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Greenpeace: Charitable status decision

By Melissa Gibson - December 2018

The recent decision by the Independent Charities Registration Board (“the Board”) that Greenpeace does not qualify for charitable status provides further guidance for charities regarding political purposes, ancillary purposes, and illegal purposes.

Greenpeace background

The stated purposes of Greenpeace include to:

  • Promote interconnectivity between humans and the planet;
  • Promote the protection of the environment (including promotion of elimination of all weapons of mass destruction);
  • Identify, research and monitor issues affecting these purposes;
  • Develop public awareness;
  • Promote education on environmental issues;
  • Co-operate with organisations with similar objects to Greenpeace; and
  • Promote the adoption of legislation which further the above.  This was amended to be clearly ancillary to the other stated purposes.

These purposes are capable of being charitable, however the question for the Board was how the end goals were furthered by Greenpeace.

Charitable purpose to protect the environment

It was considered that Greenpeace largely promoted personal views on environmental issues.  It is not possible to say whether the views promoted are of benefit to the public in the way the law recognises is charitable.  As public benefit cannot be found, Greenpeace’s purpose cannot be held to be charitable.

Greenpeace’s purpose could still be considered charitable if the non-charitable purpose, of advocating for the protection of the environment, is merely ancillary to an identified charitable purpose.  The Board considered that the primary focus of Greenpeace’s activities has been promoting its point of view on environmental issues, thus cannot be considered ancillary to an identified charitable purpose.

Charitable purpose to advance education

The test in Re Collier [1998] 1 NZLR 81 (HC) is that for research to qualify as educational it must:

  • Convey a public benefit in that it somehow assists the training of mind or advances research;
  • Not amount to propaganda or cause under the guise of education; and
  • Reach some minimum standard.

The Board considered that to advance education, information must be presented in a balanced, objective and neutral manner so that the reader can form a view for themselves.  There can be no intention to persuade the public to a particular point of view.  Although some of Greenpeace’s reports are structured as research, the reports lack an independent and objective starting point in their analysis.  It was considered that Greenpeace’s reports seek to promote their particular point of view on environmental issues rather than to educate. 

Charitable purpose to promote peace

The Board considered that Greenpeace’s activities in this area amounted to promoting its own particular points of view, thus it was not possible to confer public benefit and the purposes could not be considered charitable.  Further, the stated purpose to promote peace is expressed as a primary purpose that can be carried out independently from all other purposes, and thus is not merely ancillary to an identified charitable purpose.

Illegal purpose

The Board identified eight instances from 2011-2017 where there were activities that may have involved illegality carried out by Greenpeace’s members in New Zealand, including unlawfully being on property, trespass, resisting police, obstructing a public way, bill sticking, and disturbing meetings.  The Board noted that annual training included training for specialist climb and boat teams, which suggests that Greenpeace authorises and directly coordinates illegal activities such as trespass on ships and buildings.  For this reason, it was found that Greenpeace’s illegal activities form part of a pattern of behaviour and are not isolated breaches.  Taking into account the above, the Board found that Greenpeace has an illegal non-charitable purpose that disqualifies it from registration.

Decision

The Board considered that Greenpeace had an independent purpose to advocate its own particular views on environmental issues and peace/weapons that could not be sufficiently determined to be for the public benefit in a way previously accepted as charitable by the Courts.  Greenpeace also had an illegal purpose that disqualified it from being a registered charity. 

The Board decided that Greenpeace does not qualify for registration as a charitable entity because it is not established for exclusively charitable purposes.

Learnings

Advocacy will not be considered a charitable purpose where it is promoting a particular view and is not ancillary to a main charitable purpose, in other words if advocacy is a main purpose of an organisation.  Further, a purpose will not be considered charitable through the advancement of education where information is merely collated from other areas or does not provide a complete factual view.  Involvement in illegal activity, even where remote, is likely to cause the automatic failure of the application for charitable status.  These are all important factors to keep in mind when applying for registration as a charity or when considering the activities of a registered charity.

Melissa acknowledges the assistance of Kaylee Bird in preparing this article.

Melissa is a Director in our Asset Planning Team, specialising in Charities and Not for Profits, and can be contacted on
07 958 7440.