Multinational Monitor

MAR 2004
VOL 25 No. 3


Saddam’s Debt: The Emerging Conflict Over How to Deal with Saddam’s Devastating Economic Legacy
by Justin Alexander

Hijacking Iraq’s Skies: The Secret Plans to Privatize Iraqi Airway
by Svetlana Tsalik, Isam al Khafaji and Julie McCarthy

"Don’t Worry About Price:"Whistleblowers Sound the Alarm on Halliburton in Iraq
by Representatives Henry Waxman and John Dingell


The Aftermath: Iraq’s Perilous Future Under U.S. Control
an interview with Medea Benjamin

The Privatized Military: The Unmonitored, Unregulated and Unchecked Global Growth of Private Military Firms
an interview with Peter W. Singer


Behind the Lines

Outsourcing Common Sense

The Front
Justice on the Range - Pakistan's Oil Spill Disaster

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News

Behind the Lines

Patent Justice in Malaysia

In a groundbreaking move, Malaysia in February issued a compulsory license for AIDS drugs.

A compulsory license permits generic manufacturers to make a product while it remains covered by patents, without the consent of the patent holders. Compulsory licensing is a particular powerful tool in the area of pharmaceuticals, where patents enable sellers to charge prices that vastly exceed manufacturing costs.

Compulsory licensing is permitted under the rules of the World Trade Organization's (WTO's) intellectual property agreement, and developing countries have waged a high-profile and successful campaign to obtain international agreement on their rights under the WTO agreement to issue compulsory licenses. Compulsory licenses may be issued for any reason a government desires, so long as it follows WTO-required processes, including ensuring that patent owners are given adequate remuneration. The United States probably makes more use of compulsory licensing than any other country.

But developing countries have been reluctant to exercise the compulsory licensing rights they fought so hard to protect.

In October 2003, South Africa's Competition Commission announced a finding of antitrust violations by two manufacturers of AIDS medicines, GlaxoSmithKline and Boeringer Ingelheim. Against the backdrop of that announcement, the companies agreed to issue licenses to generic competitors, and the case was settled.

Malaysia's action constitutes the first formal issuance by a government of a compulsory license for AIDS drugs.

Malaysia issued the license to an Indian firm, Cipla. Patent rights for the compulsorily licensed products are held by GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

For AIDS drugs, a three-drug cocktail that brand-name companies sold for $10,000 a year or more per person a few years ago is now available from Cipla and other generic firms for as little as $140 a year. Malaysia, which is not nearly as poor as many African countries where the AIDS pandemic is at its worst, will not obtain these cheapest prices, but it expects to obtain dramatic savings.

The exact price of the drugs will depend in part on the compensation arrangements for the patent holders. The government has not yet worked these out.

Mendocino Goes GMO Free

Northern California's Mendocino County in March voted to ban the growing of genetically modified crops in the county. The ballot initiative passed by a 56-to-44 percent margin.

The Campaign for a GMO-Free Mendocino, a grassroots group of farmers and vintners, farmworkers and consumers, campaigned aggressively for the measure.

Their grassroots efforts overcame heavy spending from industry opponents, which dubbed the ballot initiative, Measure H, the "H-bomb." Industry opponents of the measure outspent proponents by a seven-to-one margin.

The industry opposition campaign was coordinated by an agribusiness coalition called CropLife America, with help from the local and state Farm Bureau. Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical were among the major backers of CropLife America.

"These multi-billion dollar corporations underestimated the savvy and determination of Mendocino County voters," says Els Cooperrider of Ukiah, a retired medical scientist and Ukiah business owner who helped spearhead the citizen-led initiative.

"This is just the beginning of the revolution," she says. "We're the first county in the United States to prohibit the growing of genetically altered crops and animals -- but we won't be the last."

Plans are underway for nine California counties to pass similar legislation.

Farmworker Victory

Farm workers at Pictsweet Mushroom Farm in Ventura, California won their 17-year battle for a United Farm Workers union contract in February.

The Pictsweet victory marks the first time California farm workers have benefited from a 2002 state law providing for binding mediation when growers drag out negotiations.

The California Agricultural Labor Relations Board in February adopted a report from a state mediator deciding the terms of a union contract for Pictsweet mushroom workers. The workers have labored without a union contract since 1987. Pictsweet officials decided not to appeal the decision.

"How fitting that Pictsweet mushroom workers are the first California farm workers to benefit from the historic binding mediation law that allowed them to end their 17-year nonviolent fight for a union contract," declared UFW President Arturo Rodriguez as he officially called off the union's more than three-year long boycott of Pictsweet mushrooms.

One of the benefits Pictsweet mushroom workers won is complete family health care benefits paid for by the company.

The United Farm Workers are now prioritizing their campaign against Gallo wines of Sonoma, California. Gallo agreed to a union contract in 2000, after five years of bargaining. That contract expired in November 2003 and Gallo has not yet agreed to a new one. Earlier last year, Gallo tried to decertify the union.

The farmworkers are emphasizing the issue of health insurance provision. Three quarters of Gallo's workers are hired by labor contractors and do not receive health care benefits.


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