sábado, 16 de maio de 2009

Chiquita Brands International

Profile editor:
Charlie Cray
Company Snapshot:

Cincinnati-based Chiquita is a global fruit producer and distributor, famous for its brand-name bananas.

Ownership status:
Publicly traded
Number of employees worldwide:
23,000
Chief executive officer:
Fernando Aguirre
Corporate accountability
Accountability overview:

The biggest issues to confront the company in recent years concern the conditions facing workers at its production facilities in Latin America, including the use of dangerous pesticides and payments to paramilitary groups in Columbia.

Environment and product safety:

"Chiquita's Children"

According to a report by In These Times reporter Nicolas Berube, Chiquita and other companies used Nemagon, a carcinogenic pesticid, on crops in Nicaragua, causing numerous incurable diseases among the men and women who worked on those plantations, as well as major birth defects and deformities in their children. The pesticide is comprised of DBCP (manufactured by Dow and Shell, whose workers have also alleged health affects from exposure to the chemical). The chemical was introduced to kill off tiny worms that prevented the bananas from being exported to the U.S. But even after DBCP was found to cause sterility in men working at an Occidental Petroleum plant in Lathrop, California (prompting a state-wide ban on its use) it continued to be used in other countries. Eventually, 25,000 workers in 12 developing countries filed suit against the manufacturers and fruit growers, including Chiquita Brands and its rivals, Del Monte and Dole. (Diana Jean Schemo, "U.S. Pesticide Kills Foreign Fruit Pickers' Hopes," NYTimes 12/6/1995).

Lawsuits related to exposure to DBCP are ongoing. Most invoke the An Alien Tort Claims Act. (See Williams, Carol J., "Appeals Court Rules Against Ivory Coast Farm Workers". Los Angeles Times, 9/24/1998; John Spano, "Dole must pay farmworkers $3.2 million," Los Angeles Times, 11/6/2007).

(A great deal of industry information about DBCP can be found in the Chemical Industry Archives, a project of the Environmental Working Group.)

Slaughterhouse Crimes

Chiquita avoided prosecution after voluntarily disclosing to the federal government that top executives of John Morrell and Company, then an Oklahoma-based subsidiary and slaughterhouse (sold to Smithfield in December 1995), had knowingly violated the Clean Water Act by deliberately dumping untreated waste into the Big Sioux River.

Human rights:

Columbia: Terrorist Attacks on Workers

On March 19, 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Chiquita Brands International Inc. agreed to plead guilty to charges that it had engaged in transactions with a right-wing organization -- the United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia (AUC) -- designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Chiquita’s agreed to a $25 million criminal fine and five years’ probation. Chiquita had previously (2003) disclosed that it had had made regular payments (eventually totaling over $1.7 million) to the AUC through Banadex, a wholly-owned Colombian subsidiary, and Chiquita’s most profitable operation. Until 2000, Chiquita’s payments to the AUC were reviewed and approved by senior executives of the corporation, including high-ranking officers, directors and employees. Chiquita sold Banadex to a Colombian buyer in June 2004. In a related matter, the SEC also fined the company $100,000 in 2001 for accounting rules violations.

100% Union Free

What smells at Whole Foods?

Sharon Smith

The grocery store chain cultivates an image of social responsibility, but its workers tell a different story.

WHOLE FOODS Market is a highly profitable corporation that far outperforms its competitors, while maintaining an aura of commitment to social justice and environmental responsibility. Its clientele is attracted not only to its brightly lit array of pristine fruits and vegetables, organically farmed meats and delectable (yet healthy) recipes, but also to the notion that the mere act of shopping at Whole Foods is helping to change the world.

In 2007, Whole Foods launched its "Whole Trade Guarantee," stating its aim as advancing the Fair Trade movement--encouraging higher wages and prices paid to farmers in poor countries while promoting environmentally safe practices. In addition, Whole Foods announced that 1 percent of proceeds will be turned over to its own Whole Planet Foundation, which supports micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Meanwhile, the company's Animal Compassion Foundation seeks to improve living conditions for farm animals, while stores periodically hold "5 Percent Days," when they donate 5 percent of sales for that day to an area non-profit or educational organization.

Whole Foods also has a distinctive reputation for rejecting traditional corporate management models in favor of decentralized decision-making, described as an experiment in workplace democracy.

There are no departments at Whole Foods stores, only "Teams" of employees. And Whole Foods has no managerial job titles, just Team Leaders and Assistant Team Leaders. Nor does the company admit to having any workers, only Team Members who meet regularly to decide everything from local suppliers to who should get hired onto the Team.

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BUT SOMETHING sinister lurks beneath the surface of Whole Foods' progressive image.

Somehow, Mackey has managed to achieve multimillionaire status while his employees' hourly wages have remained in the $8 to $13 range for two decades. With an annual turnover rate of 25 percent, the vast majority of workers last no more than four years, and thus rarely manage to achieve anything approaching seniority and the higher wages that would accompany it. If Whole Foods' workers are younger than the competition's, that is the intention.

(Full article here)

sexta-feira, 15 de maio de 2009

Pak-US study group to accelerate talks on ROZ

Pak-US study group to accelerate talks on ROZ

By By Aftab Maken

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the US have agreed to set up a joint study group for accelerating bilateral negotiations on Trade and Investment Facilitation Agreement and Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs), said Commerce Secretary Suleman Ghani on Tuesday.

Both sides also discussed trade enhancement by giving more market access for Pakistani products to the US and finally enter into a free trade agreement, Ghani, who has just returned from the US after talks on Trade and Investment Facilitation Agreement (TIFA), told The News in an exclusive talk.

However, the commerce secretary gave no specific timeframe for setting up ROZs in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Former US President George Bush, in his trip to Pakistan in 2006, had announced a plan to establish the zones.

Ghani said ROZs would be set up in the whole NWFP province, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and some 100km area along the Pak-Afghan border.

“Market access to the US and exports through ROZs will definitely increase overall exports,” Ghani said. Obama administration has tabled ROZ bill in the US congress for setting up industrial estates in Pakistan and products exported to the US from these zones would be duty-free.

To a question about more facilitation from the US pertaining to ROZs, the commerce secretary said: “We are expecting some foreign direct investment (FDI) from the Americans in these industrial zones.”

However, the ministry of commerce is also planning to facilitate interested investors for setting up industries for the betterment of locals, he added.

About leakage in transshipments, Ghani said that the ministry was already working with the concerned departments particularly customs and other clearing agencies to plug possible leakages.


Is it just a coincidence?

quarta-feira, 13 de maio de 2009

’Food Colonialism’ Increasing Hunger in Africa

’Food Colonialism’ Increasing Hunger in Africa

Michael Davies-Venn

The European Union is coercing some West African governments into allowing European-based fishing companies to deplete West Africa’s fishing stocks in a new "food colonialism" that is now taking place between rich and poor countries around the world, according to British author George Monbiot.

"We have a particularly stark example of this in Europe, where since the 1960’s fishermen from the European Union have been going down to West Africa and plundering the fish stocks there, and this has disastrous impacts on the people of West African countries," Monbiot said at a recent engagement on world hunger at the University of Alberta in Canada.

When the Senegalese government banned European fishing boats in its territorial waters, French and Spanish fishing companies, in particular, resorted to new tricks by using Senegalese boats, hiring subcontractors and claiming national status.

"Now the European Union has told the government of Senegal and some of its neighbors that they must allow this to continue to happen," Monbiot stated. "In fact they must allow these people to register as if they were nationally-owned companies, if this economic partnership agreement with them is to go ahead and they have any economic benefits at all dealing with the European Union. ... So it’s straightforward food colonialism, except in this case it’s carried out not with gun boats at sea ports, it’s carried out by lawyers and checkbooks."

The EU has strict fishing policies, which punish individuals and companies by levying huge fines, limit the catch by member countries, and regulate fishing methods. But it would appear the EU has a different set of policies for West African governments.

According to Monbiot: "These governments are coming under an immense amount of pressure to continue, more or less, giving up their own fish stock and starving their own people, so that in Europe we don’t have to confront our fishing lobbies which are very powerful political lobbies, or run out of fish because we’ve so exploited our own stocks that they’re collapsing left, right and center. ... We’re snatching food out of the mouth of the poor in order not to deal with our own consumption."

Monbiot, who was participating in a series of events organized to highlight the plight of starvation around the world, also said certain Middle Eastern countries have been making arrangements with some African nations that would ensure food security for their nationals.

(full article here)

segunda-feira, 11 de maio de 2009

“Land Grabbing” by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries

Policy Brief No. 13
“Land Grabbing” by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries
Risks and Opportunities
Joachim von Braun and Ruth Meinzen-Dick
April 2009

One of the lingering effects of the food price crisis of 2007–08 on the world food system is the proliferating acquisition of farmland in developing countries by other countries seeking to ensure their food supplies. Increased pressures on natural resources, water scarcity, export restrictions imposed by major producers when food prices were high, and growing distrust in the functioning of regional and global markets have pushed countries short in land and water to find alternative means of producing food. These land acquisitions have the potential to inject much-needed investment into agriculture and rural areas in poor developing countries, but they also raise concerns about the impacts on poor local people, who risk losing access to and control over land on which they depend. It is crucial to ensure that these land deals, and the environment within which they take place, are designed in ways that will reduce the threats and facilitate the opportunities for all parties involved.

(Full article here)

domingo, 10 de maio de 2009

The 10 Worst Corporations of 2008

What a year for corporate criminality and malfeasance!

As we compiled the Multinational Monitor list of the 10 Worst Corporations of 2008, it would have been easy to restrict the awardees to Wall Street firms.

But the rest of the corporate sector was not on good behavior during 2008 either, and we didn't want them to escape justified scrutiny.

So, in keeping with our tradition of highlighting diverse forms of corporate wrongdoing, we included only one financial company on the 10 Worst list.

Here, presented in alphabetical order, are the 10 Worst Corporations of 2008.

AIG: Money for Nothing

There's surely no one party responsible for the ongoing global financial crisis. But if you had to pick a single responsible corporation, there's a very strong case to make for American International Group (AIG), which has already sucked up more than $150 billion in taxpayer supports. Through "credit default swaps," AIG basically collected insurance premiums while making the ridiculous assumption that it would never pay out on a failure -- let alone a collapse of the entire market it was insuring. When reality set in, the roof caved in.

Cargill: Food Profiteers

When food prices spiked in late 2007 and through the beginning of 2008, countries and poor consumers found themselves at the mercy of the global market and the giant trading companies that dominate it. As hunger rose and food riots broke out around the world, Cargill saw profits soar, tallying more than $1 billion in the second quarter of 2008 alone.

In a competitive market, would a grain-trading middleman make super-profits? Or would rising prices crimp the middleman's profit margin? Well, the global grain trade is not competitive, and the legal rules of the global economy-- devised at the behest of Cargill and friends -- ensure that poor countries will be dependent on, and at the mercy of, the global grain traders.

Chevron: "We can't let little countries screw around with big companies"

In 2001, Chevron swallowed up Texaco. It was happy to absorb the revenue streams. It has been less willing to take responsibility for Texaco's ecological and human rights abuses.

In 1993, 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorians filed a class action suit in U.S. courts, alleging that Texaco over a 20-year period had poisoned the land where they live and the waterways on which they rely, allowing billions of gallons of oil to spill and leaving hundreds of waste pits unlined and uncovered. Chevron had the case thrown out of U.S. courts, on the grounds that it should be litigated in Ecuador, closer to where the alleged harms occurred. But now the case is going badly for Chevron in Ecuador -- Chevron may be liable for more than $7 billion. So, the company is lobbying the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to impose trade sanctions on Ecuador if the Ecuadorian government does not make the case go away.

"We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this -- companies that have made big investments around the world," a Chevron lobbyist said to Newsweek in August. (Chevron subsequently stated that the comments were not approved.)

Constellation Energy: Nuclear Operators

Although it is too dangerous, too expensive and too centralized to make sense as an energy source, nuclear power won't go away, thanks to equipment makers and utilities that find ways to make the public pay and pay.

Constellation Energy Group, the operator of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant in Maryland -- a company recently involved in a startling, partially derailed scheme to price gouge Maryland consumers -- plans to build a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs, potentially the first new reactor built in the United States since the near-meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979.

It has lined up to take advantage of U.S. government-guaranteed loans for new nuclear construction, available under the terms of the 2005 Energy Act. The company acknowledges it could not proceed with construction without the government guarantee.

CNPC: Fueling Violence in Darfur

Sudan has been able to laugh off existing and threatened sanctions for the slaughter it has perpetrated in Darfur because of the huge support it receives from China, channeled above all through the Sudanese relationship with the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).

"The relationship between CNPC and Sudan is symbiotic," notes the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights First, in a March 2008 report, "Investing in Tragedy." "Not only is CNPC the largest investor in the Sudanese oil sector, but Sudan is CNPC's largest market for overseas investment."

Oil money has fueled violence in Darfur. "The profitability of Sudan's oil sector has developed in close chronological step with the violence in Darfur," notes Human Rights First.

Dole: The Sour Taste of Pineapple

A 1988 Filipino land reform effort has proven a fraud. Plantation owners helped draft the law and invented ways to circumvent its purported purpose. Dole pineapple workers are among those paying the price.

Under the land reform, Dole's land was divided among its workers and others who had claims on the land prior to the pineapple giant. However, wealthy landlords maneuvered to gain control of the labor cooperatives the workers were required to form, Washington, D.C.-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) explains in an October report. Dole has slashed it regular workforce and replaced them with contract workers.

Contract workers are paid under a quota system, and earn about $1.85 a day, according to ILRF.

GE: Creative Accounting

In June, former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston reported on internal General Electric documents that appeared to show the company had engaged in a long-running effort to evade taxes in Brazil. In a lengthy report in Tax Notes International, Johnston reported on a GE subsidiary's scheme to invoice suspiciously high sales volume for lighting equipment in lightly populated Amazon regions of the country. These sales would avoid higher value added taxes (VAT) in urban states, where sales would be expected to be greater.

Johnston wrote that the state-level VAT at issue, based on the internal documents he reviewed, appeared to be less than $100 million. But, he speculated, the overall scheme could have involved much more.

Johnston did not identify the source that gave him the internal GE documents, but GE has alleged it was a former company attorney, Adriana Koeck. GE fired Koeck in January 2007 for what it says were "performance reasons."

Imperial Sugar: 14 Dead

On February 7, an explosion rocked the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia, near Savannah. Days later, when the fire was finally extinguished and search-and-rescue operations completed, the horrible human toll was finally known: 14 dead, dozens badly burned and injured.

As with almost every industrial disaster, it turns out the tragedy was preventable. The cause was accumulated sugar dust, which like other forms of dust, is highly combustible.

A month after the Port Wentworth explosion, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors investigated another Imperial Sugar plant, in Gramercy, Louisiana. They found 1/4- to 2-inch accumulations of dust on electrical wiring and machinery. They found as much as 48-inch accumulations on workroom floors.

Imperial Sugar obviously knew of the conditions in its plants. It had in fact taken some measures to clean up operations prior to the explosion. The company brought in a new vice president to clean up operations in November 2007, and he took some important measures to improve conditions. But it wasn't enough. The vice president told a Congressional committee that top-level management had told him to tone down his demands for immediate action.

Philip Morris International: Unshackled

The old Philip Morris no longer exists. In March, the company formally divided itself into two separate entities: Philip Morris USA, which remains a part of the parent company Altria, and Philip Morris International. Philip Morris USA sells Marlboro and other cigarettes in the United States. Philip Morris International tramples the rest of the world.

Philip Morris International has already signaled its initial plans to subvert the most important policies to reduce smoking and the toll from tobacco-related disease (now at 5 million lives a year). The company has announced plans to inflict on the world an array of new products, packages and marketing efforts. These are designed to undermine smoke-free workplace rules, defeat tobacco taxes, segment markets with specially flavored products, offer flavored cigarettes sure to appeal to youth and overcome marketing restrictions.

Roche: "Saving lives is not our business"

The Swiss company Roche makes a range of HIV-related drugs. One of them is enfuvirtid, sold under the brand-name Fuzeon. Fuzeon brought in $266 million to Roche in 2007, though sales are declining.

Roche charges $25,000 a year for Fuzeon. It does not offer a discount price for developing countries.

Like most industrialized countries, Korea maintains a form of price controls -- the national health insurance program sets prices for medicines. The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs listed Fuzeon at $18,000 a year. Korea's per capita income is roughly half that of the United States. Instead of providing Fuzeon, for a profit, at Korea's listed level, Roche refuses to make the drug available in Korea.

Korean activists report that the head of Roche Korea told them, "We are not in business to save lives, but to make money. Saving lives is not our business."

Originally posted on December 29, 2008, at:

http://www.multinationalmonitor.org/editorsblog/index.php?/archives/105-The-10-Worst-Corporations-of-2008.html#extended

Robert Weissman is managing director of the Multinational Monitor.