Multinational Monitor

MAY 1998
VOL 19 No. 5


The Corporate Right to Cover Up: The Environmental Audit Privilege and the Public Interest
by Sanford Lewis

Veggie Libel: Agribusiness Seeks to Stifle Speech
by Ronald K.L. Collins

First Amendment Follies: Expanding Corporate Speech Rights
by Robert Weissman

Canadians Ungagged: A Victory for Free Speech in Daishowa v. Friends of the Lubicon
by Virginia Rose Smith


SLAPPing Back for Democracy
an interview with George Pring


Behind the Lines

Corporations and Free Speech

The Front
Rejecting the IMF - Milking the Media

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Money & Politics
Corporate Tax Magic

Their Masters' Voice
The Small World of Lobbyist Ann Wexler

Names In the News

Book Notes


Behind the Lines

Oxy Pulls Back, Not Out

Occidental Petroleum announced in May that it would abandon its oil exploration plans on land claimed by the U'wa people in Colombia. U'wa supporters, however, were quick to label the announcement unsatisfactory.

The 5,000 U'wa have garnered international attention after threatening to commit collective suicide if Oxy does not pull back from exploration plans in an 800-square-mile bloc in northeast Colombia that overlaps with U'wa ancestral land. The U'wa claim the project threatens environmental damage and cultural catastrophe [see "Beat the Devil: The 10 Worst Corporations of 1997," Multinational Monitor, December 1997]. They also complain that oil development is opening the previously isolated area to outsiders, who bring Colombia's violent civil conflicts with them.

An Occidental spokesperson said in May that the company would comply with U'wa demands, and exchange its claim for another in the area.

But U'wa supporters say the new bloc also lies in U'wa territory, and is only a six-hour hike from the U'wa's main living area.

"While we are encouraged that the campaign is having an effect," says Shannon Wright of the Rainforest Action Network, "Occidental's project still looms as a deadly threat to the U'wa's land and livelihood."

"Continuing a pattern of disregard for indigenous people, Occidental has boasted of their solution before they bothered to ask the U'wa about it," comments Steve Kretzmann of the Berkeley-based Project Underground.

France Goes to 35

France moved to a 35-hour work week in May, as the French National Assembly voted into law Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's plan to cut France's 39-hour work week with no pay cuts.

Under the law, companies with more than 20 employees must shorten the work week by the year 2000. Smaller firms are given an additional two years to comply with the law. The exact details of how the law will be implemented have not been worked out, and will be specified in a subsequent law to be adopted next year.

Jospin ran for election on a platform which included the 35-hour week as an important plank. Once elected, he appeared to waver on the issue, but pressure from the Communists who are a critical element in his coalition government persuaded him to deliver on his promise.

Socialists, Communists and Greens supported the proposal, while the center-right opposition voted against the bill. President Jacques Chirac opposed the measure.

France currently suffers from a 12 percent unemployment rate, and the hourly reduction is intended to spread existing work so that the unemployed are given job opportunities.

French businesses, however, say the plan will put them at a massive competitive disadvantage. In October 1997, after agreement was reached between ministers, employers and trade unions to adopt the 35-hour work week, Jean Gandois, president of France's employers association and a perceived moderate, resigned his position in protest. The shorter work week "damages competitiveness and adds to unemployment," the European quoted him as saying. "Companies no longer have the choice of how to fight in a war that will prove pitiless and hard."

Murder in Brazil

Two Brazilian social movement activists were assassinated in May.

Francisco de Assis Araujo, chief of the 8,000 Xucuru-Kariri people and a national indigenous leader who fought for demarcation of indigenous lands was shot by unidentified assassins.

The Xucuru-Kariri won demarcation of their land in 1995, but, under a 1996 law, estate owners were permitted to dispute the demarcation -- and they have. The old land owners continue to claim possession and to farm and log the land. According to reports in the British Guardian, the Xucuru reclaimed a 600-hectare estate just four days before Araujo's murder.

Also murdered was Sabastiao Francisco Lima, a leader of the left CUT opposition in the Rio de Janeiro bus drivers union. Known as "Fearless Tiao," he was shot and killed inside the bus he drove.

"They shot to kill. We are certain they were hired assassins, although we don't know who hired them," Carlos Roberto da Silva, director of social policies for the CUT in Rio, was reported as saying.

The Sumitomo Copper Fix

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in May hit the Sumitomo Corporation of Japan with a $150 million civil penalty for manipulating the copper market in 1995 and 1996.

CFTC officials found that Sumitomo engaged in a scheme to manipulate the price of copper through actions taken on the London Metals Exchange, which caused artificially high prices in cash and futures markets in copper, including those in the United States.

Federal officials said that in the wake of accumulating large losses from speculative trading, the principal copper trader for Sumitomo engaged in a scheme with the intent of manipulating the price of copper.

During the summer of 1995, the company acquired a dominant and controlling cash and futures market position, which directly caused copper prices to reach artificially high levels. The company then allegedly exploited the high prices to profit on sale of its futures contracts.


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