From Opposition to Dialogue

China Development Brief no. 48 (Winter 2010)

中文 English

The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) is one of China’s best-known independent environmental NGOs.  Founded by Ma Jun in 2006, IPE maintains a water and air pollution database, and is one of the organizers of the Green Choice Alliance, a coalition of 35 Chinese environmental NGOs[1]

IPE and the Alliance have pursued an advocacy strategy of uncovering problems in corporate supply chain management to encourage companies, and indirectly encourage local governments, to improve their environmental record.    The following article draws from a case study of the Alliance’s efforts to deal with environmental problems stemming from Shanghai Richina, a major supplier to the U.S. shoe company, Timberland[2].  It reveals how the Alliance’s actions, and its focus on international companies and the IT industry in general, are part a larger strategy of exploiting situations to achieve the maximum impact. 

Of the many “lucky” companies listed in the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs’ (IPE,公众环境研究中心) air pollution database, the Shanghai Richina Corporation, Ltd. has had an especially poor environmental record.   From 2004 to 2009, Richina received repeated complaints from local residents about the fumes from its wastewater treatment facilities and, for six years running, was under continual investigation by the local environmental protection bureau. The foul odor, which came to be known as the “Richina Aroma”, became a nightmare for residents. Ongoing investigations by the local environmental protection bureau and protests from the community, however, failed to bring about fundamental change. Relations between Richina and the community were strained and hostile.

Long-term efforts by the Green Choice Alliance (绿色选择联盟), a coalition of 34 environmental NGOs, to publicize the problem, and to pressure and engage the company have forced Richina to respond. On September 23, 2009, Richina hosted its very first open house day under the initiative of the newly appointed American CEO and in cooperation with the community. Neighborhood representatives were invited to tour the factory, take part in a dialogue, and discuss possible remedies. Richina’s CEO also gave his personal cell phone number to residents so they could call with  complaints and feedback at any time. In the future, Richina plans to hold periodic open houses to facilitate communication.

Given the long history of animosity between Richina and the community, trust is still lacking. Even when community representatives detected the “Richina Aroma” in the air in the evening, they were still afraid to enter the factory to confirm their suspicions. It was not until April 2010 that Richina finally accepted a third party audit to independently verify environmental compliance. On April 19-20, a special team of environmental inspectors did a two-day audit of the treatment process for exhaust fumes.

In its capacity as a third party, the Green Choice Alliance selected a standard set of criteria to evaluate Richina.  These included their  response to past violations, the presence of a sophisticated environmental management system and pollution treatment capacity.  The members of the audit team came from the environmental technology consulting firm AECOM. Even more remarkable, community representatives, the Shanghai branch of Friends of Nature (自然之友) and IPE, were also invited to participate in and supervise the entire audit process.

“The purpose of our work is to safeguard the community’s environmental rights,” said Ma Jun, IPE’s director. “When NGO staff and community representatives visited the factory, they did not just take a look around; they were there to supervise the audit process and had a the rare opportunity to identify the source of their problems.” Ma also added that, in contrast to past meetings that have been undermined by mutual distrust, a third-party  audit shed light on Richina’s business practices and showed that communication between polluting enterprises and the community was possible.

Residents learned a valuable lesson from an incident that happened on the 20th. Some residents had complained that the water in the neighboring river had turned black from Richina’s wastewater. In response to these claims, residents conducted a follow-up survey and discovered that much of the polluted water came from a pipe that discharged directly into the river. The inspection team immediately demanded an explanation from Richina and at the same time, reported the incident to the Baoshan District environmental protection bureau. An hour later, the bureau’s environmental monitoring team arrived on the scene and, after confirming that the pipe was a municipal waste pipe, contacted the city water bureau about repairs. On July 15, the inspection team conducted a further on-site investigation and, through excavation and tracing techniques, confirmed that Richina’s main drainage pipe was not connected to the municipal pipeline and that Richina was not responsible for the incident.

On October 21, Friends of Nature and IPE jointly issued an audit report detailing: Richina’s pollution violations and penalties; documentation of the third party audit process and findings; areas for improvement identified by the audit; reports on the situation after the requested improvements were made; photos of the scene; government appraisals; feedback provided by Richina; and internal monitoring reports on the fumes.

The third-party audit process spurred Richina to action.  “Although the problem was not entirely fixed, as there are still fumes, feedback from residents has been more positive and their attitude has been calmer,” Wang Jingjing, IPE’s deputy director said.

Trust however cannot be rebuilt overnight. Before Richina agreed to third-party inspections, NGOs and the community had been trying to hold the company accountable for quite some time. Local residents and the Shanghai branch of Friends of Nature had filed complaints with the environmental protection bureau, notified the media, and even attempted to bring a lawsuit that was later rejected by the court. In July and August of 2010, the Green Choice Alliance even sent a letter to Richina’s customer, the American shoe company Timberland, but received no response.

An article published by the international media, marked a turning point. On August 17, the South China Morning Post reported on Richina’s environmental record, and, on the 18th, Richina sent a letter to IPE, opening the lines of communication. The South China Morning Post article created a domino effect which put pressure on Timberland. As an important customer of Richina, Timberland was worried about its reputation and the possibility that negative coverage of Richina in the English-language press would affect consumer preferences.  The concerns raised by Timberland pushed Richina to open a dialogue with Green Choice Alliance.

“The Richina case highlights the progress that has been made in incorporating meaningful community involvement.  In no small part, the Shanghai branch of Friends of Nature is responsible for this accomplishment,” said Ma Jun. “As an independent third party, we (NGOs) cooperate with the community and heip defend their environmental rights. The central actor should be the community, and when we are pushing for a result, we need to be respectful of the community’s desires and their realities.”

“The Shanghai branch of Friends of Nature had several environmental lawyers working on this case. Their work was at times as good as services rendered by a professional consulting company,” said Ma Jun. Local partners demonstrated their initiative in other ways as well. When Richina failed to disclose that the Shanghai environmental protection bureau had categorized the company as a “black enterprise” in 2009, a fact revealed on the EPB website on June 10, 2010, the Shanghai branch of Friends of Nature successfully petitioned the Shanghai government to release more information.

In the end, while the audit report approvingly cited Richina’s  communication with the public, it also pointed to the company’s efforts to conceal its pollution. In addition, Richang was unable to furnish a satisfactory explanation for why it was deemed a “black enterprise” in 2010 by the city environmental protection bureau. In response, the members of the Green Choice Alliance decided to temporarily keep Richina on the air pollution map.

In the Richina case, Green Choice Alliance members and the community played a critical role. Moreover, the media’s role as a catalyst highlights the need for local NGOs to utilize international methods to expand their reach in this era of global supply chain management. Ma Jun said that the media were central in amplifying the efforts of the Green Choice Alliance. Given the limitations and risks of social activism, it is impossible to influence companies without media coverage. When IPE collects data, it uses media citations of official data as clues.  Media reports are also critical to efforts to expose corporate behavior and push for change.

Indirectly influencing the government[3]

In Ma Jun’s opinion, Richina’s behavior showcases positive interaction between businesses and the community at a time when more and more corporations are changing how they act. Experiences of two of Wal-mart’s suppliers, Han Jiang Dafu Footwear (涵江大福鞋业)and Putian Hanjiang Shoes (莆田涵江鞋业), adds another layer to the story. Ma is often asked, “You NGOs always pressure our companies. Can’t you also push local governments to do some thing?”

In 2006, IPE added the two companies to its pollution map after the Putian City environmental protection bureau put them on a list of enterprises exceeding wastewater and exhaust emission limits. Since 2008, Wal-Mart has been using IPE’s pollution map database to monitor their suppliers’ environmental compliance. Upon discovering that two suppliers were on the air pollution map, Wal-Mart asked the companies to take corrective measures, and publicized their request through the pollution database.

Pressure from Wal-Mart spurred the two companies to look for a solution. They found that the Hanjiang District sewage treatment plant was less than 600-700 meters away from the closest municipal sewage pipe. Since extending the municipal pipeline network to the factory grounds was a way to solve the problem of excessive emissions, they reported this information to the government and submitted an application requesting the government to lay additional pipeline.

“The pollution problem has not been solved, although both companies have paid fines for exceeding pollution standards. International customers now say they will stop their orders if environmental standards are not met, which would be a huge blow to exporters,” Ma said.  According to the Law on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution [the report says that] you [the government] are responsible for infrastructure.” As a result of local government improvements to the municipal pipe network, which now takes in 600 tons of sewage from the two companies each day, the companies were able to meet emissions standards. Not only did the companies save more than 80 million RMB that it would have cost to construct wastewater facilities, the new pipeline network also benefited other enterprises along the line.

“In the past, the government paid the most attention to the “three accesses, one flat” objective (ネヘィメサニス) [for a construction site to have access to water, electricity, and roads, as well as level ground, before a project was begun] rather than improving environmental infrastructure. It was difficult to influence the government and sewage was discharged anywhere. But this chain of events created a remarkable turnaround,” said Ma. He speculated that because government needs businesses to sustain the economy and provide jobs, it also takes their environmental demands seriously. Public pressure on businesses like Wal-mart was passed onto their suppliers and even the local government, producing miraculous results.  [Editor’s Note: The point of this section about “indirectly influencing government” is that environmental NGOs like IPE can pressure local governments to clean up their environmental record by putting pressure on international companies and their suppliers working in that locality.]

A Situational Strategy

According to Ma, given current constraints on large-scale public mobilization, the Green Choice Alliance decided to adopt an elite-based strategy different from Western consumer movements.  The idea was to select enterprises to work with that could eventually serve as model cases. Starting with larger enterprises also made it easier to get others on board, expand coverage and increase impact.  [Editor’s Note: An “elite-based” strategy here is one that relies on a few actors, rather than mass mobilization, to achieve results.]

Another strategy is exploiting situations to get the biggest impact   For example, an announcement of an “environmental blacklist” of special festive items was issued on the eve of the 2010 Spring Festival when it was likely to get the most public attention.

Action directed at the IT industry in 2010 mainly focused on concerns over heavy metal pollution after many people, most of them children, were poisoned in 2009. When IPE went through their database, they found that many of the violating companies identified by authorities were suppliers to the IT industry.

“IT sounds like it would be a non-polluting industry, almost like a virtual industry, but the industry’s heavy metal pollution is rarely mentioned.  In fact, the production of computer hardware creates very serious pollution. So we approached the heavy metal problem from this angle.  Strategically, we were taking advantage of the situation,” Ma Jun said.

The basis for this strategy is comprehensive data gathering and collecting as much public, government data as possible on companies that have broken the law and exceeded emissions standards.  The Green Choice Alliance will then be in a position to select companies to target.  In the first half of 2011, the Green Choice Alliance plans to continue focusing its efforts on the IT industry and to compile a list of major environmental issues for public release.


[1] For more about the Alliance and its members, see http://www.ipe.org.cn/alliance/gca.aspx.
[2] The case studies can be found on IPE’s website at http://www.ipe.org.cn/alliance/cases.aspx.
[3] The Chinese phrase “geshan daniu” refers to a martial arts strategy of attacking a person indirectly by attacking someone associated with that person.
从对抗到对话
中国发展简报2010冬季刊第48卷
在“有幸”被列入公众环境研究中心的空气污染数据库的众多企业中,上海富国皮革有限公司(以下简称“富国皮革”)可谓“劣迹斑斑”。2004-2009年,富国皮革多次受到当地居民投诉,被当地环保部门连续6年查处。其废水处理过程中经常排出的恶臭气味,被周边居民称为“富国味”,多年来一直是居民们的噩梦。政府环保部门的查处和社区的持续抗议,无法撼动富国皮革做出根本性改变。工厂的高墙大院,锁不住深深的矛盾和裂痕,双方一直处在隔阂、对立和对抗之中。
经过长时间的曝光、施压、谈判协商,由34家环保NGO组成的绿色选择联盟终于迫使富国皮革打开了大门。2009年9月23日,在富国新上任的CEO,美国人Bob的推动下,富国皮革和社区共同迎来了第一个社区开放日活动。富国皮革邀请居民代表参观工厂、进行对话交流,讨论整改措施。Bob还公开了自己的手机号码,随时接受居民投诉和情况反映。社区开放日活动在未来将作为一种机制,不定期举办。
但双方对立得久了,相互的信任还很有限,晚上闻到“富国味”,社区代表还是不敢走进工厂去看。直到2010年4月,富国皮革终于接受了名为第三方审核的环境核查机制,以期为自身的环境守法状况做一个独立证明。19~20日,一队特殊的环境核查人员进入了富国皮革,对废气管理情况进行了为期两天的审核和勘查。
这项由绿色选择联盟操作的第三方审核的标准“套餐”,包括审核企业过往的违规记录是否得到整改,企业是否具备一整套成熟的环境管理体系,企业是否具备污染处理能力三个方面。审核员来自环境专业技术咨询公司——AECOM公司,更为特别的是,社区居民代表、环境NGO自然之友上海小组和公众环境研究中心也应邀参与、监督审核的全过程。
“我们工作的目的是要维护社区的环境权益,社区代表能和NGO一起进入厂区,不只是参观一下,而是监督审核,把困扰他们的污染源一个个看过来,这样细致的梳理机会是难得的。” 公众环境研究中心主任马军说,相比此前有过的居民与污染方各执己见、互不信任的交流会,第三方审核打开了富国皮革紧闭的大门,使人们看到了污染企业和社区进行实质性沟通的可能。
一段耐人寻味的插曲发生在20日的居民走访环节。有居民反映“富国皮革乱排废水,旁边的河都成黑色的了。”应走访组要求,该居民带路进行了跟踪调查,发现大量褐色废水从一个管道井破口直接排到小河沟中。审核组成员当即要求富国皮革进行说明,并向宝山区环保局举报。一小时后,环保局的环保监察支队赶到现场,证实这是市政废水管,并且联系水务部门当场修复。为调查核实富国皮革的总排水管是否与市政管线连通,乱排废水是否与富国有关,7月15日,审核组又进行现场调查,通过土方开挖和示踪调查法,确认与富国无关(AECOM,”关于在富国废气审核时,发现废水排放事件及后续调查记录[A]”上海富国皮革有限公司审核情况说明与结论[R]”, 自然之友,公众环境研究中心,2010-10-21) 。
10月21日,自然之友和公众环境研究中心共同发布了系统、专业的审核报告,将相关信息一一呈现:富国皮革污染和受到处罚的记录、第三方核查的过程记录及相关发现、审核前的整改情况、审核识别的待改进问题,以及之后的整改情况等等,并附有照片说明和相关的政府评价文件、富国皮革的反馈以及工厂内部的臭气监测文件。
看得出,第三方审核有力地触动了富国皮革采取措施。“尽管后来问题没有完全杜绝,仍然有味道传出,但居民反馈情况有好转,他们的态度变得相对平和理性。”公众环境研究中心副主任王晶晶说。
实际上,重建信任的过程并非一蹴而就,在富国皮革同意接受第三方审核之前,NGO和社区的抗争由来已久。向环保局投诉、媒体曝光、向法院起诉(未获受理),社区居民和自然之友上海小组穷尽了各种办法。2010年7~8月间,绿色选择联盟联名写信给富国皮革的采购商——美国最成功的鞋业公司天伯伦(Timberland),也石沉大海。
转机最后来自国际媒体的一篇报道。8月17日英文媒体《南华早报》对此进行了报道,18日富国皮革就发信和公众环境研究中心沟通,多米诺骨牌效应最终显现:《南华早报》的报道在海外对品牌商天伯伦产生了压力。天伯伦作为富国皮革的大客户,爱惜市场名声,很在意英文媒体在西方市场上搅动起的消费者选择的漩涡,它发出的言论,促使富国皮革回到了与绿色选择的对话桌上。
“上海富国的案例凸显了一个很大的进展,社区真正参与进来,这在很大程度上与自然之友上海小组在这次事件中的定位和立场有关。我们是作为独立第三方去配合社区、协助社区维护环境权益,社区应该是主体,我们(NGO)在推动的时候,需要尊重他们的诉求和现实的感受。”言谈中,马军对自然之友上海小组充满赞同和敬重。
“自然之友上海小组有好几位环境律师介入这起案例,他们熟悉环境法,在参与企业的合法性和合规性审核方面,有时候细致的程度完全不亚于专业咨询公司。”马军说,2010年6月10日,上海市环保局网站信息显示,富国皮革2009年度环境行为被评级为“黑色企业”,但富国皮革在审核过程中未能如实提供信息。自然之友上海小组主动向地方政府申请信息公开,获得了详情,体现了地方伙伴的能动性和行动力。
最终,审核报告除对企业敞开大门与公众进行交流表示赞赏和肯定外,也指出富国对监测超标情况有隐瞒行为,而且2010年被市环保局评为“黑色企业”,又未能做出合理的解释,经绿色选择联盟的所有成员组织共同决定,将富国皮革的污染记录仍暂时保留在空气污染地图中,不予撤除(上海富国皮革有限公司审核情况说明与结论[R],自然之友,公众环境研究中心,2010-10-21)。
富国皮革的案例,体现了联盟地方成员和社区的介入在事件推进中所扮演的角色。而外媒所起的催化作用,表明在全球化时代的供应链管理中,本土NGO需要借鉴国际化的渠道和手段去延伸自己的触角。马军说,媒体对绿色选择联盟起到了核心的放大器作用。由于是以信息为手段开展项目,在社会动员手段非常有限而且风险很大的环境下,没有媒体的报道和推广就不可能影响到这么多企业。公众环境研究中心收集数据时,也会将媒体对官方数据的引述作为线索,之后的曝光和推动企业整改的活动也要通过媒体报道。
“隔山打牛”影响政府   
在马军看来,在众多企业行为发生转变的案例中,上海富国皮革体现了企业和社区开始的良性互动,而沃尔玛的供应商——福建莆田两家鞋业公司的故事又隐含着另外一层意义。常常有人问马军:“你们NGO总是压我们企业,你们能不能也推动地方政府做一些事情?” 后来,马军在涵江大福鞋业和莆田涵江鞋业这两家公司那里找到了答案。
由于两家公司被莆田市环保局列入2006年废水废气超标企业名单,公众环境研究中心据此将他们列入了空气污染地图。2008年以来,沃尔玛在使用污染地图数据库进行供货商环境行为检索过程中发现了这一事实,要求两家企业采取整改措施,并通过数据库进行公示。
来自沃尔玛的压力促使两家企业认真寻求解决方案。他们发现,涵江区的污水处理厂的管网与最近的污水管接口尚有600~700米距离,根治超标排放的办法是政府的管网铺设到厂。于是向政府打报告,提出申请要求政府铺设管道。
 “两家企业说一直有交超标排污费,但污染没有解决,而现在国际客户说不能达标就停订单,将对出口企业构成巨大打击。根据水污染防治法,你们有责任完善基础设施。”马军转述这两家企业给政府报告的内容。结果,当地政府完善了市政管网,两家工厂一天600吨生活污水全部纳管,排放达标,还避免了80多万生活污水设施建设成本。此举还惠及沿线的企业,产生了连带效益。
 “过去政府‘三通一平’,但并不重视完善环保基础设施,生活污水乱排的情况比比皆是,原始的推动力很难影响到政府。但透过这样的链条一传,作用力就变了。”马军分析,因为政府在乎企业对拉动地方经济和就业的作用,也就在乎企业在环保方面的诉求。从公众和NGO到作为企业的沃尔玛,再到供应商,最后是当地政府,压力经过层层传递,发生了“神奇”的效果。
借势的策略  
正如马军在采访中所提到的,由于目前大规模进行公众动员的社会基础和所处环境的限制,绿色选择联盟选择了一条相对比较精英化的道路,与西方的消费者运动有较大区别。从策略上,绿色选择联盟在针对企业进行倡导的行动中,会选择能够形成示范的案例,从大型企业入手,以便撬动更多的相关企业,争取扩大覆盖面,对行业产生影响。
另外一个策略是借势。例如2010年春节前夕发动的年货环保黑名单项目,符合春节的公众消费习惯,容易吸引关注。而2010年针对IT行业的行动,则主要是源自对重金属污染的关注,因为2009年有大量的民众,大部分是儿童被毒害,公众环境研究中心在梳理数据库的时候发现,很多企业被官方认定为重金属超标违规,其中又有相当一批是IT产业的供应商。
“IT产业听起来像个无烟产业,像个虚拟产业,这个产业的重金属污染问题很少被提及,但实际上在硬件的生产过程中污染是相当严重的,所以我们从这个地方切入去解决重金属的问题,从策略上来讲是借势而为。”马军说。
但借势而为的基础是全面的数据收集,尽可能将政府公布的所有超标违规记录收入数据库,这样在选择具体针对的企业时,才能做到有备而来,游刃有余。绿色选择联盟的计划是在2011年上半年继续推动IT行业,另外还列出了涉及重大环境问题的备选名单,视具体的情况推出。
资料:马军,张智康,王晶晶,阮清鸳, 绿化中国的供应链:在华供应商改进环境表现的实践经验[R], 公众环境研究中心,世界自然研究所,2010.

CDB Editor

Translated by Katie Xiao

Reviewed by Rachel Stern

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