The Multinational Monitor

MAY 1987 - VOLUME 8 - NUMBER 5

T H E   C A S E   A G A I N S T   C O R P O R A T E   C R I M E

The Grapes of Wrath

Each year millions of pounds of hazardous pesticides are sprayed on grapes grown in the United States. For consumers, grapes doused in pesticides can be dangerous, but for the farmworkers who harvest the grapes, these pesticides can be deadly.

To slow the toll of pesticide poisoning in the United States, the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), along with a coalition of labor, student and religious organizations are calling on U.S. consumers to once more leave table grapes on the grocery store shelf.

The UFW says it will continue its national boycott of grapes until grape producers stop using the five most hazardous pesticides and limit the use of all pesticides on grapes.

"The demand is very clear," said Roberto de la Cruz of the Massachusetts State Federation of Labor which is directing the boycott in New England. "Out of 26 different pesticide poisons that are sprayed on grapes we want five of the most deadly ones to be removed or to be banned in this country."

The five pesticides targeted - methyl bromide, parathion, phosdrin, captan and dinoseb - have all been linked to serious health problems. Dinoseb was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in October but is still being used by many growers. And according to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), as many as half of all pesticide illnesses may be caused by parathion, which the Network has dubbed a "dirty dozen" pesticide - one of the 12 most deadly pesticides still on the market. (See Pesticides don't know when to stop killing, Multinational Monitor, September 1985.)

With boycott centers set up around the country, the UFW is trying to bring the pesticide issue out of the fields and into the grocery stores, hoping that pressure from consumers will augment farm worker organizing. Regional centers are targeting large supermarket chains which carry California table grapes, including the A & P foodstores in the Northeast, Ralph's in California, and Jewel's and Farmer Jack's in the Midwest. Since both consumers and farm workers are hurt when grapes are heavily treated with pesticides, say boycott organizers, they have a common goal: limiting the use of pesticides on grapes.

One study in 1984 conducted by the World Resources Institute, found that as many as 313,000 farm workers in the United States are poisoned by pesticides annually, with symptoms ranging from dizziness, vomiting and diluted pupils to severe skin rashes.

Other studies have found that:

  • Seventy-eight percent of farm workers in Texas reported chronic skin rashes, 56 percent reported kidney and liver problems, and 54 percent had problems in their chest cavity;
  • Female farm workers face a rate of miscarriages that is seven times higher than the national average; and
  • Forty-four percent of the produce sampled at a food store in California had high pesticide residues, much of which could not be rinsed away with water.

Continued exposure to the chem icals, the UFW argues, often leads to cancer, sterility and birth defects. And pesticide residues have been linked to cancer, spontaneous abortions and stillbirths.

But representatives of the grape growers say so far "the boycott has had very little effect." Robert Keeney of the United Fruit and Vegetable Association, which represents fruit and vegetable growers as well as wholesalers and retailers, says the dispute is strictly a "labor matter."

In addition to putting pressure on growers and sellers of grapes, the UFW has called on the EPA to strengthen pesticide regulations including adopting provisions for more accurate and thorough monitoring of pesticide use and its effects on workers and consumers; a clearer notification system for medical authorities; clearer guidelines for pesticide application and exposure; and stricter requirements for the training and certification of pesticide sprayers, mixers and loaders.

But boycott organizers say that they are not optimistic that the EPA will step in.

"It has to be a third party that is neutral that would deal with the problems that we're having," says de la Cruz. "The growers are refusing [to cooperate] of course [and the] EPA is a farce. It is consumers that have the power."

In addition to the ban of certain pesticides, the farm workers are also demanding better inspection of grapes before they reach the supermarket. Each year table grapes are treated with 344,000 pounds of captan alone, which has been shown to cause cancer, birth defects and cell changes in the body.

"We want to set up joint testing [for] the supermarkets," says de la Cruz. With the farm workers sharing the cost of the testing with the farmers, he says, they will also be able to share the information.

"And once we find out what is on the grapes [we can make certain] the public knows," he adds. "Then the public will decide whether they want to eat the grapes."

- Marcy Burstiner

Hiding the Wealth of Nations

It goes out in false-bottomed suitcases or in electronic transfers from banks that cater to "high-net-worth individuals." It takes elaborate forms - from under-invoicing exports to setting up corporations in Liberia. Its destinations range from banks in Zurich, co-op apartments in New York and condominiums in San Diego. It is capital flight, the unspoken issue in discussions of Third World debt.

While the toppling of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti focused attention on the foreign wealth accumulated by the Third World's elite, financial analysts say capital flight is much more pervasive - sapping local economies and draining central bank reserves throughout the Third World.

In an attempt to show the magnitude of the problem, a Mexico City newspaper recently published a list of 575 Mexican nationals, each of whom has at least $1 million in deposits with foreign banks. The publication of the names of these "Sacadolares" - people who take out dollars - coincided with Mexico's request for $15 billion in new foreign loans this year to avert insolvency.

And in Zaire, President Sese Seko Mobutu is said to have assets that exceed the country's foreign debt. Mobutu and his clan reportedly have approximately $5 billion invested in Swiss accounts and foreign real estate. But the Mobutu government has seldom been able to service its foreign debt, which stood at around $4.2 billion at the end of 1982.

Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Nigeria, Indonesia and Egypt top the capital flight list, according to a 1985 study by the prestigious Institute fur Wirtschoftsforsching-Hamburg.

More than half the money borrowed by Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina during the last decade has effectively flowed right back out the door, often the same year or even month it flowed in. During 1979-84, according to World Bank estimates, Argentina's capital flight was 60 percent of gross capital inflow. Venezuelans, buoyed by high oil revenues, managed to expatriate some $27 billion, or more than 117 percent of their $22.9 billion in new foreign borrowings.

David Felix, Professor of Economics at Washington University, says that wealthy Latin Americans have salted away at least $180 billion outside their continent. That amounts to just under half the region's current foreign debt.

It is estimated that at least half of Citibank's International Private Banking (IPB) assets of over $26 billion belong to Latin Americans. This compares with Citibank's total loan exposure to the "Big Four" - Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela - of about S10.3 billion. Hence, even allowing for loans to the rest of Latin America, Citibank comes close to owing more money to Latin Americans than it is owed,.

"In economic terms," argues Morgan Guaranty economist, Arturo Porzeconski, "the governments have been saddled with the bulk of the foreign hardcurrency debts, while the private sector holds most of the hard-currency assets."

With the added twist of capital flight, the tension between the two sectors is further aggravated, generating an enormous redistribution of wealth from public to private hands.

The growing middle class in many developing countries could become disenchanted with "the role of capitalism," says a worried Federal Reserve official, "especially as the income distribution becomes very distorted" - with the wealthy protecting their assets off-shore, while the majority bears the brunt of austerity measures at home.

- Third World Network

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