The Multinational Monitor

December 1988 - VOLUME 9 - NUMBER 12

B E H I N D    T H E    L I N E S

Churches Join Shell Boycott

THE WORLD COUNCIL of Churches (WCC) has called on its member churches to endorse the worldwide boycott of Royal Dutch/Shell to protest that company's presence in South Africa. The WCC is comprised of 300 churches representing more than 400 million members. The call was adopted at the urging of the National Council of Churches of Christ USA. South African church leaders, including Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, have previously appealed to WCC to join the boycott.

Shell expressed "disappointment" at the decision. "We are saddened that an organization which professes Christian moral standards should behave in such an unethical and intolerant way," wrote Royal Dutch/Shell president L.C van Wachem in a letter to the council. Mr. van Wachem also complained about what he called the "singling out" of Royal Dutch/Shell. "As the WCC knows full well ... there are seven other oil companies in South Africa besides Shell," calling it "unwarranted and unjust" for the WCC to endorse the boycott against "one particular enterprise-- moreover, one that is at the forefront in its opposition to apartheid."

The General Assembly of the Episcopal Church of the United States, meanwhile, has endorsed a boycott of all oil companies with investments in South Africa. No word from the church has been forthcoming on whether inclusion of oil companies Chevron, Texaco, Mobil and British Petroleum, among others, was designed to head off charges of picking on Royal Dutch/Shell. Nor has there been any word from the United States' most prominent Protestant, President-elect George Bush, on his reaction to the church's vow to "just say no" to apartheid.

Meanwhile, the Shipping Research Bureau has pegged the cost to South Africa of the international oil embargo at $20 billion. The Bureau, in a new report titled, "Oil to South Africa: Apartheid's Friends and Partners," found that, in addition to its regular crude oil expenditures of roughly $25 billion between 1979 and 1988, the apartheid regime had to spend an additional $20 billion "to overcome the direct and indirect effects of the oil embargo."

Food for Thought

CONTAMINATION FROM THE 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Soviet Union has shown up in the diets of Third World citizens. Food grown by the European Economic Community (EEC)--contaminated by fall-out from the accident--is finding its way south, sometimes as part of EEC aid packages.

West German member of the European Parliament Undine Bloch von Blottnitz charges that food shipments rejected by Third World countries because of high radiation levels are often mixed with non-contaminated food supplies and re-sent. EEC countries complain that radiation standards in Third World countries are too strict, von Blottnitz notes, and she adds that the EEC "is saying Third World countries cannot be allowed to have higher standards than the EEC."

EEC food shipments have been rejected by Egypt, Angola, the Philippines, Kuwait and Malaysia, European authorities have no means of tracing radioactive food after it is rejected by the destination country and sent back to Europe. Thus unscrupulous importers are able to mix the radioactive food with clean food to bring the radiation level down, and then reship it to the Third World, where poor enforcement ability often undermines the intent of stronger radiation contamination standards. Contaminated products that have been shipped to Third World countries include milk powder, butter, beef, chocolate and grains.

Friends of the Amazon

"Late 1988 witnesses the greatest-ever man-made ecological catastrophe on the planet.... Reports from Brazil indicate that an area of Amazonia the size of West Germany has been deliberately destroyed by fire. Within the short space of a few weeks, vast tracts of the earth's richest ecosystem, which may be 100 million years old, have been transformed into a charred wasteland." Thus begins a new briefing paper from Friends of the Earth (FOE), titled "Amazon Holocaust: Forest Destruction in Brazil 1987-88." And, the paper warns, it is only the beginning. The destruction of the world's rainforests, besides being an environmental tragedy, holds not yet fully understood implications for the world's climate and atmosphere.

FOE's report notes that chemical compounds released in the burning of the Amazon forest are contributing to depletion of the ozone layer, and that 1987 fires in the Amazon released over 500 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If the destruction continues at the present pace of exponential increase, the report says, the Amazon rainforests will be completely decimated by the end of the century. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has vowed to implement new measures to protect rainforests, including debt forgiveness in exchange for protection guarantees. And a recent World Bank report blasts Brazil's Amazon development policy as both economically and environmentally misguided.

Brazilian President Jose Sarney has declared his intention to stem the destruction. In a televised address on the environment, Sarney noted that "we are all passengers in the adventure of Man on Earth.... The era of unlimited natural resources is over." Sarney has pledged to end subsidies for cattle ranching and to ban the export of unprocessed hardwood logs, most of which come from the Amazon region. But Sarney's ability and resolve on this front remain questionable. Prior to his television address, Sarney announced a five-year extension of tax benefits for agricultural development in the region. Moreover, the country lacks the resources to enforce the log export ban and other regulations that would be necessary to protect the Amazon Basin from further destruction. And both proposals will anger powerful economic interests in Brazil that form the core of Sarney's political strength.