The Multinational Monitor

November 2000 - VOLUME 21 - NUMBER 11

B E H I N D    T H E    L I N E S

Global Labor Repression

At least 140 trade unionists around the world last year were assassinated, disappeared or committed suicide after they were threatened as a result of their labor advocacy.

A September 2000 survey of 113 countries by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) also found that nearly 3,000 people were arrested, more then 1,500 were injured, beaten or tortured and at least 5,800 were harassed because of their trade union activities. Another 700 trade unionists received death threats.

"This year's report gives an opportunity to denounce the prevailing hypocrisy which sees government officials parading at international gatherings, ostensibly promoting basic workers' rights, while those who actually defend those fundamental rights at home are being harassed, attacked, threatened, sidelined or silenced - sometimes forever," says Bill Jordan, general secretary of the ICFTU while presenting this year's findings.

Some 12,000 workers were unfairly dismissed or refused reinstatement, the ICFTU survey found, sometimes with the complicity of the government, because they were active members of a trade union. At least 140 strikes or demonstrations were repressed by governments, sometimes with the support of the employers using strike breakers, while 80 of the 113 surveyed countries restrict the right to strike.

The report shows "ruthless repression in Latin America, attacks and interference in Asia, arrests and imprisonment in Africa, severe restrictions and non-payment of wages in Eastern Europe and a growing trend to 'union busting' activities in industrialized countries," Jordan says.

Colombia appears to be the most dangerous country for union activists. In 1999, 76 trade unionists in Colombia were assassinated or reported missing.

No Burn for Mozambique

Mozambique announced in September that it was rejecting a Danish offer to build a hazardous waste incinerator to burn obsolete donated pesticides [see "Something Rotten from Denmark," December 1998, Multinational Monitor.]

The Danish International Development Agency (Danida) had offered to retrofit a local cement kiln to become a hazardous waste incinerator to burn stockpiled obsolete pesticides and future toxic wastes.

The Mozambique Ministry of Environment announced that instead of the Danida option, which the Ministry had originally supported, it would call for export of the pesticide wastes for safe destruction in a developed country, probably in Europe. That has been the position advocated by a coalition of Mozambican and international environmental organizations, including Essential Action, a project of Essential Information, the publisher of Multinational Monitor.

Environmentalists emphasized that incineration of hazardous wastes in cement kilns produces dioxins and furans, the most toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs) known. Together with heavy metals, they said, these contaminants find their way into both the cement produced and into cement kiln dusts emitted into the air.

"Had the civil society only been consulted at an earlier stage, Danida and the Mozambique authorities could have saved themselves a lot of trouble and even benefited with a cutting-edge approach of dealing with obsolete pesticides such as holding pesticide producers responsible and destroying pesticides using non-incineration and non-polluting destruction technology," says Anabela Lemos of Livaningo, one of the first Mozambican environmental groups and the organization which led the campaign against the incinerator scheme.

Livaningo and the global coalition of activists that have worked with them on the case are calling on the Danish government to import the wastes and destroy them, using state of the art, non-incineration destruction technologies in Europe.

Sony: Surveil, Coopt

Sony is encouraging the electronics industry to surveil, block funding for and aggressively confront the allegations of an environmental movement increasingly focused on the toxic hazards of computer and electronics production and disposal.

Sony documents obtained by the trade journal Inside EPA direct attention to "NGO Activity to watch out for!" The documents highlight campaign plans of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Northern Alliance for Sustainability and the European Environment Bureau.

Sony presented the documents at a July business gathering in Brussels on a European proposal to phase out toxics used in electronics and to require manufacturers to take back electronic products for recycling.

The Sony papers warn that the environmentalists are "highly active, well organized groups." The company's proposed "action strategy" to deal with the environmental groups urges, "Don't wait!!"

"Early pre-funding intervention could be beneficial," says the action plan, also urging companies to:

  • Prepare industry template responses - avoid individual fragmented responses.
  • Set up detailed monitoring and contact network to NGOs; web investigation agencies, Infonic Plc.
  • Organize high level response persons within company.
  • Look into partnership support with reliable NGOs - tax rebates in some Member states.