WHEN RONALD REAGAN was elected president of the United States in 1980, he sent a clear signal to the big business community that law enforcers at the federal level would turn a blind eye to corporate wrongdoing. A recent report by the Environmental Crimes Project of George Washington University's National Law Center details, for example, how the Reagan/Bush Justice Department discouraged and often prevented federal investigators from prosecuting environmental crimes. Predictably, rates for corporate crime - including procurement fraud, pollution, occupational safety and health violations, public corruption, securities fraud, labor law and antitrust violations - went off the chart.
Now, a new administration will take office in Washington. During the campaign, president-elect Bill Clinton failed to address the generic problem of corporate crime and violence. And he surrounded himself with corporate lobbyists who are following him to Washington. It is a safe bet that corporate and white-collar criminals and their lobbyists in Washington are quietly celebrating - they got their man in the White House once again.
Case in point: tobacco. According to a recent report released by the Advocacy Institute and Public Citizen, the Clinton advisors have close ties to the tobacco industry, perhaps the most criminogenic industry in the world. Tobacco is the nation's number one cause of premature death and illness, claiming 434,000 lives a year in the United States alone from direct smoking and another 53,000 U.S. deaths a year from the effects of involuntary, or passive, smoking. Tobacco use also costs the U.S. economy approximately $52 billion a year in health care costs and lost productivity.
In 1987, Clinton's campaign chair, Mickey Kantor, represented a group in Los Angeles organized by the Tobacco Institute to successfully oppose an ordinance making all restaurants smoke-free. In 1990, Kantor was active on behalf of a Los Angeles group that received money and support from tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris and the Tobacco Institute in successfully fighting adoption of another smoke-free ordinance. Kantor's law firm, Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg and Phillips, represents Philip Morris in Washington, D.C.
Vernon Jordan, recently chosen to head Clinton's transition team, is a long time member of the board of tobacco manufacturer R.J. Reynolds. The Washington, D.C. consulting firm of Clinton's campaign policy advisors, Scott Pastrick and Thomas Hoog, also lobbies for tobacco industry clients.
So don't expect help from this administration in combating corporate crime and violence. Let there be no illusions: once again, citizens will have to rely on their own initiative to dig out and publicize the facts, inform their neighbors, build citizen power, force companies to clean up their messes, demand and secure justice, make the companies pay and create alternative law-abiding economies.
Anything else is just a pipe dream.
With that in mind, we present the Ten Worst Corporations of 1992.
TEN PERCENT OF U.S. CITIZENS are alcoholics. Nearly 50 percent of automobile fatalities are linked to alcohol. Alcohol abuse costs society $100 billion a year.
The public is constantly barraged with ads from alcohol manufacturers seeking to induce more and more alcohol consumption and profits. A teenager sees 100,000 alcohol ads before reaching legal drinking age. Absolut Vodka, the Swedish Vodka giant, is perhaps the most persistent abuser of alcohol advertising, seeking to impress young people with colorful and attractive ads.
Earlier this year, The Media Foundation, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based public interest group that is concerned about overcommercialization in North America, launched a media campaign against Absolut Vodka advertising.
The recent issue of the Foundation's Adbuster Quarterly magazine ran a satirical Absolut Vodka ad titled "Absolut Nonsense."
The ad looks like an Absolut Vodka ad, but the copy reads, "Any suggestion that our advertising campaign has contributed to alcoholism, drunk driving or wife and child beating is absolute nonsense. No one pays any attention to advertising."
The Foundation claims that the ad represents fair comment on an issue of profound social concern. "Absolut profits greatly from the association of its product with pleasure, parties, Christmas and a host of other appealing, upscale cultural icons, but what about the negative associations?" asks the Foundation's Kalle Lasn.
In response to the Foundation's spoof ad, Absolut Vodka went ballistic. The company claimed that the ad had caused "irreparable damage" to its reputation and threatened legal action against the Foundation unless the media organization surrendered the remaining copies of the magazine, published a retraction and agreed never again to publish similar material.
"The impact of this advertising is undeniable, as is the right of our publication to comment on it," Lasn said. "We believe that there is an important underlying issue at stake here - the ability of large private corporations to censor and control public debate, to stifle free expression and to dominate our mental and cultural environments with their marketing and public relations agendas."
The Foundation did not back down under Absolut's threat of legal action but instead issued a press release titled "Absolut Vodka Tries to Censor Magazine." The company "quickly lost its fighting spirit and beat a hasty retreat," according to Lasn. Absolut's executives are "terrified of taking us on in a public debate about alcohol advertising and its impact on society," she says. "They're worried that their multibillion dollar campaign might suddenly backfire."
In the following issue of Adbusters Quarterly, the Foundation ran another ad titled "Absolute Silence." The ad featured a coffin in place of the bottle. Keith McIntyre, national advertising manager for Absolut Vodka Canada advised Adbusters not to run the advertisement. "If you want Absolut to play hardball, then Absolut will play hardball," he warned.
Adbusters will be sending the Absolute Silence ad as a Public Service Announcement to over 100 magazines around the continent. "The alcohol industry's $2- billion a year disinformation lobby should not be the only voice out there," says Lasn.
CATERPILLAR, THE PEORIA, ILLINOIS-BASED manufacturer of bright yellow crawler-tractors and earthmoving and off-highway construction machinery, earns itself a place among the Top Ten for attempts to intimidate its workforce into accepting unreasonable working conditions.
Caterpillar employees, represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW), struck the company from November 1991 to April 1992 in response to its demands for wage, health care and job security concessions. The strikers returned to work after Caterpillar threatened to permanently replace them with scabs.
Seventeen thousand Caterpillar employees have been working without a contract since the UAW ended the strike in April. The company has refused to bargain collectively with its workers, imposing portions of its "final" contract offer - which led to the strike in the first place - and insisting on takeaway demands. Newly hired Caterpillar warehouse workers are now paid $7 per hour - according to UAW spokesperson Roger Kerson, less than half of 1990's starting wage - forcing some Caterpillar workers with families beneath federal poverty standards.
Caterpillar officials have repeatedly claimed that the company's labor costs - which account for only 6.1 percent of its total costs - are excessive and preventing it from being "globally competitive." Therefore, while Caterpillar Chief Executive Officer Donald Fites received an 18 percent pay raise last year, the company has frozen wages for more than 20 percent of its workers and offered average increases of just over 1 percent per year for others.
Caterpillar has slashed traditional health care protections, installing an inferior health "network" which denies workers a choice of providers and offers no mechanism for insuring quality of care.
In September, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued an unfair labor practice complaint against Caterpillar for firing and harassing a worker at the corporation's York, Pennsylvania plant. The company fired Kenneth Myers on April 9 for wearing a t-shirt printed with the words "Permanently Replace Fites." Although Caterpillar rescinded the firing the same day, the NLRB found that management subsequently harassed Myers by twice singling him out for a "time-study" of his on-the- job performance.
Meanwhile, Caterpillar is attempting to overturn five years of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citations in court. Caterpillar's citations, which are awaiting a ruling before a federal commission, stem from investigations of its plants in Mapleton and Aurora, Illinois, where OSHA inspectors found that Caterpillar was covering up workplace hazards by not properly recording injuries such as burns, fractions and lacerations. OSHA has hit Caterpillar with $181,000 in fines.
Since the strike ended, the union members have kept up an "inside strategy" of resistance against the company. The industry newsletter Stark's Off-highway Ledger reports that production at Caterpillar is down by as much as 40 percent, a result, according to union officials, of the UAW's promotion of a "work-to-rule" campaign in which workers follow orders precisely but take absolutely no initiative on the job.
In the Decatur, Illinois Caterpillar plant workers are observing red t-shirt days once a week and wearing protest armbands. At the plant in Aurora, up to 400 workers have been wearing army helmets as a symbol that they are at war with the company.
CHEVRON CORPORATION REAPED $1.2 billion in profits on $37 billion in revenues in 1991. An integrated petroleum company with production activities in the United States, Canada, Angola, Australia, Indonesia, United Kingdom, Chevron is no benevolent giant. This year, law enforcement officials and citizen activists began to catch up with this huge corporate criminal.
In June, community activists in San Francisco initiated proceedings for a class- action lawsuit against Chevron for health and property damage allegedly caused by toxic dust released from a Chevron refinery in Richmond, California in December 1991. The West County Toxics Coalition (WCTC) charges that the release blew at least 40 tons of toxic dust, containing the heavy metal vanadium and cancer-causing nickel, into a 16- square mile area of residential neighborhoods.
"This is only one of a continuing slew of accidents from the plant," says Michael Stein of the Pesticide Action Network. "Every couple of months there's another accident there, usually involving the release of airborne toxics into the surrounding community."
"People were dusted, their property was dusted, lawn furniture was affected," says Michael Leedie of Citizens for a Better Environment. "It fell in their gardens and it fell in their soil." According to Leedie, local citizens have suffered various health effects as a result of the accident, including skin rashes, difficulty with breathing, the taste of metal in their mouths and redness in their eyes. "These are typical symptoms of nickel exposure," Leedie says.
According to Leedie, Chevron was forced to release the dust to relieve pressure and prevent a larger accident when a valve in the fluid catalytic cracking unit failed to open. Local community groups are trying to build a group tort case against Chevron. So far, over 7,000 people have signed up for the class-action lawsuit.
Environmentalists have criticized Chevron's advertising campaign, which portrays the company as environmentally responsible. "Chevron spends millions of dollars advertising itself as an environmentally responsible company when it comes to butterflies, eagles and foxes," WCTC wrote in a letter to Chevron. "But when it comes to the company's damage to human beings, who are your neighbors, you have ignored your responsibilities. Many people were sick as a result of the accident and deserve to have their health costs paid."
This year, Chevron has continued to prove that it is one of the dirtiest of the giant oil companies.
In August, Chevron entered a guilty plea to 65 Clean Water Act violations, and was ordered to pay $6.5 million in criminal fines and $1.5 million in civil fines. Chevron committed the crimes on Platform Grace, an oil drilling platform in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Los Angeles.
Chevron admitted to a pattern of unlawfully discharging oil and grease into the ocean in excess of its permit limit. Some of the violations involved releases of substances in amounts as high as three to four times above the discharge limits. Chevron also admitted that on some days, it bypassed its wastewater treatment facility, allowing wastewater to enter the ocean untreated.
Chevron's record overseas is no better than in the United States.
Anti-apartheid activists have long denounced the company for maintaining operations in South Africa despite calls for disinvestment by citizen leaders.
In Papua New Guinea, Chevron is developing two oil fields which the company expects will yield 130,000 barrels a day. Local leaders are "totally disillusioned with Chevron," according to the Rainforest Action Network, because Chevron is not delivering promised infrastructure services, such as health clinics and water. Island residents are also concerned about environmental issues associated with Chevron's operations and whether those operations will threaten their culture. [See Chevron: The Big Oil Boys," Multinational Monitor, April 1992 and Assault on Papua New Guinea," Multinational Monitor, June 1992 ].
FOOD LION IS THE FASTEST GROWING food chain store in the United States. The chain owns and operates 1,000 stores throughout the South and has a profit margin three times the industry average.
How does Food Lion do it? According to the federal government, investigative reporters and union officials, Food Lion cheats.
In November 1992, ABC News "Prime Time" ran a startling expose on unsanitary food handling practices at Food Lion stores. Two undercover "Prime Time" producers with hidden cameras gained employment at Food Lion stores and videotaped unsanitary conditions and practices at the retail food chain. "Prime Time" also spoke with 70 former and current Food Lion employees, many of whom charged the company with unsanitary practices.
The employee whistleblowers charged Food Lion with:
Employees complained that they were forced to comply with these unsafe and unsanitary practices in order to keep their jobs.
Food Lion officials deny the charges made by "Prime Time" and say that ABC has misrepresented the facts about sanitation at Food Lion. Food Lion claims that the story is based primarily on evidence supplied by pro-union workers.
In September, Food Lion brought a lawsuit against Capital Cities ABC and one of the "Prime Time" producers, Lynn Litt. In the lawsuit, Food Lion alleges that Litt fraudulently obtained employment with Food Lion by using false and misleading information on employment applications, making false and misleading statements to Food Lion management and, once hired, engaging in deceitful and illegal activities.
The lawsuit alleges that Litt failed to perform her duties as an employee in an effective and responsible manner, giving her the opportunity to concoct news about the operations and practices in the stores in which she worked. ABC denies the charges.
Food Lion charges that ABC's interest in the company is an outgrowth of an ongoing and "completely unsuccessful corporation campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to unionize Food Lion workers or economically damage Food Lion by attempting to bring various kinds of pressure on Food Lion management."
Former employees of Food Lion testified at April 1992 congressional hearings on the company's labor practices. The employees said that they were forced to work "off the clock" - meaning without pay - by Food Lion. The workers testified that they usually worked 15 to 30 hours a week off the clock to meet the work requirements of the company.
Food Lion's official policy is that employees found working off the clock are verbally reprimanded for the first offense, issued a constructive advice memo for the second and suspended from work for a week for the third. The fourth offense officially results in termination.
But workers at Food Lion say that the policy is not enforced.
"The concept of supermarket employees voluntarily and secretly working overtime as many as 25 extra hours a week is mindboggling," says Representative Tom Lantos, D- California, who chaired the Congressional hearings.
"Working off the clock is a way of life at Food Lion and, in my opinion, for the company to deny any knowledge of its occurrence is outrageous," says Kim Caudill, a meat cutter at Food Lion.
Food Lion has also been the subject of a six-year Department of Labor investigation into allegations that the company has violated federal law by not paying workers for overtime hours worked.
In 1989, the Labor Department found that Food Lion had committed hundreds of overtime violations, and that employees were owed more than $1.2 million for working unpaid overtime. The Department settled the case with Food Lion for $300,000, and Food Lion signed a nationwide compliance agreement.
In September of this year, Labor Department officials testified before a Congressional committee that Food Lion had substantial violations of both federal overtime and child labor laws. The Department is expected to issue civil fines after its investigation is completed.
"You don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure out that this company has some kind of scam going on," says Lou Ulsch, assistant to the international director of organizing of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
GENERAL ELECTRIC (GE) once again makes the Ten Worst list, as it continues to build weapons of mass destruction at the expense of the environment and the health of workers and communities surrounding its facilities.
What has GE been up to this year? In October, the Department of Energy (DOE) began transporting high level radioactive waste by rail from GE's Knolls Atomic Power Lab (KAPL) in Schenectady, New York to the Idaho Engineering Lab in southeastern Idaho. The shipment places unsuspecting communities along a 2,500-mile rail route at risk.
As GE ships out spent fuel from former projects, it is clearing the way for construction of the Seawolf submarine core. Elaine Lamy, executive director of INFACT, a Boston-based public interest group that is calling for a boycott of all GE products, says, "The Cold War is over, but nuclear weapons industry leaders like General Electric are pushing ahead, shipping out radioactive spent fuel from the previous generation of submarines to make room for this year's prototype." INFACT reports that the company took in $300 million for its work at Knolls in 1991. "Companies like GE have a clear profit incentive to keep nuclear weapons alive," says Lamy.
GE has a long and dirty history at KAPL. The company built the facility in 1946 to develop nuclear reactors to power submarines and ships. INFACT says that over the past 45 years, residue from radioactive and toxic materials used at KAPL have built up in the soil, in the nearby Mohawk River and in laboratory buildings. GE's activities at KAPL have exposed thousands of its workers and Navy personnel to radiation. No one outside of GE and the DOE has access to information needed to fully determine the threat KAPL poses to workplace and community health and safety.
Still, enough is known to establish that KAPL is a serious regional hazard. According to INFACT:
In 1988, after information about KAPL's dangerous operations appeared in the media, GE cracked down with a "gag order." A KAPL security newsletter threatened present and former KAPL employees with job loss, a $100,000 fine and life imprisonment if they talked publicly about KAPL.
GE's threats carry a lot of weight because the company has punished whistleblowers at its Knolls labs in the past.
Health physicist Frank Bordell had worked at KAPL for 20 years when he reported to GE his concerns about radiation exposure and inadequate reporting to the Department of Energy in 1988. When the company failed to act on his report, Bordell contacted the DOE's Office of Inspector General. He was fired six weeks later. Jack Shannon, formerly manager of industrial safety and hygiene at the Knolls Kesselring Site, had a similar experience in November 1985,when he reported severe safety problems concerning asbestos and fire at the facility to GE officials. He was demoted, harassed and put on "permanent disability."
INFACT is hard at work spreading the truth about GE. The organization is showing its Academy Award-winning documentary Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons & Our Environment to high school and college students throughout the United States. The film's producer was even able to urge the one billion viewers of the Academy Award ceremony to "Boycott GE!"
GENERAL MOTORS (GM) IS IN DEEP TROUBLE. Its share of the world automobile market continues to drop. In an effort to stave off disaster, institutional shareholders have forced out older executives and replaced them with younger ones.
It can only be hoped that one lesson this new, younger management will learn is that no corporation can succeed for long if it holds its fellow citizens - workers, consumers, neighbors - in contempt.
General Motors has a dirty track record in this regard. From its conviction in 1949 of a criminal conspiracy to destroy the nation's mass transit system, to its marketing of hazardous automobiles such as the Corvair, to its unsuccessful public campaign to beat down support for the life-saving air bag, to its venal destruction of the Poletown neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan, GM has ensured a permanent place for itself in any Corporate Hall of Shame.
Recently unearthed documents reveal a new episode in GM history that auto safety experts are calling the "Pinto of the 90s." The Center for Auto Safety charged earlier this year that GM manufactured and marketed pickup trucks with hazardous gas tanks which have led to over 300 deaths - a death rate 10 times higher than that of the infamous Ford Pinto. The Center claims that GM then covered up the exploding gas tank problem and the company's decision not to install safety liners which would have reduced crash fires in the vehicles.
The defect stems from GM's decision to install side-mounted fuel tanks outside of the frame rails on all "C" and "K" style pickup trucks manufactured between 1972 and 1987. The design exposes the tanks to direct hits and resulting ruptures from impacting vehicles in side collisions. Other manufacturers placed their pickup truck fuel tanks inside protective frame rail structures during the same model years.
A number of consumer groups and newspapers in Texas asked a court in Fort Worth, Texas to require GM to release crash test films and other documents showing the company's long-standing knowledge of the defect and its failure to remedy it. The documents had been produced by GM in a subsequently-settled burn death case - Zelenuck v. GM - but were shielded from public view by a protective order imposed earlier at GM's request.
Moments before the court began an open hearing on the documents, GM withdrew its objections to their release, apparently to avoid protracted publicity about its efforts to keep the documents secret.
The Center for Auto Safety obtained a 67-page index to the collected papers of Ronald E. Elwell, which the Center calls "a roadmap to GM's coverup of exploding gas tanks." Elwell worked for GM for 30 years and was designated by GM in numerous trials as its employee most knowledgeable about fuel tank safety in 1973-1987 GM pickups.
The index reveals that GM's former president, James McDonald, rejected a 1978 company task force proposal to install an inexpensive safety liner in the fuel tanks. Installing the liners in the tanks would have sharply reduced the fire deaths and injuries, auto safety experts charge. Had GM put the liners in the pickups, "about 185 of the 248 people burned to death in side impacts of the GM vehicles could have survived, judging from death rates for such vehicles during the 1981-1986 period," says Ben Kelley, president of the Institute for Injury Reduction.
The Center for Auto Safety has called on the National Highway Traffic Administration to order GM to recall the pickups and fix the problem. "GM knew about this deadly defect for 20 years and rejected a $10 fix recommended by its own top fuel tank experts," says the Center's Clarence Ditlow. "Access to these documents could save hundreds of people from horrible burn injuries and death by showing these vehicles could be recalled and repaired by installing tanks with safety liners that GM's former President James McDonald rejected."
Ditlow points out that GM modified its Chevrolet Corvette to include a bladder in the gas tank after the Corvette was involved in numerous low-speed fire crashes in which the tank ruptured much like the tanks in the C/K series pickups. Even if the tank ruptures in a crash, the bladder remains intact and retains gasoline, thus preventing an explosive crash fire, Ditlow says. Tests of the 1975 Corvette showed that its bladder would withstand 41.1 mph rear crashes with no fuel leakage, meeting a crash standard almost twice as stringent as required by federal law.
DEFENSE CONTRACTOR MARTIN MARIETTA is among the Monitor's Ten Worst this year for punishing an employee who voiced concern about health and safety issues at a company-run facility. In February, the U.S. Labor Department found that Martin Marietta Energy Systems, contracted by the Department of Energy to operate the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, retaliated against an employee whistleblower by ordering him to sit in a room filled with toxic and radioactive chemicals and do useless work. The Labor Department said that the company had violated the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act by punishing Charles Varnadore for raising safety issues.
Varnadore, a technician at Oak Ridge since 1974, publicized lax health and safety conditions at the facility, once appearing on a CBS evening news segment about elevated cancer rates among Oak Ridge personnel. The CBS report was based on a study conducted by a North Carolina epidemiologist which found excess cancers among facility employees over the last 40 years.
After Varnadore appeared on CBS in March 1991, he was transferred into a room filled with drums of toxic and radioactive waste where he was instructed to test, identify and weigh 717 chemicals. In September 1991, Varnadore was moved to another waste storage room containing mercury, radioactive materials and asbestos. Marietta moved Varnadore out of the second room after his lawyers complained in November 1991. Varnadore himself underwent surgery for colon cancer in 1989.
"It's one of the most horrid forms of repression and retaliation that I have ever seen," Edward A. Slavin, Jr. of the Government Accountability Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that works to protect whistleblowers, told Multinational Monitor.
In February, Clyde Hopkins, president of Martin Marietta Energy Systems, told a congressional committee that for purposes of "national security," references to uranium were deleted from documents accompanying waste that was shipped from Oak Ridge to disposal facilities not licensed to handle radioactive material. In Deer Park, Texas, waste shipments containing radioactive material from Oak Ridge have been incinerated over the past 11 years.
Martin Marietta and the DOE have also been busy wasting taxpayer money. A study released in August by the General Accounting Office found that the DOE and the company had spent nearly $500,000 on alcohol, golf, dinners and other entertainment between 1986 and 1991 in connection with the sale of government-owned uranium to foreign customers.
THE TENTACLES of the Japanese-based Mitsubishi Group extend into multinational trading, banking, electric, industrial, communications, nuclear and fossil fuel and auto manufacturing operations. Mitsubishi is a major target of many Southeast Asian and European environmental organizations and the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network because of the role of its general trading arm, the Mitsubishi Corporation, in importing large quantities of tropical rainforest timber.
Mitsubishi is among the top five Japanese importers of timber from Sarawak, Malaysia, a state on Borneo island. For the past 15 years, Mitsubishi's subsidiary, Daiya Malaysia, has been clear-cutting huge areas of tropical rainforest in Sarawak to supply the Japanese market. Aided by floodlights, Daiya Malaysia logs the forest 24 hours a day. But now its area of operation is nearly depleted, and the company is looking for new logging concessions in Sarawak. At current logging rates, Borneo's forests will be completely destroyed by the turn of the century, displacing thousands of indigenous people from their homes and traditional ways of life in the process.
Mitsubishi is now turning its attention to Western hemisphere forests in anticipation of Southeast Asian rainforests being logged out. The London-based Survival International's 1992 report Indians of the Americas cites Mitsubishi for violating indigenous people's rights in Canada. Mitsubishi's subsidiary Alberta Pacific is clear-cutting vast areas of northeast and north- central Alberta, heavily impacting many Dene and Cree people.
In Ecuador, the Mitsubishi subsidiary Bishi Metals is preparing to open a huge mine in the Cordillera de Toisan, a coastal area of Andean tropical forest. The Cordillera de Toisan - the last large area of Ecuadorian coastal rainforest - is the home of the Awa Indian nation and the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, which is identified as Ecuador's highest area of priority for biodiversity conservation by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Ecuador goverment awarded Mitsubishi its concession for the Cordillera de Toisan as part of a bilateral agreement with the Japanese government. Controversial new Ecuadorian mining laws drastically reduce taxes for foreign companies in their first five years of operation, thereby encouraging rapid resource-stripping and large-scale capital-intensive mineral exploitation at the expense of small local mining cooperatives.
Mitsubishi has gone to impressive lengths to defend its forest-destroying operations. In March 1992, the Japanese Ministry of Education banned from school distribution a cartoon book entitled Mitsubishi Shoji which details the exploits of "Mitsubishi Man" and includes a defense of Mitsubishi's rainforest activities in which a character explains that accusations of rainforest destruction "consist of misunderstanding and obvious distortions by the mass media." The Education Ministry stated that the 216- page comic book constituted "propaganda."
In July 1992, a Malaysian High Court found that a joint venture factory of yet another Mitsubishi subsidiary, Mitsubishi Kasei Corporation, was releasing radioactive waste which was endangering its surrounding community of Ipoh, and ordered the facility to shut down. Residents claim that the factory, known as ARE, has been dumping radioactive chemical wastes into a nearby pond and river. Judge Peh Swee Chin said that he found sufficient evidence of increased leukemia, congenital disease, infant deaths and higher levels of lead in village children since the plant's opening in 1982 to justify closing it down.
STONE CONTAINER, the Chicago-based producer of paper bags and packages, makes the Monitor's Ten Worst list for the first time this year. The company's record includes contaminating the environment and working to destroy forests around the world, while recklessly endangering the lives of its workers in the United States.
On March 13, 42-year-old John Odom, a general mechanic with the company's Jonesboro, Louisiana Hodge paper mill since 1968, was crushed to death by a paper machine while doing routine upkeep work. The accident was caused by the company's failure to lock out the machine so that it could not be turned on during maintenance.
Odom's death was the third fatality at Hodge since 1991 and the third death resulting from lock-out failures. Stone mechanics Durwood Aldy and Charles Malone were killed while doing routine maintenance on another paperwinder in the same plant. Because the machine was not locked-out, as federal safety rules require, a paper roller fell on them and crushed them between other rollers.
OSHA has cited the company for repeat violations of worker safety regulations at Hodge. Stone paid OSHA $12,075 in September 1991 in connection with the deaths of Aldy and Malone and $42,000 in September 1992 in penalties for safety violations related to Odom's death. In the past six years, Stone Container has paid $167,063 in OSHA fines for 706 violations at plants throughout the United States, 12 of which were classified as "willful." At the company's Missoula, Montana mill, a boiler explosion killed an employee and injured two others in June 1991.
Internationally, Stone is becoming notorious for its hideous environmental record. The company, which fills its annual report with headlines like, "There Will Always Be Trees," nonetheless cemented a reputation for forest destruction when it contracted with the U.S. Forest Service to log 5.7 million board feet of timber from the Middle Sandbench area of the San Juan National Forest in Colorado in June 1991. The sale of over 700 acres of the forest and Stone's building of a 2.5 mile road into the stand is contributing to the demise of one of the last remaining U.S. old-growth forest areas.
According to a report on Stone's environmental practices written by Robert Rubovitz of the Council on Economic Priorities (CEP), Stone is not participating in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) industrial toxics project which aims to reduce the release of 17 target chemicals from 600 industrial companies. The uncooperative company declined to take part in the effort because "participation in this program could result in potential conflicts with regulations in other program areas." Stone also refuses to join the EPA's "green lights" program, which aims to increase energy efficiency through conversion to fluorescent lamps "to the extent that they are profitable and do not compromise lighting quality," while cutting carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions.
According to the most recent available Environmental Protection Agency's toxic release inventory data, Stone released more than 23 million pounds of the toxic chemicals methanol, acetone, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and chloroform into the environment in 1989.
Stone did suffer a significant defeat early this year. In February, the Honduran government rejected a widely opposed contract with the company which would have given Stone a virtual free hand in harvesting what is left of Honduras' pine forests. Under the terms of the contract, Stone would have been granted rights to harvest between one and 2.5 million acres of virgin pine forest. Honduras still has the largest standing pine forests in Central America, although there has been considerable deforestation in the country over the past 10 years. The efforts of an unprecedented coalition of indigneous people, environmentalists, business people and labor organizers who came together to protest the deal played a large role in killing the contract.
THE $7 BILLION MERGER of media giants Time, Inc. and Warner Communications in early 1990 marks a significant and dangerous stage in the drive toward increasing concentration of the media.
Time Warner now owns and controls mass circulation magazines such as Time and Fortune; publishing houses including Time-Life Books, Warner Books, Little Brown and the Book-of-the-Month Club; two of the largest pay-television services in the United States, HBO and Cinemax; two of the largest cable-operating companies in the United States; music publishing companies including Warner Brothers, Atlantic and Elektra; and Warner Brothers Studios in the film industry.
Time Warner owns a 22 percent interest in the Turner Broadcasting System, the parent company of CNN. The company has also recently begun testing a mammoth cable system in Queens, New York to provide a record 150 channels of programming and interactive services such as electronic banking. The huge company is entering into joint agreements around the world to produce movies, open movie theaters, manufacture and market compact discs and videos, even to develop cable television in Hungary.
The merger of the two companies had the usual effect on the staff: in September 1991, Time Warner laid off 600 magazine employees, including 19 of 75 correspondants at Time magazine, according to the New York-based media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). At the same time, Warner chair Steve Ross was the most highly compensated chief executive in the United States, with a salary and stock option package worth more than $78 million in 1990.
FAIR executive director Jeff Cohen questions about the ability of Time Warner employees to report fairly on business in the wake of the merger and the layoffs. He says, "You can't expect reporters working at Time Warner - no matter how valiant - to give working people the information they need about the dangers of mergers and business monopolies when they're working for one and they've just seen their collegues laid off." Cohen also notes that as a result of the merger, the company now both owns cable stations and distributors and produces the product that will get on the air; Time Warner also owns magazines that review movies and televisions shows that it produces. Cohen cites a Time cover story on author Scott Turow which ran just as Warner released a movie based on a Turow novel.
Critics of media concentration have more profound concerns about the mergers of huge companies like Time and Warner, charging that corporate giants will control the international flow of information to reflect and promote their own interests, and exist only to exploit information for profit."Concentrated power to persuade and influence is dangerous," says Cohen. "That's a given."
Time Warner has already thrown its muscle behind a particularly disturbing enterprise to push a noxious mixture of media, education and commercialism. In 1992, Time Warner became majority owner of Whittle Communications, with an option to buy an additional 20 percent of Christopher Whittle's communications company. Whittle is the most blatant and well-known of the new breed of classroom hucksters, companies that view elementary and high school students as prime targets for marketing schemes.
Whittle produces Channel One, a television news program beamed daily via satellite to 6.6 million teenagers in classrooms in over 9,000 high schools. In exchange for receiving free satellite dishes, video equipment and televisions from Whittle, schools agree to air the 12-minute program, two minutes of which consists of commercials hawking products such as Skittles candy and Nike sneakers.
In January 1991, the National Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) approved a set of principles to guide state and local education agencies in their relationships with corporations. The principles, based on the recognition that "compulsory education confers on educators an obligation to protect the welfare of their students and the integrity of the learning environment," challenged schools' acceptance of Channel One: "Selling or providing access to a captive audience in the classroom for commercial purposes is exploitation and a violation of the public trust."
Whittle, backed by Time Warner, is currently planning a much more profound and insidious assault on public schools. The company's "Edison Project" is scheming to set up a system of 200 private for-profit schools by 1996. Whittle has managed to lure former Yale University president Benno Schmidt to lead the project, lending it dangerous credibility.
Karen Brown of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for the Study of Commercialism says, "We are very wary of a money-making corporation deciding the curriculum for children. Clearly, the bottom line for a company like Whittle may not serve the best interest of U.S. children."
Whittle's current "educational" methods certainly do not bode well for the type of education the Edison Project may offer. As Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children's Television, told the Monitor, if the Edison Project goes through, classrooms may exist "just to give the kids a place to sit" while they watch Whittle television. The Edison Project may represent "the beginning of the downfall of education in America," says Charren.