Does Canon support shooting whales?

Feature Story - 2008-01-28
Here at Greenpeace, we support shooting whales... with cameras. But we're surprised to learn that Canon, the world's number one digital camera producer, isn't willing to condemn using harpoons -- despite their high-profile advertising and sponsorship programmes dedicated to wildlife and endangered species. We wrote to Canon headquarters in Japan asking their CEO to speak out against Japan's whaling programme. But Canon declined to take a stand against the killing of thousands of whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Is this really wildlife as Canon sees it?

If you want to shoot a whale - use a CANON. …But only if Canon tells the whalers to lose the harpoons

Around the world, Canon cameras shoot whales on whale-watching expeditions but in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, many whales are shot instead with exploding harpoons. Thousands of whales, including endangered fin whales, have been killed here under the guise of "scientific research" ever since the global moratorium on whaling came into force in 1986. Whale meat from the hunt is sold to a tiny minority of Japanese people who eat whale meat -- the rest is turned into dog food or added to the stockpile of around 4,000 tonnes of unsold meat.  Whales can be studied without killing them: the cloak of "science" merely allows a few Japanese bureaucrats to maintain an unprofitable whale meat industry at the expense of Japanese taxpayers. Yet this scandal continues because there is not enough domestic pressure in Japan to end it.

Mister Fujio Mitarai, the CEO of Canon Japan, is a businessman, a taxpayer, and the leader of a company that endorses wildlife conservation. He is also the head of the Nippon Keidanren (Japanese Business Federation). This is the highest position to which a CEO can aspire in the Japanese business world and it means having the ear of the Prime Minister. His voice could help put an end to a decades-old scientific hoax and subsidy scandal, and add weight to Canon's claims to environmental concern by actually saving the whales that advertise Canon cameras. So we asked him to speak out against whaling within Japanese society by signing the following statement to clarify Canon's position:

"Canon is committed to building a better world for future generations, and does not support the hunting of endangered or threatened species with anything other than a camera. Canon believes the lethal whaling research programme in the Southern Ocean should be ended, and replaced with a non-lethal research programme."

Unfortunately, Canon has so far refused our request, saying "We fully recognise the importance of protecting endangered wildlife. We have continuously put our advertisements featuring "endangered species" in National Geographic since 1981."

However, their letter concluded, "scientific opinion about research whaling varies... we will not sign the statement you have sent us."

But the whales need a powerful domestic ally in Japan -- so now we're asking our supporters (and especially Canon customers) to urge him to reconsider, and express his disapproval of lethal research whaling. If Japan wants to do research, it can do so with cameras and other non-lethal means - just as we have been doing through our Great Whale Trail project, which uses satellite tracking, photo identification and skin biopsies.

To preserve our independence, we do not accept corporate donations. Greenpeace is not sponsored by Canon, never has been, and never will be.  We do use Canon cameras - there are nine of them aboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza at the moment, one of them in the hands of Leandra, our on-board scientist doing non-lethal research. All were professional or personal purchases. We are not calling for a boycott on Canon products -- they are not directly involved in whaling -- we are challenging Canon to match word to deed, and to take action for the whales, in the same way we seek to inspire individuals to take action for a better world.

Why Canon?

Canon has built a great deal of its brand's reputation for environmental concern through their sponsorship of environmental causes, including the conservation of endangered species.  Canon runs a popular series of ads in National Geographic Magazine entitled  "Wildlife as Canon sees it" and supports wildlife advocacy groups around the world with donations, equipment, and expertise.

We believe that when a corporation draws income and brand value from association with environmental causes, they have a responsibility to speak out on those issues.  We trust that most of the good folks at Canon, as one of the world's premier "wildlife brands," share our concern that wildlife in general, and whales in particular, should not die unnecessarily  for "science."

Canon says on its website that it wants to "hand over a beautiful Earth for future generations".

A corporation which paints itself as a defender of wildlife and one concerned about endangered species and the natural world ought to do more than express those values in images, advertisements, and sponsorships: they need to use their immense power to speak out and act for a better world.

Every day, supporters ask: Why no boycott?

Greenpeace does not endorse a general boycott of Japanese products. We know that the majority of Japanese people do not actually support whaling, and we are anti-whaling, not anti-Japanese.  We believe such a boycott would be difficult to focus, harm the wrong people, and be ineffective in stopping whaling.

Yet we also know there are deep sentiments among our supporters to participate in such a boycott - they write to us literally every day during the whaling season either announcing they have launched their own boycott or wanting to know why Greenpeace doesn't do the same.  Even in the absence of an organised boycott, whaling harms Japan's image with potential customers.

Here's an example.

A few months ago, we heard from a woman who wrote to Toyota in her home country, New Zealand, to say she was not going to replace her Prius with a new one, because Toyota, as a Japanese car company, had an implicit association with Japan's whaling programme.  Toyota New Zealand wrote back to her to say "Please be assured that Toyota New Zealand and Toyota Motor Corporation Japan do not condone whaling for commercial, scientific or research purposes."  While Toyota Japan later distanced themselves from this position, it demonstrates how much of a liability whaling can be for Japanese corporations operating in the West.

When we looked at what other Japanese corporations ought to be enlisted to  speak out domestically against whaling, Canon leapt out as an obvious choice.

Whaling: more trouble than it's worth

Some Japanese officials  are already speaking out about whaling being a diplomatic liability. The Japanese decision, since put on hold, to add humpback whales to the list of species targeted in the whale hunt led to formal complaints from several of Japan's allies. The Los Angeles Times quoted one official, who asked to remain anonymous, as saying "[Whaling] is doing no good for Japanese diplomacy. Many people are saying Japan is not balancing its interests, with a vocal minority dictating a course that risks some of our most cherished relationships."

As head of the Japanese Business Federation, Mister Mitarai has a responsibility not just for Canon's own welfare, but also for the collective well-being of Japanese businesses at home and abroad -- where whaling is a liability for Japanese brands and their profitability.

If you think Mister Mitarai should actively defend whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary you can write to him by clicking on the link below.

Take action

Tell the CEO of Canon that he shouldn't support the needless killing of threatend whales for science.


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