Behind the Lines

Workers Killed at Stone

FOLLOWING A MARCH 13 INCIDENT in which a worker for Stone Container , a Chicago-based producer of paper bags and packages, was crushed to death, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the company for repeat violations of worker safety regulations. The incident was the third fatal accident at the companyís Jonesboro, Louisiana paper mill since 1991.

 Stone paid $42,000 to OSHA in penalties for safety violations after 42-year-old John Odom was killed in the companyís Hodge mill. Odom, a general mechanic with the company since 1968, was crushed to death by a machine while doing routine maintenance work when another employee started the hydraulic pump on the machineís paper winder. OSHA fined Stone for its failure to lock out the machine, so that it could not be turned on during maintenance.

Stoneís transgression of OSHA regulations was classified as a repeat violation after an investigation into the March 1991 deaths of workers Durwood Aldy and Charles Malone. Aldy and Malone were killed while doing routine maintenance work on another machine in the same plant when a paper roller fell on them. Stone paid $12,075 in penalties to OSHA in September 1991 in connection with that accident.

Stone General Manager Marion Burns claims, "We have redoubled our efforts here to upgrade all facets of our safety program to insure that something like this doesnít ever happen again."

 Occupational safety advocate Joseph Kinney, executive director of the Chicago- based National Safe Workplace Institute, says that OSHA should have been more aggressive in its response to the deaths at Stone. "OSHA has taken minimal action when it should be pulling the trigger on corporate crime," says Kinney.

Clinton and NAFTA

ONE HUNDRED AND FIVE MEMBERS OF CONGRESS have signed a letter urging presidential candidate Bill Clinton to withdraw his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as negotiated by the Bush Administration [See The NAFTA Nightmare," Multinational Monitor, October 1992 ]. The letter, dated October 3, 1992, cites the agreementís potentially adverse consequences for U.S. workers, consumers and family farmers and the exploitation of workers in Mexico as reasons they are concerned with Clintonís recent statements that he intends to accept the agreement.

"According to some estimates," the letter reports, "the [United States] will lose 500,000 more jobs to Mexico as factories relocate to take advantage of the ultra-low wages and lax environmental and labor laws. And, to make matters worse, those working families who already suffered from depressed wages in the 1980s would be the hardest hit."

 The members of Congress describe the dangers of expanding maquiladora plants - foreign businesses based in Mexico which manufacture products mainly for export - throughout Mexico, which they claim will further damage living conditions for Mexican workers, many of whom "live in shacks with no running water or electricity." The letter exhorts Clinton to table the draft agreement and to renegotiate for inclusion of critical labor and worker rights, environmental and health and safety provisions in NAFTA.


Toxic Trade Scuttled

A DECEMBER 5, 1991 DEAL allowing the Swiss company Achair to annually export 500,000 tons of hospital and industrial waste to Somalia was scuttled in September when one of the contractís signers was discredited by the self-declared Somalian presdient Ali Madhi Mohamed. The agreement, signed in Rome between Achair and a man claiming to be Somaliaís health minister, would have authorized the export of waste from Italy to a 10-million ton disposal site in Somalia over the next twenty years.

 The $80 million contract was signed by Nur Elmy Osman, who described himself to Achair executives as the state health minister in Ali Madhi Mohamedís interim government. The deal was called off after the overthrown Somalian dictator Mohamed Siad Barre found out about the arrangement and brought it to the attention of Somalis in Kenya in an apparent attempt to discredit those who ousted him. Ali Madhi Mohamed, who controls only part of the Somalian capital of Mogadishu, says that Oman is no longer part of his "cabinet" and that he was given no authority to sign on to the toxic trade deal.

 Somalia, currently the focus of international attention due to widespread starvation resulting from famine and civil war, has been the victim of illegal toxic waste trafficking prior to the attempted Achair deal. According to the environmental organization Greenpeace Italy, the Italian waste broker Progresso, which served as an intermediary between Oman and Achair, had already dumped 22,000 gallons of pesticides and agrochemicals in northern Somalia, near the countryís border and the Red Sea state of Djibouti.

Jim Valette, toxic trade campaigner for Greenpeace, comments, "As long as industrial countries have open borders for waste export, these types of schemes will create another layer of tragedy in desperate parts of the world."n


- Julie Gozan