Dark stories from the green sector

by Monica Ribadeneira Sarmiento, Ecuador, ELP 2014
Written on August 1, 2014.

I am a stone collector. Collectors and geologists know that sometimes stones and rocks are not what they look like but another. For instance, obsidian is not a stone nor a rock, but a piece of glass.

Did you know that? If not, do not worry; a lot of things are not what they seem to be.

That happens also with institutions in the environmental sector.

Based on appearance, the environmental sector, as well as other organizations that work on the so-called “third generation of rights,”1 are consider the good guys; how could it be different if we are defending environmental values, general interests and public goods?

The truth is, there is a dark side that remains in the shadow; this lack of transparency compromises the whole sector and limits the possibility to apply the lessons learned and to avoid repeating mistakes. Some examples are:

1. Bankruptcy of Natura Foundation
Once upon a time there was an institution called Foundation Natura in Ecuador. It started the environmental concerns at national and regional level, but after two decades of work it ended in bankruptcy because its manager used its estate and properties as a guarantee in a contract.

Everything started as an alternative way to guarantee financial sustainability, so the idea was to have another legal entity with commercial purposes, Natura Inc. Once established, it won a public contest to administer and manage the rubbish dump of the city of Quito, but as part of the contract, must be issued a guarantee. During the execution of the contract, Natura Inc. did not fulfil its obligations, so at the end of the day, the City Hall asked for collateral/asset-based lending which totally affected the properties of Foundation Natura. Since the foundation could not pay nor repay the debts owed to its creditor (the City Hall), all the properties were taken.

Who lived happily ever after? Maybe the manager, who ran out of the country as soon as he could. The employees sure did not because they needed to go to trial to receive their salaries.

2. Union and its draconian contracts with its members
In its own words, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an international organization dedicated to finding "pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges"2.

Nevertheless, while implementing projects IUCN South America Office has draconian3 contracts with its members. These contracts contain unfair conditions like: (i) the prohibition to contact the donor without IUCN permission, (ii) special rights to IUCN to finish the contract, based just on its opinion and without any reason, but most important, (iii) giving the members no right to claim or to ask for any compensation. Interestingly, IUCN includes a guarantee rule that includes a compensation for 10% of the total budget of the project when the contract is cancelled by IUCN. Does it make sense to you? Is this the kind of union you would like to be part of?

1 Lawyers use to classify human rights in the following order:

  • First-generation are the group which deal essentially with liberty and participation in political life, for instance, freedom of speech, voting right, guarantee to a fair trial and freedom of religion.
  • Second-generation human rights are related to equality and are attached fundamentally to economic, social and cultural rights, like the right to be employed, rights to housing and health care, social security and social and unemployment benefits.
  • Third-generation human rights are the group which goes beyond national borders and sovereignty. Examples are collective rights (for instance women, indigenous peoples and LGBT community), right to self-determination, to a healthy environment, to cultural heritage, among others.

2 Source: http://www.iucn.org/
3 Draco (circa 7th century BC) was a legislator in Athens whose law became known for its harshness; since ancient times, draconian refers to unfair and unforgiving rules or laws.