The Multinational Monitor

November 1990 - VOLUME 11 - NUMBER 11

B E H I N D   T H E   L I N E S

Bitter Fruit

A Japanese cooperative organizationof over 500,000 people is boycotting lemons grown in the United States to protest the use of pesticides on the fruit. Responding to the discovery of high levels of the pesticide 2,4-D, which is applied to lemons after harvesting to prevent aging, the Japan Consumer's Cooperative Union cancelled its annual purchase of approximately 100,000 tons of lemons from California farms. The group believes that lemons pose serious risks because they contain several carcinogens and are also sprayed with TBZ, which can cause birth defects, and Imazalil, which can damage the kidney and liver.

An extensive study of post-harvest pesticides by Jun-Ichi Kowaka, a food scientist at the Japan Offspring Fund, alerted the consumer group to the danger. Kowaka found that U.S. and Australian food exporters were applying chemicals to fruits, vegetables and grains at levels which far exceed the standards proscribed by the Japanese Food Sanitation Law. For example, the United States allows up to 8 parts per million (ppm) of malathion, a pesticide commonly used to keep insects out of stored grain, while Japan holds the level at only 0.1 ppm.

Kowaka points out that there are alternatives to the post-harvest pesticide process. He says the chemicals are used because they allow producers to store crops more cheaply. By using enclosed containers rather than the open storehouses preferred in the United States and Australia, producers could, however, reduce their need for pesticides.

Nuclear Nightmare

The Federal Cabinet of Canada isconsidering a $300 million loan to the Romanian Power Commission to aid the country in completing the controversial construction of five nuclear reactors purchased from Canada. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), a government-operated corporation which conducts all overseas sales for the Canadian nuclear industry, has been negotiating with the Romanian government since 1967 to build two CANDU (Canadian Deuterium Uranium) nuclear reactors in a small town on the Danube River. But the project has run up against problems, and Dave Martin of the Ottawa-based Nuclear Awareness Project characterizes the deals as a "last, desperate attempt to keep the Canadian nuclear industry alive."

Romania stopped construction of the first plant in November 1989, when officials discovered that 30 percent of the welds made on the plant were substandard, and the concrete used was of poor quality. Canadian advisers found that inspection records had been falsified. Canada may now send as many as 150 engineers to the plant site to supplement the 18 currently working there. AECL Romanian Project Engineer John Szemeczko claims that the new government has corrected all of the construction problems. He adds, however, that the government has "leveled criticism at the project management and will be asking for a project management assistance group" to continue construction.

The plant deals have also been charged with contributing to forced labor in Romania. A Toronto Star journalist discovered that the workers at the plant sites were army draftees living in squalid conditions. The Canadian ambassador to Romania confirmed this, telling the journalist "we have been reporting for years that army conscripts are being used as labourers." The U.S. Ambassador to Romania referred to the situation as "forced slave labor." After the revolution, only 5,000 workers of a pre-revolution high of 18,000 remained on the job. A spokesperson for the AECL said workers left the site because many of them were "far from their homes and did not like the work site."

Despite increasing criticism, the loan to complete the nuclear reactors still stands a good chance of approval as the decision will be made at the cabinet level, bypassing parliamentary debate and widespread media attention.

Shutting Labor Out

Out of a random sampling of 100 unfair labor practice charges brought before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) between January 1982 and October 1990, 40 cases were dismissed, 39 were withdrawn, 3 were settled informally and 18 are still pending. The NLRB is the government agency responsible for investigating unfair labor practices and conducting union representation elections. The Labor Board had issued no sanctions on any of the cases. (The case information was obtained by Multinational Monitor through a Freedom of Information Act request.)

On August 24, 1990, after officials predicted that the NLRB might fall $600,000 short of its 1990 fiscal year budget, the agency closed its doors.

Unfair dismissal trials were postponed and investigations halted. The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers reported that NLRB investigators were banned from making commercial telephone calls and using rental cars. Agents of the Board reported that office supplies were not being replaced. Board officials also contemplated issuing furlough notices.

After a review of finances, however, NLRB's General Counsel Jerry Hunter declared that the Board would not in fact have a shortfall and that cases could proceed. Hunter apologized, saying that he "regrets any inconvenience to the public" and that he is "continuing a thorough review of the Agency's fiscal management and accounting procedure."

Unions have had increasingly poor relations with the agency since early in President Reagan's first term. AFL-CIO spokesperson Rex Hardiston said after the shutdown scare that the NLRB's "problems are so big and overwhelming this is just the tip of the iceberg."

Jim Sugarman

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