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Walmarting the Rivers and Oceans

by DAN BACHER

Walmart has been in the headlines in recent weeks after the retailer announced plans to keep its stores open this Thanksgiving, forcing Walmart employees to cancel many of their holiday plans.

Numerous blogs and alternative media outlets have also reported on the 1500 protests planned by Walmart workers and community allies on Black Friday across the country, in one of the largest mobilizations of working families in American history.

“Workers are calling for an end to illegal retaliation, and for Walmart to publicly commit to improving labor standards, such as providing workers with more full time work and $25,000 a year,” according to a statement from OUR Walmart.

“Black Friday 2013 will mark a turning point in American history,” said Dorian Warren, associate professor at Columbia University. “Fifteen hundred protests against Walmart is unprecedented. Working families are fighting back like never before – and have the support of America behind them.

However, less well-known to the public is Walmart’s ambitious campaign of corporate greenwashing in recent years.

Walmart, the country’s largest retailer and employer, makes more than $17 billion in profits annually, so it has a lot of money to dump into “environmental” groups that serve its agenda of privatization of the public trust. The wealth of the Walton family totals over $144.7 billion – equal to that of 42% of Americans.

The Walton Family Foundation reported “investments” totaling more than $91.4 million in “environmental initiatives” in 2012, including contributions to corporate “environmental” NGOs pushing ocean privatization through the “catch shares” programs and so-called “marine protected areas” like those created under Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, as well as to groups supporting the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels.

According to a press release from the Walmart Headquarters in Bentonville Arkansas, “the foundation awarded grants of more than $91 million to groups and programs that create benefits for local economies and communities through lasting conservation solutions for oceans and rivers.”

The foundation directed an overwhelming majority of the grants toward its two core environmental initiatives – “Freshwater Conservation” and Marine Conservation.”

“Our work is rooted in our belief that the conservation solutions that last are the ones that make economic sense,” gushed Scott Burns, director of the foundation’s Environment Focus Area. “The foundation and our grantees embrace ‘conservationomics’ – the idea that conservation efforts can and should bring economic prosperity to local communities.”

The foundation donated $38,648,952 to “Marine Conservation,” $29,367,340 to “Freshwater Conservation” and $23,683,286 for “Other Environment Grants” in 2012.

Conservation International, the top recipient of Walmart money, got a total of $22,650,774, including $5,725,000 for the Bird’s Head Seascape, $4,214,881 for the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape and 12,718,763 for “Other Environmental Grants.”

The Environmental Defense Fund, the second largest recipient, received a total of $12,943,017, including $7,800,000 for catch shares, $1,881,652 for the Colorado River, $3,032,300 for the Mississippi River, $20,000 for the Gulf Of Mexico and $209,065 for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Ocean Conservancy, a strong supporter of the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act Initiative to create “marine protected areas” in California, received the third largest chunk of money from the foundation in 2012, $5,447,354, including $2,112,500 for “Marine Conservation” in the Gulf of Mexico and $3,334,854 for the oil spill in the Gulf.

Nature Conservancy, Inc. received $4,509,616, the fourth largest amount of money, including $1,700,000 for the Colorado River, $725,557 for the Mississippi River, $553,148 for the Bird’s Head Seascape, $21,000 for Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape, $350,000 for Gulf of Mexico projects, $400,825 for catch shares and $759,086 for “other conservation grants.”

Other recipients of Walton Foundation money in 2012 include American Rivers, the Center for American Progress, Environmental Working Group, Marine Stewardship Council, National Audubon Society, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Geographic Society, Oxfam America, Inc., Resources Legacy Fund, World Wildlife Fund and many other NGOs.

A complete list of Walton Family Foundation recipients is available at: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/about/2012-grant-report#environment.

Conservation International Features Walton and Stewart Resnick on Board

Conservation International, the top recipient at $22,650,774, is an organization noted for its top-down approach to conservation and involvement with corporate greenwashing.

A Walton Foundation press release claimed that, “Conservation International continued to implement a three-year program to empower local communities to manage and conserve fishing resources on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast.”

However, the group’s board features some of the most controversial corporate leaders on the planet, including Rob Walton and Stewart Resnick.

Rob Walton, Walmart Chairman, serves as the Chairman of the Executive Committee of Conservation International. Serving with him on Conservation International’s Board of Directors is Stewart Resnick, the owner of Paramount Farms.

Resnick has been instrumental in campaigns to build the peripheral tunnels to increase water exports to corporate agribusiness, developers and oil companies, to eviscerate Endangered Species Act protections for Central Valley Chinook salmon and Delta smelt and to eradicate striped bass in California. The Center for Investigative Reporting describes Resnick as a “Corporate Farming Billionaire and One-Man Environmental Wrecking Crew.”

Resnick is notorious for buying subsidized Delta water and then selling it back to the public for a big profit, as revealed in an article by the late Mike Taugher in the Contra Costa Times on May 23, 2009. (http://www.revivethesanjoaquin.org/content/pumping-water-and-cash-delta)

“As the West Coast’s largest estuary plunged to the brink of collapse from 2000 to 2007, state water officials pumped unprecedented amounts of water out of the Delta only to effectively buy some of it back at taxpayer expense for a failed environmental protection plan, a MediaNews investigation has found,” said Taugher.

Taugher said the “environmental water account” set up in 2000 to “improve” the Delta ecosystem spent nearly $200 million mostly to benefit water users while also creating a “cash stream for private landowners and water agencies in the Bakersfield area.”

“No one appears to have benefited more than companies owned or controlled by Stewart Resnick, a Beverly Hills billionaire, philanthropist and major political donor whose companies, including Paramount Farms, own more than 115,000 acres in Kern County,” Taugher stated. “Resnick’s water and farm companies collected about 20 cents of every dollar spent by the program.”

Likewise, the Nature Conservancy, a group that received the fourth largest amount, $4,509,616, from the Walton Family Foundation in 2012, is also known for its strong support of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels that Resnick and other corporate agribusiness interests so avidly support.

A broad coalition of fishermen, Indian Tribes, environmentalists, family farmers and elected officials opposes the construction of the tunnels because they would hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other species.

Environmental Defense Fund’s Drive to Privatize Fisheries

Environmental Defense Fund, with the second highest donation at $12,943,017, is known for its market-based approach to conservation and its push for “catch shares” that essentially privatize the oceans. The relationship between the group and the retail giant is so close that it operates an office in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is headquartered.

“Environmental Defense Fund released its ‘Catch Shares Design Manual: A Guide for Fishermen and Managers’ to provide a roadmap to catch share design, which is a focus of our Marine Conservation initiative,” according to the Walton Family Foundation.

A catch share, also known as an individual fishing quota, is a transferable voucher that gives individuals or businesses the ability to access a fixed percentage of the total authorized catch of a particular species.

“Fishery management systems based on catch shares turn a public resource into private property and have lead to socioeconomic and environmental problems. Contrary to arguments by catch share proponents – namely large commercial fishing interests – this management system has exacerbated unsustainable fishing practices,” according to the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

True to form, Sam Rawlings Walton, the grandson of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, serves on the Board of Trustees of EDF.

Times Articles Put Spotlight on Walmart

Two New York Times articles in April 2012 put Walmart and the Walton family’s “dirty laundry” in the international spotlight, leading to a renewed call by the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) for the public to support their boycott of Walmart, a campaign that began in August 2011.

The Times articles covered Walton family support for anti-fishing, pro-privatization efforts in North America, followed by the publication’s exposure of alleged $24 million worth of bribes in Central America to speed up the chain’s expansion into Mexico.

“The headlines prove that Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation are no friends of local communities anywhere, and their ongoing efforts to destroy coastal fishing businesses through support of arbitrary marine reserves and privatization of fish stocks nationwide should not be supported by anglers,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. “We’re asking coastal fishermen who support open access, under the law, to healthy and sustainable fish stocks to send a clear message to this arrogant corporation that we’ve had enough of their greenwashing and grafting efforts.

Donofrio noted that Walmart made world headlines following a New York Times story that charges the Bentonville, Arkansas company and its leaders of squashing an internal investigation into suspected payments of over $24 million in bribes to obtain permits to build in Mexico.

Reporter’s Lapse Shows Complicity of Corporate Media

The bribery scandal was exposed on the same day that the Gloucester Times of Massachusetts exposed a reporting lapse in another recent New York Times article about the relationship between Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Walmart partnering together for “more enlightened and sustainable operations.”

The New York Times had earlier reported that EDF “does not accept contributions from Wal-Mart or other corporations it works for.”

However, when confronted on the fact that the $1.3 billion Walton Family Foundation (started in 1987 by Wal-Mart’s founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and directed presently by the Walton family) has been underwriting EDF’s successful effort to replace the nation’s mostly small-business, owner-operated fishing industry with “a catch shares model designed to cap the number of active fishermen by trading away ownership of the resource to those with the deepest pockets,” the author of the New York Times report conceded by email that in her rush to meet deadlines, she had not considered the relationship between the Walton family and Wal-Mart, according to Donofrio.

“I didn’t think to check the EDF board for Walton family members, or Walton Family Foundation donations,” said reporter Stephanie Clifford, adding “None of the third parties I’d spoken to had mentioned that connection, which isn’t an excuse – I should have thought of it myself, but didn’t.

RFA is hoping that saltwater anglers and fishing business owners help send Walmart stocks tumbling by refusing to shop at the corporate giant any longer.

“The Walton family uses their fortune to buy off friends who’ll cover for their despicable business practices, whether it’s corporate greenwashing with EDF, rebranding efforts through national trade association campaigns, or apparently by way of directed bribes to local officials in other countries,” Donofrio said. “Don’t just stop buying fishing tackle at Wal-Mart – stop supporting this company altogether and let’s quit supporting complete buyouts and takeovers of local communities.”

Commercial Fishermen Support Walmart Boycott

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), supports RFA’s boycott of Walmart.

“People who are concerned about our environment or labor rights should all be boycotting Walmart,” said Grader. “Their polices are clearly intended to commodify our natural resources and put them under the control of large corporations.”

“The Walton Family Foundation is funding the Environmental Defense Fund, which wants to commodify water through water marketing and privatize our fish through catch shares program,” said Grader. “These are tools used by corporations to further the growing disparity between 1 percent and the rest of us.”

“I’ve been boycotting Walmart for decades and it’s absolutely great that recreational and commercial fishermen are together on this,” concluded Grader.

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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