Multinational Monitor

NOV/DEC 2006
VOL 27 NO. 6


J'Accuse: The 10 Worst Corporations of 2007
by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Meet the War Profiteers
by Charlie Cray

Multinationals to China: No New
Labor Rights

by Jeremy Brecher, Brendan Smith and
Tim Costello

Wall Street Rallies for Bush - And Seeks Payback
by Andrew Wheat


King Coal's Dark Reign
An Interview with
Jeff Goodell


Behind the Lines

(No) Shame On the Street

The Front
Rural Bank Window Closed - Feudalism in Pakistan

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Book Note
Capitalism 3.0 - A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

World Bank Failures

After giving billions of dollars in loans and pursuing countless anti-poverty programs, the World Bank has failed to reduce overall poverty in developing countries in the past 10 years, and has even seen a slip in living standards among many of its borrowers, according to a December report from the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEG).

The report deals a harsh blow to one of the biggest funders of anti-poverty poverty programs in developing countries, and gives ammunition to critics who have long claimed that World Bank policies do more harm than good.

“Only two in five borrowing countries recorded continuous per capita income growth during the five years between 2000 and 2005, and just one in five did so for the full 10 years from 1995 to 2005,” according to the report. Of the remaining countries, many faced economic stagnation or slipped further into poverty.

The study did find that, from 1990 to 2002, the percentage of the world’s population who subsist on less than $1 a day fell by a third. Members of the IEG pointed out, however, that these gains are largely due to poverty reduction in China — which has not followed World Bank policy prescriptions.

In a written response, World Bank management claimed that the report “paints an overly bleak picture of developing country growth and poverty reduction, failing to fully reflect both strong global growth trends over the last five years and broadly favorable prospects,” and cites several examples of economic growth among Bank borrowers.

The authors of the report, however, claim that poorly planned economic growth among World Bank borrowers has actually exacerbated economic inequalities and left the poor even more vulnerable. The report criticizes the Bank’s pursuit of quick development in potential high-growth sectors of the economy, without due consideration of how many jobs this will generate for the poor, how this growth will be sustained over the long term, and how wealth will be distributed.

 Junk Food Ads Trimmed

British media and marketing tycoons are having coronaries over a recent decision to ban junk food ads from UK television shows targeting kids.

But public health groups say the measure does not go far enough.

The new ban, crafted by Ofcom — the UK regulating body for the communications industries — is intended to reduce youth exposure to junk food advertisements, in hopes of decreasing junk food consumption, and thus obesity rates, among young people.

The ruling mandates a complete ban on the advertisement of junk food during children’s TV shows, as well as adult shows with at least 20 percent more viewers aged 16 and under than the UK average. A rating system, developed by the Food Standards Agency, will determine which foods are junk foods, based on their fat, sugar and salt content.

“The regulations will be based on a nutrient profiling model that is scientifically flawed,” argues says Melanie Leech, director general of the UK Food and Drink Federation, an industry trade association, and will “be an unnecessary curb on adult viewing.”

But Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, says “OFCOM’s ban on junk food advertising during programs targeted at under-16s does not go far enough.” Public health advocates had pushed for a ban on all junk food advertising on television before 9 PM.

“Some of the most popular programs amongst the under-16s are soaps which will not be covered by this ban,” says Nathanson. “OFCOM clearly believes that TV advertising has an effect on children’s eating habits, yet it does not have the courage to recommend a more comprehensive ban.”

 Bolivia: Land to the Masses

A sweeping land reform bill will allow the Bolivian government to seize up to 77,000 square miles of unproductive land, to redistribute it to the country’s poor and landless peasants.

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, and leader of the Movement for Socialism Party (MAS), champions the bill, passed in November, as a victory for the country’s poor indigenous communities, identifying it as a continuation of “the struggle of our ancestors, the struggle for power and territory.” Over 3,000 Indians traveled to La Paz to cheer Morales on as he signed the bill.

In a country with one of the most inequitable land distributions in South America, where the majority poor farming population owns a mere 5 percent of all potentially productive land, according to a report by the Andean Information Network, agrarian reform is no small task.

Morales’s government has already redistributed up to 9,500 square miles of government land to poor and landless farmers, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

The new bill will allow the government to seize and redistribute privately owned land, as long as it is deemed unproductive. The law exempts small farmers and indigenous villages from taxation and government seizure and establishes an appeals process for those who oppose the confiscation of their land.

Morales has his eyes on large swaths of unproductive land sitting in the east of the country, and owned by just a few wealthy families.

 Shortening the REACH

The European Union in December put in place a much-heralded system of chemical regulation — with environmentalists deeply disappointed in compromises made to what had promised to be a breakthrough system.

The Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals Law (REACH), to go into effect June 1, 2007, will require companies to provide extensive information about the chemicals in their products and eventually phase out many hazardous chemicals.

Companies must register the chemicals they use to make their products with an EU chemicals agency, which will then determine those chemicals of “high concern,” a category that includes carcinogens, mutagens, chemicals that are toxic to reproduction and chemicals that do not break down in the environment.

Companies must replace chemicals that do not break down in the environment with safer alternatives and obtain a license for continued use of all other “high concern” chemicals.

Manufacturers in Europe and internationally bemoan a law that, they claim, will be excessively costly to implement.

“It has the potential to disrupt global trade, and it has the potential to hurt the industry in Europe as well, if they are unable to have access to innovative chemicals to produce products that compete in the global marketplace,” says Bill Primosch, senior director of international business policy for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in the United States.

Environmentalists, however, denounced compromises made to get the final version adopted.. Nadia Haiama, EU policy director on chemicals for Greenpeace, suggests that the new law marks an important step forward, but is disappointed that the EU permitted “high concern” chemicals to remain on the market if producers claim they can “adequately control” them. “We believe there is no reason we should continue to be exposed to chemicals that cause cancer and other health programs if alternatives are available and on the market,” she says.

And, notes Friends of the Earth Europe, “Further concessions exempt companies which import and manufacture chemicals in volumes below 10 tons a year — 60 percent of chemicals covered by REACH — from the requirement to provide any meaningful safety data.”

 Goodyear Settles

The United Steelworkers Union (USW) sent workers back into Goodyear factories in late December, ending an 86-day strike that involved 15,000 workers from 16 plants in the United States and Canada, and included U.S. Army threats to break the strike.

Workers began the strike on October 5 in response to company attempts to abandon healthcare obligations to both current and future retirees, as well as the company’s alleged intentions to walk away from much of its North American production, including plans to shut down a plant in Tyler, Texas.

The company responded to the strike by hiring temporary workers and shifting the responsibilities of supervisors to replace the striking workers. The strike led to a drastic decrease in the company’s productivity, according to Wayne Ranick, USW international spokesperson.

The decline in productivity, however, became impossible for the company to ignore, when the U.S. Army began complaining that Goodyear was not providing the Army with enough tires for its Humvees.

During discussion with the company, the army even threatened to invoke the Taft-Harley Act to force the striking workers back into the factories.

Ironically, this threat had the effect of helping the striking workers, because it forced the company to acknowledge that the strike was seriously damaging the company’s productivity, says Ranick.

Goodyear finally entered into negotiations with the striking workers and signed a contract with the USW in December. While the workers won a $1 billion trust fund for medical and prescription drug benefits for retirees, as well as company promises to invest $550 million into its North American plants to ensure that they will remain more competitive in the global marketplace, they did not succeed in saving the Tyler, Texas plant, which is due to close in a year.

“It’s a bittersweet outcome,” said USW-Goodyear Contract Coordinator Kevin Johnson. “We wanted to win Tyler protected status like the other plants, but we only got it for 2007.”

— Sarah Lazare


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