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In the late 1990s Greenpeace identified Dow as the 'world's largest root-source of dioxin', a cancer-causing chemical

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Dow Chemical in the dock as activists confront corporate spies

Tom Levitt

25th February, 2011

Chemical giant dismisses allegations that it inflitrated Greenpeace in an effort to undermine its direct action campaigns

Following the recent undercover police scandal in the UK, the world's largest eco-activist group is turning the tables on one of the world's biggest chemical companies.

Greenpeace has field a lawsuit accusing The Dow Chemical Company of using private investigators to spy on the group, stealing thousands of documents and intercepting phone call details between 1998-2000. The lawsuit also names another chemical company - Sasol North American - as well as public relations firms employed by them and private investigators.

It accuses Dow Chemical of paying the private security firm Beckett Brown International to secure confidential information to 'anticipate and frustrate' Greenpeace's public education and direct action campaigns. It followed reports by the campaign group in the late 1990s that identified Dow as the 'world's largest root-source of dioxin', a cancer-causing chemical. 

The corporate spying was uncovered in an investigation by a journalist from the magazine Mother Jones, after it was handed documents by a former insider with the private security firm, since dissolved.

Dow Chemical itself has so far refused to acknowledge it hired private investigators to spy on Greenpeace. It filed a motion earlier this week to dismiss the case saying it 'lacks merit' and was initiated to generate publicity for the campaign group.

Greenpeace campaigner Mark Flogel acknowledged they did want to expose Dow's 'dirty tactics' and hoped that by winning the case they would make other corporations think again before sanctioning spying.

UK activists fight back

This is not the first time Greenpeace has been involved in a corporate spying case. In 2009, the French energy giant EDF was accused of hacking into the group's computer systems in France. They were also alleged to have been spying on Greenpeace activities in the UK, as the campaign group was planning a legal challenge to EDF's plans to build the next generation of nuclear power stations in the country. Investigations by French officials into the allegations are still ongoing.

The two Greenpeace legal cases are part of a wider fightback by environmental activists against corporate and state-sponsored spying. A newly created campaign group 'No Police Spies' is pushing for an public inquiry to expose the true extent of undercover police spying on political groups.

Bradley Day, a spokesperson for the campaign, said there was a suspicion of collusion between the police and corporate spying. He cites the private investigators Global One as one example. The firm is run by ex-special branch officers and on its website offers intelligence gathering on environmental and anti-corporatism activist groups.

'What is so disturbing is that corporate spying is not a separate entity. There is so much cross-over even if indirectly with the police training up officers who then start up private investigation companies and recruit ex-officers,' he said.

Useful links

Greenpeace website on Dow Chemical case

No Police Spies

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