”项目的发起人，简格民对此有着自己的思考。他认为，在公益组织与企业合作过程中，绝不能突破道德底线。在选择合作企业的时候， 需要考虑这个企业在履行社会责任方面是否有过不良记录。就像这次APP事件中，有很多环保组织接受了APP的资助，而环保组织作为专业性极强的公益组织， 在“毁林”事件没有定论时，应该先对“毁林”进行客观公正的调查，再决定要不要与APP合作。如果直接与APP合作，会给普通民众带来许多误导。
但是不是所有这类的合作都要拒绝呢？简格民给出了否定的答案。他认为，很多企业在选择公益项目的时候，会选择同自身业务相关的公益组织，这是无可厚非的， 公益组织也不需要完全拒绝这类合作。在这种情况下，如果企业的诉求与机构的立场相符合，并且能给受益群体带来实质性帮助，合作往往是共赢的。但如果企业在 合作中对公益机构有强烈的指向性诉求，公益组织就需要提高警惕。在这个项目中，让简格民感到特别不满的是，这些实习学生在实习前需要参观金光APP的造纸 厂，并向外界展示他们的参观成果。在他看来，这些在学校大学生，还没有能力对环保领域的专业问题做出客观判断，在这种情况下被APP请去，会给青年学生带 来非理性的价值认同，有明显的“漂绿”意图，也让整个实习项目沦为了APP“漂绿”的一部分。
在简格民和绿色和平的声讨下，许多公益组织也纷纷作出回应，有一家曾参与APP公益实习计划的公益组织表示，在第一年与APP曾约定：合作期间不允许进行 任何宣传。“但是他们违反了这个约定，而且今年还说肯定要宣传，‘漂绿’用意很明显，我们坚决退出。”而另一家机构则宣布，在APP对于绿色和平的“毁 林”质疑没有正面回应前，不会与APP进行任何形式的合作。
在一片反对浪潮中，也有一些声音坚定地支持公益组织与APP进行合作。在支持者眼中，黄奕聪慈善基金会在项目过程中只是扮演组织、协调、监督的角色，并没 有直接的失范行为，仅仅因为对APP的质疑就抵制这个项目的行为会损害企业的公益热情。有公益人士表示，类似于APP青年公益实习的项目，只要企业确实有 所投入，公益组织就可以正大光明的接受资助。因为就算这些资助的来源有所失当，通过公益组织反而可以转换成正面的社会效益。而另一方面，通过参与公益事业 的过程与公益组织的接触，企业也能不断提高对公益的认识，不断改善自己经营活动，履行更多的社会责任。并且，客观来讲，黄奕聪慈善基金会的投入短时间内会 为参与的公益组织提供一定的支持，长远来看，也可能为社会培养出一批高素质的公益人才，对推动行业发展有着积极作用。在这群支持者中，有更激进的声音反 问：“为何不允许有负面报道的企业做正面的事情呢？难道说只有形象‘一贯良好’的企业才有资格承担社会责任，树立企业形象？公益组织如果一味地抵制而不是 通过参与去改变企业，那么公益组织存在的价值又是什么呢？”2011年，“APP青年公益实习”就被《公益时报》和《环球慈善》选为“跨国公司企业社会责 任优秀案例”和“2011中国企业十大典范公益项目”。也从侧面说明了“APP青年公益实习”本身的确有一定的创新性和现实价值。
在支持和反对的争论之外，本次活动的主办方黄奕聪慈善基金会也有一肚子苦水。他们认为“APP青年公益实习”本身是一个很好的项目，通过项目主办方选拔出 的优秀大学生进入公益组织，既为公益组织提供了人员支持，也在学生心中播下了公益的种子。但是，在这次强烈的抵制下，不仅让基金会难以开展工作，还让许多 公益组织迫于压力失去原有的支持，到头来只能是两败俱伤。而“APP青年公益实习”项目的3名工作人员也不得不停下手头的公益活动，加班加点来应对这些反 对浪潮。
其实，简格民抵制APP的初衷是希望让这件事成为一个公共话题，从而唤起行业对公益组织与企业合作底线的思考。但事情似乎没有按照他的愿望发展下去。截至 2014年9月，已有五期，共计171位大学生在公益机构完成了APP的暑期实习活动。APP青年公益实习还在继续，而关于这次活动的争议却逐渐平息。支 持也好，反对也罢，各家机构或许都有自己的理由。但如果没有多元化的公益组织发展空间，在企业的强势下，一定还会有下一个金光APP被推上风口浪尖，一定 还会有下一批公益组织在茫然中不知所措。