Sun, Jun 29, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Financial insecurities worry Greenpeace

E-mails and meeting minutes show that the activist group’s finance department has a long history of problems in its handling of its budget

By Adam Vaughan  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Constance Chou

The handling of Greenpeace International’s (GPI) £58 million (US$98.8 million) budget has been in disarray for years, with its finance team beset by personnel problems and a lack of rigorous processes, leading to errors, substandard work and a souring of relationships between its Amsterdam headquarters and offices around the world, documents and e-mails leaked to the Guardian show.

The revelations, which come after it emerged that a staffer lost £3 million on the foreign exchange market betting mistakenly on a weak euro, reveal the group’s finance department has faced a series of problems, and that its board is troubled at the lack of controls and lapses that allowed one person to lose so much money.

Greenpeace, which prides itself on being largely funded by relatively small individual donations, apologized to supporters for the loss, claiming the “serious error of judgement” was a result of a single staff member “acting beyond the limits of their authority and without following proper procedures.”

However, the documents show that internally the group is worried about the organizational failings that allowed it to happen.

Minutes of a board meeting in the spring this year say: “The board takes this [the £3 million loss] very seriously and is deeply concerned that there should be such financial loss at a time of transition — when reserves are stretched and income is substantially lower than projected, and it is particularly troubled by how it happened, ie, the lack of strong, coherent processes and controls that prevent the possibility that contracts can be entered into without due authorization.”

Greenpeace is one of the biggest and most high-profile environmental campaigning groups, with more than 2,000 employees globally and thousands more volunteers. It is based in Amsterdam and has 28 offices around the world that campaign and fundraise independently, including Greenpeace UK, which earlier this year successfully sent six activists to climb to the top of central London’s Shard, Europe’s tallest building, to send a message opposing Shell’s plans for oil drilling in the Arctic.

The leaked material also reveals that:

‧ The group’s public face and top campaigner, executive director Kumi Naidoo, admits that internal communications are a “huge problem”;

‧ Naidoo, who was previously an apartheid campaigner, says staff have “good reason” to be upset at a range of problems;

‧ Staff are concerned at being shifted from Amsterdam on Dutch wages to national offices on lower local wages, as part of a major restructuring effort to decentralize the group;

‧ The group did not campaign to have one of its three ships, the Arctic Sunrise, released by Russia because the political circumstances would have made it a “wasted effort.”

It has also been revealed that one of the group’s most senior executives, Pascal Husting, Greenpeace International’s international program director, works in Amsterdam, but flies between the city’s offices and his home in Luxembourg several times a month.

Naidoo defended the arrangement, saying: “Pascal has a young family in Luxembourg. When he was offered the new role, he couldn’t move his family to Amsterdam straight away. He’d be the first to say he hates the commute, hates having to fly, but right now he hasn’t got much of an option until he can move. He wishes there was an express train between his home and his office, but it would currently be a 12 hour round trip by train.”

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