Amazon Oil Offensive
Blood in the Pipeline
Environment: Rejecting Toxic Technology
Labor: Busting Labor in Sri Lanka
Names in the News
Supporters of the 185-meter dam claim it will provide flood control, ease navigation on the Yangtze River and generate over 17,000 megawatts of electricity. Critics, however, contend that sedimentation of the reservoir will actually disrupt navigation, cause flooding and destroy the dam’s turbines in less than 10 years. Most serious, according to critics, is the plan to displace more than 1.3 million people to make way for the dam [see “Planning for Disaster: China’s Three Gorges Dam,” Multinational Monitor, September 1993].
“The Three Gorges project will constitute one of the largest forced migrations of people in history,” says John Thibodeau of the Toronto-based Probe International. “Many Chinese people live in fear of this project, unable to speak out for fear of arrest and unsure of their future should it be constructed.”
At the ground-breaking ceremony on December 14 in Sandouping, the future site of the dam, Chinese Premier Li Peng made an impassioned plea for foreign assistance for the mammoth project, underscoring the “unprecedented business opportunities” for overseas investors. It is expected that China will need a massive infusion of capital and equipment from abroad to complete the $50 billion project.
But many foreign financiers are wary of the project. Testifying before the Ontario Energy Board the week of the ground-breaking ceremony, Ontario Hydro Chair Maurice Strong was asked if the utility will seek Three Gorges contracts. “Over my dead body,” Strong replied.
In 1993, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which had been involved in preparations for the Three Gorges since 1944, pulled out of the project, claiming it was neither economically nor environmentally feasible. The World Bank, notorious for its involvement in large dam schemes, noted in a September 1988 statement that the current design of the project is “not economically viable.” Engineering giant Bechtel Enterprises has also stated that it is “not at all likely” to pursue Three Gorges contracts because it feels the project “is extremely controversial from an environmental perspective.”
The FEC found that, from 1986 to 1993, Prudential officers and employees used the company’s resources and personnel to solicit contributions from its associates and employees at other securities firms. Federal law prohibits corporations from making contributions to candidates for federal office. This includes fundraising activities in which the company’s employees solicit contributions at the company’s expense.
“This case demonstrates that the Commission’s enforcement priority system is working,” says FEC Chair Trevor Potter. “We were able to identify the [Prudential] case as important early on, and swiftly negotiated this sizeable settlement.”
The FEC categorized the violations as “knowing and willful” in view of Prudential’s previous involvement in a March 1987 case concerning the 1984 Presidential campaign of Senator John Glenn, D- Ohio. In that case, Prudential paid a $7,000 penalty.
“We believe the activities in question were undertaken in good faith by employees exercising their rights to participate in the electoral process,” says a Prudential statement. “Nevertheless, we have decided to settle these charges to put the matters behind us and remove any possible question about our commitment to adhering to the letter and spirit of the electoral laws.”
Ministers said the extension would buy time for further testing of the health impact of rBGH. The EU originally imposed a moratorium on use of the product in April 1990, citing concerns about the potential boost in milk output and the risk that use of the product would speed the displacement of family dairy farms by agribusinesses.
The European Federation of Animal Health criticized the decision. “Political attempts to restrict the use of products meeting the established criteria of safety, quality and efficacy will have to be firmly rejected if Europe wishes to encourage investment and jobs in innovative research, development and production,” Federation Secretary General Jo Vanhemelrijk said in a statement. “And Europe’s farmers will also be increasingly disadvantaged if they are in the future denied the benefits of new technology which their competitors enjoy elsewhere.”
The farm ministers did not discuss Europe’s import ban on rBGH dairy products, a major trade conflict with the United States. The U.S. government approved Monsanto’s rBGH product, Posilac, in February 1994 [see “Monkeying With the Milk,” Multinational Monitor, June 1994]. Upjohn and Eli Lilly have also been developing such products.
The European Campaign Against rBGH, a coalition of consumer, environmental, farmer and animal welfare groups, demonstrated outside the EU Farm Council meeting in Brussels, demanding a total ban on using or importing rBGH products, Reuters reported.
A Monsanto statement maintained an optimistic tone, emphasizing that the decision allows farmers to use rBGH to test for health impacts. “[L]imited utilization will enable the company and farmers to learn how [rBGH] can best be used in the context of [the EU’s] quota system,” the statement said.
— Aaron Freeman and Andrew Wheat
Asked whether the administration was serious about imposing sanctions against China if Chinese officials did not undertake meaningful reforms, U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor says, “Watch our actions.” He adds, “With this administration, it’s been quite clear that we’re willing to impose trade sanctions.”
“We want a detailed agreement that’s going to address the problem,” Kantor insists.
Unfortunately, the problem that has turned Kantor into such a tiger is China’s failure to crack down on factories illegally copying compact disks, movies, computer software and other copyrighted U.S. products, and infringing on U.S. companies’ trademarks. U.S. manufacturers allege that widespread and systematic Chinese copyright, trademark and patent infringements are costing them $1 billion annually in potential sales both in China and around the world.
Unless China moves rapidly to close down the outlaw factories and fully enforce intellectual property rights, Kantor threatens, the United States will impose $1 billion in countervailing trade sanctions on Chinese exports to the United States. Lurking in the background as an even more powerful sanction is the refusal to allow China to join the newly formed World Trade Organization until it reforms its treatment of intellectual property.
When it comes to China’s recent crack down on human rights and democracy advocates, however, Kantor and the Clinton administration remain docile.
In May 1994, the Clinton administration moved to “delink” human rights from trade concerns, severing human rights considerations from the annual review of China’s most favored nation trading status, which entitles China to low tariff rates.
“We have reached the end of the usefulness” of the threatened trade sanction policy,” President Clinton said, “and it is time to take a new path toward the achievement of our constant objectives. We need to place our relationship into a larger and more productive framework.”
Since the United States decided to pursue a “new path” and “put the relationship in a larger perspective,” human rights abuses in China have worsened. In the months since the U.S. change of course, Human Rights Watch and journalists have documented:
o a secret Chinese government blacklist, blocking the return of four dozen prominent exiled dissidents;
o the arrest, sentencing and punishment of leading pro-democracy, human rights and labor rights activists for “counter-revolutionary” and other political crimes;
o the Chinese government’s enactment of a new set of “security regulations” which criminalize “fabricating rumors, distorting facts, publishing or spreading written or oral arguments” or “establishing mass organizations, enterprises or institutions” where the government interprets those actions as “activities jeopardizing state security;”
o a sharp increase in executions;
o the ongoing use of prison and forced labor, including to make products for export, on a massive scale; and
o the “harvesting” of organs for organ transplants from executed prisoners — and the sometimes purposeful botching of executions to ensure that prisoners remain alive when their organs are removed.
There is no great mystery as to why the Clinton administration is aggressively wielding trade tools against China on intellectual property, but avoids meaningfully confronting China on human rights issues. Threatening trade sanctions over copyright and related matters serves the interests of important U.S. business sectors, primarily entertainment and computer software companies, but also a range of other manufacturers whose brand names are being used without authorization. (As an example, the USTR points out that cornflakes are marketed in China as “Kongalu flakes” in a packaging and with a trademark “identical” to Kellogg’s Cornflakes.) Threatening or imposing trade sanctions over human rights abuses, in contrast, risked jeopardizing U.S. corporations’ desperate rush to get a foothold in the vast Chinese market.
This sorry state of affairs is aptly summarized by Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The administration calls it commercial diplomacy. We see it more as resurgent mercantilism,” he says.
Ironically, the administration’s “resurgent mercantilism” may be on the verge of backfiring, at least in the case of China. With longtime government head Deng Xiaoping’s health fading, China’s leaders are jockeying for power by engaging in repressive and nationalist one-upsmanship. Even major U.S. corporations are finding themselves victimized by the Chinese government. The government broke a 20-year lease with McDonald’s and evicted the restaurant company from its site on Tiananmen Square to make way for a commercial development. And two state-owned trading companies allegedly cheated Lehman Brothers, the U.S. brokerage firm, out of $100 million.
In other words, the complete disrespect for the rule of law in human rights has carried over into other areas. As one business consultant told the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman: “The same arbitrary abuse of power that characterized China’s overall human rights behavior is now the principal obstacle to doing successful business in China.”
Friedman concludes, “That is why before this story is over American business, which was so insistent on getting human rights and democracy off the agenda of Sino-American relations, will have to be at the forefront of putting them back there.”
It is a sad day when human rights proponents have to rely on big business to prod a Democratic administration into promoting human rights in the world’s largest nation. n
This somber message emerged from a Health Strategy Consultative Meeting held in Penang, Malaysia in late 1994. The meeting was organized by the International Peoples’ Health Council, the People’s Health Network and the Third World Network. It was attended by 20 health professionals and leaders of community-based health groups and non-governmental organizations from South Africa, Mexico, Palestine, Nicaragua, India, the Philippines, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.
David Werner, author of Where There Is No Doctor, the best-selling primer on community-based health practice, is perhaps the world’s leading critic of the quiet shift in global and national health strategies.
A consultant for the World Health Organization (WHO), Werner works with the U.S.-based Work Group for People’s Health and Rights. He recalled how governments almost unanimously endorsed primary health care at the landmark 1978 WHO-United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) global health conference. The conference endorsed the Alma Ata Declaration, which was named for the Kazakhstan town where the conference was held.
To strive toward “Health for All by the year 2000,” the Declaration resolved that all people are entitled to basic health rights and that society (and thus government) has a responsibility to ensure that people’s health needs are met regardless of gender, race, class or degree of disability. The declaration’s centerpiece was primary health care, a comprehensive strategy that includes an equitable, consumer-centered approach to health services and addresses underlying social factors that influence health.
Alma Ata called for health ministries and health workers to be accountable to the common people and social guarantees to ensure that the basic needs (including food) of all people are met. “Unhappily, these high expectations have not been met,” said Werner. “Today it is painfully evident that the goal of Health For All is growing more distant not just for the poor but for humanity.” In the 1980s, a disturbing trend emerged: while child mortality rates dropped, malnutrition and morbidity rates rose. In the late l980s and early l990s, the decline in child mortality rates slowed or halted, and in many countries, especially in Africa, child mortality is now rising.
In many countries, improvements in health have slowed or stopped in recent years. In some countries, rates of malnutrition, tuberculosis, cholera, sexually transmitted diseases, plague and other diseases have increased dramatically.
According to Werner, three factors have undermined primary health care. First, instead of adopting a comprehensive health and social program as envisaged, UNICEF compromised, opting for selective primary health care aimed at reducing child mortality through the use of selected medical technologies, particularly oral rehydration therapy (ORT) and immunization.
This compromise was not entirely of UNICEF’s choosing. Due to inadequate response from donor countries, which was compounded by economic recessions, it was impossible to embark on a comprehensive primary health care program. Instead, UNICEF adopted a limited approach focused on providing ready-made packages rather than on teaching communities basic health skills. These programs were of limited success and their modest gains are proving difficult to sustain. Werner said that ORT and immunizations now are on the decline in many countries.
The ORT program promoted sales of ready-made oral rehydration salt packages rather than teaching the use of inexpensive family-prepared “home fluids.” The poor find it increasingly hard to afford these salt packets: some families spend a fourth of their daily income for a single packet.
Another setback to primary health care was the introduction in the 1980s of structural adjustment programs imposed on indebted Third World countries by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as a condition for debt rescheduling. Structural adjustment policies include cutbacks in public spending, reducing government deficits by imposing or raising fees for health and other social services, freezing wages and freeing prices, privatization and reducing government jobs.
“These policies hit the poor hardest,” says Werner. “Budgets for so-called non-productive government activities such as health, education and food subsidies were ruthlessly slashed. Public hospitals and health centers were sold to the private sector, thus pricing their services out of the reach of the poor. Falling real wages, food scarcity and growing unemployment pushed low-income families into worsening poverty.”
A third factor which Werner says has “put the nail in the coffin of the Alma Ata Declaration” is the increasing role of the World Bank in global health policy planning, based on the same philosophy as structural adjustment.
The Bank’s health approach is spelled out in its World Development Report 1993. It calls for governments to: foster an enabling environment for households to improve health; improve government spending in health; and promote diversity and competition in health services.
Werner has his own interpretation of this Bank rhetoric:
• “Foster an enabling environment” means requiring disadvantaged families to pay for their own health, in other words fee-for-service and cost-recovery through user-financing that shifts the burden of health costs to the shoulders of the poor.
• “Improve government spending on health” means trimming government spending by reducing services from comprehensive coverage to a narrowly selective, cost-effective approach, or a new brand of selective primary health care.
• “Promote diversity and competition” means turning over to private doctors and businesses most of those government services that used to provide free or subsidized care to the poor. This implies privatization of most medical and health services, thus pricing many medical interventions beyond the reach of those in greatest need.
“Many health groups fear the Bank will impose its recommendations on those poor countries that can least afford them,” according to Werner. “What makes the new health strategy especially dangerous is that the Bank, with its enormous money-lending capacity, can force poor countries to accept its blueprint by tying it to loans.”
Werner’s concerns were broadly shared by other participants. According to a leading health expert and organizer in India, Dr. Mira Shiva of the People’s Health Network, structural adjustment in India has led to increasing food prices and unemployment, causing a deterioration in health. There is also a significant cut in the government’s health budget and the World Bank has stepped into the financial vacuum with new loans in the health sector. “The problem is that with one hand the Bank’s policies are taking away the health services the government used to provide to the needy and with another hand the Bank is giving money for health on a loan basis to be repaid,” said Dr. Mira.
Professor David Sanders, director of the Public Health Programme in the University of Western Cape, South Africa, has conducted extensive studies over the past four years on the impact of structural adjustment on health. He told the meeting that structural adjustment programs affect health indirectly, through general economic decline and changes in other sectors such as education, and directly, through policy changes in the health sector. In Zimbabwe, for example, where Sanders reported, health status has been affected by factors outside the health sector such as a decline in real wages, the removal of food subsidies and school fees or levies.
Within the health sector itself, there have been budget cuts that have reduced mobile health clinics and services (resulting in a fall in child immunization), lack of maintenance of medical equipment and hospital buildings, reduced supply of medicines and increased user charges.
— Martin Khor/Third World
The report found that when job creation aspects of pollution control policies are factored in, environmental protection has slightly increased net employment in the U.S. economy. And actual layoffs from regulation have been “startingly small,” according to the report.
The report found that:
• The great majority of economy-wide studies show a small positive effect of environmental regulation on overall employment. Environmental protection raises employment levels because it makes intensive use of labor or domestically produced materials or because it provides some recession-proof stimulus to aggregate demand.
• Few manufacturing plants have been shut down because of environmental protection. Government data from the late 1980s reveal that, on average, four plants per year shut down as a result of environmental or safety regulation. These accounted for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all large-scale layoffs.
• Environmental regulation is not responsible for the long-term decline of manufacturing employment in the United States. The “pollution haven” effect — in which industrial firms relocate to poor countries to take advantage of lax environmental regulation — rarely occurs. Firms are relocating, but the overwhelming reason is lower labor costs.
• In the mining and logging industries, where trade-offs between jobs and the environment are most evident, local job loss from regulation can be significant. Even here, however, new jobs are generated elsewhere in the economy to provide substitute products for the timber or minerals preserved. They are also created in fishing and tourism and in industries seeking high “quality of life” for their employees.
The report noted that the jobs versus the environment debate has been fueled by “deindustrialization” — the loss of over 3 million manufacturing jobs in the United States during the 1980s, due in part to increased import competition, shifts in demand and technological change.
Environmental regulation has often been blamed for contributing to a shift in the U.S. economy from manufacturing jobs to service employment. Industry critics have argued that environmental protection measures have led to plant shut-downs, encouraged the flight of U.S. manufacturing capital overseas and reduced domestic investment by hampering productivity growth.
But the report found the employment effects of shutdowns, capital flight, and productivity losses from environmental protection have been small or non-existent.
At the same time, the report found that money spent to protect the environment has in fact created jobs. In 1993, some 4 million people were employed directly or indirectly in the “environmental protection industry.” Because much of the environmental spending is either labor intensive (recycling and sewage construction) or uses domestically produced capital goods (air-pollution control equipment), most studies indicate that environmental spending boosts aggregate employment.
Eban Goodstein, the author of the report, points out that the personal and social costs of job loss, whether they arise from environmental protection measures or general causes, cannot be minimized. But, he says, the trade-offs are local and, in contrast to the amount of notoriety they have received, extraordinarily small. More job loss appears likely as a result of corporate downsizing, import competition, and defense cutbacks, Goodstein says.
Goodstein argues that markets for clean manufacturing and energy technologies can provide the kind of high-wage boost to the U.S. economy that autos and defense provided in the 1950s and 1960s.
“As we move into the twenty-first century, demand for clean technologies will be the driving force behind industrial job creation,” Goodstein says. “Insuring that U.S. firms develop and maintain the lead in these fields will allow the country to capitalize on high-wage employment opportunities in environmental protection.”
— Russell Mokhiber
“This is it,” said Saro-Wiwa 12 days before he was arrested. “They [the military] are going to arrest us all and execute us. All for Shell.”
In his hands, Saro-Wiwa held a copy of a memo written by the Nigerian Rivers State Commissioner of Police, entitled “Operation Order No. 4/94 - Restoration of Law and Order in Ogoni Land.” The order detailed an imminent, extensive military operation that involved members of the Nigerian Army, Air Force, Navy and police. One of the stated purposes of Order 4/94 was to “ensure that ordinary law abiding citizens of the area, non- indigenes resident [sic] carrying out business ventures or schooling within Ogoni land are not molested.”
“The drafting of such a large force into the small Ogoni area [404 square miles] is meant to intimidate and terrorize the Ogoni people in order to allow Shell to recommence its operations in the area without carrying out the environmental, health, and social impact studies which the Ogoni people have demanded since 1992,” said Saro-Wiwa. Two weeks later, Saro- Wiwa was arrested. Although he has been accused of inciting and directing his supporters to violence, he has never been formally charged. Amnesty International has declared Saro-Wiwa a prisoner of conscience and believes that his arrest is “part of the continuing suppression by the Nigerian authorities of the Ogoni people’s campaign against the oil companies.”
Saro-Wiwa is the leader and spokesperson for the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). Since early 1992, MOSOP has campaigned against what it calls Shell’s “environmental terrorism” of the Ogoni homeland in southeastern Nigeria. Today, more than a half a year after Order 4/94 went into effect, Ogoni is under military rule and the leaders of MOSOP are either in detention or hiding. Their campaign has attracted support from around the world.
Ogoni is a tiny place, but the forces at play there have made it a symbol for all of Nigeria. Oil is at the center of the Nigerian economy and stands behind the succession of military regimes that have ruled Nigeria in recent years. Of the oil companies operating in Nigeria, Shell is by far the most powerful and the most despised.
The Ogoni maintain that Shell has funded and directed much of the repeated violence against their villages. “Human life does not mean much to those who have benefited from the oil,” Saro Wiwa says.
Shell maintains that its role is a purely commercial, “non-political” one. Eric Nickson, head of public affairs for Shell International in London, says the Ogoni complaints stem from the political frustrations of a small, marginalized ethnic minority that is conducting an international campaign against Shell as a means to promote two goals: political self-determination and a greater share of oil revenues.
At a minimum, critics say Shell is providing valuable foreign capital to a repressive regime bent on suppressing internal dissent — particularly dissent directed against Shell — by whatever means necessary.
The Shell game
The Royal/Dutch Shell Group is one of the largest businesses in the world, with interests in over 3,000 companies and operations in over 100 countries. Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), accounts for almost 14 percent of Shell production and is the company’s biggest producer outside of the United States. Today, SPDC is the sole operator of a joint venture in which it has a 30 percent interest with the majority partner, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), which holds a 55 percent stake in the venture. Industry observers say Shell is interested in purchasing an additional 4 percent of NNPC. Despite the repression, Shell clearly intends to remain in Nigeria for the long haul.
Oil is the single most important commodity in Nigeria, and Shell is the backbone of the oil market. SPDC is currently the largest oil and gas production company in the country, accounting for more than 50 percent of Nigeria’s crude oil output. Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of the country’s foreign exchange, and more than 80 percent of federal government revenue.
The links between Shell and Nigeria stretch back to British colonial rule. In the late 1920s, Shell products were first imported into Nigeria. In 1937, Shell formed a joint venture with the British authorities. That venture, known as Shell D’Arcy, was granted carte blanche to explore for oil. But the first commercially viable oil find did not occur until 1956. That oil strike was on Ogoni land.
“Shell originally had an exclusive concession,” explains Shehu Othman, an independent oil analyst based at Oxford University. “Once they had the best, they ceded the rest” to the Nigerian government, which in turn either explored that land or sold it to other foreign interests. As a result, Shell today still controls the best, most productive fields in all of Nigeria. Othman concludes that despite the breakup of Shell’s monopoly, the company maintains control over “about 60 percent” of the commercially viable oil bearing land in Nigeria. “The Nigerian government cannot afford to let Shell suffer,” he says.
Shell is not just the dominant economic player in Nigeria. “Whether they like it or not, Shell is deep in the politics of Nigeria,” says Sister Majella, a Catholic missionary who has worked in Nigeria since 1964. There seems to be a revolving door in between the management of SPDC and the Nigerian government. Sister Majella recalls a meeting with Emeka Achebe, general manager for business development of SPDC, where “he spoke with great pride of the former Shell employees that were currently in the government.” One prominent Shell alumnus is Chief Rufus Ada George, the former executive governor of Rivers State. Another is Ernest Shonenkan, the former director of SPDC who replaced General Ibrahim Babangida and was President of Nigeria for a brief period before General Sani Abacha, the current ruler.
Shell acknowledges many political problems in Nigeria, but maintains that these are “clearly issues where private companies have neither the right nor the competence to become involved and must be addressed by the people of Nigeria and their government.”
Greenpeace’s Andrea Goodall says, “Shell’s professions of innocence ignore the fact that the Nigerian government is far from democratic, and that Shell itself is the most powerful political actor on the Nigerian stage — both historically and currently. In Nigeria, the power doesn’t come from the people, it comes from Shell. If Shell [executives] wanted to make a difference, they could.”
Shell next door
WWhen Shell first began production of oil on Ogoni land in 1958, it brought drill rigs and promises of a better life. Today, despite the company’s extensive operations — including nearly 100 wells, two refineries and a fertilizer complex — the area remains deeply impoverished. The 404 square mile area’s only hospital is in an unfinished building and schools rarely open. Shell officials acknowledge that conditions are not ideal in Ogoni and throughout the oil-producing regions, but they blame the Nigerian government for failing to distribute money properly. They say the situation will improve as its community assistance programs progress. The company spends $21 million a year on Nigerian schools and scholarships, Nickson says.
Sister Majella, who met three times with Shell representatives in Lagos last summer, notes that Shell “spends a lot of time planning and very little time effecting” community assistance programs.
Oil is environmentally destructive, wherever it is produced. But the environmental practices of Shell in Nigeria set a new low for this dirty business. Many of Shell’s practices and equipment would be illegal according to the environmental laws of most countries. Irresponsible flaring of gas, poor pipeline placement, chronic oil spills, and unlined toxic waste pits plague the Nigerian Delta region. Nickson, who says he has visited the area, acknowledges that there are environmental problems. But he says activists have falsely characterized the scene as one of environmental devastation. “There are problems, we’re addressing these, pipes need to be reviewed,” he says. Nickson says Nigeria established a new Federal Environmental Protection Agency in recent years that has established a stringent set of environmental laws meeting international standards. Shell can meet these standards without too significant of an investment, he says.
Footage shot in Ogoni for the British Channel Four documentary, “The Drilling Fields,” reveals that gas flares are routinely situated near villages. Ken Saro-Wiwa describes the gas flaring in a December 1992 pamphlet as having “destroyed wildlife and plant life, poisoned the atmosphere and therefore the inhabitants in the surrounding areas and made the residents half deaf and prone to respiratory diseases. Whenever it rains in Ogoni, all we have is acid rain which further poisons water courses, streams, creeks, and agricultural land.”
Shell maintains that the problems have come as a result of communities expanding into the vicinity of oil operations and that it relocates gas flares when this happens. The Ogoni and Sister Majella say no gas flare has ever been relocated.
Pictures of Ogoni also reveal a network of poorly maintained, above-ground pipelines that haphazardly crisscross through villages. According to Shehu Othman, some pipelines even run through people’s homes. Shell’s network of pipelines in the Nigerian delta is so extensive that if it were laid in one line it would stretch from New York to London, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The antiquated pipelines routinely spill oil. According to an independent record of Shell’s spills, Shell spilled 1.6 million gallons from its Nigerian operations in 27 separate incidents from 1982 to 1992. Of the total number of spills recorded from Shell — which operates in more than 100 countries — 40 percent were in Nigeria.
Shell spokesman David Williams claims that in 1992 alone, 60 percent of the spills in the Ogoni area were “caused by deliberate sabotage so that compensation claims could be made.”
Shehu Othman says that there may be some truth to the claim that some Ogoni are engaging in sabotage of Shell installations. “It’s certainly a very small minority though, and compensation is certainly not the motivation. That idea is absolute nonsense, because compensation for spills is a very small sum paid for the loss of crops, but not for the loss of the land itself. Frankly, if there is sabotage it strikes me as a legitimate act of the powerless.”
Shell has long maintained that it had conducted a full environmental assessment of the area and of the potential effects of its operations, although it had denied requests by the Ogoni and non-governmental organizations to scrutinize this assessment. In March 1994, Shell agreed to allow a consultant to the Body Shop access to its assessment. The consultant noted that the studies seem to have been conducted after the construction of the two pipelines that were their subject. The standard practice is to determine the environmental impact of an action prior to undertaking that action. In addition, the consultant concluded that the studies “lack a focused assessment of significant impacts and do not lend themselves to aiding either the planning authorities or Shell in putting the levers in place to effectively manage the environmental implications of [Shell’s] operations.”
If this is the quality of information that Shell will make available, albeit reluctantly and selectively, what would an on-site investigation of the region reveal? Shell now says that it is “committed to supporting an objective assessment of the impact of oil operations on the Nigerian Delta region [and is] presently talking to a number of outside organizations.” The company hopes to announce details of a plan for a new environmental survey of the area by late February 1995. Nickson said he believes the survey will put to rest many environmental concerns about its operations.
Blood for oil
S SSaro-Wiwa and MOSOP spent years trying to convince the Nigerian government to do something about the environmental damage and living conditions in their land. They had drawn up a Bill of Rights for the Ogoni people, and called for true representation in the Nigerian Federation.
The fact that their appeals went nowhere has much to do with being a Southern minority group in a society dominated by Northern ethnic majorities. Eventually, Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP began a vigorous campaign targeting Shell at home and abroad.
Dr. Gary Leton, the ex-Chancellor of Rivers State University, summed up the purpose of the campaign. “We have woken up to find our lands devastated by agents of death called oil companies,” he told a Nigerian daily. “Our atmosphere has been totally polluted, our lands degraded, our waters contaminated, our trees poisoned, so much so that our flora and fauna have virtually disappeared. We are asking for the restoration of our environment, we are asking for the basic necessities of life — water, electricity, education; but above all we are asking for the right to self determination so that we can be responsible for our resources and our environment.”
In January 1993, MOSOP organized the first “Ogoni Day” rally, meant to unify the community. Over 300,000 people attended the non-violent demonstration, the focus of which was an end to the repression caused by Shell in Ogoni.
On April 30, 1993, Willbros, a U.S. pipeline contractor, began laying Shell pipes on Ogoni farmland, destroying freshly planted crops. As peaceful protests against the pipe laying culminated in a demonstration of over 10,000 people, soldiers opened fire on the crowd, killing one, wounding 10 and leaving one woman without an arm.
Following this attack, the general manager of SPDC wrote to the Governor of Rivers State — himself a former Shell employee — asking for further assistance so that pipeline construction could be completed.
When asked about the military’s protection of Shell’s interests and installations, Shell officials have said the company is legally bound to notify the authorities if there is a threat to continued oil production. Nickson told the Wall Street Journal that “unavoidably, therefore, the company has on occasion been compelled to ask for assistance” from the Nigerian government. Andrea Goodall of Greenpeace says that this statement amounts to Shell’s “tacit consent” to the use of force on its behalf. MOSOP is more blunt, saying, “Ogoni peasants peacefully protesting the seizure of their land have been shot and killed by Nigerian troops hired by Shell.”
Repression escalated in the summer of 1993. The government arrested Ken Saro-Wiwa four times, and seized his passport as he sought to attend a UN conference on human rights. He was eventually imprisoned for 31 days, charged with six counts relating to seditious intention, publication and unlawful assembly.
Almost immediately after Saro-Wiwa’s release, Ogoni police were drafted away from Ogoni and replaced with officers from different ethnic groups. A series of brutal attacks on Ogoni villages followed, leaving hundreds dead and thousands homeless. Shell and the Nigerian government have blamed the attacks on ethnic clashes, but Amnesty International concludes: “An inquiry into attacks by the neighboring Andoni community in 1993 found no obvious cause for dispute. Soldiers were said to have instigated and assisted the attacks and then followed the attackers into Ogoni villages, destroying houses and detaining people.”
A As Operation 4/94 has gone into effect, the situation has gone from bad to worse. “In Ogoni, people are terrified out of their wits,” says Sister Majella. “They keep lookouts in all of their villages, and simply scatter at the sight of Shell or the military now. All semblance of economic activity has stopped.”
Ogoni is virtually cut off from the outside world, though several individuals have succeeded in visiting it. In July 1994, Oronto Douglas of the Nigerian Civil Liberties Organization visited Ledum Mitee, vice president of MOSOP, who was arrested along with Ken Saro-Wiwa in May. In jail, the military flogged Douglas and two companions with an electrical cable after they visited Mitee. Immediately after the beating, the three men were taken to see Major Okuntimo, who is widely reported to be in charge of the military occupation of Ogoni.
According to Douglas’s report, “the major said that Shell company has not been fair to him in these operations. He said he has been risking his life and that of his soldiers to protect Shell oil installations.”
Ken Saro-Wiwa, writing from jail several weeks after hearing of the incident, claimed, “This confirms a fact that is well-known; that Shell, the multinational oil giant, having successfully waged an ecological war against the Ogoni people since 1958, has been paying protection money to the Nigerian security agencies to complete the genocide which it began. Shell always stands in the background, in these cases denying all responsibility. The truth is gradually coming out.”
In January of 1995, MOSOP obtained a May 12, 1994 memo from a government source that gives added weight to the Ogoni case. The Rivers State Internal Security Task Force memo, signed by Major Okuntimo 12 days before Saro-Wiwa’s arrest, says, “Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence.” The document goes on to recommend that the 400 soldiers undertake “wasting operations,” “wasting” Ogoni leaders who are “especially vocal individuals.” Finally, the memo recommends pressure on oil companies for “prompt, regular” payments to support the cost of the military operation.
Nickson says the authenticity of the memo has not been fully established. “If correct,” he says, “it is very disturbing.” Nickson says Shell had had no knowledge of the memo and no input or contact with the military. “We have condemned the use of violence,” he says. Shell has not operated on Ogoni land since January 1993 because of attacks on its staff and equipment, Nickson says. Shell contractors who have continued to work there report vandalism that would cost $40 million to repair. “We would like to return, but only if welcomed by the people,” Nickson says.
Business as usual
OOOn December 13, 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa collapsed in his cell. He is reported to be in extremely poor health, suffering from a heart condition and eight months confinement in a jail cell.
Although he has not yet been formally charged, Saro-Wiwa is due to be tried for murder by a special military tribunal in February, 1995. Observers fear that the trial, which is widely regarded as political, will merely pave the way to Saro-Wiwa’s execution.
But Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP’s efforts have succeeded in focusing the international spotlight on the Ogoni’s mistreatment at the hands of Shell and the Nigerian military government. Several days before his collapse, Saro-Wiwa was awarded the 1994 Right Livelihood Award (known as the alternative Nobel Peace Prize) in absentia, for his and MOSOP’s environmental campaign.
The Ogoni campaign sparked organizing in oil-producing areas throughout Nigeria. Communities such as the Ogbia, the Igbide, the Ijaw, the Etche, the Izon, the Irri and the Uzere have all recently become much more vocal in airing their historic grievances. The Ogonis success also emboldened and inspired a recent oil workers’ strike. Oil strikers demanded the release of Saro-Wiwa and Moshood Abiola, who is widely considered to be the winner of the last election, which the military annulled. After several months, the hungry workers ended their strike last summer.
When asked how Nigeria was able to maintain some of its oil flow during the strike, Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States, Zubair Kazaure, said “the military filled in.” Kazaure, who alleges that the strike had been financed by the Nigerian opposition, did not seem to see anything wrong with military involvement in a commercial enterprise.
Shell spokespeople have reportedly described Nigeria as the company’s “worst public relations nightmare” since South Africa. By continuing to prop up a ruthless regime, Shell is repeating its pattern of abuse and repression elsewhere in Africa.
this past November, the Organization of American States sent an official delegation to Ecuador's Amazon (“the Oriente”) to investigate alleged human rights violations. The investigation was significant for its concern with the actions of two U.S. oil companies, Texaco and Maxus. While environmentalist and indigenous groups have long decried the unregulated development of oil in the Oriente, it is only recently that these activities have come under scrutiny as human rights violations.
The Oriente consists of over 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of tropical rainforest lying at the headwaters of the Amazon river network. The region contains one of the most diverse collections of plant and animal life in the world, including many endangered species. The Oriente is also home to 95,000 indigenous people belonging to eight different ethnic groups and 250,000 recent immigrants, who have followed the oil roads east in search of land and work.
The development of oil in Ecuador has followed a pattern that is familiar to most developing countries. Since the first barrels were extracted in 1972, the industry has been dominated by multinational corporations — led by Texaco until its 1992 departure — with negligible government oversight and scant attention paid to non-economic concerns. Oil development has taken a predictable toll on the environment and welfare of the Oriente’s inhabitants. Less predictable was the strength of the opposition.
The struggle over oil came to a head in 1994. In January, the government announced a plan to double the amount of rainforest subject to oil exploration; a coalition of environmental and indigenous groups immediately challenged the government’s plan. Local protesters took over the offices of the Ministry of Energy and Mines in Quito, condemning any new oil development until the oil companies remedied past damages and the government imposed stricter controls on the industry.
The protest was joined by international groups led by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Oxfam America. In March, the New York City-based Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) released a report documenting dangerous levels of toxic contamination and related health problems in Ecuador’s Amazon and charging the government with human rights violations.
That same month, New York federal judge Vincent Broderick sided with Ecuadoran plaintiffs bringing suit against Texaco, granting them access to Texaco’s files to establish the parent company’s responsibility for damages caused by the company’s Ecuadoran operations. This past summer, Ecuador Minister of Energy Francisco Acosta rejected a Texaco-commissioned environmental audit of the damages caused by the company, arguing that it was too narrow. The minister threatened to bring his own suit against Texaco if the company refused to negotiate in good faith. When it was later discovered that the minister had arrived at a secret agreement with Texaco, environmentalists convinced an already restless Congress to impeach him.
Violating the Amazon and its people
The OAS investigation and the use of human rights rhetoric against Texaco and other private companies have challenged traditional human rights dogma. In this case, it is more than civil liberties being threatened and the government is only one of many essential actors. “When we indigenous peoples talk about the environment, we are not just talking about the trees, rivers and butterflies. We are also talking about human beings,” explains Rafael Pandam, vice president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). “Likewise, when we talk of human rights, we are not just talking about the right to free speech. We are talking of the political, economic, social and cultural rights of all peoples.”
Pandam’s broad vision of human rights is well supported by international and Ecuadoran law. In 1972, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously endorsed the principle that “man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.” This non-binding agreement is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which, in addition to granting the right to “life, liberty and the security of the person,” oblige governments to take necessary steps for “the improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene.” The Organization of American States recently drafted a more specific “right to a healthy environment” in the 1988 San Salvador Protocol. Ecuador and other nations have ratified the protocol, which will enter into force once several more nations ratify it. Similarly, Ecuador’s constitution provides for the right “to live in an environment free from contamination.”
Economic and social rights, like the right to a healthy environment, implicate corporate activities more directly than do traditional civil and political rights. When civil liberties are threatened, in China for example, foreign corporations are criticized for their presence but are rarely accused of active participation in human rights abuses. By contrast, in Ecuador, “Texaco is viewed as the chief human rights violator,” explains Paulina Garzon of the Quito-based Acción Ecológica. “Texaco has invaded the forests, killed the rivers and animals, created a health disaster and destroyed indigenous groups like the former Tagiere.”
Texaco’s involvement in these human rights abuses has been documented in a series of recent reports. Amazon Crude, written by Judith Kimerling and published by the National Resources Defense Council in 1991, estimated that Ecuadoran oil operations discharged 4.3 million gallons of toxic wastes into the Oriente’s environment every day. Until 1990, Texaco controlled 90 percent of these oil operations. A later CESR report confirmed that these wastes created a potential health catastrophe. The report documented toxic contaminants in drinking water at levels reaching 1,000 times the safety standards recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Local health workers report increased gastrointestinal problems, skin rashes, birth defects and cancers, ailments that they believe to be related to this contamination.
This assault on the environment is intertwined with a parallel social and cultural assault on indigenous groups. As described in a published statement of the Federation of Indigenous Communities of the Ecuadoran Amazon (CONFENAIE), “more than two decades ago, Texaco entered indigenous territories and exploited petroleum, destroyed the forests, contaminated the rivers, soil and environment, made the fish and animals disappear, and then came the colonists and our territory was occupied by foreigners.” Contact with outsiders and the vital loss of land has broken down traditional bonds, brought malnutrition and new diseases and pushed indigenous communities into the bottom rung of a hostile market economy. Alcoholism and prostitution, endemic to the Oriente’s oil towns, are among the most visible signs of the social and cultural deterioration. The World Bank has described the region’s socio-economic state as “calamitous.”
A 1987 study by the Ecuadoran government warned that oil development led by Texaco had placed the local indigenous groups “at the edge of extinction as a distinct people.” Indeed, at least one group, the Tetetes, has completely disappeared in the wake of Texaco’s activities, and the Cofan population has been reduced from 15,000 to about 300 people. “Since the 1950s, almost every aspect of the Cofan culture has experienced change. This includes their house types, tools and weapons, traditional medical practices, the behavior of community members, and their traditional food taboos,” notes a World Bank Report. “As a result of outside contacts and pressures, the Cofan have suffered a process of social disorganization, rapid acculturation and near cultural extinction.”
Texaco counters these allegations by touting the essential importance of oil to Ecuador’s development. Oil revenues now account for approximately half of the government’s revenues. Michael Trevino, vice-president of Texaco Petroleum (Texpet), notes that Texaco’s operations brought $24 billion to the Ecuadoran government over the course of 18 years.
Texaco denies that its operations seriously damaged the Ecuadoran Amazon. “Texaco did not ravage the Amazon region,” says Trevino. “We think we made a very significant contribution ... we have international standards to which we hold ourselves accountable.” Trevino points to an environmental audit commissioned by Texaco and the Ecuadoran state oil company that found “moderate to high” levels of contamination in 60 percent of the former Texaco sites in the Oriente, but recommended a limited program of remediation costing less than $30 million. According to Fransisco Acosta, former minister of energy and mines, Texaco has offered to pay 33 percent of any cleanup costs, based on ownership share of the consortium. (Through 1990, Texaco was the consortium's sole operator, but held only a one-third ownership stake). “Texaco is not interested in dollar amounts; the issue is commencing with the clean up,” Trevino says.
Responding to claims that the oil roads are the source of many of the region’s problems, a Texpet statement says: “To allege that Texaco is responsible for the local population’s subsequent use of the roads for colonization and agricultural development is both dishonest and unrealistic. As a private company, Texaco would have no authority or right to restrict citizens of Ecuador from using these roads, or to interfere in Ecuador’s national programs and planning for colonization of the region.”
In fact, Ecuador’s government has encouraged settlement along Amazon oil roads to relieve pressure on land elsewhere in the country. The “Wastelands Law” granted legal title to any person that cleared the rainforest and put it to “productive use.” The resulting deforestation has been exacerbated by the poor quality of Amazon soils and inappropriate farming techniques, which encourage the continual clearing of new land. Oil roads and the lack of government regulation also have opened the door to land speculators, agro-industrialists, ranchers and loggers, who place even greater pressure on the land.
Taking on Texaco
Texaco’s denial of responsibility notwithstanding, an international boycott organized by Acción Ecológica and RAN in the United States and Europe, along with political lobbying, appears to have had some effect on Texaco’s willingness to negotiate an agreement. These groups estimate proper cleanup costs and fair compensation will run to several billions of dollars, dwarfing the figures that Texaco has been considering. Texaco has also reportedly felt pressure from the U.S. Congress and the Clinton administration to find a fair solution to the problem.
Texaco is facing a major challenge on the judicial front as well: a $1.5 billion lawsuit brought in a New York federal court on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadoran plaintiffs. The case was filed in November 1993 by a team of lawyers headed by Cristóbal Bonifaz and Joseph Kohn of Kohn, Naft and Graf of Philadelphia. Bonifaz says, “Texaco can’t be brought before international human rights tribunals and there is no chance of finding justice in Ecuador, so we filed a suit in its own backyard. We don’t care how it’s achieved, but Texaco must somehow be forced to make good on the damage it caused to the people and environment of the Oriente.”
Perhaps the most crucial question raised by the suit is whether foreign plaintiffs alleging health and environmental damages in their country should be allowed to sue a U.S.-based company in the United States. When Indian plaintiffs tried to sue Union Carbide for the Bhopal disaster, they were sent back to India under a doctrine, known as forum non conveniens, which gives U.S. judges wide discretion to decide that a case would be more suitably heard in the courts of another country. Under this doctrine, an earlier suit filed by Attorney Judith Kimerling in Texas was quickly dismissed by a federal judge, who viewed Ecuador as a more appropriate forum.
The plaintiffs in the New York case argue that New York is the appropriate site for the case because Texaco made the critical decisions that resulted in the damages to the plaintiffs at its headquarters in White Plains, New York. The plaintiffs also maintain that the Ecuadoran courts are incapable of fairly hearing the case against Texaco because of widespread corruption, racism and incompetence. More importantly, they argue, the Ecuadoran courts have no meaningful authority over Texaco since Texaco operated in Ecuador through its Texpet subsidiary, which has assets of less than $10 million.
Unbound by the Texas court’s decision, Judge Vincent Broderick has granted plaintiffs the opportunity to depose Texaco’s employees and to review Texaco documents before he decides whether to accept the case. In a 25-page March 1994 memo denying Texaco’s petition to have the case dismissed, he suggested that the case will proceed if plaintiffs can show that decisions made in Texaco headquarters directly led to environmental and health problems in Ecuador. His memo also takes seriously the plaintiff’s use of an eighteenth century statute allowing foreign plaintiffs to sue U.S.-based defendants for violations of international law. Were he to grant jurisdiction under the so-called “Alien Tort Statute,” it would mark a major advance in the field of environmental law and would have far-reaching implications for U.S. corporations operating abroad.
This past summer, Judge Broderick granted Texaco a temporary hold on discovery while the company seeks a settlement with the government. On December 22, 1994, Texaco submitted to the court a “Memorandum of Understanding” the company reached with the Ecuadoran government. Texaco’s Trevino says the agreement “establishes a mechanism for the implementation of environmental remedial work.” He adds that Texaco also proposes to establish schools, fish farms and health clinics. But the agreement does not bind Texaco to any specific amount of compensation and the corporation has only agreed to put up a $5 million bond to settle individual claims in Ecuador. Without consent of the plaintiffs, it is unclear whether the judge would consider the agreement sufficient grounds for dismissal of the suit.
Less than a week after Texaco’s filing, the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a new suit in front of the same judge on behalf of 25,000 Peruvians who complain of similar damages related to Texaco’s former Ecuador operations. “The problem has now spread to Peru and has snowballed into an international catastrophe,” says Bonifaz. All of the rivers in which the Center for Economic and Social Rights found oil-related contamination eventually flow through Peruvian territory. Trevino calls the case “frivolous,” claiming that the plaintiffs live more than 250 kilometers (150 miles) away from Texaco’s former sites and that Texaco stopped operating the sites almost five years ago. Judge Broderick has agreed to consolidate the two cases, which should at least make it more difficult to dismiss the suit on the grounds that Ecuadoran courts are the more suitable forum.
Maxus’s national park
The OAS investigation undertaken by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission was primarily concerned with a different U.S. oil company, Maxus Energy. In 1990, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (SCLDF) filed suit to block the plans of Maxus’s former consortium partner, Conoco, to build a road and begin oil development in the Yasuni National Park. Conoco abandoned the project soon after in the face of heated protest from indigenous and environmental groups, but Maxus went ahead with the road and began oil production in the summer of 1994.
Yasuni National Park, one of the most biodiverse territories in the world, is designated by the United Nations as a World Biosphere Reserve. Ecuadoran lawyers initially succeeded in blocking the Conoco-Maxus operation under a constitutional provision providing for the right to a contamination-free environment and under laws prohibiting exploitation of protected areas. However, one month after ordering a stop to the Conoco-Maxus plans, the constitutional court reversed itself in the face of what one judge later described as intense pressure from the government and oil industry.
The SCLDF suit addressed the threat that oil development poses to the indigenous groups in the area, particularly 1,200 Huaorani. The complaint, filed before Maxus had begun to develop the Yasuni, describes the diseases, water contamination, breakdown of traditional cultures and loss of land that has followed oil development in other parts of the country. Oil development will have especially severe effects on the Huaorani, contend lawyers working on the case, because their population is small, dispersed and isolated from the outside world.
The complaint is supported by the testimony of Dr. William T. Vickers, an anthropologist with 26 years of experience in Latin America. The road into the Yasuni “will be the bridge for a spontaneous invasion of the land. ... Deforestation will begin immediately,” says Vickers. “Many of the Huaorani will contract new diseases and many will die. Many will be disheartened and depressed by these losses. Among the survivors, some will become alcoholics and others will sustain themselves by begging from the whites. It is totally possible that the Huaorani culture and language will disappear within two or three generations.” Kimerling says, “Huaorani lands that have been used by the Petroecuador-Texaco consortium for oil production activities are so degraded by pollution, colonization and deforestation that Huaorani can no longer live there.”
Greeting “Huaorani friends”
But Maxus is not as easy a target as Texaco, having learned from its predecessor and taken steps to avoid political damage. On the environmental front, Maxus has managed to assuage some critics through its program of reforestation and its use of modern drilling practices, including the reinjection of production wastes (as opposed to Texaco’s practice of leaving them in unlined pits and spreading oil residue on the roads). The company claims to be spending $60 million on environmental protection, a significant figure, particularly by Ecuadoran standards. However, given the ecological richness and fragility of the territory, many environmentalists object to any sort of development and are particularly concerned by Maxus’s policy of denying outsiders access to its facilities to independently verify the company’s claims.
Even the best environmental policies provide little defense against the primary threat to the region, the colonization and deforestation that has inevitably followed the oil roads. Maxus has carved a 94-mile road into the Yasuni, opening up vast stretches of rainforest formerly accessible only by helicopter and boat. As one Huaorani comments, “Maxus and the government have promised to keep the colonists out, but what happens when Maxus leaves and there is no more oil? Who will stop them then?” The SCLDF complaint notes that over the course of eight years of oil development in the Northern Oriente, the influx of colonists more than tripled the local population from 74,000 to 260,000. The government’s 1982 census revealed that the Oriente was growing at twice the rate of the rest of the country. Plans by Maxus and the government to prevent colonization by establishing army-run roadblocks are unsustainable and unrealistic, critics say.
In contrast to Texaco’s practice of simply ignoring indigenous inhabitants, Maxus has actively sought their support, signing an unprecedented “Friendship Agreement” with the Huaorani in 1993. Maxus’s directive to its employees reads, “Maxus is a guest in the home of the Huaorani, the rainforest. For this reason we must respect their culture, customs and territory.” If they make contact with the indigenous people, employees are told to announce “Waponi, amigos Huaorani, boto Maxus,” or, “Greetings Huaorani friends, I am Maxus.”
Maxus has contracted with the government to provide health and educational services, and has already begun supplying medical and dental care, educational materials, school rooms and health clinics. It has also nurtured support by employing indigenous men, providing funds for a political organization and plying community leaders with personal gifts.
This policy has temporarily won Maxus the support of the Huaorani Nation of the Ecuadoran Amazon (ONHAE). ONHAE has formally distanced itself from the demands of the Confederation of Indigenous Organizations of Ecuador (CONAIE) for a 15-year moratorium on oil development. Last April, during a conference of indigenous organizations held in the Amazon, Maxus flew a group of Huaorani leaders to Quito, where they spent their days meeting with government officials and the press and denouncing Maxus’s critics.
Maxus’s overwhelming presence in the social and cultural affairs of the community has alarmed outsiders. Given the govern-ment’s proven inability or unwillingness to regulate oil companies and the lack of transparency in Maxus’s internal operations, critics worry about ceding it such fundamental government functions as health and education. “It’s no longer clear who’s supposed to do what,” states SCLDF attorney Neil Popovic. “The Ecuadoran government has abdicated its responsibilities to private companies and has made no effort to regulate them.” Government agencies remain seriously understaffed and underfunded, leaving monitoring essentially in the hands of the corporations themselves.
The Huaorani have no effective recourse if Maxus fails to comply with its many promises. The “Friendship Agreement” between the Huaorani and Maxus is written in Spanish, a language that few Huaorani either speak or read, and makes no firm commitments. “Maxus is under no obligation,” explains spokesperson Tom Sullivan. “We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. If we weren’t providing anything we’d have a whole other group of people condemning us.”
However, critics remain skeptical, viewing Maxus’s gestures as hollow and emphasizing the larger political questions of accountability. They ask whether corporations such as Maxus or Texaco (whose annual revenues of $42 billion dwarf Ecuador’s $12 billion GNP) should not be treated differently than private citizens, should not be held more accountable to the public in the way that public bodies are. “Ecuador’s indigenous and environmental organizations have pushed human rights groups to reexamine their exclusive focus on government actors,” says Roger Normand, policy director of CESR. “When multinationals assume the role of government, they must be held more directly responsible for the welfare and human rights of their constituents, the people they effectively govern.”
In the absence of a firm post-Cold War arms transfer policy, U.S. arms merchants have moved quickly to expand weapons exports, including to arms markets that were off-limits to U.S. suppliers before the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact. But what started off with weapons makers exploiting a policy vacuum to dramatically expand the U.S. share of the global arms market has become the de facto policy of the Clinton administration, according to human rights and arms control advocates.
The United States delivered 11 percent of the Third World’s arms supply just before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Last year, it delivered 51 percent of the Third World’s arms supply and accounted for 73 percent of arms agreements with the Third World.
On the campaign trail, where he indulged in tough talk about such human rights pariahs as China, Mexico and Serbia, Clinton had given human rights activists hope. Now, activists complain that in almost every instance where commercial and human rights interests have competed for the attention of this president, commerce has prevailed.
“This organization has been critical of the Clinton administration for paying lip service to human rights but not following through with concrete steps that make a difference,” says Stephen Goose, the Washington, D.C. director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Project. “Clinton has subverted human rights to commercial concerns. Economic concerns are the driving force behind Clinton’s arms policy, such as it is.”
Though the Clinton administration has yet to christen a formal arms transfer policy, it has proposed a new policy which will be presented for President Clinton’s signature upon the resolution of several outstanding issues, the Los Angeles Times reported on November 15, 1994. Under current official policy, when U.S. firms apply to the government to make a direct commercial sale to a foreign arms buyer, the State Department evaluates whether the sale would promote U.S. foreign policy goals and bolster regional alliances. Under the new policy being finalized, State Department officials also would have to evaluate the importance of a proposed arms export to the economic health of the arms maker in question.
Bullish arms makers
AArms industry lobbyists say they are delighted with the Clinton administration’s record. “Clinton has been very helpful through [Commerce Secretary] Ron Brown,” says Ana Stout, executive vice president of the American League for Export Assistance, Inc., an industry association that promotes unimpeded defense sales to U.S. “friends and allies.”
“We’re quite satisfied with what we see the thrust of the policy to be,” adds Joel Johnson, vice president for international affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association. “It’s 180 degrees different from Carter. They won’t throw up obstacles to every arms sale to every country. The Clinton people are very supportive of specific sales. They are more dynamic than any administration we’ve seen.”
Administration officials say that they are no patsies of the industry and that the new commercial arms export criteria will be balanced against traditional considerations involving U.S. alliances and foreign policy goals. Commenting on the role human rights will play in the long-awaited policy, an official in the State Department’s Office of Political-Military Affairs says, “Human rights is a very important purpose among many important purposes.”
It is still too early to determine what role human rights will play in the administration’s new arms policy; much will depend on two kinds of limitations on the foreign market for U.S. arms sales. An external limitation is that many nations that would like to buy more U.S. arms cannot afford them, even though U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing foreign arms purchases to the tune of $4 billion a year, according to Lora Lumpe, an arms exports expert at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). To address this predicament, the Clinton administration, at the arms industry’s prompting, may direct the federal government to provide up to $1 billion more in financing to promote U.S. weapons sales abroad.
The other limitation on foreign purchases of U.S. arms is internally imposed by the State Department, which limits the access of some nations to some kinds of weaponry. Human rights activists would like to raise this bar significantly, while industry lobbyists would like to lower it or at least hold the line. The proposed inclusion of arms manufacturers’ commercial interests into this calculus is a big victory for the industry. What remains to be seen is its application. Namely, how many restrictions on how many weapons will be relaxed for how many countries?
The expected new arms policy raises questions about whether the State Department could be held hostage to an alliance of U.S. military contractors and undemocratic regimes that are eager to expand their armories. U.S. citizens who were once asked to ally with Third World despots in a common struggle against the “Evil [Soviet] Empire” are now being asked to do the same on behalf of jobs, Lumpe says.
Human rights or jobs?
DDuring the Bush administration, two post-Cold War events paved the way to the arms transfer policy that the Clinton administration is now pursuing: the Persian Gulf War and the subsequent sale of F-15s to Saudi Arabia. The 1990-91 Gulf War served as a marketing tool to sell foreign countries on the superiority of U.S. weapons and the strategic need to possess them. During the war, the Pentagon had a monopoly on a hot commodity: video footage of U.S. attacks on Iraqi targets. The footage that it chose to make available portrayed U.S. weapons as virtually infallible. CNN beamed these images around the world in coverage that, at times, had the look of infomercials.
The Gulf War also showed countries with “apprehensions about their neighborhood” that “in today’s world there is only one country that can bail you out, and that it might be a good idea to have U.S. weapons” when the help arrives, Johnson says.
With aroused foreign demand for their products and a flattening domestic market, the U.S. arms industry stepped up its pressure on the U.S. government to approve sophisticated weapons sales to undemocratic regimes. The sale of 72 McDonnell-Douglas Corp. F-15-Es to the Saudis became a textbook case of how to promote exports by playing the jobs card for all it is worth. “The F-15-E was the most lobbied arms sale ever,” Lumpe says.
At the crux of the F-15 sales campaign that McDonnell-Douglas orchestrated were claims about the potential economic impact of the sale that critics say were inflated. The company claimed that the sale was worth 40,000 aerospace jobs and $13 billion, which it said would benefit the economies of 46 states and 345 congressional districts.
Attacking these claims, FAS and the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament calculated that the sale would directly generate 13,000 jobs and another 14,000 jobs indirectly. Their refutation also emphasized that, by McDonnell-Douglas’s own admission, the F-15 sale was worth between $4 billion and $5 billion. The additional $8 billion to $9 billion were derived from “follow-on” sales projected over the next 20 years. Finally, the manufacturer’s distribution claims failed to point out that almost half of the direct jobs tied to the sale were located in just five congressional districts, the most important one being that of then-House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt.
In the absence of a formal policy, human rights and arms control advocates have been left to contemplate the administration’s words and actions — and what they describe as the yawning gap in between. “The Clinton [arms export] record has been nightmarish,” Lumpe says. “It has been one of cowardice and support for the arms industry.” She says that there is only one thing the industry has wanted but has been denied: more government support in financing arms sales to cash-strapped Third World nations. The Clinton administration may still deliver on that request.
Johnson says that supporting arms exports allows the United States to maintain its arms production base, while scaling back on costly Pentagon weapons acquisitions. While human rights is “a legitimate issue for government to look at ... it can’t be the only criteria with which to deal with a country,” Johnson says. If that had been the policy in World War II, the United States never could have done lend-lease with Joseph Stalin. “Was Stalin a son of a bitch? Yes,” Johnson says. “But he also tied up 9 million Germans while we were sucking our thumbs in Kansas trying to mobilize an army.”
Code of conduct
BBut some members of Congress believe that the United States is backing too many sons of bitches who are not doing anything that begins to be as useful as tying up Nazis. These members, led by Senator Mark Hatfield, R-Oregon, the new Senate Appropriations Chairman, and Representative Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia, introduced the Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers bill in the last Congress.
The Code of Conduct bill would prohibit arms sales to a country unless the U.S. president certified to Congress that the recipient government:
• Ensures fair elections, the rule of law and civilian control of the military;
• Does not abuse basic human rights;
• Does not engage in aggression or violate international law;
• Participates with the UN Register of Conventional Arms.
These conditions would not be binding if the United States had a pressing strategic need to ally with an unsavory dictator. The bill allows national security exemptions if the president requests one and if Congress enacts a law approving the request.
A major promoter of the bill is Caleb Rossiter, director of the Project on Democracy and Demilitarization. Each year, Rossiter compares where U.S. arms exports are going to State Department records of which countries it considers to have free and fairly elected governments. “Year after year, far more than 50 percent of U.S. arms transfers to the Third World go to undemocratic countries, as defined by the State Department,” he says.
Lumpe, who helped draft the bill, says Hatfield will hold hearings on it this year and a vote is likely in this Congress. Though she says the Clinton administration is “noncommittal to hostile” about the bill, seeing it as an intrusion on executive power, she remains hopeful that grassroots support could attract serious congressional consideration.
For an unusually drawn-out seven-month period, the State Department has been reviewing an application by a U.S. munitions company to sell deadly cluster bombs to Turkey, a close U.S. ally that has developed quite a resume of human rights abuses in its 10-year war against Kurdish guerrillas.
The ethnic separatist Kurdistan Worker’s Party first launched isolated guerrilla attacks in rural southeastern Turkey in 1984. In the ensuing fighting, more than 13,000 people have been killed, 1,000 villages have been depopulated and about 2 million civilians have been displaced. More than half of these killings and evacuations have occurred since early 1993, primarily at the hands of government security forces. Prime Minister Tansu Ciller has committed herself to exterminating the guerrillas. Her ruling True Path Party (DYP) ran in March 1994 elections on the slogan, “A vote for the DYP is a bullet to the PKK.”
“In an effort to deprive the PKK of its logistic base of support, security forces forcibly evict villagers from their villages,” an October 1994 Human Rights Watch report says. “Torture and arbitrary detention often accompany such evictions. Security forces especially target those villagers who refuse to enter the village guard system or those that give food or shelter to PKK fighters, or are suspected of doing so.”
For their part, PKK guerrillas target villagers whom they suspect of helping the military, particularly the 45,000 people who have been recruited into the paramilitary village guard system. Civilian Kurdish villagers are trapped between 5,000 to 20,000 PKK guerrillas and 315,000 U.S.-supplied Turkish troops who were equipped to protect NATO’s southern flank from a Soviet invasion.
In perhaps the most telling evidence of severe repression, some 12,000 to 14,000 Kurds have abandoned Turkey — seeking refuge in comparatively tranquil Northern Iraq. Even there, however, they have been subject to Turkish bomber raids with U.S.-made F-16s.
Turkey’s use of U.S.-supplied aircraft to prosecute its war against the PKK has been well documented, including the use of F-16 and F-4 warplanes and Sikorsky and Cobra helicopters. In January 1994, the Turkish air force made 52 sorties over the Zaleh PKK camp in northern Iraq, dropping 132 bombs. Iraq claimed that nine civilians were killed and 19 were wounded. Seven subsequent Turkish air force strikes have been reported with a death toll of about 700 people.
U.S. aiding and abetting
A fellow NATO ally, the United States is Turkey’s closest military partner. Between 1987 and 1991, 77 percent of all arms deliveries to Turkey came from the United States, according to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
For fiscal years 1986-1995, Congress has appropriated $5.1 billion in military aid for Turkey, making it the third-largest recipient after Israel and Egypt. In terms of commercial sales, Turkey is the fifth-largest consumer of U.S. arms after Saudi Arabia, Japan, Taiwan and Egypt. Turkey bought $9.4 billion in U.S. arms during fiscal years 1984-1993. In 1994 alone, Turkey’s counterinsurgency campaign cost an estimated $6.5 billion.
A centerpiece of U.S.-Turkey military cooperation is the “Peace Onyx” F-16 co-production project, under which 240 of the fighter planes are being built in Turkey in agreement with Lockheed Corp. Most of the $7.6 billion cost of this program is being financed by U.S. taxpayer-assisted military aid.
Top Clinton administration officials have said that they recognize Turkey’s right to combat PKK terrorism but that it must respect human rights. “We recognize that some of these [human rights] problems have arisen in the context of Turkey’s legitimate struggle against terrorist acts and that violations of human rights are also being committed by terrorists,” Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor John Shattuck said in a July 1994 visit to Turkey. “Nevertheless, basic human rights must not be abandoned in the fight against terrorism.”
The Clinton administration proposed loaning $450 million to Turkey in fiscal year 1995. Congress initially trimmed this request back to $364 million. Subsequently, Congress passed a bill that withholds 10 percent of this total until the administration demonstrates that Turkey has improved its human rights record and made progress in its negotiations with Greece over hostilities in Cyprus. Clinton signed the bill into law on August 23, 1994. His report on human rights in Turkey is expected in March.
Human Rights Watch’s Arms Project revealed in December 1994 that the U.S. government is weighing a Turkish request to buy almost 500 U.S.-made CBU-87 Combined Effects Munitions (CEMs), or cluster bombs.
Like other CEMs, CBU-87s are called cluster bombs because — after being dropped from bombers — they break apart during descent, saturating an area the size of a football field with “bomblets.” These bomblets kill in three ways. When a bomblet explodes it disintegrates into hundreds of pieces that can kill people up to 500 feet away. Bomblets also deliver a shaped charge that can penetrate up to five inches of armor. Finally, they contain an incendiary that is designed to ignite surrounding combustible material.
Among the serious deficiencies of cluster bombs is their bad sense of time and place. When dropped from high altitudes, they are apt to stray wildly off target. Moreover, CBU-87s have a high “dud” rate. Bomblets that don’t explode on impact lie fallow until they are disturbed. Soldiers advancing on territory once held by the enemy are prone to becoming “friendly-fire” statistics when they stumble over duds dropped by their own troops. The same danger plagues civilians.
One type of bomb the Turkish air force dropped on Zaleh in January of 1994 was the U.S.-made, Vietnam-era Mk20 Rockeye cluster bomb. This is the only cluster bomb now thought to be in the Turkish arsenal. “Turkey already has [cluster bombs] in its inventory,” says an arms lobbyist, who asks not to be identified. “Human rights shouldn’t be involved. What does [blocking new cluster bombs exports] accomplish?”
CBU-87s are produced by a Honeywell subsidiary, Alliant Techsystems of Hopkins, Minnesota. Alliant signed a contract with the Turkish Ministry of Defense in June 1994 to deliver 493 CBU-87s, provided that the State Department approves an export license. CBU-87s previously have been exported by the Pentagon through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The Turkish sale, with an estimated value of about $7.5 million, would be the first international direct commercial sale of this weapon.
Last year, Alliant, which did not return phone calls from Multinational Monitor, and Aerojet Ordnance were stung by an antitrust suit that charged them with colluding to “dramatically” increase the price of CEMs in a 1992 government contract. The government forced the companies to pay a $4 million fine and accept an $8 million reduction in their $133.6 million 1992 contract.
A Jane’s Defense publication announced in October 1994 a much larger sale of CBU-87s to the Pentagon by Alliant and Olin Ordnance, the St. Petersburg, Florida-based subsidiary of the Olin Corp, which acquired Aerojet after the antitrust suit was filed. Most of these bombs are reportedly destined for Pentagon stockpiles, but several hundred reportedly are destined for export through the FMS program.
Turkey is upset by the license delay since the weapon has been approved for export to all NATO countries and has been sold to non-NATO countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt through FMS.
The State Department receives tens of thousands of commercial weapons sale applications each year, most of which are routinely approved in weeks. But the CBU-87 application has divided administration officials.
Critics of the application argue that Turkey’s abominable human rights record disqualifies it for a license. Supporters caution that license denial would endanger relations with a key ally in a volatile part of the world, according to Stephen Goose, director of the Arms Project’s Washington, D.C. office.
“It would be particularly objectionable to approve the cluster bomb sale at a time when Turkey’s human rights record is deteriorating and its military campaign against the PKK is escalating,” Goose wrote in a December 1994 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. “We are deeply concerned that Turkey will use these cluster bombs indiscriminately in its conflict with Kurdish rebels, with devastating effects on the civilian population.”
“I might even decide not to sell the Turks cluster bombs,” says a defense industry lobbyist who asked not to be identified, “unless I could somehow ensure that they weren’t going to use them on the Kurds.”
Though the Cold War hatchet was buried, so were 100 million landmines that are still waiting to be triggered in countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, El Salvador, Iraq, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia. Worldwide, landmines claim 150 to 300 victims a week, according to data from the American Red Cross and the U.S. State Department. Even today, many more landmines are being produced and planted than cleared away. Perverse economics bear part of the blame: mines cost between $300 to $1000 to clear but just $3 to $30 to produce.
It has long been recognized that — even in war — restraints are needed for some kinds of weaponry. Weapons that have been proscribed from use by international agreements include chemical and biological weapons, exploding bullets and weapons producing fragments that elude medical x-ray detection.
A modest first step toward international restraints on landmines was taken when 41 countries signed the 1980 UN. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Under its landmine protocol, signatories agreed to refrain from only the most egregious uses of landmines.
“The landmine protocol has been virtually worthless to date,” says Stephen Goose, Washington, D.C. director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Project. To be effective, Goose says the convention would have to require signatories to control or ban the production, transfer and stockpiling of these weapons.
Parties to the convention will attend a UN Review Conference in September that is intended to expand the agreement. The Arms Project has drafted protocols to implement the steps Goose outlined. But he expects only incremental gains to be made at the Review Conference. A likely outcome will be an agreement that new mines must contain a minimal amount of metal. Many new models are made of plastic, making them virtually impossible to detect — until they explode.
More than 50 countries have produced 200 million landmines over the past 25 years. Though the United States was a leading exporter, it has been eclipsed by China, Italy and the former Soviet states, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a coalition of worldwide groups coordinated by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.
The United States, which signed the 1980 UN Convention but has not ratified it, has gone beyond its landmine provisions. A one-year U.S. moratorium on landmine exports proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Representative Lane Evans, D-Illinois, was enacted in 1992 and extended for another three years in 1993. Subsequently, other countries have passed moratoria, including Argentina, Belgium, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Leading U.S. landmine producers, such as Honeywell subsidiary Alliant Techsystems of Hopkins, Minnesota, and the Morton Thiokol munitions plant in Shreveport, Louisiana, can supply just the domestic market — the Pentagon — under the moratorium. Alliant produces Selectable Lightweight Attack Munitions (SLAMs). Thiokol produces the M18A1. Both companies produce the M86 Pursuit Deterrent Munition, according to trade publications.
Though the United States took the lead in halting landmine exports, it has blocked a proposed protocol governing a new generation of laser weapons that blind their victims. Not surprisingly, U.S. corporations are leaders in this technology.
Blinded by the fight
Laser technology, which realized significant advances through its application to opthalmological surgery that can restore sight, has been field tested by the U.S. Army in laser rifles that blind their victims — often permanently. Large-scale manufacture and deployment of these arms could be imminent.
Laser guns should be covered by a new protocol under the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons for several reasons, argues Peter Herby, a legal adviser to the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
First, they are indiscriminate. Laser weapons, which are likely to be relatively inexpensive and light-weight, can be mounted on assault rifles and used to scan the field in front of the attacker. At a distance of one kilometer, which is within the weapon’s range, the invisible beam will spread to a width of at least 50 centimeters. Anyone within that range who glances at the beam, be it a soldier, a journalist a nurse or a civilian, will be blinded instantly.
A further concern about laser weapons is that there is no practical defense. A British specialist who tried to develop defensive goggles eventually gave up, says Joost Hiltermann, who tracks laser guns for the Arms Project. Goggles good enough to screen out the laser beam blind the wearer.
Through its Cobra research program, the U.S. Army has been developing laser technology for years that can blind people or optically based enemy weaponry. A 1993 article in Defense Electronics reported that the Army has field-tested 1,100 Cobra laser rifles, a weapon that has been reclassified into the Defense Department’s black, or secret, budget.
Military trade publications reported that the laser weapons field-tested by the Army include a Cobra laser gun developed by McDonnell Douglas Electronic Systems Co. of McLean, Virginia, and the Dazer developed by Allied-Signal Aerospace Company of Torrance, California. But spokespeople for Allied said they didn’t know about the Dazer or any other laser weapons produced by the company. McDonnell Douglas sources did not return calls.
A spokesman for Nashua, New Hampshire-based Lockheed Sanders, a Lockheed operating company, confirmed that his company is working on the AN-PLQ-5, a hand-held laser weapon. But he referred all questions about this system to an Army spokesperson, who did not return calls.
Another system, Stingray laser weapons, have been developed and deployed on M3 Bradley armored reconnaissance vehicles. The Stingray reportedly can disable optical weapons and can blind personnel looking through common optics, such as periscopes.
Sweden and the ICRC both have made similar proposals for a new protocol to prohibit human targeting with laser weapons. Neither would prohibit using laser or anti-sensor arms to locate, blind or destroy optical weapons deployed by the enemy.
The United States has so far opposed any efforts to put any controls on laser weapons, Hiltermann says, arguing that the weapon is superior to many alternatives because it is nonlethal. State Department officials did not return calls from Multinational Monitor.
Administration opposition to the protocol prompted a Dec. 23, 1994 protest letter to President Clinton from Leahy, Evans and Representative Ronald Dellums, D-California. “Not only would blinding weapons cause permanent disability, there would be great potential for abuse of antipersonnel lasers against civilians by armed forces, terrorists or criminals,” said the letter, which urged Clinton to back the protocol proposals.
Because of their portability and low-cost, the weapons are likely to proliferate widely if they go into mass production, reaching terrorists and street gangs. One attraction of laser guns to criminals, according to the ICRC, is that they are silent, invisible and leave no ballistic evidence behind.
Concern about proliferation of the weapon, particularly to the Irish Republican Army, has persuaded the British government to reverse itself and support a laser protocol, according to a source involved in the international negotiations. The British have developed anti-aircraft lasers designed to blind pilots.
At recent preparatory meetings for the September Review Conference, support for a laser protocol also was voiced by representatives of Australia, Cuba, Cyprus, Germany, Iran, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Public outrage at the use of poison gases such as phosgene, which blinded soldiers in World War I, led to the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use of chemical weapons. Well-targeted public outrage 70 years later could result in a new protocol this year that would prohibit the use of blinding lasers before they are ever deployed.
Uncle Sam's List of Arms Pariahs
The 1994 $13.8 billion U.S. foreign aid appropriation bill bars military aid to Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Serbia, Sudan, and Syria.
The Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, whereby the Pentagon buys arms from U.S. producers and resells them abroad, is closed to: Guatemala, Liberia, Peru, Sudan, and Zaire.
Two countries are barred from FMF until the Secretary of State certifies that the bulk of the arms will be used for drug interdiction: Bolivia and Colombia.
Source: Arms Sales Monitor
BANGKOK — In the rainforests of southern Burma, Unocal and its French partner, Total, are beginning construction of a billion dollar pipeline to carry natural gas from offshore fields in the Andaman Sea across southern Burma and over the border to Thailand. To ensure the pipeline’s construction, the armies of two governments are committing atrocities, including the use of slave labor on a massive scale, ethnic cleansing, extra-judicial executions and environmental degradation.
An April 1994 Unocal statement promises, “We would never allow our activities anywhere to be the cause of human suffering,” as the company disclaims all responsibility for the massive suffering inflicted on its behalf.
Beautiful land, bitter history
WWith over 135 “national races,” Burma is among the most ethnically diverse countries on earth. It is also among the most beautiful and biologically diverse, with most of the earth’s remaining teak rainforests. Unocal’s pipeline will cut through those rainforests and the lands of at least three indigenous peoples.
Over the last three decades, burdened with an increasingly vicious and incompetent government, Burma slid into civil war, poverty and paranoia. The military government often forbids use of non-Burman languages or cultural displays, orders entire populations into “strategic hamlets” and forces ethnic minority women into “marriages” with Burmese soldiers, the local euphemism for rape.
By the late eighties, the regime’s ineptitude and corruption had bankrupted the economy, which led to a country-wide pro-democracy uprising in 1988. Led initially by students, the uprising was soon joined by the middle classes and lower ranking elements of the military. These forces were joined and then led by Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Burma’s martyred independence hero.
Two years old when her father was assassinated, Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced “soo chee”) lived for many years with her mother in India, who was then Burma’s ambassador to New Delhi. After studying in England, Suu Kyi married a scholar who became an Oxford don. They settled down to raise a family and Suu Kyi wrote about Burma’s intellectual history. In 1988, she returned to Burma to care for her dying mother and was there when the 1988 uprising took place. She spoke on behalf of her father’s vision of a democratic Burma and quickly rose to the leadership of the pro-democracy movement, in part because her stature made her difficult for the army to silence.
In a series of massacres bloodier than that of Tiananmen Square, Burma’s military battered down the pro-democracy movement and arrested its leaders, including Suu Kyi. Appalled by the brutality of the massacres, foreign donors and international agencies suspended aid, and Burma’s already battered economy collapsed. To restart the economy, the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) opened the country’s resources to foreign exploitation. Seeking any possible source of revenue, the generals auctioned off the world’s largest remaining teak forests, rich fishing beds in the Andaman Sea and gas and oil concessions.
To court international approval, the junta staged elections but kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and counted on pressure and manipulation to control the outcome of the vote. To everyone’s surprise, Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won more than 60 percent of the popular vote and 82 percent of the seats in parliament. The government party won just 2 percent of the seats in parliament. The regime responded by annulling the election results and arresting the election’s victors. Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for leading the struggle against the Burmese military and its multinational financiers.
MMost of Burma’s oil and gas concessions yielded only dry holes, but the money the oil companies pumped in through signature fees and other exploration costs helped the military regime survive its leanest years. The military responded to the 1988 uprising by exerting secret police control over the daily life of the citizenry and initiating a military expansion drive. The military has almost doubled the size of the army, which has been outfitted with $5 billion in new Chinese weaponry. With no external enemies, the military has these weapons trained on the domestic population.
Little of the money pumped into Burma by the oil companies gets past the generals. Oil companies have paid $40 million in “signature fees” directly to the Burmese junta. The regime continues to spend well over half of its revenues directly on the military. With negligible government investment in public health and welfare, the plight of the average villager has deteriorated steadily.
One reason why money does not trickle down from the generals is that they heavily rely on forced labor. This practice has been common in Burma since the army took power in 1962. Lacking transport, the military dragoons villagers to carry its supplies. Unable to secure foreign development aid in recent years, the army has rounded up ethnic minority villagers to build roads, railroads, airports and other facilities.
No official figures exist, but one Burma watcher estimates that 500,000 people provide unpaid, forced labor on any given day. Labor assignments typically rotate within a village, so that in a village of 20 households, 20 laborers are required at all times. After a period of labor, the 20 laborers are replaced by 20 others from the village. Some three million people are believed to have been subject to some form of such slave labor.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned Burma for its use of slave labor, as has the United Nations, the United States and the European Community. The Burmese government has repeatedly defended what it calls “voluntary labor” on cultural grounds. A Burmese official quoted in a Thai newspaper said, “Myanmar [Burma] has a long tradition of voluntary labor, extending back to the old kings. People don’t have to do it, but they do it because it is good for their villages and towns.”
Yadana: curse of the jewel
UUnocal and Total’s discovery of natural gas off the Gulf of Martaban promises to provide a new revenue stream for the generals. The Yadana (or “jewel”) field is estimated to have reserves of six trillion cubic feet of natural gas, with a U.S. market value of $6.5 billion. The pipeline is set to begin pumping in 1998, with an initial capacity of 130 million cubic feet per day, expanding to 525 million cubic feet per day by 2000. The pipeline will run undersea for 350 kilometers before making landfall, first at Heinze Island and then finally at Hpaungdaung Yaw. It will snake 65 kilometers across southern Burma’s Tenasserim Division, through mangrove swamps, then up the Tavoy River valley and down the Zinba River valley before ascending the final 20 kilometers through densely forested mountains along the Thai-Burma border. Once over the border in Thailand, the pipeline will run 110 kilometers to an electrical generating plant in Ratchburi. The sole consumer of the natural gas will be the Thai electrical authority; none of the natural gas will be used by the Burmese people.
Under the terms of the final agreement, signed in February 1995, Thailand will pay Total, Unocal and SLORC $400 million per year for the natural gas, making the Yadana field the military junta’s largest hard-currency earner.
In constructing the pipeline, Unocal has allied itself with a brutal and illegitimate government in its decades-long war against three ethnic groups, the Mon, the Karen and the Tavoyan peoples. To put a pipeline through the lands of these people — areas never controlled before by the central government —will require Unocal and SLORC to crush these ethnic groups. The repression is being conducted by the Burmese and Thai armies.
No refuge in Thailand
TThe Thai Government, as the sole customer of the pipeline, has a strong interest in seeing the project completed. Especially eager to speed the project to completion are certain members of the government who have a direct financial interest in it. To see that the pipeline gets built, Thai military authorities have been pressing the ethnic minorities in Burma to sign cease-fires which amount to conditional surrenders. The Thai military’s leverage over these ethnic groups comes from two sources. First, because most of the territory they hold lies along the Thai-Burma border, it is difficult for ethnic minorities to travel without the permission of Thai authorities. Minorities subject to Burmese military attacks must also avoid running afoul of the Thai forces because of their need to cross the border when attacked at home. More than 75,000 indigenous people from Burma now live in camps in Thailand and hundreds of thousands of ethnic Burmese have fled to Thailand’s cities and villages. The Thais are keeping the refugees as hostages to the pipeline’s progress.
In early 1993, the Thai Army forced 7,000 Mon refugees to relocate from a camp in Thailand to a new one just over the border in Burma. The Mons protested the move because the new camp was less than five kilometers from the nearest Burmese army outpost. As the refugees were being forced back, a businessman associated with Thailand’s National Security Council delivered an ultimatum to the Mons, who were seeking autonomy. The NSC warned that they must sign a cease-fire immediately because Mon refugees would be in danger if the fighting continues.
The Burmese army attacked the camp in July 1994, following an incident in which two SLORC soldiers who went to the camp to collect women for sexual use were shot by camp residents. After the army’s attack, the refugees fled back across the border to Thailand. The Thai army ordered them to return to Burma. Trapped between the two armies, the refugees camped on the Thai side of the border under monsoon rains, refusing to move.
Abhisit Veijjajiva, Thailand’s chief government spokesman, said Thailand “would not send people back across a border if we felt it was not safe for them to go back.” On the same day Veijjajiva made his statement, Amnesty International released an urgent appeal on behalf of the refugees saying, “The Thai authorities cannot claim that this is a safe area. No one should be forced to go there.” The Thai government finally settled the matter by cutting off food and water supplies, forcing the refugees back across the border. The Associated Press quoted Poldeg Worachatr, acting director of the Thai Foreign Ministry’s Press Division, as saying that Thailand would not resort to pressure tactics to force the refugees out, and he insisted “authorities must have a good reason for cutting the refugees off from their rice supplies.”
The new “Death Railway”
TThe actions of the Burmese government to ensure completion of the pipeline make the Thais look compassionate by comparison. Under the terms of the pipeline contract, the Burmese government provides security for the project. The Burmese have moved 17 battalions into the Mon, Karen and Tavoyan areas to secure control over the pipeline right of way. To supply those troops, the government is building a railroad and motor way between the cities of Ye and Tavoy.
The railway is an extension of the old “Death Railway,” which gained notoriety during World War II and was made famous by the movie Bridge over the River Kwai. Although it was the use of westerners for slave labor that gained international notice, then, as now, it was local Mon and Karen villagers who bore the brunt of the demand for forced labor. Between 70,000 and 120,000 slave laborers are building the railway. Government troops round the laborers up into Conscription Control Centers (CCC), a euphemism for concentration camps.
Unocal argues that there is no connection between its pipeline and the Ye-Tavoy railroad. The pipeline and railway will intersect at a place called Kaleinaung, which is where the Burmese army has built up the largest of its CCCs, housing thousands of slave laborers. In an Orwellian twist, Unocal’s President, John Imle, cites the increased population at Kaleinaung, a site along the pipeline’s path, as evidence that the pipeline has not dislocated villages. It is not yet clear whether the pipeline itself will be built with slave labor, but the Asian Wall Street Journal quoted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Thailand as saying that “there seems to be a general pattern of making use of the local labor force without paying them. ... I know slave labor has been used for other purposes, and once the gas pipeline is to start, it is most likely that it will be done the same way.”
Unocal’s Imle, however, insists that the pipeline will neither use nor benefit from forced labor. “We will build our own roads, with our own labor, with no impressed labor, and with no labor that is not paid,” he asserts. “We have said that before, I will say it again, I will stand on that. There is no way that any government can impose on us the use of slave labor. We will not do it.” Imle denies any connection between the railroad and Unocal’s operations. “We can tell you categorically the railroad is not being built to support our operation. ... Particularly because there has been such controversy over it we wouldn’t use it even if we wanted to use it.” Imle will not acknowledge any company connection to human rights abuses unless they are committed by his employees or take place on his doorstep. “We will not allow those [human rights] violations to take place to our benefit, meaning on our property,” Imle said in a January 4, 1995 meeting with activists.
Even if forced labor on the railway and the pipeline is ignored, the pipeline has already caused an increase in forced labor because the Burmese army doesn’t move without porters. Hamstrung by a shortage of trucks, the army dragoons porters for even mundane tasks. Local villages are now providing the porters to support the 12,000 soldiers mobilized to provide security for the pipeline and its supporting infrastructure projects. The army uses about two porters for every soldier, so “pipeline security” enlists tens of thousands of slave laborers.
Nei Pe Thein Zea, a Mon spokesperson, says, “Violence to destroy the pipeline would be our last option, but in the end we would have no choice.” He warns that the SLORC “will force slave labor on the people without payment. This violates our fundamental human rights, so we will oppose the pipeline by any means.”
Imle’s response to charges that his pipeline is bringing slave labor in its wake is to blame the victims. “If you threaten the pipeline there’s going to be more military,” Imle says. “If forced labor goes hand and glove with the military, yes, there will be more forced labor. For every threat to the pipeline there will be a reaction.”
Unocal’s arrogance regarding the project seems to know no bounds. Unocal has publicly promised to obey all the environmental laws of Burma, a country which has none. Total and Unocal officials refuse to meet with the indigenous peoples whose lands they are taking, and company officials dismiss allegations of forced labor or human rights abuses in the area on the grounds that the people making the allegations have never been there. It is for good reason that outside human rights groups have been unable to get to the pipeline. Unocal won’t allow neutral observers to visit the area. The thousands of Burmese troops providing “pipeline security” would shoot them if they try.
I In late January 1995, the Burmese army launched a lightning offensive against ethnic Karens along the Thai-Burma border, capturing the headquarters of the Burmese pro-democracy movement and driving 15,000 more Karen refugees over the border. The attacks have sparked condemnation from the White House as well as Amnesty International.
Burmese troops are laying siege to the last major Karen base along the border and are also attacking Karen areas near the pipeline route. The attacks appear to be developing into an all-out offensive to crush resistance by the Karen, and relief workers fear that another 100,000 refugees will be forced to flee the area. Karen and Mon officials in early February 1995 publicly vowed to destroy the pipeline using “any means necessary.” The attacks on the Karen coincide with the February 3 signing of the final pipeline contract between Total/Unocal and Thailand. At the signing of the gas contract, a Total official was quoted in a Thai newspaper as refusing to discuss the attacks on the Karens because it was time to “celebrate,” not a time to “talk politics.”
Patrick James is the alias of a U.S. businessperson who previously lived and worked in Haiti. This interview was conducted prior to the negotiated ouster of the illegal Haitian military government and the restoration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but it remains relevant and timely for the insights it provides about class divisions, power, exploitation and human rights in Haiti.
Multinational Monitor: How would you characterize the Haitian business class as a community?
Patrick James: The interconnectedness of the Haitian business community is amazing. I worked for a company and the guy right across the hallway from me, one of the partners, was General Cedras’s brother; the other was a European businessman. My company had one partner whose sister is married to the European businessman, who’s in business with Cedras’s brother. The elite are somehow interconnected or related. Basically they have to work together in order to keep their power intact.
You can imagine what kind of pressure that must be when you know that there are six million peasants that basically could rise up and tear your house down some night, which, also, I experienced. I’ve witnessed what they call dechoukage where they just basically firebomb, loot and gut a house. Its a terrifying thing.
This is always in the mind of the elite Haitians. They ride around in their armored vehicles, they have their Uzis in their house. It’s not uncommon to hear machine gun fire when you’re in Port-au-Prince just because there’s a thief trying to break in somewhere. And you’d better believe these rich people have got machine guns. The poorest Haitians cannot rise up. I mean there will not be a revolution in Haiti because you cannot fight these machine guns with sticks and rocks and machetes. There’s only so far you can fight.
MM: Where do the U.S. businesses fit into that whole picture economically and politically? Are they part of that elite?
James: The rich Haitian families basically run their own empires. You have partnerships with American businessmen, European businessmen that are very lucrative because you have a monopoly situation in Haiti. There are only a certain amount of players, and if you can provide something that no one else can provide, you’re in. If you have a sister-in-law that’s, say, from Vietnam or Thailand who has connections who can get you all the rice you want to import, then you’re the guy that owns the rice market in Haiti.
MM: What are the leading empires?
James: There are probably a group of about 30 families, big families. Then, after that, maybe another hundred or two hundred [at the] next level. There aren’t many people, relative to the entire population, running the show. And, let me tell you, the wealth is unbelievable. I know some of these people that send their kids to private schools in Florida and Switzerland, grammar schools where they’re paying $18,000 a year for one child’s tuition. They are multi-, multi-millionaires. They have a monopoly on the situation. They’re maybe importing rice, then they may export coffee or oranges or whatever. And of course they are making their money from the sweat and blood of the poor Haitian, who’s making maybe $20 a month, if he’s lucky.
MM: Have the labor costs been that low for a long time?
James: Always, and the rich plan to keep it that way, that’s how they make their money. Slavery is alive and well in Haiti. That’s what it is, slavery. It’s even worse than slavery, really, because at least with slavery you were offered some fringe benefits, as far as housing. In this situation, you’re offered hard labor and that’s it. If you get enough money to buy a machete so you can chop down a few trees to weave together a hut and pack mud on the side of it, good for you. If not, tough luck. They don’t provide housing, they don’t provide food for these people, they just use them for labor.
The first day I was at my office, one of the Haitian businessmen came in and I said, “I can’t believe how poor these people are.” This guy was one of the elite, light skin, blue eyes, and he said to me: “Oh yeah, we have to keep these people tired and hungry, otherwise they’ll rise up against us.”
MM: Do you think people would rise up if they had more resources?
James: No doubt about it. That’s the thing the [elite] Haitians are so afraid of. When there’s a mob mentality, anything can happen. I remember the night of the coup, I was asleep in bed. At about one o’clock in the morning I heard loud explosions, gunfire, chanting, screaming. I got up and looked out of my bedroom window. I was up on the side of a mountain and I could look down over the whole city. I saw different places on fire and I could tell there was something wrong. So I went outside to ask the night watchman what was going on. He was listening to the radio and said something happened to Aristide. I asked myself, “Am I the good guy or the bad guy?” I didn’t know. I didn’t know if the average Haitian would look at me as a white, a blanc, as the enemy, or if I was just someone that was not involved in the situation so they wouldn’t even bother me. I didn’t know what to do and I heard people chanting, coming up the side of the mountain. I could see different places on fire already on the mountainside.
So I turned around and went back to my house. I went back into my room and packed my backpack and I took the machete from under my bed and I went back outside to the night watchman. I asked him what we should do, and he said he didn’t know. So we hid. It was a bright moonlit night and we hid in the garage. I could see now there was a crowd out in front of the house, probably 200 people, flaming torches and machetes, and of course I start sweating bullets. They started chopping down the fence and the night watchman said, “We have to go out, otherwise they’re going to come in here.” So I just kind of took a deep breath, and the two of us walked into the moonlight and held our machetes. And I just remember looking up and at that point I could hear them yelling “Blancs, blancs, blancs restent ici,” meaning, “Whites stay here, whites live here.” And then, one by one, they started running away.
I spent the next two or three nights crawling around on my hands and knees on the floor listening to bullets whizzing by, and to gunfire.
During one of those days, I went over to a hotel where a bunch of my friends lived. I was sitting on the terrace of the hotel with the owner of the hotel, drinking coffee, talking about the situation, and all of a sudden I hear some screaming and I hear a truck winding up the mountainside. Suddenly, they let the back of the truck down and all the soldiers pile out and start chasing people around the hotel shooting them!
MM: Who were they chasing?
James: Just average Haitians. So the owner of the hotel and I wondered what the hell was going on. The two of us just stood up and went out and stood on the veranda with our hands on our hips watching this. And these guys went around and actually shot people, and went up on the side of the mountain, burned down people’s huts, and basically terrorized people.
MM: Why were they doing that?
James: Just to scare them. To let them know that the military is here; we’re in charge again; the Aristide movement is over; don’t even think about rising up or trying to get any power. What could I do? They acted as if the owner of the hotel and I weren’t even there. I was just a bystander.
MM: You were safe. They weren’t going to attack you?
James: No. At this point I started to realize, well, there’s something going on here that I don’t understand.
MM: What was that?
James: Well, that’s when I realized that the military was on the side of the rich and that, as an American, I had nothing to worry about. And that was the case most of the time in Haiti.
MM: Does the U.S. business community fear an uprising?
James: I don’t think the American business community has to worry about it as much, because they have got less to lose, they’ve got a place they can fly away to. It’s the Haitian business community that basically keeps the system in place.
Of course, if you’re an American businessman and you’re offered to become a part of this system where your risks are much lower than they are for the average Haitian businessperson but your profits are equal, of course you’re going to buy into the system. It’s a good deal. In Haiti, I was making about $800,000 or $900,000 a year. I lived in the lap of luxury, with a huge estate with gardens, gardeners, maids, cooks, laundry women. It was a lifestyle that would take me a lot more work to accomplish in the United States.
MM: How profitable are the U.S. companies that have assembly operations in Haiti?
James: These companies benefit from Caribbean Basin Initiative tax incentives for companies that import materials from the United States and then process them in Haiti and send them back. And of course being able to take advantage of the labor costs in Haiti is very advantageous. As far as the profits they take out, I would only be speculating.
The problem for these companies is the political situation and the instability. Companies are not willing to invest a lot in setting up a manufacturing plant in Haiti for the very reason that happened a couple years ago. You have a coup, and all of a sudden you don’t know whether there’s going to be an embargo placed on you or what. If you have orders to fill, people don’t like to hear that you’re in Haiti, because if they’re going to make a contract to sell these certain products, they want to make sure you’re going to be able to deliver. So this is a big problem for Haiti and a big obstacle as far as having any long-term investment in manufacturing.
MM: So most of the foreign investment has been for light assembly that goes in and out?
James: They have made a very low investment because they have portable machinery that they can pack up and pull out any time things start to get a little hot.
The U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID] did a report a few years ago where it talked about the importance of the low wages as a big advantage for U.S. companies. How can you beat $5 a day in wages?
MM: Do you think the U.S. firms feel they have a stake in maintaining that system?
James: I would imagine that there are reasons why the Americans would want to keep that system in place. One being the cost advantage. Another that they provide fruits and other commodities at very low prices. If their wage costs start rising, then the costs of their products are going to start rising and all of a sudden mangoes cost a lot more money in Florida.
MM: Do you think the U.S. government fears a possible uprising?
James: An uprising of the peasant majority? There’s no way that the Haitian peasants can rise up. You have one section of the black population which is now aligned with and making money with the rich. Not much, but more than they could make as a farmer cutting mangoes. So now they have a gun and are in control. They’re making a few bucks. The rich tell them to go out and take down some village, shoot up a couple of people, chop their face off, leave them in the street, and they’ll do it.
MM: How might U.S. intervention work to keep a lid on the situation?
James: Whether or not the United States wants to prevent the Haitian population from rising up, I think they should align themselves, or at least work with, the military. Try to separate the police force from the military so that there is some type of civilian protection. They should try not to go in as the aggressors who are trying to wipe out the military, but to go in and say “we’re here to retrain the army; we’re here to work with the army.”
MM: Did you have a sense of how the U.S. embassy or U.S. business people felt about Aristide’s coming to power, and the whole popular movement?
James: I think there was worry about how far Aristide was pushing, especially for a minimum wage, trying to set up a social security system, things like this.
When Aristide first came in he said, “There’s going to be a mandatory $5 minimum [daily] wage, everybody has got to do it.” It was just so outlandish that nobody even took it seriously. You figure the average Haitian probably makes about 20 dollars a month, so you’re talking about five dollars a week to five dollars a day!
MM: What impact would that have on the way the Haitian economy works?
James: For the average worker, it would have increased their wages, so income would have increased. The effect on the economy would have been inflationary because the businessman is not going to settle for not making enough money. All prices would increase relative to the currency exchange. It would have balanced out ultimately, but the initial impact would have been a strain on the businessman.
MM: What kind of profits do local business people usually make?
James: I would say the average retailer will make something like a 60 percent profit. As far as importing and then distributing, a lot depends on the currency exchange. Right now [during the embargo], profits may be as high as 400 percent — that’s just the law of supply and demand. When you have sanctions that are limiting the supply, of course your prices are going to increase.
So Aristide, I think, had some ideal things he wanted to accomplish, but he just moved too fast. He didn’t consider the establishment that had been in place for 200 years, and out of his frustration he started making very passionate and radical speeches about how to break down the economic system that was in place. And, unfortunately, he pushed too far.
MM: What was the overall business objection to social security?
James: My own personal fear was that I didn’t know how long this government would last, so I didn’t want to start putting money into a fund that could disappear and then wonder who’s getting all the money when the next coup takes place. I told government officials who asked for social security payments that I wasn’t going to pay into it, that I’d rather give my workers extra money every week.
MM: Did many businesses react that way?
James: I think there were probably some that had more pressure on them than I did, especially if they were Haitian run. Because I was an American, because I was white — it sounds pretty arrogant — I could basically call whatever shots I wanted just because of the color of my skin and my eyes. I could say: “No, I’m not doing it.”
MM: Even when it comes to paying a tax?
James: Yes, yes, and I didn’t do it. n
ON November 22, 1994, a Pakistani Senate Committee convened for an unusual second hearing to investigate the environmental and health effects of importing a polluting and obsolete industrial plant from Denmark.
As the Hearing began, Ravi Alkalis, Ltd., the Lahore, Pakistan-based company that bought the Danish plant, made a surprise joint announcement with the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and Greenpeace International: Ravi would agree not to use controversial mercury cells for chlorine production at its production site near Lahore.
Yet as the hearing took place, a shipment containing seven containers of mercury-contaminated equipment, for the very technology Ravi had rejected, was en route from Denmark to Pakistan. Behind the announcement was months of controversy in Denmark and Pakistan, a loophole in international legislation exposed, and an early test of the March 1994 Basel Convention agreement to ban hazardous waste exports from industrialized countries to the developing world.
A discredited technology
TThe story begins with Dansk Sojakagen (DS) Industries, a subsidiary of East Asiatic Company (EAC), one of Denmark’s oldest firms. From 1935 until 1991, DS Industries operated a chlor-alkali plant as part of a three-plant Copenhagen chemical complex, known as Sojakagefabrik, using mercury cell technology. Between 1935 and 1978, the company discharged an estimated 50 metric tons of toxic mercury into Copenhagen Harbor. According to Karsten Poulsen, leader of the Bryggegrupperne neighborhood association, 97 percent of the workers at the plant had elevated mercury content in their urine, “inhabitants of the area were forbidden to grow their own vegetables because of mercury emissions ... to the atmosphere” and “fishing is still prohibited due to former mercury discharges from the plant.”
Such discharges are not unusual for these kinds of plants; mercury cell-using plants have historically released large quantities of mercury, and severe mercury contamination from chlor-alkali plants has been documented at Lake Managua, Nicaragua, Mersey Estuary, U.K., Hallein, Austria, and several sites in Sweden, among others. Mercury, which causes nervous system disorders, insanity and even death in humans, is most dangerous in aquatic ecosystems as it tends to bioaccumulate in fish. The countries belonging to the Paris Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution countries — including Denmark — have agreed that “mercury cell chlor-alkali plants should be phased out completely by 2010.” But the Convention put no system in place to track what happens to the mercury cells as they are phased out.
Community members had protested Sojakagefabrik’s operations for 20 years. In 1988, the Danish Parliament passed legislation to close it down due to environmental and health concerns. While a change in government prevented the legislation from being implemented, DS Industries decided voluntarily to close the plant in 1991.
When DS shut the Copenhagen plant, it became an economic liability, since disposal of the plant through incineration and landfill in Denmark and Germany would cost millions of dollars. Thus the sale of the plant, at any price, would represent a major savings for the Danish company. No West European company would buy a technology already discredited and slated for elimination; no U.S. buyer was likely, since chlor-alkali plants are less common and effluent regulations are quite strict in the United States; and there would be no Japanese takers, since mercury cell technology has been completely eliminated in Japan. But just as hazardous waste unwanted in the North has found its way to Africa, Asia and Latin America, and just as Northern companies routinely export pesticides and pharmaceuticals banned in the country of manufacture, so too was EAS able to find a Third World buyer for the obsolete Danish mercury cells: Ravi Alkalis.
Denmark to Pakistan: We “can't stop the sale”
IIronically, news of the sale broke in Denmark last March while Environment Minister Svend Auken was in Geneva at a meeting of the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes. Auken was one of the leaders in negotiations to ban hazardous waste exports to Third World countries, and the Danes helped form a powerful coalition with the Group of 77 (the negotiating bloc of developing countries). In a rare show of uncompromising toughness, this alliance had isolated and defeated a handful of powerful industrialized countries — including Britain, Canada and Australia — overriding their insistence on the purported benefits of exporting wastes to less industrialized countries.
Auken condemned the sale, calling it a clear case of “double standards” and later saying, “I know of nothing more disgusting than when one has banned a technology or chemical in one’s own country and then exports it with a profit to other countries.” But, he added, “I cannot stop the sale.” The story from the Copenhagen authorities was the same. Mayor for Environment Charlotte Ammundsen, while saying “if the old plant is to be operated by people who do not know it well, there are great risks of discharges of both mercury and chlorine,” also said she could not stop the sale. In Parliament, one Member found it “very disturbing” to “sell an outdated technology which we would not touch with a fire-poker to a country in the Third World.” But a parliamentary resolution to stop the sale failed to gain majority support.
During the fall, the campaign against the sale gained momentum in Copenhagen. Questions were raised in Parliament, a Greenpeace vessel kept a watch in Copenhagen Harbor, special legislation was proposed. Pakistani non-governmental organizations faxed letters to the Environment and Industry Ministries, accusing Denmark of “dumping dirty technology on a developing country.” The prospect of international scandal for Denmark grew, as Copenhagen prepared to host the UN’s World Summit for Social Development in March. Still, the Danish government, one of the most progressive on international environmental issues, claimed it could not prevent this dirty technology transfer. On Oct. 31, the Sojakage power station, to be used for the chlor-alkali plant, was shipped from Copenhagen. On November 16, with the mercury cells being packed for shipment, Social Liberal Party spokesperson Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen concluded, “The export permit of EAC is completely legal, and therefore we can only put moral pressure on the company.”
Pakistan to Denmark: no thanks
IIn Pakistan, the scheme had obtained all the necessary approvals. The Punjab Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had issued a “No Objection Certificate,” and the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Urban Affairs, after a perfunctory hearing, also approved the sale.
The scheme started to unravel after a series of public meetings and press conferences in early November led by Greenpeace, SDPI, Shirkat Gah (a women’s organization) and a confederation of 45 Pakistani trade unions. The focus of these meetings was the hopeless inadequacy of the environmental impact statement for the project and the inadequate information provided to the Senate. Among other glaring misunderstandings, the Senate had been led to believe that “there would be no liquid effluents from the plant.” The environmental impact statement mentioned the presence of groundwater at only 25-30 feet below ground, yet made no provision for solid waste disposal off-site. The impact statement did not consider the potential for contamination of a canal running through the plant and leading to the Ravi River. And no plans were made for final disposal of the mercury cells themselves. This omission made plain the double standard which led to the sale: responsibility for disposal of this equipment, which had been used in Denmark for 20 years, would now fall to Pakistan after only a few years use. There were no plans for decontamination or disposal of the contaminated equipment.
The last straw for Ravi was probably the decision by the Senate Standing Committee, recognizing it had not heard the whole story, to hold an unusual second hearing on the matter. This time the Senate invited Greenpeace and SDPI to testify. By then, a group of 45 trade unions had denounced the sale. Kamal Shah, the joint secretary of the Karachi Port Workers Union, raised the stakes, saying, “We will stop the toxic cargo from being imported at the port [of Karachi].”
Shortly after the scheduling of the second hearing, an anonymous Ravi official was quoted in The Statesman, an Indian daily, as saying, “If we had an inkling that this plant would cause such an uproar, we wouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole.” For a company not accustomed to public scrutiny, the prospect of continued controversy was too high a price. The day before the Senate Hearing, officials from Ravi, SDPI and Greenpeace met, and Ravi informed the groups of their decision to “eliminate from the scope of the plant the mercury cells, the mercury itself, and mercury-contaminated equipment.” In a letter given to the Senate the next day, Ravi said it would go ahead with importing the rest of the plant, and would replace the mercury cells with membrane cells, a technology which does not reduce the hazards of chlorine emissions or downstream organochlorine contamination, but does eliminate mercury use and emissions.
Basel Convention returns waste to sender
RRavi’s decision did not by itself remove the danger that the mercury-contaminated equipment would come to Pakistan. The company could of course choose what to use and what not to use, but its contract and shipping papers already committed it to importing the entire plant. Moreover, on the day of the Senate hearing, Greenpeace learned that seven containers, some with mercury equipment, had just left Copenhagen for Karachi.
At this point, backed by Ravi’s announcement that it would not use mercury technology, the Danish government quickly reclassified the equipment as hazardous waste, reasoning that what will not be used for production is waste. As hazardous waste, the equipment is prohibited from export from the rich countries (including Denmark) that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to non-OECD countries (like Pakistan) under the Basel Convention decision of March 25, 1994. Both Denmark and Pakistan are parties to the Convention.
A day later, Greenpeace located the containers in Bremerhaven, Germany, and Denmark secured an agreement from German authorities to keep them there for a few days until repatriation to Denmark could be arranged. The mercury cells and the mercury itself will be disposed of under Danish regulations as part of EAC’s massive cleanup of the Sojakage site.
UUnfortunately, the repatriation of hazardous waste cannot be taken for granted in these situations. A previous episode of mercury cell transfer is a case in point. The Olin Corporation in Niagara Falls, New York, sent 15 mercury cells to Elpesa, a joint-venture of the Nicaraguan government and the U.S.-based Pennwalt (now Atochem) in August of 1990. In January 1991, the Nicaraguan government shut the plant, thus ensuring that the cells would not be used. But the cells remain in a warehouse in Managua [see “Niagara to Nicaragua,” Multinational Monitor, January/February1992]. Similarly, between 1990 and 1993, Geismar, Louisiana-based Borden Chemicals and Plastics sent several thousand barrels of mercuric chloride waste to Thor Chemicals in South Africa, supposedly for recycling. Thor now admits that it cannot recycle the wastes, yet 2,596 barrels with the Borden label sit in Thor’s warehouse in Natal.
Both the cells in Nicaragua and the barrels in South Africa will remain untouched, ultimately leaking mercury to the environment, unless the U.S. companies voluntarily decide to bring them home. Until and unless the United States ratifies the Basel Convention and respects the ban on hazardous waste exports, there is no U.S. legislation to prevent these kinds of exports from happening again.
The Denmark-to-Pakistan scheme also revealed a number of shortcomings in Pakistani hazardous waste and environmental legislation. At the second senate hearing on the sale, it became clear that Pakistan has no standards for environmental impact statements, no system for screening dirty technology transfers and no process for collecting information except that provided by industry. The Punjab EPA was badly discredited after an EPA official stated that the Ravi plant posed no problems because it was in a rural area. To which one senator replied, “Please don’t ruin our rural areas, too.” There is no reason to believe these legal and institutional inadequacies are limited to Pakistan.
On the positive side, SDPI and several other Pakistani non-governmental organizations acquired new legitimacy in the eyes of the government and industry. Their involvement in an industrial issue was unprecedented, but they plan to make a habit of it. SDPI and Ravi have agreed to form a joint committee to monitor the decision to avoid mercury cells. And a recent announcement by Ravi’s competitors, Sitara Chemical Group, to build a PVC plant to re-use excess chlorine in its PVC production process has also provoked SDPI to begin scrutiny of Sitara and the whole chlorine and PVC industry.
Denmark has been spared the embarrassment of watching helplessly as its hazardous exports sail for Pakistan, but the Parliament acknowledged that it was environmental groups’ vigilance which spared them, and that next time they might not be so lucky. Minister Auken is now using the case at the Nordic Council to advocate providing information about technology that is transferred to Third World countries.
Such a step cannot come too soon. According to Ravi Alkalis, a mercury cell plant was shipped from Norway to India last year. Neither the Norwegian environmental authorities nor any intergovernmental agency or environmental group was aware of the sale.
With some 74 mercury cell plants in Western Europe slated for phase out by 2010, the Paris Commission countries must develop a system for tracking mercury equipment and preventing its shipment to the Third World. In the longer term, the international community must find a way to identify and track all obsolete and dirty products and technologies, and provide legal mechanisms for preventing their transfer. Otherwise, every environmental victory in the North will be a potential setback for the South, and the technology transfer now so desired by developing countries will be scorned as a new form of toxic colonialism. n
Moving to Asia
Chlorine itself is the subject of intense environmental debate in the North, and many chlorine markets are shrinking due to environmental pressures. The reason is that chlorine is at the root of most of the world’s most toxic and persistent chemicals, including notorious organochlorine compounds such as DDT, PCBs and dioxin. Among other properties, these chemicals wreak havoc on human health by mimicking the hormone estrogen, causing cancer and birth defects. As evidence condemning chlorine continues to pour in, businesses in most industrialized countries are replacing ozone-destroying CFCs, chlorine bleach for pulp and paper and chlorinated solvents for cleaning in the electronics, paints and automotive industries with safer substitutes.
Faced with shrinking chlorine markets in the North, the chemical industry as a whole has set its sights on the industrializing regions of Asia and Latin America, where industry executives forecast major growth for chlorine. Gradually, chlorine producers are shifting production to Asian and Latin American countries.
But Pakistan, with 132,000 metric tons annual chlorine production capacity and only 30,000 metric tons annual consumption, already has more than enough chlorine.
Chlorine makers often justify their product as essential to the health of the Third World because of its usefulness in water disinfection. But water disinfection only accounts for about 1 percent of chlorine use worldwide. The biggest use of chlorine is in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. This use is the long-range plan for the chlorine from Ravi Alkalis.
PVC is associated with dioxin and other organochlorines throughout its lifecycle, and is under considerable regulatory attack, especially in Western Europe. A sweeping indictment of PVC comes from the Swedish Ecocycle Commission, a government advisory group, which recently concluded that PVC “has no place in the eco-society” and recommended its phase out by the year 2000. By then, Ravi Chemicals and many other Asian firms plan to have increased their stake in chlorine, PVC and PVC additives.
COLOMBO — The workers of Ansell Lanka, an Australian glove maker, Ceramic World Industries, a Korean producer of porcelain figures, and Alitex, a Saudi-Pakistani terry towel manufacturer, had been gathering by the power station near the Biyagama Free Trade Zone since early in the morning of September 5, 1994. Numbering about 7,000, they were poised to commence a protest march to Colombo. There, they intended to present a petition to the newly elected People’s Alliance government of Prime Minister (now President) Chandrika Kumaratunga, which they hoped would consider their grievances favorably.
Before departing from the free zone, workers representing employees at each of the three factories explained the objective of the march and the main grievances of the Ansell Lanka workers, whose factory had been closed. The workers demanded a salary increase of 50 percent, an increase in their permitted annual sick and leave time to 35 days and that the companies hire all workers on a permanent basis.
Around 7:30 a.m., the workers decided to start the march. But by this time the police from the Free Trade Zone and nearby stations had arrived on the scene. The police blocked the road with a huge truck and advised the workers not to proceed.
According to K.A. Vasanthi of Ansell Lanka, when the workers peacefully proceeded with the march, the police first fired tear gas and then started shooting. Vasanthi suddenly felt her right leg and right upper arm becoming numb. She noticed that a nearby colleague had fallen and that blood had seeped all over his white shoe. Then she realized that the police had shot them. Her left ankle was shattered by a gun shot injury, and two of her fingers were permanently damaged.
The angry workers fought back against the police attack, burning a police jeep. By the end of the clash, eight workers had received gunshot wounds and many more were injured. The workers’ hopes that their grievances would be redressed by the new People’s Alliance government lay shattered. Today, 85 of the protesting workers remain out of work.
Expanding the Zone
The Ansell Lanka story is a typical one for multinational factories operating in the Sri Lankan free trade zones. First, workers present management with basic demands. These are ignored or discussed over days and months. Eventually, the workers start protesting and the police crush the protests. The factory is closed. The Board of Investments, which is in charge of the administration of the zone, then intervenes and starts negotiations to bring back the defeated workers. The factory is re-opened on terms and conditions set by management.
Little appears likely to change under the People’s Alliance government, which embraces the open economic policy advocated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Sri Lanka’s free trade zones are governed by the Board Of Investments (BOI, formerly known as the Greater Colombo Economic Commission). Established by an act of Parliament in 1978, the BOI is an autonomous body functioning directly under the president of Sri Lanka. The BOI is entrusted with wide-ranging statutory powers to vary, modify or exempt enterprises from the application of laws relating to inland revenue, exchange control and customs.
The BOI has established three free trade zones. The first, the Katunayake zone, was established in 1978 and covers an area of approximately 200 hectares. Located adjacent to the Katunayake International Airport, it is 38 kilometers away from the capital city of Colombo. There are 87 enterprises there. The Biyagama zone was established in 1986 and is located 25 kilometers away from Colombo in the Western Province. It is being developed in two phases. The first phase, now completed, covers an area of approximately 50 hectares and houses 43 enterprises. The third zone is situated 125 kilometers from Colombo in the southern port city of Galle and has an area of 91 hectares. It has only 11 enterprises under its administration.
The companies operating in these zones manufacture garments, cut and polish diamonds and manufacture jewelry, rubber- and leather-based products, ceramics, light engineering goods, artificial flowers and similar low value-added goods.
In 1992, Parliament declared the whole island a free trade zone. According to this law, any enterprise which promotes exports can apply to be governed by Board of Investment regulations, even if the factory is located outside the demarcated free trade zones. Approximately 75,000 workers are now employed in the three zones, and another 47,000 work in projects outside the zones that are registered with the BOI. About 100,000 workers are employed in a special garments factory program which operates under the same general rules as companies registered under the BOI.
Not all BOI-registered companies are foreign owned, but the largest ones are foreign. South Korea is the biggest investor, with 62 companies registered under the BOI; Hong Kong follows with 49 companies; Japan has 27. Germany has 21 companies and the United Kingdom 19.
Long hours, low wages
AAs would be expected, an essential attraction for companies investing in Sri Lanka under the BOI regulations is low labor costs. Anton Marcus, president of the Lanka Industrial, Transport and General Services Union, says workers are paid a meager salary which is just enough to survive on. The low wages, he says, force them to seek additional income by working overtime and sacrificing leave.
Vasanthi Dahanayaka is a 28-year-old employee of the Laws Garments and Knitting Factory, a jersey and t-shirt manufacturer which is owned by a Hong Kong-based company and located in the Katunayaka zone. Dahanayaka, who has worked in the same factory for seven years, complains that her monthly salary of $50 is totally inadequate. She earns an additional $30 a month by working overtime and holidays, and by foregoing vacation time. According to the BOI guidelines, a normal working week consists of nine hours per day from Monday to Friday, including a one-hour meal or rest break, and a short, six-and-a-half hour working day on Saturday.
Workers at other factories report comparable low pay and pressures to work overtime. Nirmali Gamage has worked for six years at the Hong Kong-owned Atlas Glove. Her monthly salary is $45, and she says she is compelled to work on all statutory holidays, including Poya days. (Poya day is a full moon day which is a religious holiday for Buddhists.) Ms. Jayawardana, general manager of Atlas, denies that Atlas employees are compelled to work on holidays. Only volunteers work holidays, she claims.
Sriya Ahangama, secretary of the Women’s Centre, a workers’ collective located near the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, contends that management purposely establishes mandatory production quotas above achievable limits, thereby forcing employees to work overtime without extra compensation.
Chandrika, a 23-year-old worker at the Sri Lankan-owned Katunayaka Garments in the Katunayake Zone, says she and her 1,800 co-workers must work on Poya days and public holidays, and are denied their legally-entitled leave. If a worker is absent for two or three days, the company immediately fires them, she says. The Katunayaka Garments employees are supposed to work 11-hour days and are given difficult production targets. If they do not reach the targets, they are kept beyond the scheduled number of hours without being paid overtime, Chandrika says.
Y.S. David, group personnel manager for Katunayaka Garments, denies that the company fires workers after being absent for two or three days, saying the company respects the stipulated 42-day leave quota. He acknowledges that the company sets production targets, but contends that workers are allowed to leave at the end of the day even if these have not been attained.
As inadequate as free trade zone wages may be, they are significantly higher than those of neighboring countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, says Tuli Coory, executive director (investments) of the BOI. But at Sri Lanka’s current wages, he says, investors prefer Sri Lanka because of the quality of work and adaptability of its workers.
Still, as is the case with overtime pay, zone companies appear to routinely deny workers many of the benefits to which they are statutorily entitled. BOI guidelines require, for example, that companies issue workers a letter of appointment which constitutes a written contract embodying terms and conditions of service. Dahanayaka and many other zone workers say they have not received letters of appointment — meaning they have no job security, she says.
While an employee is working with a company, both the employer and employee make contributions to an Employees Provident Fund (EPF), and the employer alone contributes to an Employees Trust Fund (ETF). Dahanayaka says she has no idea whether her EPF or ETF is being deposited. And her case is typical. Coory says that BOI has developed a system to check up on the employer contributions, which are supposed to be deposited in the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.
WWorkplace safety and difficult working conditions are persistent problems in the zone factories as well. Gamage works in the silk screening section of the Atlas Gloves factory. She and her co-workers work with paints, solvents and reducing agents. Many workers in this section have suffered burns or developed skin diseases. A number of workers say they have complained about working conditions to management, but no action has been taken. Atlas Glove’s Jayawardana claims that no worker from the silk screening section has complained to her of burns or skin diseases. She says that, except for paints, no chemicals are used in this section and that it has proper ventilation and is fitted with exhaust fans. When spray guns are used for painting, workers are given masks, she adds.
At the Sri Lanka factory of Toroids International, a Swedish-British multinational, about 200 women workers manufacture transformers for electrical equipments. The workers wrap copper wires around a steel core, a task that leaves the employees exhausted at the end of a day’s work, according to Swarna Liyanage, a Toroids worker. A normal shift is eight hours, but workers often do double shifts, working 16 hours straight. Asked about the length and difficulty of the overtime days, Caryl Swahn, director of Toroids, says workers have demanded overtime work. And now, she says, new machines are being introduced to do the most difficult work.
Trampling on worker rights
F Free trade zone workers who try to organize to improve working conditions must overcome both their employer’s refusal to recognize genuine unions and the omnipresent company-union structure.
Sri Lankan law provides that seven people can join together and form a trade union. Once registered with the Department of Labor, factory-level branch unions, for the same and different employers, are permitted to join together to form a single union for a common trade. The law also permits trade unions to employ full-time officers. Although BOI officials and the government contend that the free trade zones are subject to normal labor law, Jayanthi Dandeniya, founder of the Kalape Api (We Workers of the Zone) organization, says that none of the trade union rights are respected in zone factories and that zone companies refuse to recognize national unions.
Instead, zone unions are, even according to the BOI, “in-house” unions, known as joint councils, which cannot link up with national unions. Leaders or representatives for the joint councils are elected with the blessing of management. Joint council representatives never get a chance to interact with other trade unionists, and thereby gain experience in collective bargaining or knowledge of trade union regulations. In almost every case, Dandeniya says, joint council leaders end up as obedient servants of management who do not even bother to communicate the substance of their discussions with management to their members.
On the rare occasion when a joint council operates independently and in the interest of workers, Dandeniya says, the company dismantles it and fires its leaders. In recent years, she says, this has happened at Fastner, Floral Greens Lanka and Terrylanka of the Katunayaka zone.
Finally, free trade zone workers do not have the practical opportunity to appeal to the Labor Department for redress of their grievances. Labor disputes are first referred to the BOI. BOI officials always resolve the disputes favorably to management, Dandeniya charges.
Workers who forge ahead despite these organizational barriers must overcome yet another set of hurdles: the police and free trade zone security forces intervene in zone labor disputes on behalf of management regularly and brutally. Even the former inspector general of police has acknowledged that the Sri Lankan police feel that they are on the side of the employers. Recently, the government has made matters worse by establishing a special Central Police force for rapid deployment in labor disputes.
The new Central Police introduced themselves on December 30, 1994, when members of the force attacked and injured several workers from Korea-Ceylon Foot Wear Company, located in the Katunayaka zone. There had been unrest at the factory for several months, following an incident in which a worker died when a machine crushed his head. On December 30, the workers went on strike, but remained in plant. According to E.M.P. Ekanayake, an employee of the factory, the special force entered the factory premises at about 5 p.m. When Central Police officers asked the male workers to leave the factory, the women workers came forward to protect the men. Suddenly, the police closed all the doors and switched off the lights. They threw tear gas canisters at the workers. Then the police entered, assaulting and shooting workers. Trying to lift a woman who had fallen, Ekanayaka was shot in the leg. He reports seeing a number of police officers kicking a female worker who had fallen on the ground.
Ekanayaka remains in the hospital with his left leg in a full cast. The police arrested five workers, who are now out on bail. The police admit they used tear gas, but denied shooting at the Korea-Ceylon Foot Wear workers.
Incidents such as the Korea-Ceylon Foot Wear assault, while not rare, are infrequent. The structure of company unions and the atmosphere of intimidation sharply limits collective protests, so police do not usually have occasion to make their presence felt. However, when police do intervene in labor disputes, their actions are typically brutal. According to Freddie Gamage, coordinator of the Organization for Human Rights in Sri Lanka, a list of recent police violations of workers’ rights includes the following:
• In 1989, Floral Greens Lanka union leader H.M. Ranjith and his legal adviser Lionel Fernando suddenly disappeared. Strong evidence, including statements from a current deputy minister, suggests that police officials from the Katunayake Police Station arrested these two and killed them on the instructions of Priyani Paldano, personnel manager of Floral Greens Lanka.
• On November 27, 1992, police assaulted and dispersed representatives from several organizations who were distributing leaflets in front of the main entrance of the Katunayake free trade zone. These organizers were the first ever to distribute leaflets in the Katunayake zone.
• On December 14, 1992, Katunayake police brutally assaulted the mostly female workforce of the Smart Shirts Factory as they assembled near the factory premises. When the injured workers were admitted to the Negombo Base hospital, police asked the doctors to discharge them before they had recovered. When Britto Fernando, a municipal councillor and organizer of Kalape Api, went to see the workers in the hospital, he was arrested.
• In 1993, when Atlas Gloves workers picketed near their factory, police broke up the protest and Britto Fernando was again arrested.
• In August 1994, workers at the Degulanka factory in the Katunayaka zone launched a protest campaign, with two workers climbing on to a water tank and starting a fast. Police quickly intervened, assaulted the workers and broke up the protest.
In the face of police violence, intimidation, company unions and other obstacles, prospects for Sri Lankan workers in free trade zones improving their level of pay and working conditions do not appear bright. But, with the help of groups like Kalape Api and the Women’s Centre, workers continue nonetheless to organize in search of a better day. n
By Peter H. Eichstaedt
Santa Fe, New Mexico: Red Crane Books, 1994
263 pages, $19.95
Tthe nuclear arms race was fueled, literally, by uranium. From the creation of the first atomic bomb until 1980, much of the U.S. supply was mined on the Navajo Reservation in the Four Corners area of the U.S. Southwest.
Approximately 15,000 people, about one-quarter of them Native Americans, worked for the United States Vanadium Corporation, a subsidiary of Union Carbide, Kerr-McGee and other mining companies in the area’s mines and mills. Relying heavily on interviews with surviving Native American former miners, If You Poison Us compellingly documents the tragedy that uranium extraction brought to the Navajo.
As early as 1949, public health experts expressed concern about the effects of radiation exposure on the miners, who worked in poorly ventilated mines, and mill workers, who described coming home from their jobs covered with concentrated uranium oxide, known as yellowcake. Over time, scientific understanding of the harmful health effects grew, but, Eichstaedt explains, “while the mine operators and government officials were well informed about the health hazards that workers in the mines and mills were exposed to daily, the miners were kept in the dark.”
Gradually, the federal government established safety regulations for the mines, but it was too little, too late.
The delays in implementing adequate safety regulations stemmed both from the national security state’s desire to get uranium at any cost (and the understanding that a high proportion of those paying the price were Native American) and from the mining companies’ interest in making sure they could extract and mill uranium at the cheapest possible cost.
The mining companies actively torpedoed efforts to adopt reasonable regulations. The extraordinary nature of their opposition is illustrated by the 1967 testimony of Richard Bokum, president of Bokum Corporation, which accounted for 25 percent of U.S. uranium production at the time, to Congress on the issue of mine safety. He told a congressional committee: “I could make a case, if I wanted to be facetious, where the miners’ health was improved by working underground and being subject to radon daughter products. There are some areas in this chart where it shows that the expected number of cases of lung cancer should be so many and the people working in the mines have zero cases.”
As he no doubt knew, Bokum’s scientific claims were dead wrong. Exposed to radiation levels sometimes thousands of times higher than recommended at the time, the miners and mill workers contracted cancers and an array of workplace-related illnesses at an alarmingly high rate. Surviving miners describe co-worker after co-worker who died from uranium-related diseases.
As the regional uranium industry phased itself out, the Navajos’ struggle was reduced to demanding compensation from the federal government for its complicity in the terrible wrongs done to them. A federal court dismissed a suit filed on behalf of the Navajo by Stewart Udall, former U.S. secretary of the interior and Arizona member of Congress, on the grounds that the government’s action in procuring the uranium and keeping its knowledge of mining hazards secret was a “discretionary function” and therefore exempt from suit under federal law. After the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the case, Navajo leaders redirected their efforts to Congress.
Ultimately, over the opposition of the Bush administration and after having refused to take action for decades, Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which established a $100 million trust fund to be administered by the Justice Department. Navajo and white miners who had worked in the mines, or their families if they had died, were eligible for awards of $100,000; the fund also made available awards of $50,000 to people who lived downwind of atmospheric nuclear testing. At the urging of Republican senators from Western states, Bush signed the bill.
The bill included a formal apology to the miners and their families. It marked only the second time Congress had actually apologized for past actions; the other apology was issued to Japanese-Americans imprisoned in the United States during World War II.
For a variety of reasons, securing compensation under RECA turned out to be difficult for the Navajos; not least of those reasons was the Justice Department’s delay and obstruction. In December 1993, Udall sent an open letter to the Justice Department, in which he blasted the Department for attending to white miners’ claims twice as fast as Navajo ones. The Justice Department denied exhibiting any bigotry, but has since sped up its processing of Navajo claims.
Navajo lands remain pock-marked with hundreds of abandoned mines and pits which contain uranium wastes. The Department of Energy has cleaned up a few of the most contaminated sites, but the rest have been left to a diligent but drastically underfunded Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Office. Many of the abandoned mines have been used by local people for shelter during bad weather; children play in or near others; and wildlife have used hundreds for shelter. Even where mines are filled in or waste-rock piles are “stabilized” with as much as seven feet of clay, rock and gravel, the reclamation efforts have virtually no chance of outlasting the radioactivity of the material they are trying to cover — “eventually, the tailings will be washed into the river, even if it takes hundreds of years, and distributed along the course of the riverbed,” Eichstaedt sadly concludes.
The Uses of Haiti
By Paul Farmer
Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1994
432 pages; $14.95
T The Uses of Haiti is really two books. The first is a history of Haiti and its people, written accessibly and conversationally, from their struggle for independence from the French in the early 1800s to their struggle in 1993 for independence from the Haitian military and elite and from U.S. economic and cultural domination. The second book is about the lives of three Haitians, and how abstract forces manifest themselves in the everyday existence of average Haitians.
While The Uses of Haiti was written before the U.S. military intervention, it remains extraordinarily valuable as a window into Haitian realities, and as a critique of conventional U.S. depictions of Haitian realities.
Yolande Jean and her husband were activists in the popular movement that swept Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power; both were heavily involved in adult literacy programs. After the 1991 military coup which ousted Aristide, they were subject to repeated threats and eventually were jailed. On her second day in prison, after having been tortured by the police, Jean, who entered police custody visibly pregnant, miscarried. After her release, she decided she would have to flee the country.
Jean soon boarded one of the makeshift ships that set sail for Miami. The U.S. Coast Guard picked up the ship, and then burned not only the ship, but all of the refugees’ personal effects.
Jean’s ship was picked up before the Bush administration adopted the policy of returning all escaping refugees to Haiti, so she and the other refugees were transported to Guantanamo. Although the Bush (and later the Clinton) administration routinely denied political refugee status to qualified Haitians, Jean’s case was airtight. But Jean tested positive for HIV, so she was denied entrance into the United States even though she qualified for asylum.
At Guantanamo, Jean and others who tested positive for HIV were treated as prisoners, beaten when they held demonstrations, served food with maggots in it and given atrocious medical care.
Eventually, under court order, the Clinton administration closed what a judge described as “the only known refugee camp in the world composed entirely of HIV-positive refugees.” Jean was then permitted to enter the United States.
Chouchou Louis grew up in a small rural village. While he greeted Aristide’s election with great joy, he was not an activist — he was just a farmer and churchgoer. One month after the coup, while riding on a truck to a larger town, Louis, without mentioning Aristide or the military, complained to his fellow passengers about the conditions of the roads; this was understood as a veiled condemnation of the coup.
When the truck stopped at a military checkpoint, one of the passengers, who turned out to be an out-of-uniform soldier, had Louis seized. Soldiers began beating Louis in front of the passengers, and they continued beating him as they brought him into the military barracks. After several days of torture, he was released.
But, as Farmer notes, “perhaps the worst after-effect of episodes of brutality is that, in general, they mark the beginning of persecution, not the end.” Within months, Louis was arrested again, on trumped up charges of stealing bananas. He was beaten to death.
When she died in 1992, Acéphie Joseph was 27. She had lived a hard, but typical life. Her family had farmed a fertile tract of land, but was forced to move after a U.S.-funded dam flooded the valley where they lived and farmed. They moved to a less fertile area and eked out a difficult existence, frequently going hungry. Caught in the poverty of her surroundings, Joseph responded to the entreaties of a soldier, a salaried man. He turned out to have AIDS, and she contracted HIV from their brief sexual partnership.
At 22, Joseph moved to Port-au-Prince, where she worked as a maid. She developed a long-term relationship with a man, and became pregnant. After she became pregnant, however, the man left her and her employer dismissed her — having a pregnant servant is unseemly.
Joseph returned to her home village, where she gave birth. Soon after, she died of an AIDS-related illness.
Joseph’s death was not just a personal, localized tragedy, Farmer emphasizes. “AIDS in Haiti fits neatly into an established political and economic crisis. Patterns of risk and disease distribution, social responses to illness, and prospectives for the future are all illuminated by a mode of analysis that links the ethnographically-observed detail to historically-given structures.” n
Eighteen officers and directors of the Consolidation Coal Company (Consol), the second largest coal company in the United States, were each hit with $198,000 in civil penalties in December 1994 for the company’s failure to reclaim its Burnham mine located on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico.
The notice of violation and subsequent cessation order were issued pursuant to a mine inspection conducted by the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM). The inspection was conducted in response to a citizen’s complaint filed by the Citizens Coal Council, a public interest group, on June 1, 1994.
OSM charged that the Consol failed to reclaim the Burnham mine, which was abandoned by the company 10 years ago.
E.I. duPont de Nemours owns a controlling 50 percent interest in Consol and the company represents one of Dupont’s largest holdings. Consol officials did not return calls seeking comment.
Citizens Coal Council spokesperson Will Collette said that the company ignored the violations and the cessation order from OSM to reclaim the mine.
On December 14, 1994, OSM issued the individual civil penalties for “knowing and willful” violation of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
OSM spokesperson Alan Cole says that the law requires that “people who are mining coal fully reclaim and revegetate when they are finished mining — they have to put it back the way it was before they started mining.”
Ortho’s PR Cover-Up
Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, pleaded guilty in January 1995 to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, one count of obstruction of justice, and eight counts of corruptly persuading employees to destroy documents relating to a federal investigation of the drug company’s Retin-A public relations campaign. The company will pay a $5 million fine and $2.5 million in restitution to the government.
The charges against Ortho relate to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Justice and grand jury investigation into an extensive public relations campaign, conducted by Ortho from 1985 to 1988, that generated publicity about Retin-A’s use in the treatment of sun-wrinkled, or “photoaged” skin, federal officials said.
The FDA approved Retin-A in 1971 for the treatment of acne. But the agency has not approved Retin-A for use in the treatment of photoaging, nor has the FDA approved a new drug application that would permit Ortho to label or promote Retin-A for photoaging.
Outside public relations agencies employed by Ortho conducted the extensive public relations campaign for Retin-A from 1985 through 1988. In 1988, the FDA began investigating Ortho’s involvement in Retin-A publicity. In late 1990, the Justice Department began its own investigation.
On January 2, 1991, FDA investigators questioned two former Ortho employees about Ortho’s Retin-A public relations program. And on January 3, 1991, the Justice Department served a grand jury subpoena on Johnson & Johnson, Ortho’s parent, seeking documents from Johnson & Johnson and Ortho relating to the campaign to disseminate information about the use of Retin-A as a treatment for photoaging.
Ortho admitted that on January 3, 1991, the day a grand jury subpoenaed documents from Johnson & Johnson, Ortho’s parent, high-ranking Ortho representatives directed and authorized employees to destroy documents and materials relating to the program to disseminate information about the use of Retin-A to treat photoaging.
In compliance with this directive from high-ranking Ortho representatives, employees of the company destroyed thousands of documents, including documents showing that Ortho exercised close control and direction over the work of the public relations agencies employed by Ortho to generate Retin-A publicity. Employees also removed videotapes relating to Retin-A and photoaging from Ortho’s Main Administration Building, federal officials charged.
“The destruction of documents by a major corporation to thwart a federal investigation is outrageous misconduct that simply will not be tolerated,” says Frank Hunger, head of the Justice Department’s civil division.
Cutting the Corporate Dole
A group of Interior Department employees has called for federal officials to end corporate welfare by cutting subsidies to big business.
Phil Doe, the Denver-based president of the Reclamation Employees Organization for Ethics and Integrity, says that while water subsidies are intended to assist small farmers, the Bureau of Reclamation continues to deliver subsidized water to wealthy estates and large firms — including the Shaklee Corporation, which receives subsidized water to grow roses in California and fruit in Oregon. Limiting these subsidies to their intended recipients could save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year, he says.
Doe says that water spreading — the unauthorized irrigation of lands that are ineligible for the program — continues unabated. According to the Office of the Inspector General, such abuses cost the government and estimated $37 million to $46 million between 1984 and 1992.
“Cases like these prove that a fundamental reinvention [of government] still has not taken place at the Bureau of Reclamation,” concludes Jeff DeBonis, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “The savings from laying off a few low-level staff pales when compared to the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that continue to be lavished on a few wealthy special interests. If the Clinton Administration and Congress are serious about implementing real welfare reform, they should start with the Bureau of Reclamation.”
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Landmines: A Deadly Legacy
Human Rights Watch, 1993
Burmese Looking Glass: A Human Rights Adventure
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Grove Press, 1993
Freedom From Fear and Other
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