Multinational Monitor

NOV 1998
VOL 19 No. 11


Oligopoly! Highly Concentrated Markets Across the U.S. Economy
Amy Taub and Robert Weissman

Terminator Seeds: Monsanto Moves to Tighten Its Grip on the Global Agriculture
by Hope Shand

Financial Deregulation Fiasco: HR 10 and the Consequences of Financial Concentration
by Jake Lewis


The Microsoft Monopoly
an interview with
James Love


Behind the Lines

Breathing Life Into Antitrust Policy

The Front
Sweating a Labor Rights Deal - Arbitrary in Alabama

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Money & Politics
A Connected Industry

Names In the News


Names In the News

Pacific Lumber Cut Off

The State of California in November suspended Pacific Lumber Company's license to log ancient redwood trees.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) says that it suspended the company's license due to "continued violations of the state's forest practice rules."

"This decision is not an easy one to make, considering the effects on employees, but we simply cannot allow these violations to continue," says CDF director Richard Wilson.

The violations cited by CDF included one where the company clearcut trees along a stream used by salmon for spawning, and another where a Pacific Lumber employee learned of a violation, but was told by a supervisor not to report the violation. This concealment was cited by CDF as a willful violation.

CDF suspended the company's license in 1997 for violating environmental laws, but the company was then granted a provisional license.

Pacific Lumber President John Campbell immediately apologized to the CDF for the violations. "Frankly, the company and I are embarrassed by the suspension and we have reached the conclusion that no valid purpose would be served" in appealing the decision, he says.

The company says it will lay off 180 loggers as a result of the revocation. But environmentalists point out that the state's action came at a time when logging operations slow due to bad weather, and say the real test will be if the company is refused a license in 1999.

"I'm glad to see that CDF acknowledges that Pacific Lumber is such a disreputable and dishonest timber company that they shouldn't be allowed to run a chainsaw in their own forest," says Paul Mason of Environmental Protection Information Center.

PVC Teethers (Un)Shelved

Year-long campaign to ban certain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics from children's toys hit pay dirt in November as Toys 'R' Us, the nation's largest retailer of children's products, announced it would immediately remove teethers and pacifiers with the chemicals from its shelves in stores around the world.

One day after environmental groups released tests showing high levels of "phthalates" in soft plastic children's toys, Toys 'R' Us said it would remove "all direct-to-mouth products for :infant use" containing the dangerous chemical from shelves worldwide.

"Although there has been no definitive scientific evidence that supports removal of these products, customer concern and the actions by some manufacturers to phase out of phthalates have led us to this decision," said Robert Nakasone, chief executive officer for Toys 'R' Us.

The company's announcement came one day after the National Environmental Trust and Greenpeace released testing data showing that 33 common soft plastic children's toys - seven of which were purchased at Toys R' Us - contained high levels of a chemical that has been banned or regulated in seven European countries.

A growing body of scientific evidence suggests these chemicals cause liver and kidney lesions and other damage in laboratory animals and seep out of soft plastic vinyl when chewed and mouthed by a child.

While crediting Toys 'R' Us for its actions, the National Environmental Trust's Philip Clapp says that the toy seller's action was too limited. "We strongly believe that limiting the scope of your action to just one class of toys - infant toys intended for the mouth - protects some children but leaves millions of others still exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals," says Clapp.

The National Environmental Trust said that of the seven Toys 'R' Us toys they tested, only one - a Sesame Street teether ring containing 30 percent phthalates by weight - would be covered by the toy company's action.

Dean Finney of the Chemical Manufacturers Association says that phthalates had not been found to cause cancer in humans and only did so in rats at "heroic dosages."

May: Punishing the Poor

The May department stores company, one of the largest department store operators in the country, agreed in a November settlement deal with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to make full refunds totaling at least $15 million to consumers who - having had their credit card account debts discharged in bankruptcy proceedings - continued to make payments or face illegal collection efforts.

According to the FTC, May regularly sought out consumers who filed for bankruptcy protection to persuade them to "reaffirm" credit account debts and falsely represented that these "reaffirmation agreements" would be filed with the bankruptcy courts, as required by law.

In fact, the FTC charges, in many cases May did not file the agreements or win bankruptcy court approval. The reaffirmation agreements were, therefore, not legally binding on consumers. Nevertheless, the FTC alleges, May unfairly collected many of these debts.

The May Department Stores Company owns and operates many well-known department stores, including Lord & Taylor, Hecht's, Strawbridge's, Foleys, Robinsons-May, Kaufmann's, Filene's and L.S. Ayres.

Reaffirmation agreements are not illegal, according to the FTC. However, the U.S. Bankruptcy Code requires that such agreements be filed with the bankruptcy courts, and in the case of debtors not represented by legal counsel, reaffirmation agreements must be approved by the court.

- Russell Mokhiber



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