Multinational Monitor

VOL 27 No.


No Choices: Australia's Unions Confront Labor Law "Reform"
by Graham Matthews

Mexican Miners Rise Up: The Explosive Dispute Over Privatization
by David Bacon

Giving Workers the Business: World Bank Support for Labor Deregulation
by Peter Bakvis


Disposable Workers: Layoffs and Their Consequences
An Interview with Louis Uchitelle

Undermining Democracy: Worker Repression in the United States
An Interview with David Bonior

A Kind of Modern Slavery: Labor Flexibility Comes to Indonesia
An Interview with Saepul Tavip


Behind the Lines

The Labor Flexibility Con

The Front
Pfizer vs. The Philippines -- Conflict at the Academies

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Book Notes
The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class -- Misadventures in Corporate Media -- Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

Biotech Claims Dispelled

Monsanto’s claims that genetically modified cotton reduces pesticide use are misleading, according to a July 2006 Cornell University study.

The study looks at cotton growers in China that plant cotton genetically modified to secrete Bt — an otherwise naturally occurring toxin that prevents the growth of bollworm, cotton’s major pest.

Monsanto placed the genetically modified cotton on the market in 1996, and it quickly became a hit with cotton growers all over the world, including those in the United States, Argentina, India and China. Today, more than a third of cotton growers worldwide plant Bt cotton.

Proponents of genetically modified cotton extol the environmental and financial benefits of cutting down on pesticide use.

The Cornell study, however, shows that among cotton growers in China, the genetically modified cotton seed has not reduced the long-term use of pesticides.

According to the study, after three years, Bt cotton reduced pesticide use by 70 percent and increased farmers’ profits. By 2004, however, seven years after the initial commercialization of Bt cotton, “total pesticide expenditure for Bt cotton farmers in China is nearly equal to that of their conventional counterparts.”

This is because secondary pests, such as leaf bugs called mirids, which are normally kept at bay by bollworm, become a serious threat to the cotton crop, pushing farmers to resort to pesticides.

“This is one study on one crop in one geography, so it is difficult to draw any conclusions based on the study,” says Chris Horner, Monsanto spokesperson. “It could be an anomaly based on changes in the weather.”

“Every technology that is developed should be tested before it is commercialized,” counters Professor Per Pinstrup-Anderson, a part of the Cornell team that conducted the study.

Halliburton Fired

The U.S. Army has sacked Halliburton.   The U.S. government announced in July that it will not renew the oil and construction giant’s lucrative LOGCAP contract, which places Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) in charge of logistical services for U.S. troops all over the world. This is Halliburton’s largest contract in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The government’s announcement follows a steady drumbeat of criticism focusing on the company’s alleged high prices, shoddy performance and inside track to contracts for post-war reconstruction.

Numerous exposés by government investigators have fueled the criticism. A March 2005 Pentagon audit, for example, revealed $1 billion in questionable costs under the contract, including charges to the U.S. government for $45 cases of soda, double-priced meals and $100 loads of laundry.

Army spokesperson Betsy Weiner denied that the army’s decision reflected dissatisfaction with Halliburton’s performance. “We have been very satisfied with Halliburton’s progress overseas,” she says, “but we decided that it is better business to get more businesses involved.”

Halliburton echoed the army’s claims that the termination of the LOGCAP contract did not reflect on the company’s performance. “It is neither unusual nor unexpected that the LOGCAP contract may be replaced with another competitively bid approach as previous iterations of this contract vehicle have experienced,” a company statement said.

The Army’s decision will split the LOGCAP contract among three companies, and a fourth firm will monitor the performance of the three companies. Halliburton will be permitted to bid on a portion of the new contract.

“Halliburton’s main business is delivering oil services to big oil companies,” says Jim Donahue of Halliburton Watch, a project of Essential Information, the publisher of Multinational Monitor. “Halliburton’s future will remain bright without the Pentagon’s logistics contract, especially if Dick Cheney continues pushing for more wars which contribute to higher oil prices and therefore greater profits for Halliburton,” says Donahue.

Indonesian Worker Justice

After more than a year on strike, Securicor Indonesia workers in July declared victory in a campaign to win severance pay for transferred workers, as well as back-wages for scores of fired strikers.

The dispute began when workers for Securicor Indonesia learned that the security company planned to merge with the multinational security company Group 4 Falck, creating Group 4 Securicor. Securicor Indonesia workers, organized under the Securicor Indonesia Labor union, an affiliate of the Association of Indonesian Labor Unions (ASPEK), asked the company to clarify whether their job status would be maintained after the merger. When the company refused to respond, workers demanded the severance pay that is stipulated under their union contract for position downgrades. The company rejected the demand and in April 2005 the strike began.

The company responded by firing 238 striking workers in Jakarta and 24 in Surabaya. The company also pressed criminal charges against key union organizers and, according to workers, intimidated and harassed union members.

The Indonesian Supreme Court ruled in June 2006 that the mass firing of strikers was illegal. Indonesian Parliament members stepped in to convince the company to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The court battle was accompanied by an international labor solidarity campaign. “This is an example of the kind of victories that workers can achieve when they unite with other workers,” says Cynthia Kain, spokesperson for Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

In July, Securicor Indonesia finally capitulated, agreeing to pay severance pay to all of its workers and 11 months of back wages to fired strikers.

“The company tried to ignore our Parliament, our Supreme Court, the voices of their own workers and thousands of supporters around the world, but it wasn’t a strategy it could maintain,” says Ferry Nelson, General Secretary of the Securicor Indonesia Labor Union. “We’ve forced them to respect human rights in Indonesia.”

Banning Coke and Pepsi

All Coke and Pepsi drinks will be banned from the Indian state of Kerala, due to the hazards they pose to human health, according to an August announcement by the Kerala government.

The government based its decision on a study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an Indian public interest group, which contends that Coke and Pepsi products in 12 Indian states contain a “cocktail of between three to five different pesticides,” far exceeding the levels permitted by EU standards.

The CSE study was a follow-up to a study conducted in 2003 by the Indian government, which also found that Coke and Pepsi drinks contain harmful amounts of pesticides.

Coca-Cola spokesperson Kari Bjorhus denied the findings of the studies. “Our products do not contain the pesticide residue claimed by CSE. Our products are absolutely safe,” she says, citing company studies.

Critics, however, reject Coke’s company-commissioned studies. “You have Coke sending their own samples to their own lab,” says Amit Srivastava, director of the India Resource Center, a nonprofit based in the United States. “Nobody is buying it.”

At least five other Indian states have also declared partial bans against Coke and Pepsi in schools, hospitals and other government institutions. Kerala is the first state to impose a comprehensive ban against all Coke and Pepsi sale and production.

The Kerala government’s decision follows years of protests in Kerala against the alleged water pollution wrought by bottling plants. In the community of Plachimada, public opposition to the local Coke bottling plant led to its shutdown in 2004. It has remained closed ever since.

Poisoning Ghana

A mine waste spill in June contaminated Ghanaian rivers and streams with cyanide, and the Canadian-U.S. mining giant Golden Star is to blame.

In Dumase, in Ghana’s western region, a gold mine owned by Bogoso Gold Limited (BGL), Golden Star’s Ghanaian subsidiary, leaked cyanide-laced tailings into the Ajoo stream, killing fish, crabs and lobsters. The Ajoo River feeds into the Aprepre River, which supplies drinking water and fish to the Dumase community.

Residents claim that BGL did not immediately inform them of the spill. Many had already eaten fish and drank water before they were told of the contamination.

There has not been an independent investigation of the health effects of the spill, even though Dumase residents complain of dizziness and headaches. 

“This is an unfortunate incident and one that we regret,” says Allan Marter, chief financial officer for Golden Star.

The June spill was the company’s second in the region in the last two years. A BGL spill in October 2004 contaminated these same rivers and streams with cyanide. 

“It’s one of these things that’s shocking but not surprising because it keeps happening,” says Jamie Kneen, business coordinator for MiningWatch Canada.

Residents of Dumase and surrounding communities have expressed concern for years about BGL’s practices in their region. In 2005, the Ghanaian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) temporarily shut down the northern pit of the mine for environmental violations.

The June cyanide spill occurred just three months after Golden Star signed the Cyanide Code, a voluntary mining industry agreement aimed at preventing cyanide leaks and spills, especially in countries where there is minimal regulation.       

— Sarah Lazare

Mailing List


Editor's Blog

Archived Issues

Subscribe Online

Donate Online


Send Letter to the Editor

Writers' Guidelines