The Cheat Sheet

The woodcutter, the books, and freedom of speech

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on June 21, 2017


A modern-day Aesop’s fable?

Well, it’s allegorical for sure, but based entirely on facts.

Cut to the chase, will ya?

Talking of cuts, this could be the unkindest of them all, fear many.


Greenpeace, the global green organisation, and some of the world’s biggest book publishers.

What’s the charge here?

Greenpeace has recently locked horns with Resolute Forest Products, Canada’s largest logging company. The greens say Resolute has destroyed vast areas of Canada’s beautiful and biodiversity-rich Boreal forest to make products, including pulp, that publishers use to make books. Greenpeace says Resolute damaged critical woodland caribou habitat and carried out logging without the consent of the impacted First Nations, the predominant aboriginal communities.

Now, that’s serious.

Greenpeace has asked the company to talk to First Nations, workers, unions and civil society bodies to resolve the issues.

But what’s the company’s take on this?

Resolute, obviously, denies the charges. It has been fighting the dispute, going on for a few years for now, by slapping defamation charges against Greenpeace. The Guardian reports that last year, Resolute followed up a 2013 defamation and economic interference lawsuit launched in Canada with a $226-million claim under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (Rico).

Tell me more about it.

Well, this Act was passed in 1970 to counter organised crime. But invoking the Act to fight an environmental organisation is seen as a move to silence free speech and could set a bad precedent for whistleblowers and NGOs.

Yeah, most likely.

This is where the world’s biggest book publishers step in. They fear the case has implications for freedom of speech. Penguin Random House and HarperCollins, the world’s two leading publishers, voiced their concerns over the issue. Hachette Livre, whose group firms publish the likes of JK Rowling, expressed concern over the lawsuit against Greenpeace. It felt this poses a threat to free speech and could be used to silence environmental groups at a time when the US government has said it will withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change, reports The Guardian.


In fact, these publishers were dragged into the dispute after a petition signed by over 100 writers backing Greenpeace was presented at the publishing trade show BookExpo in the US recently. The writers want publishers to get Resolute to drop the suit against Greenpeace and reduce harmful logging practices.

But do any of these publishers use Resolute’s products?

Most of these publishers says their books don’t use pulp from the disputed forests, and they have called for more regulatory control over such practices. Penguin Random House and HarperCollins say they buy from suppliers who source “responsibly”.

That’s good. The pulp industry has a rotten ecological record.

Agree. But of late, sustainable practices have been finding place in the business, thanks to recycling and modern technologies. As you know, the global forest products, paper, packaging industry, which engages in logging, is a huge universe. Consultancy PwC estimates that the top 100 firms in the business commanded total sales of $317 billion in 2015. Which also means there is a lot at stake for the industry, which must understand that there is now a global demand for green practices in all businesses. Activists hope that the next hearing of the Greenpeace vs Resolute case, in California, will have a meaningful outcome for all stakeholders.

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Published on June 21, 2017
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