The Multinational Monitor


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Café FrankenFree

In another blow to its ability to repair the credibility of genetically engineered (GE) food, in December Monsanto admitted that GE food is banned from the cafeteria at the company's UK headquarters in High Wycombe. Company officials say the decision was made by its caterer, without soliciting input from Monsanto's employees.

Granada Food Services, whose customers include Monsanto's High Wycombe headquarters office, issued a statement which said the move was designed to "ensure that you, the customer, can feel confident in the food we serve."

A letter from Sutcliffe Catering, which is responsible for the food service at other Monsanto offices in Britain, states: "In response to concern raised by our customers over the use of GMFs [genetically modified foods], and to comply with government legislation we have taken the decision to remove, as far as is practicable, GM soya and maize from all food products served in our restaurant." The UK government has applied an EU law on labeling retail GM foods to caterers and restaurants.

At another UK Monsanto restaurant, GM foods have not been entirely removed. "We believe in choice," says Tony Combes, Monsanto UK's director of corporate affairs. "This is why at our Cambridge restaurant the statutory notice which complies with the law says ‘some foods may contain GMOs' as our staff are happy to eat foods which have been sprayed with less chemicals."

"We were amused but not surprised when we found out about this," says Charles Margulis of Greenpeace USA. "It's ironic that Monsanto continues to talk about supporting consumer choice when they oppose labeling and do everything they can to hide GMO food from consumers in the United States."

Crude Discrimination

Bucking recent corporate trends to extend employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners, in December the newly merged Exxon Mobil Corporation revoked a Mobil policy which provided health coverage to same-sex partners of newly hired employees.

Exxon Mobil's new policy makes it just the second major U.S. employer after Ross Perot's Perot Systems to end domestic partner benefits, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which has been joined by numerous national gay and lesbian organizations in objecting to the company's actions.

"At least with the Valdez oil spill in Alaska you could say it was an accident, but this was a deliberate decision made by top-level executives to take away benefits, compensation and equal protection from people because of their sexual orientation," says Diane Bratcher, chairperson of the Equality Project.

The Equality Project is sponsoring a shareholder resolution expected to be voted upon at the company's annual meeting in May. Sponsors of the resolution include the New York City Employees Retirement System, Trillium Asset Management of Boston, the Unitarian Unversalist Association and a number of individual shareholder activists. Last year a similar resolution was supported by 6 percent of Exxon's shareholders.

"With regard to domestic partner benefits, we are guided by the laws," Exxon spokesperson Tom Cirigliano told the Monitor. "We provide benefits where a legally recognized spousal relationship exists, and believe this is the only way to apply the company's policy in a fair and consistent manner for our employees worldwide." Cirigliano points out that the company provides such spousal benefits in Holland, where the law recognizes same-sex relationships.

Almost 3,000 U.S. employers currently offer domestic partner insurance benefits, including Exxon Mobil competitors Chevron, Shell Oil and BP Amoco.

Victoria's Secret

While a subcontractor for Victoria's Secret commemorated the new millennium by revealing a $1.9 million gold-threaded bra at a November lingerie fashion show in Tokyo, behind the ostentatious display are more than a thousand Philippine women who are being refused a modest wage increase.

Eleven hundred of 1,600 workers at the Philippine subsidiary of Triumph International, a garment subcontractor that does work for Victoria's Secret, Marks & Spencer and other brands, are represented by a local union which says it went on strike in November because the company offered only 45 pesos in response to a union demand for a 140 peso wage increase. The average daily income at the factory is 300 pesos (US$ 7.50), while the cost of living in the Manila region is pegged at 446 pesos.

"While Triumph Philippines registers an annual 10 percent increase in its sales, it refuses to accommodate the basic right of women workers for a decent wage," says Nanette Miranda-Tampico, secretary general of GABRIELA, a national alliance of Philippine women's organizations. "This is a concrete example of how global competitiveness in the era of 'globalization' bleeds dry women workers by undervaluing their labor."

The union's petition for additional benefits, including a retirement plan, hospital benefits, transportation allowance and a rice subsidy, has also been ignored.

Triumph's millennium bra, which was featured on the cover of Victoria's Secret Christmas Dreams and Fantasies catalogue, contains over 3,000 gemstones, including a 15-karat diamond resting in front. Triumph's Japanese unit says the bra is intended to be symbolic of a bright new era.

-Charlie Cray