You may have never heard of Resolute Forest Products, Canada’s largest logging company, but you’re likely to be hearing more about the wayward company in the coming months. Resolute CEO Richard Garneau has earned a reputation as a thin-skinned executive who bullies and threatens his employees, competitors and critics. The parallels between him and Trump are uncanny ― to the point that when he sued my organization (Stand.earth) and Greenpeace ― he hired the law firm that Trump used to threaten the New York Times for publishing his tax returns and which vigorously defended Bill O’Reilly against multiple charges of sexual harassment.
Garneau’s lawsuit against us is pure bully strategy – come up with an outlandish legal strategy that forces your non-profit critics to spend precious resources defending themselves. Not very elegant or admirable, but it’s a $300 million (Canadian) legal threat nevertheless. Just like Trump is thankfully running into the constraints that our democracy provides, Garneau is crashing into the reality of the justice system. This week he got his first surprise, and likely not his last.
Garneau brought the lawsuit against us in one of the most inconvenient places possible – and an area he presumably believed held plenty of sympathy toward logging companies: the Southern District of Georgia. This week the court ruled that the lawsuit should be heard in the Northern District if California, where many of the key staff for both Stand.earth and Greenpeace live and where we both have offices.
We thought this change in venue was unlikely to be granted given that the judge was a fair-minded but conservative Bush appointee and he seemed unlikely to have a lot of sympathy for advocacy groups. His order this week may be an indication of just how ludicrous this case is.
Resolute may try to appeal having their case removed from Southern Georgia to San Francisco, but their hands are tied - the judge has broad discretion to “transfer” a case and once he does so it is extremely hard to reverse. It gives us a great jury pool, a better chance at a more progressive judge, the amazing 9th Circuit Court of Appeals should an appeal occur, and a location that is easy for us to get to.
You might wonder whether the Resolute Board of Directors is paying any attention to the company they bear fiscal and legal responsibility for. Their CEO has presided over a plummeting share price (from over $20 two years ago to under $5 today) and the company has questionable business fundamentals (Resolute made a huge bet on, of all things, the newsprint market among other questionable calls). Despite a faltering business, Garneau appears obsessed with bringing down Stand.earth and Greenpeace. Garneau has spent millions of the company’s funds pursuing what appears to be nothing more than a personal vendetta. Now his already incredibly remote prospects of winning are fading further.
On top of all that, Garneau’s behavior has made many of the big brands that it sells to uncomfortable. Who wants to be known as doing business with a company serially suing non-profits and attacking the First Amendment? As the judge in his ruling stated: the lawsuit claims that we “illegally criticized” Resolute’s clearcut logging practices. Criticism may be illegal in Russia and maybe that’s where Garneau should be pursuing his lawsuit. Dozens of Resolute customers have reduced or eliminated their purchases from the rogue logging company. That seems likely to pick up pace.
Book publishers like Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster are still doing business with Resolute despite the company’s destructive logging and anti-First Amendment problems. They and other big brands will be increasingly faced with choosing between being loyal to a company like Resolute or living up to their values. The choice is clear.
Whether the Resolute Board of Directors ever reels in their increasingly unhinged CEO, the company is in trouble. It is a brand risk to do business with Resolute on multiple levels already. And, Garneau has established himself as a Trumpian CEO who is obsessed with spending company time and money threatening critics instead of focusing on the business he is supposed to be running.
Resolute’s future looks turbulent at best. Sound familiar?