Transparency International and the Greenwashing of Siemens

You know that Siemens is on a greenwashing campaign when it starts taking out full-page color ads in liberal publications like the Nation Magazine, as it did in the current issue with an ad for its traffic management system.

Transparency International should know about greenwashing campaigns.

It’s the world’s premiere anti-corruption organization. It’s been funded primarily by governmental organizations. But governments are cutting back, most recently Australia, which whacked about $4 million from Transparency International’s 2014 budget.

 As we reported earlier this year, Transparency International wants Siemens to fill the void.

 Last year, the group filed an application to Siemens for millions of dollars in funding.

 In September 2013, Jana Mittermaier, the head of TI’s Brussels office, left to join Siemens Integrity Initiative — which was established under a settlement with the World Bank over corruption allegations in July 2009.

According to Siemens, the initiative “supports organizations and projects around the world that fight corruption and fraud through collective action, education and training.”

The problem for Transparency International is that it’s own due diligence procedures prohibit taking money from corporations that want to greenwash their reputations.

Corporate Crime Reporter has obtained an internal Transparency International document titled Private-Sector Donors Approval and Due Diligence Processes.

And it clearly prohibits any association with a corporation that is using Transparency International to “greenwash the company’s performance.”

“If any corporate donor is accused of having been involved in corruption, the donor can expect no protection from TI,” according to the document. “TI would not accept a donation from a company that was found to have engaged in corruption unless the company could demonstrate that this was a violation of the company’s policies, and that breach of these policies was being addressed in an appropriate manner.”

The document also says that the group “must not risk jeopardizing its reputation for honesty, openness and integrity. Its reputation could be compromised if TI-S (or a National Chapter) received funding from sources which were perceived to be pursuing activities inconsistent with TI’s mission.”

Transparency International’s mission includes these core values: transparency, accountability, integrity, solidarity, courage, justice and democracy.

The group’s vision?  “A world in which government, politics, business, civil society and the daily lives of people are free of corruption.”

In many countries, Siemens does not act with integrity and is not free from corruption.

Siemens pled guilty in 2008 to bribery charges and paid more than $1.6 billion in penalties. Siemens was implicated in corruption in Greece, Norway, Iraq, Vietnam, Italy, Israel, Argentina, Venezuela, China and Russia.

And Siemens admits in its most recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that there are ongoing and recent corruption investigations into Siemens activities in Kuwait, Central Asia, the Caribbean, Brazil, Argentina, Greece, Switzerland, Austria, Venezuela, South Africa, Thailand, and Bangladesh — as well as at the Inter-American Development Bank and  European Investment Bank.

And Siemens reports that “additional criminal or civil sanctions could be brought against the company itself or against certain of its employees in connection with possible violations of law. In addition, the scope of pending investigations may be expanded and new investigations commenced.”

Transparency International refused to make public the due diligence report it did on Siemens before applying to company for millions in funding.

Siemens spokesperson Virginie Coulloudon said that the application to Siemens did not violate the group’s due diligence policy.

Coulloudon said that due diligence was done on Siemens and that the board of directors agreed with the analysis.

Transparency International’s managing director Cobus de Swardt told Corporate Crime Reporter that there’s a difference between applying to Siemens and applying to the Siemens Integrity Initiative.

“We did not file an application to Siemens, we applied to the Siemens Integrity Initiative. There’s a difference. This fund was set up as a settlement with the World Bank,” de Swardt said. “We have not applied to Siemens.”

(In fact, the Siemens Integrity Initiative is a project Siemens. Siemens decides who gets the money — which is “funds provided by Siemens.”)

“The World Bank ordered Siemens to put $100 million into civil society fighting corruption,” de Swardt said.

Coulloudon said that the Siemens initiative “was created following the past wrongdoings of Siemens to tackle anti-corruption reforms.”

“The World Bank has a veto power on its decisions,” Coulloudon said.

When asked whether the group’s application to the Siemens Integrity Initiative fund was an exception to the Transparency International due diligence policy, Coulloudon called it “exceptional.”

Cobus de Swardt said while his group probably would not have applied directly to Siemens for the funding, applying to the Siemens Integrity Initiative was a different matter.

“If I believed for a moment that this was a greenwashing of Siemens’ activities, I would have strongly argued that nobody in civil society should take a penny from this fund and the $100 million should just sit there,” de Swardt said. “The day that Transparency International says we will lower our standards to take money, I will no longer be in this job. Our integrity is not for sale.”

de Swardt admitted that applying for money from Siemens Integrity Initiative was a controversial decision within Transparency International’s ranks.

And it still is.

“Transparency International is saying that because the money is coming from an anti-corruption fund, then it’s okay to take it,” said one of the insiders not happy with the decision. This insider asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. “This is their rationale. But it is still Siemens’ money — money from a corrupt company.”

“Transparency InternationaI’s most important, most protected assets are its reputation and credibility,” this person told Corporate Crime Reporter. “This is what opens doors at the UN, with presidents and prime ministers around the world, at Parliaments around the world. TI’s reputation and credibility are just as important — if not more important — than the messages and expertise that it delivers.”

“Historically, TI has excruciatingly deliberated any type of collaboration before partnering with any organisation or company. Partnerships have been rejected on grounds much less serious than the kind of corruption that Siemens has been accused of committing. The motto at TI has always been, ‘Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.’”

“TI’s reputation and credibility are also what opens the door to funding. Whatever kind of financial trouble TI is in, it is literally beyond belief that TI would take money from Siemens — and ‘work with’ Siemens on anti-corruption — even as this company continues to be investigated by prosecutors around the world.”

“It seems as though TI is willing to drop its own standards in order to justify securing more funding. Ironically, this is the exact same rationale that organisations and companies use when they commit corruption — whatever brings in money is justifiable.”

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