E-mail blitz 'last chance' for Disney


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Posted by on June 21, 2005 at 19:18:59:

Hong Kong Disneyland has several times changed its policy on shark's fin soup, suggesting in late May that it would serve the luxury dish at its fantasy weddings "out of respect for Chinese culture.''

Nearly 1,000 people from around the world, including Disney shareholders and scuba divers, have sent e-mail complaints to the entertainment giant's board of directors to protest against its decision to serve shark's fin soup at its Hong Kong theme park.

Bill Gleason, editor of the Peter Hughes Diving DivEmail electronic newsletter, said Tuesday he had collected the e-mails and sent them on to Disney in book form in a last effort to change the company's stance on using shark fins before concerned consumers launch a global boycott of Disney and its products.

Gleason and Peter Hughes, manager of US-based Peter Hughes Diving, sent the complaints to Disney chief executive Michael Eisner, his replacement Michael Iger and the Disney board of directors on June 17 and June 20.

For more than a month, activists, scuba divers and other concerned people have been pressuring both the Hong Kong government and Disney. There has been little response from Disney, and none from the government, they say.

Conservationists and green groups say that, as the Hong Kong government holds a 57 percent stake in the theme park, it should speak out about issues affecting Disney.

The Standard attempted to contact Stephen Ip, Secretary for Economic Development and Labour, to ask what the government planned to do, but information officer Christine Leong said no one in the department was available to answer questions about Disney.

Secretary for Environment Sarah Liao's office said Monday that it had not read correspondence from Friends of Hoi Ha, a local conservationist group, and would not comment on the issue.

Hughes and Gleason received 1,000 e-mails in two days when they ran a June 3 story about the shark's fin controversy in their diving newsletter.

The e-mails, they say, are part of a campaign that may lead to a global boycott of all things Disney.

``We'd love to be part of something larger, and I think that is the global opportunity,'' said Gleason in an e-mail to The Standard. ``I certainly think there are any number of people worldwide [who] would boycott Disney because of this issue.''

The Disney company has yet to respond to the book of e-mails, said Gleason, but the pair will give the company 10 days before they call for a global boycott.

Some Hong Kong environmentalists are preparing a letter calling for a boycott.

``Our aim is to strike at the heart of the Disney empire and make the doors of [the] Magic Kingdom crumble,'' said Charles Frew, director of Asiatic Marine, a marine-life consultancy firm in Sai Kung.

Disney's public relations manager Esther Wong could not be reached for comment.

Gleason said: ``Disney can use all of the corporate `green-speak' it wishes, but if it really thinks we buy the idea of a responsible [shark] finner, next they'll be introducing us to an honest poacher.''

The Standard's perusal of the 1,000 e-mails confirms that the message is a global one, with e-mails coming from the United States, Iceland, the Netherlands, Canada, Italy and Brazil.

The tone of the messages ranges from anger and sarcasm to outright shock and dismay.

``I am greatly disturbed by Disney's lack of vision and leadership regarding the sale of shark fin soup,'' wrote one consumer.''

One longtime scuba diver noted that sharks had been fished out of many of his favorite dive spots.

Disney has several times changed its policy on shark's fin soup, suggesting in late May that it would serve the expensive dish at its fantasy weddings out of respect for Chinese culture.

Under pressure from local and international green groups in early June, the company then said it would only serve shark's fin soup caught from ``sustainable'' shark fisheries or by responsible fishermen, who use the whole shark. It also said it will serve shark's fin soup at wedding banquets by special request.

Environmental groups, including WWF, complained that Disney could not use ``sustainable'' shark's fin for its soup because there was no such thing. ``There is no regulation of the identity of sharks or their locations,'' said Clarus Chu, a spokesman for WWF.

Fishermen capture sharks, cut off their fins while they are still alive and then throw them into the ocean to drown. Greens say the practice kills 100 million sharks a year. Sharks are slow breeders.

As their numbers diminish, warn greens, their demise will upset the balance of life in the world's oceans. The only precise way to pinpoint shark-fin origin is through DNA testing, according to Chu, something that not everyone can afford or use widely.

``It's very difficult - almost impossible,'' said Chu Tuesday.

``We are asking [Disney] to go for a certified and well-managed fishery. If you can't find it, stop serving the dish altogether, and wait till you can find it. It's simple,'' he said.

Ko Wang, a professor of business at California State University, Fullerton, who studies Disney's corporate strategies, told The Standard that Hong Kong shouldn't expect too much from Disney at first, since the company had also flubbed its entrance into Paris and Tokyo, largely through cultural mistakes.

``As a shareholder, there is not much that a government can do,'' said Wang.

Disney will ``do what it has to do to survive,'' he added.



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