Behind the Lines

Arctic Under Siege

A PROPOSED LEASE OF MILLIONS OF ACRES of offshore land for oil development in Alaska has drawn sharp criticism from a broad coalition of local and national environmental groups.

 A June 1994 Memorandum of Understanding between U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and the Committee of the Russian Federation on Geology would make the entire Arctic Ocean between northwest Alaska and the Russia's Chukotsk Peninsula available for oil development. Local communities and the public were not consulted about the sale.

In response to the oil deal, a wide range of groups, including the Marine Conservation Council, the Bering Sea Fishermen's Association, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Trustees for Alaska, wrote a letter to Vice President Al Gore stating, "We, as indigenous, commercial fishing and environmental organizations, are extremely disheartened by this initiative. We ask that you cease further progress on this plan." The letter noted that the oil lease conflicts with several federal and international initiatives, including the International Polar Bear Agreement, the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy and the International Union on the Conservation of Nature.

Offshore drilling has long conflicted with the traditional activities of Alaska Natives and fishers, while posing a persistent threat to the environment. "Oil and gas operations in the Chukchi Sea will threaten ... important marine resources, through noise and the threat of an oil spill," an August 24 letter to Al Gore from the Indigenous People's Council for Marine Mammals states. "We believe that the United States laws are not sufficiently protective [of wildlife], and we fear that the Russian government will be even more lax." Natives fear that the habitats of several species of marine birds, sea mammals and polar bears, which migrate and live in the area, will be harmed.

 Greenpeace claims that challenges such as heavy sea ice flows, darkness for much of the year and extreme weather all render rapid oil spill response and cleanup virtually impossible.

"We are at a very early stage of this process," says Robin Cacy, public affairs officer at the Interior Department's Outer Continental Shelf region. "A request for interest and comment went out in September to test the waters to see if there is any interest and what the concerns involved are."


Miller Cuts Staley Ties

THE CORPORATE CAMPAIGN OF WORKERS at A.E. Staley appears to be beginning to take hold. In October 1994 Miller Brewing Co. announced that beginning January 1, 1995, it will stop purchasing the corn sweetener used in its brewing process from A.E. Staley, a subsidiary of British-based Tate & Lyle.

 Staley workers in Decatur, Illinois, have been on the picket line since they were locked out in June 1993. Tate & Lyle has been demanding massive concessions from Staley operations. The workers, members of the Allied Industrial Workers (AIW) union, have refused to accede to these demands, but instead of going on strike - which would have legally allowed the company to permanently replace them - they launched an aggressive in-plant strategy, featuring work-to-rule and similar tactics. This effort was so successful that Tate & Lyle responded by locking the workers out.

 Since the lockout, the Staley workers have conducted a nationwide corporate campaign, calling for a consumer boycott of Tate & Lyle products, including Dominion Sugar, and asking Staley's industrial customers to stop buying from Staley. Workers also asked Miller and other major Staley clients to cut contracts with Staley and other anti-union companies.

 While claiming the decision to change suppliers from Staley to three others was "strictly a business decision based on price," Miller spokesperson Michael Brophy expresses hope that ending its ties with Staley would end the union's pressure on Miller beer. Brophy also claims that the union's campaign is "misdirected." "We can't dictate labor policies to our vendors," he says. "As a unionized company, we should never have been the target of a corporate campaign."

 "We will continue our campaign until we are satisfied that Miller is not moving their business to a producer that is aiding Tate & Lyle in their attack on workers in Decatur, [and] until Miller Brewing discontinues attacks on workers in other unions," says AIW spokesperson Mike Griffin. " In the spirit of solidarity, we recognize that an injury to one is an injury to all."

 A.E. Staley did not respond to calls by Multinational Monitor.


Easy Terms for Texaco

TEXACO INC. AND THE ECUADORAN GOVERNMENT have reached a tentative agreement on Texaco's contribution to a clean-up and restoration program for the company's former oil production sites in the Ecuadoran Amazon region.

 Texaco pulled out of Ecuador in 1992, after dumping nearly 17 million gallons of crude oil and 20 billion gallons of waste waters in the waterways of the Ecuadoran Amazon. Roads built by the company in the Amazon facilitated the deforestation of 2 million acres and incursion onto indigenous peoples' lands, according to the Rainforest Action Network.

 The pollution from Texaco's operations "has generated a substantial health crisis, and the indigenous people have lost ancestral lands and the conditions needed to preserve their culture," stated an October 5 letter from Ecuadoran indigenous leaders which denounces the settlement as inadequate and protests the exclusion of indigenous people from the negotiations.

 The settlement is unfair," claims Shannon Wright, Rainforest Action Network's Amazon Campaign coordinator. "If the plan is finalized, Texaco will get off easy with a partial cleanup."

 "Our position is that the elected government of Ecuador is our negotiating partner," says Texaco spokesperson Michael Trevino. "They were our former partner in the Petroecuador consortium."


- Aaron Freeman