Multinational Monitor

NOV/DEC 2005
VOL 26 No. 11


The Ten Worst Corporations of 2005
by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Taking On Corporate Power - and Winning by Robert Weissman


Corporate Crime and Prosecution
An interview with Win Swenson


Behind the Lines

Corporate Crime and Punishment

The Front
Treading on the Taxpayer - A Bitter Deal for Mauritius

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

Africa Goes Lead-Free

African gasoline will be lead-free in 2006.

Lead, a notorious heavy metal, is linked with a wide range of ailments and ill health including damage to the brains of babies and young children.

It has been phased out in many parts of the world already, including North America and Europe. Until a few years ago, however, most of sub-Saharan Africa was using leaded petrol. In 2001, in what is known as the Dakar Declaration, sub-Saharan African governments committed to a phase out.

“This is a real environmental and health achievement,” says Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environmental Program (UNEP).

“We also need to work to tackle other pollutants, promote alternative fuels such as bio-fuels and hydrogen alongside more efficient and less polluting vehicles and transportation networks and systems that are environment and people friendly. Not just in developed countries but for everyone across the globe,” he adds.

In 2002, only one country of the 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Sudan, was fully unleaded. South Africa will be the last to switch over to unleaded gas, starting January 1, 2006.

The UNEP’s Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles played a key role in facilitating the transition to lead-free gas. It is now undertaking an initiative to achieve a global leaded gasoline phase-out for the rest of the developing world and economies in transition, with the goal of eliminating leaded petrol worldwide by 2008. More than 30 countries still used leaded gasoline.

Katrina Predation Abated

Among the challenges faced by the displaced of New Orleans is holding on to their homes and avoiding rip-offs from financial service firms.

In a victory achieved thanks to work of the community group ACORN, Ocwen Loan Servicing agreed in December to stop charging prepayment penalties to hurricane survivors. Prepayment penalties are charges applied to borrowers who pay off loans early.

In calling for an end to the prepayment penalties for hurricane victims, ACORN pointed out that other lenders and service providers have routinely waved prepayment penalties for homeowners who are paying off the mortgages of their damaged homes through insurance settlements or other means.

ACORN also demanded that Ocwen refund all prepayment penalties and other fees it has received from people living or working in the disaster area.

“These fees are costing survivors thousands and thousands of dollars,” says ACORN Katrina Survivors Association President Dorothy Stukes. “People need this money to take care of every day necessities and to make sure that their homes are repaired and rebuilt.”

Ocwen agreed to ACORN’s demands, both to stop charging penalties and to refund penalties already collected.

Aussie Labor Crackdown

Although more than half a million Australian workers demonstrated in opposition to a proposed new labor law in mid-November, the Liberal government of Prime Minister John Howard pushed the new labor law regime through the Australian Parliament in December. The law is very unpopular with the public, and has driven down approval ratings for Howard’s government.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) says the new law, known as WorkChoices, will gut longstanding protections and rights for workers in Australia, and vows a long-term campaign to remove the government and get the WorkChoices law revoked.

“The clear goal of the government’s new workplace law is to boost the profits of big business at the expense of the basic rights and living standards of working Australians,” says ACTU President Sharan Burrow. “These are unjust and unwarranted new laws that will hurt the most vulnerable workers and reduce the job security and living standards of all Australian workers and their families.”

The ACTU charges WorkChoices will:

  • Remove protections against unfair firings for millions of workers;
  • Undermine protections for public holidays, overtime pay and guaranteed vacation time;
  • Lead to a decline in the minimum wage;
  • Significantly reduce unions’ collective bargaining power.

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews says the labor charges about WorkChoices are “hysterical” and “ridiculous.” “When people are living and working under the new system,” he says, “they will see that all these dreadful things that have been claimed don’t come to pass and they’ll be starting to wonder what all this fuss has been about this year.”

The Howard government says the labor law changes are needed to make Australian work rules more flexible and less bureaucratic for business.

A Treasury Department report obtained by the ACTU after WorkChoices was approved stated that, under the new law, “increases in minimum wages are likely to be lower” and that this will “slow award wage growth and flow on” to other workers.

“These documents prove that the Howard Government has known all along that its industrial relations changes would lead to lower wage rises, cuts in the take home pay of workers and more pressure on working families,” says ACTU Secretary Greg Combet.

The Treasury Department report further shows “that the Government’s claims that its industrial relations laws will improve productivity and boost jobs growth are lies,” Combet charges.

The Worst EU Lobbyist

The deceptively named “Campaign for Creativity” (C4C) has won the Worst EU Lobbying Award of 2005, in an online vote conducted by Corporate Europe Observatory, a European corporate watchdog.

Eighty-five percent of the 8,000 people that took part in the online voting identified C4C as the most deceptive corporate lobby campaign of the year. ExxonMobil was a distant runner up.

The nomination for C4C explained that, “shrewd in its claim to represent artists, musicians, designers, engineers and software developers, the ‘Campaign for Creativity’ was set up to lobby Members of the European Parliament to vote for U.S.-style software patents, which will grant large corporations stronger intellectual property rights over software. Behind its grassroots mask lies a campaign orchestrated by Simon Gentry of London-based public affairs firm Campbell Gentry, supported by software giants like Microsoft and SAP. Gentry’s pedigree as a successful agent for corporate lobbies is top quality. Previous associations include involvement in the shameful industry campaign for patents on life on behalf of SmithKline Beecham.”

Co-organizers of the vote were Friends of the Earth Europe, Lobby Control and Spinwatch.

Destroying GMOs OK’d

Forty-nine activists who destroyed genetically modified plants in France were acquitted in December after a court ruled their actions were justified as a matter of “necessity,” Agence France Presse reports.

The court in the central city of Orleans dismissed the criminal charges of organized vandalism against the 49, who had uprooted genetically modified corn planted by Monsanto in two incidents, according to AFP.

“The defendants have shown proof that they committed an infraction of voluntary vandalism in a group to respond to a situation of necessity,” the court said.

That situation of necessity “resulted from the unbridled distribution of modified genes that constitutes a clear and present danger for the well-being of others, in the sense that it could be the source of contamination and unwanted pollution,” the court said.

The court, however, upheld a civil complaint against the 49, ordering them to pay $7,000 to Monsanto in damages and interest. Monsanto had sought more than $400,000.

One of the activists, Jean-Emile Sanchez, told AFP the verdict was “a huge victory for the anti-GM side” and called the judgment an important legal precedent.

The prosecution, which had sought prison terms of up to three months for the activists, said it would appeal.

The Terminator Concedes

The Terminator has thrown in the towel.

In November, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that he was withdrawing his appeal of a Superior Court decision striking down his efforts to overturn key portions of the landmark California law requiring safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.

Schwarzenegger dropped the appeal two days after he lost ballot measures in California intended to weaken unions and cap government spending.

It was after the November 2004 elections that Schwarzenegger issued an emergency order suspending the nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.

The California Nurses Association had lobbied the nurse-to-patient rules through the state legislature in response to cost-cutting hospital practices. The rules are intended to limit the patient burden that can be placed on nurses, and enable them to give proper care to the patients they are attending. Starting in 2005, they would have required hospitals to maintain staffing ratios of one nurse for each five patients.

Schwarzenegger’s regulatory roll back sparked a protest campaign by the nurses, who protested at more than 100 appearances of the governor. They would soon be joined by other public service employees facing giveback demands from the governor.

“Everybody was telling us to make a compromise with him, but we fought so long and hard for the ratio law, for our patients, that we couldn’t just let him gut it,” says California Nurses Association President Deborah Burger.


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