Multinational Monitor

NOV 2004
VOL 25 No. 11


The Political Economy of Immigration Reform: The Corporate Campaign for a U.S. Guest Worker Program
by David Bacon

Freeloaders: Declining Corporate Tax Payments in the Bush Years
by Robert McIntyre and T.D. Coo Nguyen

Advice and No Dissent: Public Health and the Rigged U.S. Trade Advisory System
by Joseph Brenner and Ellen Schaffer

The Ultimate Dumping Ground: Big Utilities Look to Native Lands to House Nuclear Waste
by Winona LaDuke


Chemical Trespass: The Verdict on Dow
an interview with Jack Doyle


Behind the Lines

Bracing for Four More Years

The Front
Ballot Box Victories - The Development Agenda

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


The Front

Ballot Box Victories

No doubt, Corporate America woke up happy on November 3, with Big Business’s chosen candidate ensconced in the White House for another four years.

But the hard-fought U.S. elections were not a clean sweep for big corporations. Apart from the races for individual offices — where Big Business-preferred candidates did well, but not uniformly so — states passed a significant number of referenda that will put a crimp on corporate interests.

“Although asking pundits to look beyond the passage of same-sex marriage bans may feel a little like asking Mrs. Lincoln how the show was, taking a broader look at ballot measure results demonstrates important victories for progressives and contradicts the notion that Bush has a mandate to govern,” says Kristina Wilfore, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

Two of the most important statewide initiatives, designed to lure Democratic-leaning supporters to the polls, passed in Florida and Nevada, requiring a minimum wage increase.

In Florida, voters by a 71-29 percent margin approved a constitutional amendment creating a state minimum wage starting at $6.15 an hour — a dollar above the current federal level. The new minimum wage will automatically increase each year with inflation.

“This is a tremendous victory for Florida’s working families,” says Brian Kettenring of ACORN, which led the grassroots campaign for the minimum wage. “When it takes effect in six months, the new law will raise pay for 300,000 working Floridians making less than $6.15 an hour.” Supporters of the initiative estimate that another 400,000 workers who make slightly more than $6.15 will also see their pay increase.

According to the Brennan Center in New York, which provided legal assistance to the campaign for the Florida minimum wage initiative, Florida now becomes the first sunbelt state to raise its minimum wage above the level of the federal minimum. Twelve other states and the District of Columbia have already raised their minimum wages.

Nevada considered and passed an initiative similar to Florida’s, and passed it by almost as large a margin. By a 68-32 percent margin, Nevada voters also raised their state’s minimum wage to $6.15 and pegged it to inflation. The Nevada measure must be voted on again in 2006 to become law.

In Colorado, a bipartisan coalition succeeded in winning passage of a renewable energy mandate for local utilities. Amendment 37 will require the state’s top utility companies to provide 10 percent of their retail electricity sales from renewable resources by 2015. Seventeen other states have similar requirements. The initiative passed with 53 percent of the vote.

“We know with certainty that wind power is cheaper than coal or gas generated electricity, and as consumers we want to diversify our energy supply and have energy resources that provide cleaner air and cheaper energy,” says Representative Mark Udall, D-Colorado, a leading proponent of the initiative.

Public health initiatives targeting the tobacco industry also fared well. Three states voted for tobacco taxes, with proceeds designated to fund healthcare programs:

  • In Colorado, by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin, voters increased the state cigarette tax by 64 cents to 84 cents per pack. Revenues are to be devoted to smoking prevention and other health-related programs.
  • In Montana, by a 65 percent to 35 percent margin, voters raised the state cigarette tax by $1 to $1.70 per pack and dedicated some of the revenue to health care programs.
  • In Oklahoma, an 80 cent per pack tax hike, to $1.03 per pack, passed 53 percent to 47 percent. The revenue will fund various health-related programs. Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds spent almost $2 million in an attempt to defeat the Oklahoma initiative.

Voters also passed or upheld smokefree workplace laws in communities across the country, including Lincoln, Nebraska; Fargo and West Fargo, North Dakota; Columbus, Ohio; Wauseon, Ohio; Copperas Cove, Texas; and Winooski, Vermont.

Says William Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “Elected officials at all levels should heed the message of the voters, free themselves from the campaign contributions and political influence of the tobacco industry, and support proven measures to reduce tobacco use and protect everyone’s right to breathe clean, smokefree air.”

The Colorado, Montana and Oklahoma tobacco tax increases bring to 38 the number of states that have increased tobacco taxes since January 1, 2002, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. These actions have increased the average state cigarette tax from 43.4 cents to 84 cents per pack.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco voters, by a 55-45 percent margin, passed a referendum blocking the sale of “naming rights” for the city’s publicly owned football stadium.

Corporations did manage to win significant referendum victories at the ballot box, however. Two of their most far-reaching wins came in California.

A business-backed campaign to gut California’s powerful unfair competition law succeeded, winning passage by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin. Among other provisions, the proposition took away a key element of the unfair competition law: the ability of any person to bring suit under the statute, without a requirement of showing that they were directly harmed by the complained-about unfair practice. Corporations poured $15 million into the referendum campaign, outspending opponents 5-to-1.

The unfair competition law has been used to stop misleading advertising of breakfast cereals to children, fraudulent marketing of prescription drugs, dangerously high-levels of lead in stomach medications, deceptive HMO marketing, elder abuse, and the marketing of tobacco to kids, among other notable cases.

Consumer advocates say it will be extremely difficult to bring such cases under the revised statute, and they vow to put the issue back on the ballot.

“$15 million, from the likes of Phillip Morris, Exxon, Tyco, Microsoft and Bank Of America, was spent to deceive the voters about Proposition 64,” said a statement from the consumer advocates at Election Watchdog. “When the public learns the truth, and the protections it lost, it will be ready to go even further to demand accountability from big industries that pollute, defraud consumers and threaten the public health. We will give voters that choice in 2006 to set the record straight and strengthen enforcement of corporate accountability and unfair competition laws.”

In a tighter contest, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and a host of other corporations managed to defeat a California proposition that would have required large employers in the state to provide employees with health insurance. The measure was defeated by a 51 percent to 49 percent vote.

“The defeat of Prop 72 should put an end to proposed employer insurance mandates,” celebrated California Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg. “Real healthcare reform should focus on reducing healthcare costs rather than imposing new costs on only California employers. Voters determined that Prop 72 was clearly the wrong solution. While we all must address the healthcare issue, we cannot place California at a competitive disadvantage with employers in other states.”

— Robert Weissman

A DevelopmentAgenda

In a startling turnaround from the recent trajectory of the organization, the General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO, a specialized, standalone UN agency) decided in October to endorse a proposal to pursue a development agenda.

The decision represents a successful maneuver by developing countries. In advance of the General Assembly, Brazil and Argentina introduced a formal proposal for the establishment of a Development Agenda, in which the development dimension would be incorporated in all the work and in all bodies of the organization.

In addition to Brazil and Argentina, twelve countries — Bolivia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Iran, Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Venezuela — co-sponsored the proposal, eventually to be joined by a thirteenth, Egypt. The proposal and an accompanying decision for a workplan won support on the floor from the Asian and African Groups and by many individual developing countries.

In the final decision, countries agreed that WIPO should hold a series of inter-governmental meetings on the development agenda. It was not stated when the meetings will be held, or how often. However, the first meeting is expected early next year. A report resulting from the meetings is to be prepared for consideration by the General Assembly when it meets in September 2005.

After the adoption of the decision, the Brazilian delegate expressed gratitude to all the other member states for creating a positive and constructive environment in which the discussion was held. “Our document had proposals for action. We would have liked them to be adopted but this was not possible. We believe that the decision taken by all present is that we will hold a number of intergovernmental meetings to discuss the proposals in the document. It is a small but positive step for WIPO, for which we are very grateful.”

But achievement of any agreement at the General Assembly had to overcome the cool reception to the Development Agenda proposal from the United States and other industrialized countries.

The initial proposal from Brazil and Argentina declared that “intellectual property cannot be seen as an end in itself.” Intellectual property protection, the proposal stated, “is a policy instrument the operation of which may, in actual practice, produce benefits as well as costs, which may vary in accordance with a country’s level of development.”

The countries’ proposal warned of dangers in a WIPO-led effort to adopt a Substantive Patent Law Treaty, an agreement which would raise patent standards beyond those required by the World Trade Organization. At the General Assembly meeting, efforts to win consensus to move forward with the treaty were blocked.

The Development Agenda proposal urged that more attention be paid to technology transfer from rich countries to developing nations; that developing countries should not be pressured to adopt super-stringent enforcement rules for patents, copyright, trademark and other intellectual property protections; and WIPO technical assistance to developing countries should not so single-mindedly advocate for expanded intellectual property protections.

In introducing the main proposal, the Brazil delegate said that development was recognized including by the UN as a very important principle, and WIPO as a UN agency should be guided by the principles of the UN. If development is the overriding principle, then WIPO should act in support of that goal.

“Our aim is to establish WIPO as a UN agency that generates creative activity and innovation,” the Brazilian delegate added.

Brazil referred to the Geneva Declaration on the Future of WIPO — signed by over 500 members of academia and public interest groups — as a powerful expression of the voice and aspirations of the public including in the industrialized countries, about the need for a broad development agenda in WIPO. “Humanity stands at a crossroads — a fork in our moral code and a test of our ability to adapt and grow,” asserted the signers of the Geneva Declaration. “Will we evaluate, learn and profit from the best of these new ideas and opportunities, or will we respond to the most unimaginative pleas to suppress all of this in favor of intellectually weak, ideologically rigid, and sometimes brutally unfair and inefficient policies?”

Egypt, on behalf of the Africa Group, said development was Africa’s highest priority and that Africa welcomed the proposal to put development at the forefront of WIPO’s activities. “We hope for quick action,” Egypt said.

South Africa, speaking in support of the proposal, said that development must be mainstreamed in WIPO. No new WIPO instruments should proceed without being informed by the development dimension.

Sri Lanka, on behalf of the Asia Group, said that the proposal would leverage the aim of reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which aim to dramatically reduce the level of global poverty.

India said that for developing countries to benefit from the globalization of intellectual property rules through the World Trade Organization and other mechanisms, there must be an obligation for industrial countries to transfer technology. In the absence of this, the asymmetrical flow of royalties from the South would be a permanent feature.

India said that it fully supported the objective of the Brazil/Argentina proposal, as the proposal will contribute to integrating the development dimension in WIPO activities. “We want the proposal to be translated into action, including the establishment of a working group on the development agenda,” India said.

The major industrialized countries were not as supportive of action on a development agenda in WIPO. They indicated that WIPO had been doing enough for developing countries, and instead of establishing a working group on a development agenda, an assessment should be carried out of WIPO’s work as it relates to development.

Canada welcomed the opportunity to discuss the proposal. It said the strategic goals of WIPO are correct and it should build on its core competency and enhance the intellectual property system. Canada noted that WIPO gives developing countries advice and tools to integrate intellectual property in development policy. WIPO coordinates with other UN agencies and each has an important role to play.

The Netherlands, speaking for the EU, said that WIPO has a role to promote creative intellectual activity and technology transfer, as in its agreement with the UN. WIPO has accomplished important work in which developing countries have participated. It added that strengthening WIPO’s work can only be done if the international intellectual property system is understood and accepted.

The United States said that it agreed with the sponsors of the proposal that development is important, but noted that the proposal suggests that strong intellectual property levels may be detrimental to the global intellectual property goals and that WIPO has disregarded this reality. The United States said that it could not agree with this claim.

While intellectual property alone would not bring about development, the notion that weakening intellectual property standards can aid development is flawed, the United States added. The notion that WIPO has disregarded development is untenable. WIPO has set aside resources for development purposes and WIPO treaties have flexibilities, and developing countries do not have to accede to WIPO treaties if they do not want to. The United States welcomed an assessment of WIPO programs so that they can address the concerns of developing countries.

— Martin Khor is the director of the Third World Network.
This is an abridged version of articles appearing
in South-North Development Monitor - SUNS


The November Lawrence Summers Memorial Award goes to the Philadelphia School District.

The District has announced that it will sell naming rights to a new high school for $5 million, and that it also plans to auction off naming rights to auditoriums, classrooms and other sections of the school.

Evidencing that the District knows its playing with fire, it has stipulated that alsohol and tobacco companies are not eligible to make bids.

"It is a sign of the decline of our values that we name things not after our heroes or history, but after corporations with the deepest pockets," commented Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert.

Source: Associated Press, "Philadelphia School District to Seel Naming Rights to New High School," November 11, 2004.

*In a 1991 internal memorandum, then-World Bank economist Lawrence Summers argued for the transfer of waste and dirty industries from industrialized to developing countries. “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (lesser developed countries)?” wrote Summers, who went on to serve as Treasury Secretary during the Clinton administration and is now president of Harvard University. “I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. ... I’ve always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly under polluted; their air quality is vastly inefficiently low [sic] compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City.” Summers later said the memo was meant to be ironic.


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