The Multinational Monitor


T H E   F R O N T

Scott Surrenders

With international grassroots pressure building against its proposal to set up a $650 million eucalyptus tree plantation and pulp mill in the tropical forests of Irian Jaya, Indonesia (See MM, July/August 1989), the Scott Paper Company has decided to pull out from the project.

Human rights and environmental activists who had campaigned against the project labelled Scott's pullout a victory. "We are delighted" with the decision, says Mary George Hardman, Executive Director of Survival International (USA), an organization that works to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

Survival International and a variety of environmental groups, as well as many Indonesian non-governmental organizations, formed a coalition to oppose the proposed project. The groups objected to the project on the grounds that it would have had a profoundly negative impact on both the tribal people who live in the region and on the Indonesian rainforests.

The project "would have destroyed the livelihood and very possibly the lives of the 15,000 indigenous people" who live in the region, says Survival International's Sonya Horowitz. "The eucalyptus plantations would have destroyed the land and resources that people rely on."

The project's effect on the rainforests would have been no less severe, according to Randy Hayes, director of the Rainforest Action Network. One of the largest remaining rainforests in the world, the pristine Irian Jaya tropical forest would have been devastated by the project, says Hayes.

Scott asserts that it would have used, at most, 160,000 of the 500,000 hectares it was to lease from the Indonesian government. But the Rainforest Action Network estimates the project would have caused two to three times more damage than Scott predicted. Hayes explains that the project involved more than tearing down existing forests and planting eucalyptus trees; road building and other infrastructural support associated with the plantation would also have affected the environment.

To oppose the potentially ruinous project, Survival International organized a massive international letter-writing campaign. Scott received a "large number of letters" on the issue, according to Michael Kilpatric, Scott's public information manager. The Environmental Defense Fund and other organizations met with Scott executives and urged them to consider the social and environmental consequences of the proposed plantation and pulp mill. In addition, the Rainforest Action Network threatened to launch a major boycott of Scott products if the company went ahead with its plans.

Scott denies that outside pressure influenced its decision to pull out. It was an "economically-based decision," says Scott's Kilpatric. Scott had been conducting internal studies on what sorts of pulp would best meet its needs. "Our studies concluded that although eucalyptus kraft pulp continues to be part of our long-term raw material needs, it no longer plays the leading role we once thought it did and we have higher and more urgent priorities. [The company] will instead be using more cost- effective recycled and high-yield fibers," states J. Richard Leaman, Jr., President of Scott.

Hayes is skeptical about Scott's claim that it was unaffected by the human rights and environmental campaign. The notion that the decision was based only on internal studies has a "hollow sound to it," he says. Hayes asks why Scott was investing in and proceeding with the Irian Jaya project while it was conducting a study in the United States the results of which could nullify it. Despite Scott's decision, the future of the Irian Jaya forests remains uncertain. Hayes believes the project, which he says was the central piece of a "much larger transmigration, colonization, development scheme of the Indonesian government," is now dead. He thinks the Indonesian minority partner in the Scott venture, PT Astra, "is essentially a shell; [it has] no substantive plans to complete the project."

Others, however, are not so sure. The Indonesian government remains interested in Irian Jaya, and, warns Lori Udall, a lawyer in the international program of the Environmental Defense Fund, "Other pulp and paper companies may consider going into that region."

Nevertheless, Scott's decision to pull out suggests that organized grassroots efforts can successfully oppose and alter corporate plans.

- Robert Weissman

The World Bank's Pesticide of Choice

The World Bank has approved a $99 million loan for Brazil's mosquito eradication program. The loan, which will be matched by Brazil, involves the introduction of upwards of 3000 tons of the pesticide DDT into the ecologically sensitive Amazon region in order to cope with a malaria outbreak. The loan has sparked a controversy because DDT has long been banned or severely restricted in much of the industrialized world because it causes reproductive failures in birds and fish tumors in other animals. DDT is also one of the most biologically persistent pesticides, with traces remaining in the environment, human breast milk and fatty tissue for years after its application. The United States banned DDT in 1972. Despite this, the World Bank's guidelines stipulate that "while DDT adversely affects the reproduction of some bird and fish species when used as an agricultural pesticide, there is no environmental contamination when used as an indoor residual spray for malaria control, nor any adverse effects on the people whose homes are sprayed. Therefore DDT remains the pesticide of choice for malaria control."

The World Bank's conclusion highlights the ongoing debate between proponents of DDT and critics of the pesticide who consider it a hazard the risks of which far outweigh the benefits.

The fact is DDT is inexpensive and lethal. At $3.50 a kilogram DDT is much less expensive than the prime chemical alternative, Malathion. Covering the same infested area as a kilo of DDT with Malathion costs $65. Kai Seidenburg of the Pesticide Action Network, an international coalition of citizens working for pesticide reform, acknowledges that "In the short term it's the fastest, cheapest and most effective means" of malaria control. She adds, however, that "Spraying DDT for malaria problems is the worst sort of Band-Aid solution."

The World Bank admits that "DDT has, rightly, a very bad reputation" but distinguishes between aerial crop-spraying and the more controlled application meant to take place in its program, according to Bernhard Liese, a World Bank tropical disease specialist and the individual in charge of the Brazilian loan.

Liese acknowledges DDT's problems but cites several caveats which, he argues, justify the World Bank's continued support for loans involving DDT. Liese says that the pesticide will be used only on the indoor walls of domiciles in the target area and that it will literally be painted on with great precision, therefore eliminating the possibility of the DDT entering the environment. This way "there is technically no leakage into the ecosystem. Most of the studies show quite clearly that [leakage] does not happen," says Liese. Dr. Robert Goodland, a World Bank ecologist, does acknowledge that there is a risk of environmental contamination due to spillage and improper application, however.

Critics of the loan argue that it is naive or deceitful for the Bank to assume that the DDT will be applied in such a controlled and scientific manner. Micheal Hansen, staff scientist for the Institute for Consumer Policy Research, argues that the World Bank "shouldn't be allowed to get away with talking about this specific application" because past experiences show that the DDT "will get into the eco-system." Hansen cites several examples of DDT usage in the developing world, specifically India, where the World Bank's recommendations were not followed. "Once [DDT is] introduced into the region it's going to be used for agriculture and all kinds of other things," says Hansen. He argues that when the residents of Amazonia recognize DDT's short-term efficacy they will start to use it on their gardens and crops and that the World Bank "won't be able to control it."

Kay Treakle, coordinator of Greenpeace's international pesticides project, concurs. "Whenever DDT is available it's going to be used in agriculture. Someone's going to say 'Wow it works,"' she says. Treakle argues that once this happens the impact on non-target species will be devastating. "Given the amazing number of species [in the Amazon], using [DDT there] is unimaginable." The thousands of bird species in the region present "one of the most compelling reasons for not using it," Treakle says.

The impact on humans is another area of concern for critics of the loan and DDT usage in general. A great deal of debate exists over what effect DDT has on the human population. The World Bank defends the use of DDT by citing the pesticide's lack of acute human toxicity. The chemical's short-term, relatively benign characteristics are used to obscure the growing body of evidence documenting DDT's dangers to humans, however.

According to Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois Medical Center and the author of Politics of Cancer, there "is no valid epidemiological information to challenge the animal carcinogenicity levels." Epstein cites scientific studies which reveal tumor developments in laboratory animals and asserts that these results "can be extrapolated to humans."

The World Bank counters this argument by stating that there is no direct cause-effect epidemiological evidence to substantiate such claims. But critics, like Treakle, hold that the Bank has abused this standard and that the lack of documented evidence showing a correlation between DDT and cancer in humans should not be interpreted as a clean bill of health for the pesticide. To do so "flies in the face of overwhelming evidence of the toxic and carcinogenic" hazards associated with DDT, says Epstein.

Malaria is also a major health threat and the number of cases in the Amazon has almost doubled from 280,000 to 500,000 in the last five years, according to World Bank figures. This increase has coincided with the explosive development occurring in the region. "The underlying cause [of the malaria outbreak] is not the mosquitos but the development," explains Treakle. Even the Bank acknowledges the connection between rapid development and the increasing incidence of malaria. In World Bank News, the Bank' s newsletter, the Bank refers to a new strain of malaria that "is not only a disease but a social condition associated with the historical process of Brazil's expanding frontier." But the Bank fails to assume any responsibility for the Amazon's problems.

According to Hansen, however, "Malaria [in the Amazon] was created by World Bank programs that have cut down the forest." Both Treakle and Seidenburg cite the World Bank's support of major road construction through the state of Rondonia as a prime example of flawed policy. Rondonia is one of the areas most affected by the latest outbreak. The destruction of the rainforest in this area, exacerbated by a massive influx of workers lured by the prospects of gold mining, has created the conditions that have allowed the anopheles mosquito (the transmitting agent of the disease) to proliferate, according to Treakle.

The World Bank's emphasis on a chemical "solution" to the Amazon's malaria problem is not unique. "Very often [the World Bank] subsidize[s] chemical pesticide use to the exclusion of other alternatives that work just as well,n says Diane Baxter, staff toxicologist for the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides These alternative strategies involve habitat modification, such as screening homes, draining swampy areas and removing potential breeding grounds for the mosquitos.

The World Bank's recent, and highly publicized, environmentalist rhetoric has not been matched by deeds. The emphasis of the Bank must shift from what is easiest to "what is the least toxic way of achieving the desired results," according to Baxter. "The proper way [of dealing with malaria] is so-called labor intensive," says Epstein. "Use of chemicals is nonsensical," he adds. The World Bank must reevaluate its priorities if it is to avoid being an accomplice to the severe environmental degradation that has resulted from its skewed development policies.

- Stuart Gold

Risky Business

A recent study released by the National Safe Workplace Institute (NSWI) underscores the failure of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to address the issue of job safety adequately. The report, Unmet Needs: Making American Work Safe For the 1990s, reveals corporate and governmental indifference to worker safety. According to the report, the United States "has one of the highest occupational fatality rates for major industrialized countries."

One out of every 11 workers in the United States will be seriously injured or killed on the job, according to the report. Each year more than 10,000 workers die and over 70,000 become permanently disabled as a result of job-related accidents. The problem worsened during the Reagan years as industrial injury rates increased between 1983 and 1987.

Despite the magnitude of the problem, both industry and government are failing to make a substantial effort to combat work-related injuries and diseases. Most corporations are unwilling to invest in the health and safety of their work force and are reluctant to appoint safety professionals to senior management positions. According to Joseph Kinney, executive director of NSWI, "It's time that people concerned about [job safety] begin to work with business for a safety and health commitment." Government has done little to alter this corporate indifference. The report reveals the low priority given to the issue by Congress. "The U.S. Senate, with more than 2,500 staff members, does not have a single professional staff member fully dedicated to addressing job safety and health matters." State and local governments are frequently no better. NSWI concludes that, "for state and local governments, neglect is the byword."

The United States' neglect of job safety is especially startling when compared to the record of other industrialized nations. Kinney states that "our relative poor performance in respect to other countries frames the magnitude of the problem." According to the report, Japan's occupational fatality rate is 63.9 percent of that of the United States; Italy's is only 44.4 percent. For every worker killed in the United Kingdom, nine workers are killed in the United States. The authors urge policy-makers, workers and business managers to understand "how costly our occupational safety failures have been to the ability of the Unites States to compete in global markets." Based on a calculation that each worker fatality costs the economy $1.4 million--a figure based on lost wages, the multiplier effect of lost wages and the loss of public and private investment--the study's authors determined that occupational fatalities cost the U.S. economy $14.9 billion in 1986. In addition to saving lives, reducing worker fatalities to the Japanese level would have saved the U.S. economy $5.4 billion. Joclyn Williams, president of the Washington, D.C. AFL-CIO, says that "this view of corporate and governmental neglect is consistent with the claims that the AFL-CIO has been making for the last eight years."

With almost one quarter of U.S. worker fatalities, the construction industry stands out as one of the most dangerous and recalcitrant industries. In 1985, the United States experienced 2,300 construction fatalities. If the United States had the same construction fatality rate as England, it would have experienced only 874 fatalities. The study cited England's licensing program for tradespeople and hazardous work permit program as two reasons for that country's lower fatality rate.

The U.S. regulatory process is far less strict, and NSWI found OSHA's policing of the construction industry to be ineffective. For example, fines for fatality cases are inconsistent, ranging from a high of $5,053 in Boston to a low of $414 in Dallas. More importantly, 40 percent of fatalities resulted in no penalty. Where fines were imposed, construction companies negotiated reductions of the fines as high as 50 percent, according to the report. According to Roy Clason, a spokesperson for OSHA, "There has been direction from OSHA to area offices to correct inconsistencies." Clason says that Congress has approved a request by Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Dole for $15 million to fund 179 new compliance officers and support costs. This is the first staff increase in 10 years, he notes.

NSWI did find that harsher penalties yield positive results. Cities like Los Angeles, which stop work until violations are corrected and also criminally investigate occupational homicides, have fewer fatalities than cities with less aggressive programs. NSWI urged OSHA to impose strong penalties on construction contractors as a safety incentive.

Exposure to dangerous chemicals and harmful substances poses the most significant challenge to workplace safety and worker health. According to NSWI, "one of every four workers in the United States is exposed to potentially toxic substances at work." The crux of the problem is industry's reluctance to inform workers of the identity and hazards of those chemicals with which they are working. The report contends that the federal government's four-year-old "Hazard Communication" standard does not require employers to post signs informing workers of their Right-to-Know or mandate detailed labelling regarding toxic chemicals. NSWI states that this "standard [gives] employers great leeway in withholding important information regarding health effects, long-term health hazards and the need for concern."

The authors recommend "that the Secretary of Labor develop a stronger, more comprehensive strategy for implementing the "Right-to-Know" about occupational exposure to toxic and hazardous substances." NSWI also recommended that federal agencies begin to employ Ergonomics, which is "the science that seeks to adapt work or working conditions to suit the worker." Ergonomics would be especially helpful in preventing injuries, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which result from the constant repetition of certain motions that put the wrist in stressful positions.

NSWI did report some encouraging signs from the Department of Labor, now under the leadership of Secretary Elizabeth Dole, and OSHA. In July, 1989 OSHA imposed a $2.72 million fine and sought a court injunction against Friction Division Products, Inc. for violating OSHA's asbestos standard and threatening the lives of its workers. In the same month, Secretary Dole issued a $2 million penalty against the Ford Motor Company for failing to record injuries and illnesses accurately; Ford was cited for 241 record-keeping violations.

NSWI warns, however, that "much more needs to be done in both government and the private sector before it can be concluded that Americans are on the road to safer work." The authors emphasize the need for greater funding of workplace safety enforcement agencies, more use of criminal prosecutions and stiff fines against violators of safety standards and increasing the number of professionals, such as toxicologists and industrial hygienists, at OSHA. Above all, the report argues, the U.S.'s corporate culture must change, with business schools offering courses on employee safety and health and U.S. companies placing a high priority on workplace safety. NSWI makes it clear that safety, not worker neglect, is economically advantageous.

- Joseph Belluck

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