Greenpeace’s Million Dollar Bad Trade Exemplifies Systemic Incompetence

It might come as a surprise that Greenpeace, which likes to portray itself as a scrappy non-profit fighting the good fight on a shoestring budget, employs its own currency traders. That information came to light this week as part of the revelation that one such trader lost $5.2 million on a single bet – the equivalent of approximately 52,000 average annual personal donations.

According to Greenpeace’s press release on the subject, the trader apparently bet the euro would not strengthen against other currencies in 2013. When it did, the trade went south and Greenpeace lost millions. Greenpeace blamed the bad trade on a “rogue employee,” who acted “beyond the limits of their [sic] authority.” But leaked internal documents to The Guardian tell a different story. They show a systemic culture of inadequate risk management and poor corporate governance at Greenpeace, indicating that blame should extend far beyond one individual to the organization as a whole.

A November 2013 strategy document, for example, illustrates widespread problems in Greenpeace’s financial department that dates back years and which senior management knows about:

“[The] international finance function at GPI [Greenpeace International] has faced internal team and management problems for several years and the situation did not improve during 2013 despite efforts and support. This has resulted in errors and sub-standards in the quality of financial systems, information and support provided to the teams, units in GPI and NROs [national reporting offices], and have on occasions adversely affected relationships between GPI and NROs.”

Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor told The Guardian that he isn’t surprised by Greenpeace’s huge trading loss because such poor management is virtually endemic in non-profits: “There’s no culture of accountability [at Greenpeace and non-profits in general]. They call on governments to be accountable but they lack this in so many ways, so in that sense it’s not a surprise.”

These revelations are simply the latest example of Greenpeace’s incompetence. It has a long history of baseless fearmongering and financial missteps. Its own cofounder Patrick Moore has claimed that the organization has eschewed scientific principles in order to further its political ends. It has even lost its tax-exempt status in Canada and New Zealand because of its deemed lack of public benefit.

Such incompetence is starting to show in its revenue streams. Leaked board meeting minutes from earlier this year reveal “reserves are stretched and income is substantially lower than projected.” It looks as though donors are beginning to recognize Greenpeace for what it is: a radical, unscientific, and bungling organization. Losing 52,000 people’s donations certainly won’t help.

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