Multinational Monitor

NOV/DEC 2007
VOL 29 No. 5


Neither Honest Nor Trustworthy: The 10 Worst Corporations of 2007
by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

High Flyers and the Grounding of Equality
by Samuel Bollier

The Pickens Water Play
by Andrew Wheat

Sin and Society Part III
by Edward Alsworth Ross


How Wall Street's Political Triumph Led to Economic Crisis
an interview with Robert Kuttner

How Eliminating School Fees Helped 2 Million Kenyan Kids Go to School
an interview with oil Mary Njoroge


Behind the Lines

Cops on the Corporate Crime Beat

The Front
Norway Nixes World Bank | Food Prices Boil Over

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Greed At a Glance

Commercial Alert

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

Justice for Banana Workers

Three decades after it injured Central American farmworkers with a highly toxic pesticide, Dole Food Company has been ordered to pay compensatory and punitive damages to five Nicaraguan farmworkers. A California jury in November agreed with the farmworkers’ claim that the dangerous pesticide DBCP rendered them sterile, and that Dole concealed the health dangers posed by DBCP. The jury also found Dow Chemical, which manufactured the now-illegal pesticide, liable.

In the first stage of the trial, the jury concluded that Dole acted with “malice, fraud and oppression” and granted $3.2 million in compensatory damages to six workers. One week later, the jury granted five of the farmworkers $2.5 million in punitive damages. The judge granted Midland, Michigan-based Dow permission to apply Michigan law to the amount and type of damages, making the company not liable for punitive damages and capping compensatory damages at $394,200 per plaintiff.

“This is a tremendous victory for the banana workers who were sterilized by DBCP,” says Duane Miller, the workers’ attorney. “It lets [Dole] know that they’re accountable for what they do, even if they do it south of the border.”

However, after both rulings Dole released statements saying it was “pleased” with the verdicts. “There were 13 initial plaintiffs and seven got dismissed, so we’re very pleased with that,” says Marty Ordman of Dole. “And, the amount of the reward was relatively small.”

During the trial, C. Michael Carter, Dole’s executive vice president, urged jurors to differentiate between “old Dole” and the “new Dole.” Carter testified that “today’s Dole” puts worker safety as a top priority and doesn’t use any banned pesticides.

But Miller argued that Dole may still be using dangerous pesticides in Central America, including the highly toxic herbicide paraquat, which is no longer used by most competing growers and is illegal in the European Union. Long-term exposure to paraquat leads to scarring of the lungs, and heart and kidney damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “To me, it’s just the same corporation doing the same things they’ve always done,” Miller says.

Dole is going to appeal the decisions, as “we felt that the verdict wasn’t appropriate,” Ordman says.

Peak Minerals In Australia

The Australian mining industry is caught between a rock and a hard place according to an October report released by the Erskineville, Australia-based Mineral Policy Institute. Declining ore grades and increasing amounts of solid waste are making production more difficult and more detrimental to the environment, the report says, arguing that Australia may now be facing a “peak mineral” crisis.

“The simple message is that the environmental footprint per unit of mineral production will continue to increase into the future,” says Dr. Gavin Mudd, author of the report. “Globally, the ongoing supply of numerous minerals will be associated with increased environmental costs, but also challenge the extent of remaining economic mineral resources.”

The Mineral Policy Institute study, which examined Australian mining data from as far back as 1829, found that at 2005 production levels, there is about a century’s worth of most minerals left in Australia. However, diamond and gold resources are expected to last less than 20 years, and zinc, lead, manganese ore and copper have between 30 and 45 remaining years. “Although exploration success is still finding new deposits for most minerals,” the study states, “high grade deposits are becoming increasingly uncommon.”

For many minerals, especially copper, gold and black coal, the environmental costs are already beginning to outweigh the economic value of the ore mined, the report finds.

The problem of depleting resources and an increased environmental burden are not unique to Australia’s mining industry, Mudd notes.

“The issues faced in Australia are faced systematically across the globe by the mining industry: declining ore grades, increasingly refractory ores, increased tailings and waste rock, increased water and energy consumption, increased greenhouse emissions,” he says. “It is therefore critical that all countries, no matter the size of their industry, understand the nature of sustainability when applied to mining. The report and associated research is clear and explicit evidence that the environmental costs of mineral production are already significant, and looks set to increase into the future unless more systematic action is taken by industry, governments and communities.”

EU Lobby Louses

BMW, Daimler and Porsche have new awards to add to their line-up: the Worst European Union (EU) Lobbying Award 2007. The three car makers won the prize, awarded by a coalition of corporate accountability and environmental groups, for their joint lobbying push against mandatory carbon emission reduction targets proposed by the European Commission (EC).

The Commission proposed the mandatory target only after the industry failed to meet agreed-to voluntary emission reduction targets. After the EC proposed the binding targets, BMW, Daimler and Porsche launched their campaign, threatening factory closures and heavy job losses.

“When the Commission proposed compulsory carbon dioxide targets, the car companies reacted immediately with a lobby campaign full of misinformation and scaremongering,” says Erik Wesselius of Corporate Europe Observatory. Representatives from Daimler had no comment about the award. Neither BMW nor Porsche responded to requests for comment.

The 2007 Worst EU Greenwash Award was given to the German Atomic Forum, for “the most audacious attempts to gain unjustifiable green credentials.” The German Atomic Forum, which represents Germany’s large energy corporations and manufacturers of nuclear equipment, was nominated for its campaign aimed at improving the image of nuclear energy. Using the slogan, “Germany’s unloved climate protectionists,” the German Atomic Forum ran ads with images of “clean” nuclear power plants in the midst of seemingly unpolluted natural environments, like a field of sheep. The campaign targeted major media outlets and distributed posters, booklets and ran a website with the domain name, which translates to “climate protectors.”

“The German Atomic Forum took advantage of the public’s concern about climate change to promote nuclear energy,” says LobbyControl’s Ulrich Mueller. The German Atomic Forum did not respond to requests for comment.

The Worst EU Lobbying and Greenwash Awards 2007 were organized by Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe, LobbyControl and Spinwatch.

Cluster Bomb Reform

In a move hailed by human rights groups, the U.S. Congress has approved measures banning the export of most cluster bombs and restricting U.S. military aid to countries that use child soldiers. The provisions were part of the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed in the Senate in December.

“The United States should not be in the business of selling and transferring weapons that pose such a significant risk to civilians,” says Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California, a co-sponsor of the cluster bomb provision. “The sensible restrictions contained in this measure will help save lives and improve the image of the United States around the world.”

Cluster bombs are designed to disperse hundreds of smaller “bomblets” over a wide area. High failure rates leave many of these bomblets undetonated, in essence turning them into lethal landmines. The provision bans the use of military funds for the sale or transfer of cluster bombs unless the bombs have a failure rate of 1 percent or less — most cluster bombs have failure rates of 5 percent to 15 percent — or the receiving country pledges the “munitions will only be used against clearly defined military targets and will not be used where civilians are known to be present.”

The child soldier provision states that no military assistance can be given to the “government of a country that is identified … as having security forces that recruit or use child soldiers.” This could include countries such as Colombia, Chad, Sri Lanka and Sudan, all of which were identified in the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices as recruiting child soldiers.

However, the Secretary of State may waive this ban if the receiving country certifies the government has “implemented effective measures to prohibit and prevent the future recruitment or use of child soldiers” or if it is determined the aid is “important to the national interests of the United States.”

Liberating Liberia from Debt

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in November stopped penalizing one of the world’s poorest countries, Liberia, for being poor. Under the debt cancellation program known as the Highly Indebted Poor Countries’ (HIPC) Initiative, countries must be fully up to date on all payments owed to the IMF in order to be granted entry to the HIPC. With Liberia’s multimillion dollar arrears, the IMF needed to secure pledges from member countries to cover those payments.

In November, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn announced that sufficient pledges had been obtained to cover the $850 million in arrears Liberia owed to the Fund.

“For 18 months Liberia’s progress toward debt cancellation was completely stalled,” says Kristin Sundell, advocacy and outreach director for Jubilee USA Network — an alliance of religious, development and human rights organizations. “Liberia can now move forward. It’s a step, but is in no way a solution to the problem.”

In December, deals were also worked out to clear Liberia’s arrears to the World Bank and the African Development Bank, covering $650 million in additional debt.

More than 34,000 letters collected by Jubilee USA, African Action and ONE were delivered to the IMF in October, requesting that U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson “do everything in his power” to move Liberia’s debt cancellation forward.

“Today’s milestone is a critical step in moving Liberia onto a path toward comprehensive debt relief,” said Strauss-Kahn in November. “We will continue to support the post-conflict recovery, building on Liberia’s many achievements over the past two years.”

Following 15 years of civil war, Liberia signed the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement in August 2003 and held democratic elections two years later. Most of Liberia’s $3.7 billion in foreign debt was run up since the 1980s, under the dictatorships of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor.

The World Bank and IMF will now start a three-year process to implement agreed-on conditionalities, like privatization, in order for Liberia to be granted debt relief. 

- Jennifer Wedekind


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