Behind the Lines

IP Lies Exposed

INTERNATIONAL PAPER COMPANY (IP) violated federal securities law by making "misleading statements [that] omitted material facts" in the firm's 1992 proxy statement to shareholders, the U.S. Second Court of Appeals in New York ruled on February 12.

The ruling finds in favor of the United Paperworkers International Union (UPIU), affirming federal district court judge Charles Brieant's August 1992 ruling that IP management had lied to stockholders in order to defeat a resolution calling on the company to comply with the Valdez Principles, a set of environmental standards intended to be independently and externally monitored.

 In recommending that shareholders vote against the proposal, which was put forth by the Presbyterian Church at a May 1992 meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, IP wrote in its proxy that the company has "a longstanding commitment to the protection of the environment" and that "environmental stewardship has always been an important part of IP's business."

 The union sued IP in federal court to force another vote on the resolution and to make certain shareholders receive accurate information, explains Mark Brooks, UPIU special projects director. In its complaint, the UPIU cited a history of environmental infractions committed by IP, including five felony convictions in July 1991 for lying to federal and state regulators and for unlawful hazardous waste disposal at IP's Androscoggin Mill in Jay, Maine.

 Brieant wrote in his decision, "The total impression conveyed by the board's glib response to the proposal is that the company is a model of environmental rectitude. Nowhere in any of these materials is there even bare acknowledgement that the company has had its share of difficulties in this area."

The judge concluded that IP management's response to the Valdez proposal was a "calculated attempt to mislead the shareholders and induce them to cast a negative vote; rather than portraying [the company's environmental] record accurately, or remaining silent, it chose to engage in flowery corporate happy-talk in order to defeat the proposal."

 "It's amazing that IP would try to mislead both its shareholders and the federal courts," says Brooks. "The Second Circuit has now made certain IP's shareholders will know management lied to them last year."

 International Paper failed to answer Multinational Monitor's questions regarding the court's decision.

 

Demanding Justice

REPRESENTATIVES OF HUNDREDS of African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino, Native American and poor white grassroots organizations in the Southeast and Southwest regions of the United States, have asked that President Clinton and Vice President Gore meet with them within 60 days of the letter's receipt to discuss the coalition's perspectives on a wide range of environmental injustice issues.

The letters' 79 signatories requested input into the formulation of policy and appointments of regional staff of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Energy, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Education and Agriculture.

"Justice demands an end to the poisoning of our communities," appeal the letter's signers, who point out that 60 percent of all U.S. hazardous waste or toxic-emitting facilities are located in or adjacent to communities of color, and that 65 percent of U.S. commercial hazardous waste is dumped in the South.

"Medical care and life-time health monitoring for those who are sick and dying, compensation from those who poisoned us, and relocation to clean communities when needed, must be a significant part of the Administration's environmental agenda. ... Anything less would be immoral," the letter states.

 "People in our communities are suffering from cancers. Children along the Mexican border are being born with no brains. Mexican communities in California are located on top of pesticide dumps," says Richard Moore, director of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice. "Clearly these are urgent problems that cannot wait months or years to be addressed. We believe that not only do we have a right to meet with the administration, but that President Clinton has a responsibility to meet with leaders of our choice."

 

Remembering the Massacre

APRIL 10, 1993 MARKED THE ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY of the massacre of 1,200 Jumma people who were locked in their homes and burned to death in Logang village, Bangladesh . The indigenous rights group Survival International has held monthly vigils at the Bangladeshi High Commission in England since the slaughter, preserving the memory of the victims.

The Bangladeshi army carried out the massacre as part of a protracted government attempt to force the Buddhist peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to convert to Islam. Over the last 20 years, government policies of moving settlers from the Bangladeshi plains has robbed thousands of Jummas of their lands, where 50,000 military personnel are stationed. Jumma villages are tightly controlled by the military, who, according to Aditi Sharma, Asia campaigns officer for Survival International, rape, murder and torture villagers almost daily.

 "The pressure in beginning to have an effect," says Sharma, who has led the monthly vigils at the High Commission in coalition with other human rights, indigenous and Buddhist advocacy activists to foster public awareness of the tragedy. Although Bangladeshi High Commissioner Dr. A.F.M. Yusuf continues to "reiterate the official death toll of only 13 people, he met with us for over an hour" at the April 8 memorial vigil, Sharma says. "He even began referring to the massacre, rather than calling it an Šincident' as he had previously."

The Bangladeshi Embassy did not respond to questions about the massacre or Jumma land rights.

 - Julie Gozan