Behind the Lines

Dirty Colgate

COLGATE-PALMOLIVE'S ENVIRONMENTAL RECORD came under fire in Mexico City in March as thousands of environmentalists and city residents demonstrated against the polluting practices of the company and demanded that it relocate its factory outside the city. Colgate had earlier refused to comply with a similar request issued by the Mexico City district deputy mayor.

 The demonstrators called on the company to comply with a program issued by a coalition of environmentalists, neighborhood committees and district authorities, according to an Inter Press Service report. The program demands that Colgate present a timetable for relocation, halt all highly polluting practices, reduce "excessive water consumption" and resume talks with local citizens that were called off last November.

 Environmentalists say Colgate's refusal to consider the mayor's office's request reveals the weakness of local officials in dealing with multinational corporations. "This whole matter raises questions about official promises that the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement ... will lead to restrictions on industries that damage the environment," coalition spokesperson Antonio Guillermo told Inter Press Service.

Colgate did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Inside Traders

MORE THAN 80 HIGH-RANKING OFFICIALS of the U.S. government have left federal service since 1986 to represent or lobby for foreign trade or security interests, according to a March 1992 General Accounting Office (GAO) report. The report, "Foreign Agent Registration: Former Officials Representing Foreign Interests Before the U.S. Government," identifies two senators, one congressperson, seven White House officials, 33 senior congressional staff and 39 executive agency officials who have gone on to represent public or private interests from 43 countries.

 "These people are using their training and access to privileged and sensitive economic information ... to sell out to the highest bidder at a later date," said Representative Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, in releasing the GAO report.

Officials who have left through the revolving door include: William E. Brock, former Secretary of Labor and United States Trade Representative from 1981 to 1985, who has represented the governments of Taiwan and Panama, as well as the Mexican Ministry of Commerce during the debate over "fast-track authority" for trade agreements; former Senator Mark Andrews, who has represented over 17 Japanese businesses since he left the Senate in 1986; and Michael Smith, former deputy trade representative at the State Department, who is currently serving as a consultant to the governments of Mexico and Canada, and to the Canadian Sugar Institute.

The revolving door is a two-way problem, with individuals who previously represented foreign interests occuping top positions in the U.S. trade bureaucracy, according to a recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity. Current U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, for example, was registered in 1985 as a representative for Daewoo Industrial Co., Ltd., a Korean conglomerate, and has also worked for the foreign companies Panasonic Industries and Reuter.

 Several House members have proposed legislation to curtail government officials' revolving door activities. Kaptur and other legislators are proposing legislation that would restrict trade officials and senior members of the executive and legislative branches from lobbying after leaving government service. The bill will probably be introduced in May, according to Kaptur's office.

GE & Whistleblowers

GENERAL ELECTRIC (GE) MAY SUE a whistleblowing employee, Chester Walsh, to recover any monetary reward he receives for bringing forward allegations of fraud in the company's sale of military jet engines to Israel, according to Walsh's lawyers.

Walsh, general manager of GE's aircraft-engine group in Israel from 1984 to 1988, charges that a group of employees in his division conspired with an Israeli general to submit fraudulent claims for work done for the Israeli Air Force and paid for by the U.S. government. The Justice Department has filed an extended civil complaint against GE in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. A trial date of November 2 has been set.

Under the False Claims Act, a federal law designed to encourage and protect whistleblowers, Walsh could receive as much as 25 percent of the $120 million in damages that the Justice Department is seeking. GE spokesperson Bruce Bunch says that Walsh should have reported any wrongdoing to company officials. GE maintains that Walsh secretly gathered information about the fraud and failed to report it to the company. The corporation says Walsh violated an agreement all GE employees sign yearly, requiring them to promptly bring evidence of wrongdoing to the attention of management. Walsh's lawyers hold that he did not report the information internally because he feared he would be physically harmed if he did.

Bunch declined to comment on whether or not the company is considering suing Walsh.

 - Holley Knaus