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It's decision time for J.P. Morgan Chase's CEO

By Steven Milloy
web posted March 28, 2005

Living in gated communities may soon become a necessity rather than an option for corporate managers. Social activists are escalating their anti-business campaigns by taking them into management's own backyards -- well, make that front yards.

Last week, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) expanded its jihad against the financial services industry into tony Greenwich, CT -- to the very street where J.P. Morgan Chase's CEO, William Harrison, lives.

RAN activists put up old-fashioned Wild West-type "Wanted" posters featuring Mr. Harrison and calling him "Billy the Kid." The posters criticized the bank for "reckless investment in environmentally and socially destructive projects in dozens of countries" and urged Mr. Harrison's neighbors and friends to "ask him to do the right thing."

Although this may sound like harmless and perhaps even prankish activism, the stakes are much higher than that.

RAN wants to dictate J.P. Morgan Chase's lending policies for the developing world, especially with regard to energy projects and logging. As an extremist group railing against oil, wood, and meat consumption, RAN wants to block lending to projects it claims may contribute to global warming or involve logging in "sensitive" areas. Given RAN's agenda, we can also expect it to oppose loans to ranchers and home builders.

Citigroup and Bank of America ceded control over their lending decisions to RAN in 2004 -- following a similar poster assault near the home of Citigroup Chairman Sanford Weill -- but J.P. Morgan Chase has been a tougher target. Management seemed on the verge of surrender last October, but was distracted by real business, namely its merger with Bank One.

Infuriated by the stalemate, RAN responded by rounding up second graders from Mr. Harrison's hometown in December, and transporting them to J.P. Morgan Chase's Manhattan headquarters to protest the bank during school hours -- a stunt aptly described by some as a "ideological child abuse."

Failing to win concessions that way, RAN is now trying to pressure Mr. Harrison closer to home. The intimidation may be working.

A J.P. Morgan Chase spokesman told the New York Times last week that the bank was "on track for April" in terms of a review of its lending policies.

As we wait and see whether Mr. Harrison caves to RAN's relentless harassment, RAN talks about increasing its house calls on CEOs.

A RAN spokeswoman warned of more campaigns in the neighborhoods where CEOs live - even if the CEOs support environmental causes on their own time. "We can no longer afford the luxury of these titans of Wall Street looking at these issues as a hobby on the side," said the RAN spokeswoman.

RAN isn't the only activist group embracing at-home intimidation.

In 2001, as part of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal's pressure campaign against Burger King, PETA head Ingrid Newkirk began calling the home of Burger King CEO John Dasburg. After months of telephone calls to Mr. Dasburg's wife, Burger King caved to PETA's demands concerning how the company's meat suppliers should manage their livestock. Mr. Dasburg denied being intimidated, saying, "The phone calls and information sent to my wife was just one means of communicating with me."

PETA subsequently went after Cheryl Bachelder, president of fast food purveyor KFC. After phone calls to Bachelder's home failed, PETA dropped leaflets in the mailboxes of Ms. Bachelder's neighbors and threatened to bring a truck with large video screens to her neighborhood to show footage taken from inside a slaughterhouse.

On the eve of the demonstration, Ms. Bachelder called PETA's Ms. Newkirk and said: "Please don't come to my neighborhood. I will come and see you." Though Ms. Bachelder agreed to PETA's demands, KFC's parent Yum! Brands CEO David Novak subsequently pulled out of the agreement, even though PETA also targeted him at home.

Let's hope that J.P. Morgan Chase's Mr. Harrison follows Mr. Novak's solid example.

Not only would Mr. Harrison's appeasement of RAN encourage more attacks on his fellow CEO's by activists, but it's an unconscionable way to make business decisions.

Mr. Harrison should remember that the fates of millions of people are in his hands. The developing world needs financial services from the developed world. RAN would cavalierly deprive the people of struggling nations of these crucial resources and condemn them to perpetual poverty.

What's so socially responsible about that?

Mr. Milloy is an adviser to the Free Enterprise Action Fund and publishes CSRwatch.com. To learn more about RAN’s pressure campaigns against banks and poor people, check out these pages.

Other related essays: (open in a new window)

  • When visions collide by Niger Innis and Paul Driessen (January 3, 2005)
    Niger Innis and Paul Driessen argue that the Rainforest Action Network's real target is the Third World's poor
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