December 1988 - VOLUME 9 - NUMBER 12
C O R P O R A T E P R O F I L E S
THE 10 WORST CORPORATIONS OF 1988By Russell Mokhiber and E. Virgil Falloon
CORPORATE CRIME and violence is, by all indications,
a far more serious problem, in terms of victimization, than all street
crime combined. Yet there is no effective international police organization
dealing with corporate crime. INTERPOL does not have a corporate crime
data base and the United Nations does not arrest chief executives of major
multinationals for reckless homicide. A "Ten Most Wanted List" for corporate
criminals is needed. Police intelligence agencies could use such a list
to draw attention to wrongdoers and to focus the nation's attention on
the lessons of right and wrong. To get the ball rolling, Multinational
Monitor presents "The 10 Worst Corporations of 1988."
The companies profiled here are large corporations that wield vast power, often recklessly, and
often to the detriment of the environment, workers and consumers. If left
unchecked, the consequences of such behavior will be far worse than the
carnage profiled here. The purpose of this list is to report on the facts
that have surfaced to date, to report on activist organizations that are
campaigning against the wrongs, to report on police agencies investigating
these corporate wrongs and to encourage our readers to get involved in
grassroots corporate crime-fighting efforts.
The companies profiled here are large corporations that wield vast power, often recklessly, and often to the detriment of the environment, workers and consumers. If left unchecked, the consequences of such behavior will be far worse than the carnage profiled here. The purpose of this list is to report on the facts that have surfaced to date, to report on activist organizations that are campaigning against the wrongs, to report on police agencies investigating these corporate wrongs and to encourage our readers to get involved in grassroots corporate crime-fighting efforts.
Aetna Life and Casualty Company
In the United States, the application of criminal law to corporate crime and violence is only in the very early stages of development. For the most part, victims cannot rely on it to deliver justice. Instead, they must depend on the more developed civil justice systems of the individual states. But these civil justice systems are currently under attack by a number of major corporations and their allies, the big insurance companies.
The most aggressive of the pack is Aetna Life & Casualty Co. Aetna and its allies are campaigning to weaken the American civil justice system by immunizing the manufacturers of dangerous products, hazardous goods and toxic chemicals from lawsuits. The companies want to impose arbitrary caps on pain and suffering awards, to impose limitations on, or elimination of, punitive damage awards, which often serve as the only effective deterrent against the marketing of unsafe products. They want to mandate limits on contingency fees without corresponding limits on the fees of defense lawyers and to modify or eliminate pint and several liability, which results in penalizing the victim by precluding full recovery in the event a culpable party is unable to pay. The companies call their agenda "tort reform," but consumer advocate Ralph Nader calls it "one of the most unprincipled public relations scams in the history of American industry."
In 1986 and again late in 1988, Aetna launched advertising campaigns to convince the American people that the system must be changed. Recently, the company purchased slick newspaper and radio ads in several cities. Robert Caruthers, an Aetna official, told the St. Louis Business Journal that the campaign was designed to shift the tort revision battleground from the courtroom to the public arena. One of the Aetna newspaper ads pictures a bumper sticker which reads, "Go Ahead Hit Me, I Need the Money." Another features various newspaper headlines suggesting that victims of corporate misconduct are too generously compensated. Unfortunately, as Aetna well knows, many corporations which it and other companies insure are involved in negligent, reckless, and criminal activities that injure and kill millions of innocent persons around the globe every year. An innocent person injured by a defective car or pharmaceutical product is not thinking about a financial windfall. He or she is thinking about basic justice.
In 1987, Aetna alone showed profits totalling $871.1 million. Instead of working to weaken the modest civil justice system currently in place in the United States, Aetna should be spending part of its millions in profits to create a safer world. According to U.S. government statistics, casualty counts in the workplace and the marketplace continue to run into the millions every year. Non-intentional injuries are the number one cause of death for Americans under forty-four years of age.
In 1984, the latest year surveyed, such mishaps caused more than 140,000 deaths and 70 million nonfatal injuries, including 80,000 permanent disabilities. Nader recently surveyed 11 major U.S. property/casualty company foundations to determine whether loss prevention, hazard prevention or system safety programs are accorded high priorities for grants or other contributions. Of the nearly $6 million in total grants awarded in 1985 by Aetna Life and Casualty Foundation, the only safety contribution was $5,000 to the Indianapolis, Indiana Volunteer Fire Department.
"Loss prevention provides the insurance industry with great opportunity to combine its vested interest in profits with social contributions to health and safety," Nader told the Monitor. "They will not perform those missions as long as they spend millions of dollars in advertised demands to restrict victims' rights, diminish deterrents and inflate a phony lawsuit crisis into a corporate strategy for callous abdication of loss prevention responsibilities."
Contact: Robert Hunter, National Insurance Consumer Organization, Alexandria, Virginia 22314
General Electric, one of the nation's largest consumer products companies, has spent millions of dollars on an American advertising campaign to persuade Americans that "GE Brings Good Things to Life." Putting the corporate hype aside, a close examination of the facts shows that, contrary to GE-shaped public opinion, GE, a criminal recidivist company, brings some very nasty things to life.
The case against General Electric, America's third largest manufacturing company, is laid out in great detail in the recently published, "General Electric: Shaping Nuclear Weapons Policies for Profit," by INFACT (1988). INFACT, a Boston-based grassroots organization, calls for a full-fledged boycott of the products of GE for its role in perpetuating the nuclear weapons build up. There are 50,000 nuclear weapons currently on the globe, and the U.S. adds another five every day. Weapons production is a lucrative business. And despite overwhelming public opposition, GE keeps lobbying for more, and keeps getting contracts to build more. GE grossed at least $11 billion in nuclear warfare systems in fiscal years 1984-1986.
GE's criminogenic history is unsavory. GE has a long history of procurement fraud, price fixing and antitrust violations. In 1985, GE became the first weapons contractor to be indicted and found guilty of defrauding the government for overcharging on military contracts. GE is currently embroiled in several legal battles over its sale of faulty and unsafe nuclear reactors to power companies throughout the country. And GE is one of the nation's prime environmental polluters.
The company was cited in 1985 for having the largest number of toxic waste sites in the country. GE is also heavily involved in the nuclear power industry. According to the INFACT report, 39 out of the 100 nuclear power plants are made by GE. "Yet, GE's nuclear reactor design, the "Mark" series, is known by GE to be unsafe," according to the INFACT report. "GE memos disclosed in 1987 revealed that GE has known how dangerous its reactors are since the late 1950s, yet it continued to build and sell them and tried to cover up their deadly flaws," INFACT reported.
The goals of the INFACT boycott are ambitious: stop the production of nuclear weapons, reduce corporate influence over government decisions and policies that promote nuclear weapons and create a climate that no longer supports nuclear weapons as an acceptable business activity. But in the year and a half since the boycott was announced, support from local activists has grown.
In Florida, where GE makes the neutron trigger for nuclear bombs, activists responded to GE's advertisement "We're not satisfied until you are" by calling the toll-free GE Answer Center (1-800-626-2000) to express their dissatisfaction with the MX, the B-1 bomber, the Trident submarine and other GE "products."
Students at Brown University and at the University of Minnesota focused their activities on GE recruiters, protesting to them about the company's involvement with nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
John Law, a San Francisco area architect and developer, used GE appliances exclusively in his buildings for more than 30 years. He joined the boycott, changed the specifications for appliances in his apartment building, and wrote a letter of protest to the company.
Many church organizations have joined the campaign to boycott GE on moral and religious grounds. INFACT reported last month that over three million consumers had joined the GE boycott. And, the city of Berkeley, California recently became the first municipality in the nation to endorse the GE boycott. At UCLA, the student-faculty committee that oversees university purchasing voted to remove all GE products from the shelves of its stores.
Contact: INFACT, 256 Hanover Street, Third Floor, Boston, Massachusetts 02113.
General Motors, the world's largest automobile producer, has so consistently exhibited reckless disregard for its workers, customers and neighbors that it is difficult to imagine the company emerging from its self-created swamp of anti-social behavior without a management revolution.
Most recently, in October, 1988 a Washington Post article revealed that officials at General Motors were told in 1970 that one of its gas tanks was vulnerable to puncture during some high-speed crashes. In 1971, according to the Post, GM decided not to move the tank to a more protected location even after top engineers concluded that the existing design was inadequate, because the design change was too expensive and would reduce trunk space. GM estimated that the cost of the change per car ranged from $8.59 to $11.59.
Two years later, according to the Post, when engineers were assigned to study the fuel tank location again, the question of cost arose once more, and a "Value Analysis" was prepared in a two-page memo dated June 29, 1973. A GM engineer, Edward C. Ivey, assigned a $200,000 value to each human life and assumed that a maximum of 500 people died annually in GM cars "where bodies were burnt," the Post reported. Ivey then determined what level of expenditure could be justified to try to avoid the fiery deaths in the 5 million GM cars produced annually. "This analysis indicates that for GM it would be worth approximately $2.20 per new model auto to prevent a fuel-fed fire in all accidents," Ivey wrote, but warned, according to the Post, that "it is really impossible to put a value on human life."
A brief review of the company's history reveals an unparalleled pattern of callousness. Recently, a group of workers at GM's Lordstown, Ohio production facility called on GM and the United Auto Workers to conduct a study that would compare death rates for cancer, and respiratory and heart disease among former GM Lordstown workers with the death rate from the same disease in the general population.
In 1981, General Motors joined with the City of Detroit to level Poletown, an integrated, Polish-Black neighborhood on the northeast side of the city so that GM could build a manufacturing plant on the cleared Poletown site. For more than 20 years, General Motors has backed a national campaign to prevent federal lawmakers from savings tens of thousands of lives each year by requiring that all cars marketed in the United States include a life-saving, cost-efficient technology, the air bag, that would inflate instantly if the automobile was involved in a serious head-on collision. GM's decision to wage this fight against passive restraints has condemned thousands of Americans to premature death on the highways.
During the 1970s, the work force at GM's Tech Center in Warren, Michigan suffered high rates of cancer. In February, 1980, the Michigan Cancer Foundation reported that wood-model workshop workers at the GM auto plants experienced a 50 percent higher rate of cancer than the general population.
In 1977, GM sold at least 128,000 Oldsmobiles equipped with Chevrolet engines. GM did not tell its customers about the Chevrolet engines.
A 1974 U.S. Senate report outlined how, during World War II, General Motors sought to maximize profits by supplying both the Allied and Axis powers with material needed to win the war.
During the late 1950s, GM produced the sporty Corvair. GM executives knew the care was unsafe, yet they went ahead and produced, marketed and sold it to thousands of unsuspecting customers.
During the 1930s, General Motors, along with other auto, tire and oil companies, engaged in a systematic and largely successful effort to destroy many of the nation's mass transit systems.
In 1949, GM was indicted and convicted of conspiring to restrain trade in criminal violation of the federal antitrust laws and was fined $5000.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s, GM refused to include safety glass as standard equipment in their automobiles. "Accidents or no accidents, my concern in this problem is a matter of profit and loss," explained Alfred P. Sloan, then president of General Motors.
GM needs a complete management overhaul, and a new moral direction. Until then, if you have to buy a car, make sure it's not a product of GM indifference.
Contact: Clarence Ditlow, Center for Auto Safety, 2001 S. St. N.W. Washington, D.C. 20009
Remember thalidomide, the sedative drug marketed in Europe and Asia during the late 1950s? Thalidomide, taken by pregnant women, caused 8,000 newly borns to be grossly deformed. These thalidomide children shocked the world's conscience and brought renewed attention to the activities of multinational pharmaceutical corporations. But currently, another Thalidomide may be in our midst--Hoffman-LaRoche's powerful acne drug, Accutane.
According to a study conducted by Dr. Edward Lammer of the California Birth Defects Monitoring Project, Accutane is as dangerous a cause of birth defects as thalidomide. Accutane causes 40 percent of pregnant women who use it to miscarry and 25 percent to have children with severe birth defects if taken early in pregnancy, according to the Lammer study. "These unusually high risks are comparable to those posed by thalidomide exposure," Lammer said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that Accutane has resulted in 900 to 1,300 children suffering from serious birth defects, and from 3,000 to 7,000 abortions where the mother had been exposed during pregnancy.
Although Hoffman-LaRoche says the drug is currently being marketed with strong warnings about risks of birth defects, Diane Nygaard, a trial attorney based in Overland Park, Kansas, told the Multinational Monitor that she believed Accutane was being marketed "like peanut butter."
The FDA should admit that warnings have proven ineffective, she said, and require that Accutane be given only under controlled conditions. On May 17, 1988, Public Citizen's Health Research Group petitioned the FDA to more strictly regulate the marketing of Accutane. On May 19, 1988, in a letter from the FDA to Hoffman-LaRoche, the FDA "requested" that LaRoche improve its Accutane warnings by doubling the print size of the physician package insert warning and strengthening the contraindication. The FDA suggested that LaRoche use the warning: "Women must not become pregnant while taking Accutane. This drug causes severe birth defects in a very high percentage of infants born to women who take it, even for short periods." Nygaard says that Accutane should only be used in hospitals-- "where there is no chance of being exposed... during pregnancy."
Hoffman-LaRoche, the company that brought the world two powerful tranquilizers, Valium and Librium, and, through a subsidiary, a toxic disaster in Seveso, Italy, has not limited its recent anti-social behavior to marketing drugs that cause birth defects.
Earlier this year, the company was the target of a Congressional investigation in connection with the manufacturing and sale of the intravenous sedative drug Versed, which is generically known as midazolam. Versed is a cousin drug of Valium, and is used as a mild sedative for patients undergoing brief diagnostic procedures. Representative Ted Weiss, D-N.Y., called on the Justice Department to investigate Hoffman-LaRoche in connection with the sale of Versed, which has been responsible for 40 deaths since its release in the United States two years ago. Rep. Weiss charged that Hoffman-LaRoche did not promptly report important Versed-related safety information in its possession, including reports of a number of Versed-associated deaths as well as important U.S. clinical trial data to the FDA.
One issue raised during May, 1988 hearings of the House Subcommittee on Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations was the FDA's approval of the use of the drug in dosages as much as double the limits established in Britain. Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen's Health Research Group told the hearing that the excessive dosage allowance caused doctors to "unwittingly give their patients toxic doses of Versed resulting in fatal respiratory and/or cardiac depression." Hoffman-LaRoche refused to appear before the Weiss subcommittee hearings. Representatives of both the FDA and of Hoffman-LaRoche denied that any wrong doing took place, and Hoffman-LaRoche spokesman Bruce Medd claimed that despite the higher dosage levels here, incidence of death in the United States resulting from Versed were at about three per one million patients, the same as in Europe. Weiss suggested that Hoffman-Laroche rushed approval proceedings for Versed because a patent protecting its extremely profitable Valium had expired in 1985, and generic competition was cutting into Hoffman-LaRoche's profits in the American market.
The FDA, the Justice Department, and local and state district attorneys should look carefully at both the Accutane and Versed cases.
For more information contact: Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Public Citizen's Health Research Group, 2000 P St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. Diane Nygaurd, Nygaard and Associates, 11900 College Boulevard, Suite 300, Overland Park, Kansas 66210.
Imagine a container the area of a football field, 10 miles high, 1.6 billion cubic feet in volume. Imagine this container filled with styrofoam. That's how much of McDonald's nonbiodegradable, nonrecyclable, petrochemical styrofoam ends up on the streets or in the trash heaps of the nation every year.
With more than 10,000 fast food outlets worldwide, McDonald's is hard to miss. And it is growing at a furious rate. A new McDonald's opens its doors somewhere on the globe every 15 hours. McDonald's is considered by many business observers a "good corporate citizen." It gives money to a number of campaigns, including the Olympics, the Special Olympics, muscular dystrophy, and Ronald McDonald houses that provide inexpensive near-site housing to parents of hospitalized children.
On the other hand, Mcdonald's creates serious problems for the environment and for the health of its customers. Unfortunately, the bad far outweighs the good. The styrofoam issue is a serious one for those, like McDonald's, who claim to be concerned about "our fragile earth." According to Karen Stults, a research assistant at the Arlington, Virginia based Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes (CCHW), in three years, over one-third of all landfills in the United States will be filled. We will have to recycle, export or burn our wastes. Incineration has been ruled out by people of conscience because of cost, ash and emission problems. Exporting our garbage into other peoples' countries is out of the question. The only viable alternative is to recycle, which cannot be done with styrofoam. CCHW has organized a nationwide campaign around the styrofoam waste problem. In response to this campaign, McDonald's has been less than forthright with organizers. CCHW's Stults reports that McDonald's spokespersons Lana Ehrsam and Terri Capatosto have said that "styrofoam is basically air" and "it's good because when it breaks down, it aerates the soil." Stults said these two claims are inaccurate. Stults also claims that McDonald's has sought to deceive the public about whether it is phasing out styrofoam. When CCHW asked McDonald's whether the company had decided to stop using styrofoam, a spokesperson responded, "Yes, we are phasing it out in eighteen months." Only after being pressed, did the spokesperson change her response to the more accurate, "No."
On this issue, McDonald's should just admit it's wrong and, like its competitor Wendy's, stop using styrofoam to package its foods. A 1987 internal McDonald's memo obtained by Multinational Monitor reveals that efforts by state and local governments to gain control of the waste problem created in part by McDonald's is high on the company's legislative hit list.
While the packaging is filling the landfill, the stuff that's in the packaging--the food--is also taking its toll. The number one nutritional problem for most Americans is the high fat and cholesterol content of their diet. In the United States, 40 percent of the calories in the average diet comes from fat. High fat diets increase the risk of breast, colon and prostate cancer. Diets high in saturated fats are highly conducive to heart disease, the number one cause of death in the United States. Despite these numbers, the meat that McDonald's uses is 20 percent fat after frying. Its Chicken McNuggets and Filet-o-fish sandwiches have about twice as much fat as its hamburgers. McNuggets are made up of processed chicken, ground-up chicken skin, salt and additives to hold it together. The highly-touted McD.L.T. contains 10 teaspoons of fat--four times as much as the regular hamburger and twice as much as the Quarter Pounder. McDonald's fries its french fries in 95 percent beef fat. Too much sodium in the diet increases the risk of high blood pressure or hypertension. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C. based group that has studied fast food chains and ranked the food for nutritional value, an adult should consume no more than 1,100 to 3,300 milligrams of sodium a day and seven to ten year old children should consume no more than 600 to 1,800 milligrams a day. Yet a McD.L.T. offers 1,030 and a Biscuit with Sausage kicks is a whopping 1,145.
In the United States, McDonald's spends $649 million on advertising, not all of it truthful, according to a number of Attorneys General. In June 1987, Attorneys General in Texas, California and New York charged that an aggressive McDonald's ad campaign promoting "good nutrition" was "deceptive." They threatened legal action unless the chain stopped running the ads. Internal memos between McDonald's publicists reveal that even those working to promote McDonald's have few illusions about what they sell to the public. The March 18, 1986 memo states, "We can't, at this stage of the situation, really address or defend nutrition. We don't sell nutrition, and people don't come to McDonald's for nutrition." In response to the threatened action by the Attorneys General, McDonald's pulled the ads.
McDonald's has to bear some of the blame for the garbage that's overflowing on our nation's trash heaps and the high numbers of people who die every year from heart attacks, high blood pressure related strokes and cancer. Our advice--boycott the golden arches.
For more information, contact: Karen Stults, Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes, Box 926, Arlington, Virginia 22216. Michael Jacobson, 1502 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036
Those who were skeptical in 1984 when they heard that the Nestle Boycott was off and that Nestle was a "good corporate citizen," were right. In 1984, Douglas Johnson, national chairman of the internationally famous Boycott Nestle Campaign, stood before representatives of the media and ate a Nestle Crunch bar to symbolize the end of a seven and a half year Nestle Boycott. "We had reached an historic agreement with Nestle," Johnson told the Multinational Monitor. "I believed that Nestle would abide by its pledges, and I believed that the result would mean improved health for thousands of infants." But five years down the road, the company is back to its same old tricks. Johnson says Nestle is once more dumping supplies of infant formula onto hospitals to induce sales. "Nestle uses this effective marketing device even where use of the product is dangerous, and in spite of the world's health authorities calling for its ban," Johnson said.
Action for Corporate Accountability (ACA), the grassroots group that in October 1988 called for an international boycott of products made by both American Home Products (AHP) and Nestle, charged that Nestle broke a number of promises made in 1984, including supporting the Code's enactment as law all over the world. "Instead," claims ACA's Johnson, "we hear of Nestle representatives lobbying against the Code in the European Economic Community as well as in Brazil. Nestle's salespeople attempted to undermine the effects of the National Code of the Philippines. Clearly, Nestle does not put the well-being of the world's children before the well-being of their profits." According to Johnson, AHP was added to the renewed boycott because the company violates the supply section of the Code to the same extent that Nestle does. "In addition," Johnson told the Monitor, "our international monitors have consistently reported that, in the field, AHP appears more cut-throat in pursuit of new business and less concerned about the effects of their practices than many other formula manufacturers."
Health authorities report that up to three million babies die each year as a result of bottle feeding. And UNICEF estimates that at least one million babies' lives could be saved each year through breastfeeding alone. "Nothing is so painful as burying your own child," Janice Mantell, Executive Director of ACA, told the media at the October press conference announcing the boycott. "On my visit to Kenya and Nigeria this year, I saw mother after mother in the pediatric wards, head in hands, crying beside the cribs where their babies lay, malnourished, dehydrated, sick from Bottle Baby Disease.
It doesn't need to happen. A decade ago, we knew the truth about irresponsible marketing of infant formula. Allowing the companies to continue these practices is an inexcusable outrage of humanity, if not outright criminality." Mantell said that "free supplies are not acts of charity." "Free supplies are a key marketing tactic of the infant formula companies," she said. "The intent is to hook mothers and babies and hospital systems on bottle-feeding," Mantell charged. She claimed it was common practice in the United States. She charged that AHP paid $1 million to the New York City Hospital Corporation for the exclusive right to distribute free infant formula samples to all mothers in city hospitals, regardless of whether or not the mother intended to breastfeed.
Johnson pointed out that the Beech-Nut Corporation, a Nestle subsidiary, knowingly and intentionally sold what its own chemist described as a "chemical cocktail" in jars labelled "100% Pure Apple Juice." "The Beech Nut scandal acted as a very harsh reminder," Johnson said. "Nestle continues to be a corporation which will go to any length for the sake of profit. Nestle's concern for infants which consume their products does not extend past the pages of their advertising brochures."
For More Information, Contact: Douglas Johnson, Action for Corporate Accountability, 3255 Hennepin Avenue S., Suite 230, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408
Pfizer Inc., the New York-based pharmaceutical giant, has been described by the Council on Economic Priorities (CEP) as having "a multifaceted, if moderate, commitment to social initiatives." According to the liberal CEP, Pfizer has given money to job- training programs, to industrial development projects in run- down areas of New York and to conservative think tanks in Washington.
But while Pfizer giveth money with one hand, it taketh away life with the other. Ask the families of more than 150 persons who have died after receiving defective Pfizer heart valves about Pfizer's "social initiatives." Since 1979, the company has been sued by more than 200 victims (or their survivors) of the Bjork-Shiley convexo concave prosthetic heart valve. The valve, which sold worldwide between 1979 and 1986, has been prone to fracture and failure. The valve was manufactured by the company's Shiley subsidiary in Irvine, California.
In November 1986, Pfizer withdrew the valve from the market. But at that point, it had been implanted in 85,000 patients, approximately half of whom were outside the United States. To date, more than 150 deaths have been linked to more than 230 strut fractures. In August, 1988, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizens's Health Research Group, said that criminal action should be brought against Pfizer because of its "reckless disregard for human life and their knowing and wilful marketing and promoting of a product that they were aware was defectively designed, defectively manufactured and continued killing people despite their claims that they were fixing it by doing these, in retrospect, proven fruitless quality control adjustments." Wolfe said that there existed "a whole clearinghouse" of smoking gun documents relating to the heart valve. "We have all these internal memos and documents, the original engineering drawings, memos from employees there, saying there are serious problems with the valve and so forth, and that is why these companies are not letting any of these cases go to trial," Wolfe said.
In response to the lawsuits filed by victims of the Pfizer heart valve, the company has implemented a multifaceted legal strategy. In California, where many of the cases have been brought, Pfizer has reportedly settled at least 30 of the lawsuits, in many cases in amounts exceeding $1 million.
As to the overseas victims of the valve, Pfizer implemented a Washington strategy that sought to slam the courthouse door. Pfizer's Washington attorney, Phillip Lacavora, played a major role in drafting legislation sponsored earlier this year by Rep. Dan Glickman, Kansas, that would permit any U.S. manufacturer sued by a foreign victim in an American state court to automatically remove the case to federal court, where it would likely be dismissed under a narrow jurisdictional doctrine laid down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite Pfizer's efforts, however, the Glickman "Pfizer Bailout Bill" was stalled in Congress primarily due to the efforts of Public Citizen's Congress Watch.
Pfizer has also played fast and loose with the health of consumers of its anti-arthritis drug Feldene. In a June 8, 1986 letter to FDA Commissioner Frank E. Young, Public Citizen's Health Research Group requested that the FDA investigate Pfizer's marketing of Feldene. Documents produced by Public Citizen "provide evidence that Pfizer withheld knowledge of deaths and other serious adverse reactions in overseas users of Feldene until after the FDA approved Feldene for U.S. patients in April, 1982," according to the letter.
Drug companies are required by law to report expeditiously all drug-associated toxicity known to the company and its foreign affiliates. According to Public Citizen, "the initial Feldene labelling would have contained warnings about the increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding in elderly patients had these foreign adverse reactions been made available to the FDA on a timely basis." Stronger warnings in the original Feldene labelling could have prevented numerous unnecessary adverse reactions, including deaths, in elderly U.S. patients, according to Public Citizen. In 1983, the FDA reviewed 52 serious adverse reactions to Feldene by users in foreign countries, including 24 foreign deaths, that occurred up to two and one-half years before being reported.
The FDA determined that "the nature of Pfizer's present system of dating ADRs [adverse drug reactions] does not allow a conclusion regarding when they were actually received by Pfizer and if they are being reported in a timely manner." The FDA asked Pfizer to revise its system for handling overseas toxicity reports and forwarding them to the FDA, but took no other enforcement action against the company. The average consumer should take a close look at the package. If it says Pfizer, stay away.
For More Information, Contact: Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Public Citizen's Health Research Group, 2000 P. St. N. W., Washington, D.C. 20036.
Illegal drugs killed 10,000 Americans last year. Phllip Morris' Marlboro cigarettes killed 75,000. In 1986, an estimated one billion persons throughout the world smoked one trillion cigarettes resulting in 25 million deaths attributable to smoking. By the year 2000, the yearly death toll is expected to rise to 4 million.
While smoking rates are declining in developed nations at a rate of 1.5 percent per year, they are rising by 2 percent a year in developing nations. Dr. Gregory Connolly of the Massachusetts Office for Nonsmoking and Health notes, "The companies have developed highly effective promotional and advertising programs which serve as powerful weapons to promote tobacco use in countries where the health risks of smoking are not well known." The results have been predictable. By the early 1980s, in Brazil, diseases caused by smoking claimed more lives than infectious disease and malnutrition.
Phllip Morris and the other tobacco companies continue to argue, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that there is no persuasive proof of a causal relationship between smoking and adverse health effects. But internal Phllip Morris documents first exposed in products liability litigation earlier this year indicates the company has a deeper understanding than it publicly acknowledges. U.S. Surgeon General reports have long since put the issue to rest. A 1982 report identified smoking as the "chief preventable cause of death in our society." And in a 1988 report, C. Everett Koop, the U.S. Surgeon General, condemns tobacco as "addicting in the same sense as are drugs such as heroin and cocaine." He argued that this message should be made known on cigarette packages. "Unfortunately," Koop lamented, "we do not have a label that says that tobacco is the most addictive drug in society."
Phllip Morris continues to pull in billions of dollars with basic marketing. And then there is the Marlboro Man. In a paper titled, "The Marlboro Man is the World's Number One Killer," Father Michael H. Crosby, of the Midwest Capuchin Province, says that the image of the cowboy is one key to explaining Marlboro's worldwide sales success. "The most mythic individual hero in the United States is the cowboy," writes Crosby. Some cowboys who smoked Marlboros, however, have a different story.
The directors of a British television documentary, "Death in the West: The Marlboro Story," interviewed six real-life American cowboys, who were all one time heavy smokers and who were in various stages of dying from cancer or emphysema. Phllip Morris sued, seeking to block the producers, Thames Television, from selling the film or showing it again. In a settlement, Thames and Phllip Morris agreed in 1979 that all copies of the film would be handed over to Phllip Morris, except for one which would remain in Thames's possession. The settlement was to remain secret. But in 1982, KRON-TV in San Francisco received a videocassette of the documentary and broadcast it in prime-time.
Phllip Morris also targets young people in the Third World by sponsoring youth oriented music and sporting events. "With one public relations hand Marlboro sponsors youth-oriented music and sporting events," writes Crosby. "With the other public relations hand it makes a report on Third World involvement which declares, 'We have stated frequently that cigarette smoking is an adult choice and we avoid identifying our company and brands with events that might encourage an association between young people and smoking.'" "Marlboro is the most heavily advertised brand in the world," concluded a 1985 Washington Monthly article on the subject. "It is three times as popular among children and teenagers as it is among adults. If Phllip Morris really doesn't want kids to smoke, why does it use cowboys in its advertisements and plaster its logo on racing cars?"
Thus, tobacco industry protestations to the contrary, the issue is not whether cigarettes are addictive or whether they kill. The question is when the industry, with Phllip Morris and Marlboro in the lead, will stop killing.
For More Information, Contact: Richard Daynard, Tobacco Liability Reporter, Northeastern University, 400 Huntington Ave, Boston, Massachusetts 02115
There are hundreds of reasons to boycott Shell gasoline or other Shell products and to cut up your Shell credit card. The best reasons can be attested to by the victims of brutality and repression in South Africa, where the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies is a major supporter of the racist system of apartheid. Shell provides oil to Pretoria's military and police thereby directly fuelling the wheels of oppression.
Here's a short list of five good reasons to support the international boycott of this intransigent multinational oil giant.
Shell must leave South Africa. That is the only political step in the right direction." Support the United Mine Workers of America "Boycott Shell Campaign."
For More Information, Contact: Boycott Shell Campaign, c/o United Mineworkers of America, 900 15th Street, N. W., Washington, D.C. 20005
On December 3, 1984, a gas leak from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India killed anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 persons and injured 200,000 persons, at least 30,000 to 40,000 of them seriously. Four years after that deadly December night in Bhopal, the thousands of victims still have no justice.
Warrants are still being issued, and compensatory lawsuits are shifted from the United States to India, while the people continue to suffer without adequate medical attention. According to the New York-based Bhopal Action Resource Center, the most recent medical reports from Bhopal continue to point to the serious long-term threat to the health and lives of those exposed to the gas. Widespread damage to the respiratory and reproductive systems have been observed, as has damage to the eyes and vital organs, such as kidney, spleen and liver. Equally alarming is the reported damage to victims' immune systems, leaving them far more susceptible to a range of diseases. The Center points out that there is also evidence of genetic mutation which may affect the victims offspring.
A myriad of questions about what Carbide knew remain. Why was its pesticide plant inadequately designed and incapable of containing or neutralizing a runaway methyl isocyanate (MIC) reaction? Why was its workforce in Bhopal so inadequately trained, as well as understaffed, to cope with the emergency? Why did Union Carbide choose to use MIC as an intermediate in the production of its carbamate pesticides when a less hazardous method was available? Why did Union Carbide override the wishes of its Indian plant management and insist on storing the liquid MIC in large tanks rather than in small individual containers which would have been much less dangerous? Why were the operating manuals available in English only, when English was a foreign language for many of the workers at the plant? These are some of the questions a prosecutor could ask.
But most likely, because of the primitive system of criminal justice for multinational corporations, no prosecutor will get a chance to put Union Carbide on trial for the deaths and injuries in Bhopal. At the same time, Union Carbide has fought tooth and nail, first in the United States, and now in India, to deny the victims in Bhopal just monetary compensation for their injuries. Union Carbide's only response to the human disaster it is responsible for was a $5 million contribution to the Red Cross, the equivalent of $4 per victim.
Immediately following the Bhopal disaster, lawsuits on behalf of the victims and the government of India were filed across the United States against Union Carbide. But on May 12, 1986, federal judge John F. Keenan ruled that the lawsuits belonged not in the United States, but in India. The judge concluded that it would be more convenient and save United States taxpayers' money to have the Bhopal cases tried in India. Before announcing his decision, Judge Keenan, in his words "labored long and hard to promote a settlement between the parties for over a year, to no avail." Indeed, Robert Hager, a lawyer representing 20 religious and public interest groups, argued in appealing the judge's decisions, that the Bhopal victims had been "seriously prejudiced because Judge Keenan labored for a settlement too hard and too long." Arguing that "Carbide and its powerful Wall Street owners stood to lose probably $5 billion or more if the Bhopal case reached an American jury," Hager reasoned that "Carbide had to settle the case cheap, hide its assets, or get the case out of the U.S. courts to avoid or at least postpone potential bankruptcy. By succeeding in the last two, UCC saved its backers from what would have been one of Wall Street's worst losses in history. . ." Hager charged that by permitting a year-long delay before making his decision, Judge Keenan gave Union Carbide the time to liquidate substantial assets and to make extraordinary payouts to its shareholders. This reduced its equity available for payment of any judgment eventually awarded the Bhopal victims. The payouts reduced equity from around $5 billion before the disaster to less than $700 million on the books by the end of 1985. "Carbide's depleted equity will now enable it to defend by means of bankruptcy, against any Indian judgment substantially in excess of its settlement offer [$350 million] without any significant loss to the company's pre-Bhopal owners," Hager said.
In India, Carbide appealed every procedural decision to the Indian Supreme Court. Earlier this year, an Indian judge ordered Carbide to pay substantive interim relief of $270 million. Carbide refused. Victims' advocates believe an acceptable settlement would be on the order of $3 billion. Carbide's highest offer has been $350 million. According to the Bhopal Action Resource Center, victims are urgently in need of adequate medical care, better housing, sanitary facilities and nutrition due to their deteriorating immune systems and general health conditions. The Center is seeking to counter Union Carbide's public relations campaign aimed at persuading the American public and media that there is nothing wrong with most of the Bhopal victims, that only a few were seriously injured, that the cause of the accident was beyond the company's control and that, in any case, the company is not responsible for the accident.
For More Information, Contact: Bhopal Action Resource
Center, 777 United Nations Plaza, Suite 9A, New York, New York 10017.