Multinational Monitor

SEP 1999
VOL 20 No. 9


AIDS Drugs for Africa: Grassroots Pressure Overcomes U.S. Industry's "Full Court Press" to Block South Africa's Affordable Medicine Program
by Robert Weissman

Pills, Prevention and Profits: The Case of Tamoxifen
by Amy Allina and
Cindy Pearson

The Ties That Bind: Industry Sponsorship of Patient Groups
by Lisa Hayes


The Politics of Drug Safety
an interview with
Dr. Sidney Wolfe


Behind the Lines

Moving Gently on East Timor

The Front
Too Big to Debar? - Kathie Lee Goes on Defense

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Book Notes
Big Business, Poor Peoples: The Impact of Transnational Corporations on the World's Poor, by John Madeley - Reclaiming America, by Randy Shaw

Names In the News


Names In the News

Worker Safety Unenforced

Lack of enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act by the Clinton administration has resulted in fewer inspections and fewer violations cited compared to prior administrations, according to a report released in September by Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

Public Citizen used data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to analyze the number of inspections, violations, the nature of violations and penalties imposed from 1972 to 1998.

The report shows that, depending on which of the enforcement measures is analyzed, Clinton's record on enforcing the OSH Act is either the worst in the history of the OSH Act, worse than the Bush administration or no better than the Bush administration.

It documents that every year Clinton has been in office, the number of inspections has been lower than at any point during any prior administration.

Dr. Peter Lurie of Public Citizen's Health Research Group says that shortly after Vice President Al Gore's "Reinventing Government" program went into effect there was a sudden decrease in several indices of enforcement.

According to the report, between 1994 and 1995, "Serious, Willful and Repeat" (SWR) violations decreased 51 percent, inspections decreased 35 percent, and the amount penalized decreased 47 percent.

Scamming the Poor

Whirlpool Financial National Bank, now known as Transamerica Bank, N.A., expressed "shock" that an Alabama appeals court in August denied the Bank's post-trial motion to set aside a $581 million jury verdict in a case involving a finance scam that allegedly bilked thousands of Alabamians out of millions of dollars.

The Circuit Court of Hale County reduced the jury's verdict from $580 million to $301 million.

"The fact that the judge reduced the verdict to $301 million in no way corrects this miscarriage of justice," the company said in a statement. "The Bank believes the jury verdict was clearly erroneous and that it will ultimately prevail on appeal."

But Tom Methvin, the attorney representing the victims of the scam, said that the court allowed the verdict to stand because the actions of Whirlpool represent "the worst conduct by corporate America ever to be exposed in the Alabama judicial system."

Earlier this year, the Alabama jury slapped Whirlpool and one of its dealers with the $581 million verdict for targeting illiterate and poor people in a sales scheme involving satellite television dishes.

Methvin said that Whirlpool had dealers all over the state going door-to-door soliciting poor, unsophisticated and elderly customers to purchase satellite television dishes for $1,100 plus 22 percent interest. The same equipment could be bought at an electronics store for $199.

The purchases were financed on Whirlpool "credit cards," which allowed Whirlpool to avoid having to disclose the actual number of payments that would be required, which Whirlpool then misrepresented to its customers.

"Whirlpool bilked thousands of vulnerable consumers out of millions of dollars," Methvin said. "Eight other major out-of-state banks were engaged in similar conduct in Alabama. As a result of our lawsuits against them, those banks stopped doing this in Alabama. In spite of the lawsuits, Whirlpool refused to quit their activities. The jury's verdict and the trial judge's very strong ruling should make Whirlpool put a stop to this type of conduct."

Wellstone: Stop Ag Mergers

Senator Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, has introduced legislation in that would place a moratorium on mergers, acquisitions and marketing agreements between agribusinesses each with net revenues or assets over $50 million.

The legislation would block such mergers for a year or until Congress enacts comprehensive legislation to address the problem of concentration in agriculture.

"Our current system isn't working," says Wellstone. "The growing number of mergers and acquisitions in the agricultural sector raise serious questions about concentration of power. The conglomerates have the power and family farmers don't."

Wellstone says that Congress needs to take "a good, hard look at how our current antitrust laws are functioning in this new global economy."

"There are serious questions about whether or not these laws are adequate in the face of unchecked global concentration," he says.

"The big agribusiness companies talk about efficiency," Wellstone says, "but there seems to be no room for family farmers in the new system of global concentration. Our rural communities are worse off because of it. And it is increasingly dangerous to rely on only a few companies for our food supply. We need to stop this trend toward two separate societies in America, one urban and well-off and the other, rural and struggling. Antitrust is key to this whole equation."

Most of the major agricultural markets are dominated by three or four large corporations.

In flour milling, the top four companies control 62 percent of the market. In soybean crushing, the top four firms control 80 percent of the market. In pork-packing, the top four firms control 60 percent of the market. Four grain companies control 60 percent of the pork facilities.

- Russell Mokhiber


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