The Multinational Monitor

MAY 1996 · VOLUME 17 · NUMBER 5

N A M E S    I N    T H E    N E W S

Suzuki Sues Consumer Reports

American Suzuki Motor Corporation and Suzuki Motor Corporation have charged Consumers Union of the United States, publisher of Consumer Reports, with defamation, product disparagement and violations of the California Business and Professions code in an April lawsuit.

The lawsuit stems from a recent republication of a 1988 report published in Consumer Reports about the Suzuki Samurai sports utility vehicle in which Consumer Reports called the vehicle unsafe.

George F. Ball, Suzuki general counsel, said at a news conference held in Los Angeles that Suzuki decided to file the lawsuit now because Consumers Union "has renewed its unwarranted attack on Suzuki through its January 1996 anniversary issue, its Car Buyers Guide CD-ROM and various on-line computer services."

"Consumers Union charged that tests demonstrated that Samurai would easily roll over in a so-called `accident avoidance' maneuver that any driver could be called upon to perform at any time," Ball said. "The assertion or insinuation that the Suzuki Samurai easily rolls over in any kind of normal driving circumstances is simply false. Consumers Union had access to the U.S. government ... data in 1988 which would have caused Consumers Union to know that its testing of the Samurai did not reflect a real-world rollover situation."

In a prepared statement, Consumers Union David Berliner responded, "We believe Suzuki is now suing us in a desperate and inappropriate attempt to defend against the numerous product liability lawsuits that have been brought against it by the victims of rollover accidents involving Suzuki Samurais."

Berliner said that Consumers Union stands by its findings "without exception."

"The 1988 Suzuki Samurai is, as we reported that year, a `not acceptable vehicle' because of its tendency to roll over," he said.

Suzuki sold 77,493 1988 model year Samurai vehicles. The following year, after the Consumer Reports article was published, sales dropped to 1,435.

Rockwell's Deadly Waste

Rockwell International Corporation pled guilty in April to three felony counts and will pay a $6.5 million fine in connection with a 1994 chemical explosion that killed two scientists at the firm's Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Simi Hills, California.

Federal officials in Los Angeles charged that in June and July 1994, Rockwell's Rocketdyne division illegally stored and disposed of hazardous waste at the facility. The waste in question, triaminoguanidine nitrate (TAGN), an explosive, was used as a gun propellant.

On July 26, 1994, two Rockwell scientists, Otto Heiney and Larry Pugh, were killed in an explosion at the facility.

For months following the blast, Rockwell officials claimed that Heiney and Pugh died while conducting legitimate experiments with explosives. But in April, Rocketdyne President Paul Smith admitted that the blast came as the two were illegally burning a volatile explosive to get rid of it.

Rockwell entered into a binding plea agreement which, if approved by the court, will resolve the corporation's criminal liability for hazardous waste storage and disposal leading to the deaths of the two scientists. Under the plea agreement, Rockwell, in addition to paying the $6.5 million fine, will cooperate fully with federal investigators in the ongoing criminal investigation. Individual Rockwell employees are still potentially criminally liable in connection with the explosion, and the company may still face civil prosecution and penalties.

Rockwell Chief Executive Officer Donald Beall says the company accepts "full responsibility" for the violations. "We have to take a long hard look at ourselves and understand" why and how the violations occurred, Beall says.

Classroom Commercials

Big corporate polluters are offering free "educational materials" to promote commercial interests in public schools, according to a report released in April by UNPLUG, a national coalition dedicated to keeping schools commercial-free.

According to the report, the sponsored materials promote an industry point of view alongside of messages urging students to recycle materials.

The plastics, petroleum, paper and chemical industries lead in offering environmentally oriented teacher and class guides and posters to money-strapped schools, the report found.

"Corporate greenwashing not only undermines an environmental consciousness among young people, it undermines America's long tradition of public -- not corporate -- education," says UNPLUG director Marianne Manilov.

The report gives a number of examples of industry greenwashing in the schools, including:

-- Russell Mokhiber

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