MAY 1991 - VOLUME 12 - NUMBER 5
N A M E S I N T H E N E W S
Defiantly fighting decptive advertising charges which several states have brought against it, Kellogg Company is filing what company critics call "intimidation" and "harassment" lawsuits designed to stymie regulatory efforts.
Six state attorneys general have charged Kellogg with deceiving consumers in advertisements for three cereals: Special K, which Kellogg claims helps dieters "keep the muscle but loose the fat"; 40+ Bran Flakes, promoted as particularly beneficial for those over 40 years old; and Sugar Frosted Flakes, which Kellogg asserts is as nutritious a snack as an apple or other fruit.
Kellogg has stopped making the alleged deceptive advertising claims, but instead of negotiating settlements with the states, it sued them, arguing that its advertising claims were accurate. The company also filed a slander suit against Texas Assistant Attorney General Stephen Gardner, an outspoken critic of Kellogg's advertising practices. Kellogg objects to this quotation attributed to Gardner in a New York Times article: "Kellogg constantly lies about its products. I don't believe anything Kellogg tells me."
Gardner told Multinational Monitor that the slander suit "only confirms my low opinion of Kellogg." He adds, "I do believe that Kellogg lies about its products to the public. And I do believe that Kellogg has lied to me and to the court on any number of occasions to gain an advantage in the litigation."
Kellogg spokesperson Richard Lovell counters, "We will not allow an arrogant, irresponsible public official to attack our good name without defending ourselves." The company "stands behind its advertising," he adds.
Despite finding evidence showing that Chicago Magnet Wire Corporation (CMW) production concerns outweighed safety concerns and that work conditions were "gray, hazy, murky and noxious," Cook County Criminal Court Judge Earl Strayhorn acquitted CMW and five former and current company executives of reckless conduct and aggravated assault charges in April. The case was the first in which prosecutors have brought aggravated assault charges against a company for allegedly endangering workers by exposing them to toxic fumes in the workplace.
After the longest criminal trial in Illinois history, Strayhorn ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that the workers had been harmed by their exposure to toxic chemicals at CMW, a subsidiary of North American Philips Corporation. During the trial, 64 former and current employees testified to numerous and widespread health problems they experienced and which they associated with the dense smoke, copper and aluminum dust and other fumes present in the CMW plant. They complained of skin rashes, impotence, lung and kidney failure, bursitis, sinusitis, memory loss, deep depression and ulcers.
The prosecution's failure to prove causation — the connection between the defendants' acts and workers' injuries and illnesses — highlights the inadequate scientific understanding of occupational disease, says William Maakestad, a business law professor at the University of Western Illinois. Maakestad says the problem is a "classic dilemma" not only in criminal cases such as the CMW case, but also for workers filing civil cases or workers' compensation claims. "We are still operating most of the states workers' compensation principles by nineteenth century standards in terms of the kinds of injuries [recognized]. It just hasn't kept up with modern chemistry," Maakestad said. "Since federal funds have been pulled back, our research in the area of occupational disease... just hasn't kept up."
North Carolina workers protesting the shutdown of their plant blew the whistle in May on their employer's alleged cover-up of widespread environmental problems.
The workers are publicizing recently uncovered reports showing that the Hamilton Beach/Procter-Silex company, a manufacturer of irons, coffee makers and popcorn poppers and a subsidiary of the Cleveland-based Nacco Industries, Inc., has contaminated the soil and sediment of the plant grounds with high levels of carcinogens. The workers have also learned that the site has been designated as a state high priority Superfund cleanup site, although the company is refusing to take responsibility for the cleanup.
Procter-Silex is closing down its North Carolina plant and moving production to a maquiladora in Juarez, Mexico. About 1,000 workers — mostly minority women — will lose their jobs as a result of the move.
The workers recently sent letters to Nacco board members Frank E. Taplan, a trustee of the Environmental Defense Fund, and John C. Sawhill, the executive director of the Nature Conservancy, asking them "as prominent leader[s] in the environmental community" to guarantee health screening for all the employees and an environmental cleanup before Procter-Silex leaves for Mexico. "Since finding out that our jobs will be eliminated, we have also learned that our long-term health may be in jeopardy from extremely toxic sludge pits located on the site operated by Procter-Silex over the past 28 years," the letter states.
— David Lapp