July/August 2001 - VOLUME 22 - NUMBER 7& 8
T H E F R O N T
The federal school lunch program has continuously awarded hundreds of
millions of dollars in federal contracts to 12 companies that have had
massive food safety recalls or violated environmental and worker safety
laws, the Sierra Club charges in a June report, Spoiled Lunch: Polluters
Profiting from Federal Lunch Programs
During the past five years, the federal government paid these companies
$485 million for meat for public schools and other federal food programs.
The animal factories producing meat for the federal School Lunch
Program have polluted our air and water, experienced industrial accidents
that resulted in worker deaths, and put childrens health at risk,
says Hank Graddy, of the Sierra Clubs Clean Water Committee. Meanwhile
the federal government continues to reward this bad behavior by giving
irresponsible federal contractors millions of taxpayers dollars
every year. Its time to turn off the spigot of taxpayer money flowing
to companies that violate our environmental and worker safety laws and
threaten public health.
The report reviews the records of 18 slaughterhouses and meat processing
plants, owned by 12 companies that sold meat to U.S. Department of Agricultures
School Lunch Program.
Based primarily on state and federal regulatory agencies records,
court documents and corporate reference materials, the study provides
many examples of contaminated food, worker endangerment and pollution
at these slaughterhouses and processing plants:
Smithfield, which now owns John Morrell, is the worlds largest
integrated pork producer and packer.
In December 2000, a judge with the National Labor Relations Board found
that Smithfield had committed egregious and pervasive violations
of federal labor law at its Tar Heel plant. Yet Smithfield has received
$9.5 million from the sale of pork for the federal food programs since
Over a recent eight-month period, five of the 12 companies have
had to recall large quantities of contaminated food. Both Gold Kist and
Supreme Beef Processors sold meat to the School Lunch Program during this
time and Gold Kist, H&H Meat, IBP and Tyson have all sold food to
the School Lunch Program since having had recalls.
The strongest incentive these animal factories have to safeguard
our air and water, produce safe food for schoolchildren and protect their
workers is the potential loss of contracts worth millions of dollars,
says Graddy. The federal government should contract with companies
capable of abiding by our laws.
A Tysons representative emphasizes that the problems highlighted
in the Sierra Club report occurred a few years ago and that the company
has since made a concerted effort to improve its record. One of the plants
named has not had any out of compliance incidents in two years,
he says. At the Kentucky plant, the record has been exemplary
since the 1999 fatalities. In general, he says the Sierra Club is taking
two incidents and blowing them out of proportion.
A spokesperson for Cargill, the owner of Excel (cited in the report for
many documented permit violations at an Iowa slaughterhouse, though having
received only two violation notices from Iowa regulators), was more dismissive.
I think the report was a joke ... they must have paid an intern
to do a word search on the Internet, he says. They took information,
and they twisted it, because they have an agenda and everyone knows it.
An H&H Meat Products spokesperson argues that H&H was improperly
included in the report, because the report lists only one problem for
the company. Most companies had violations repeatedly. Its
our opinion that we are not repetitive [violators], the spokesperson
said. The single reference to H&H in the Sierra Club report highlighted
a November 2000 recall, triggered by U.S. Department of Agriculture testing,
of approximately 58,000 pounds of ground beef patties potentially contaminated
with potentially deadly E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria.
The Sierra Club report urges that repeat violators of environmental,
public health and worker protection laws and regulations be disqualified
from receiving School Lunch or other government contracts. To provide
its vendors with every incentive to adhere to
Tyson indicated support for the recommendation, while Cargill and H&H
said they either had no opinion or offered no comment.
Common sense would dictate that the government put an end to the
practice of doing business with companies that make a habit of breaking
laws that protect our health, our environment, and our workers,
the report argues.
Deadly Drilling in Aceh
ExxonMobil is culpable for some of the mass atrocities committed by the
Indonesian military in Aceh Province, in North Sumatra, a June lawsuit
filed in the United States alleges.
Filed by the Washington, D.C.-based International Labor Rights Fund on
behalf of 11 John and Jane Does, the suit charges that Mobil Oil (now
merged with Exxon) contracted with the Indonesian military to provide
security for its Arun natural gas project, and controlled and directed
the units assigned to it.
The Indonesian military has engaged in a bloody conflict with separatist
forces in Aceh for more than a decade. Human rights groups have long condemned
its operations. Amnesty International reports that hundreds of civilians
in Aceh were extrajudicially killed in 2000. Torture and ill-treatment
were routine in both police and military custody and some people died
as a result of torture, Amnesty states in its most recent annual
report. A significant proportion of the victims were ordinary civilians,
including women, children, humanitarian workers, human rights defenders
and political activists.
The International Labor Rights Fund suit charges ExxonMobil with complicity
in these abuses, arguing that the company directed the forces to a considerable
extent, and that the military used facilities and resources provided by
ExxonMobil and its Indonesian partner PT Arun (also a defendant in the
case) in the commission of widescale human rights violations.
The Mobil Companies and Defendant PT Arun knew or should have known
that their logistical and material support was being used to effectuate
the Indonesian militarys commission of the human rights atrocities,
the suit charges, and ExxonMobil and PT Arun are therefore liable for
the human rights abuses inflicted on the plaintiffs by the Indonesian
The case is filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which gives standing
to torture victims to sue in U.S. courts.
In a statement issued in response to the suit, Exxon Mobil said that
it is disturbed by any suggestions that ExxonMobil or its affiliate
companies are in any way involved with alleged human rights abuses by
security in Aceh. ExxonMobil condemns the violation of human rights in
any form and categorically denies these allegations. We believe a lawsuit
recently filed by the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) containing
these allegations is without merit and designed to bring publicity to
Mobilizing the Military
The natural gas field happens to be located in Aceh, where an armed resistance
organized under the banner of the Free Aceh Movement has long been seeking
independence. From 1989 to 1998, the Indonesian government designated
Aceh as a Military Operation Area, with thousands of troops assigned to
defeat the armed independence force. Human rights organizations report
that more than 1,000 people were killed during the period of military
rule. After longtime Indonesian dictator Suharto fell from power in 1998,
the new president, Abdurrahman Wahid offered to permit the people of Aceh
to vote on independence in a referendum, but then subsequently withdrew
the offer. Violence in Aceh soon escalated to its present levels.
The lawsuit charges that ExxonMobil is complicit in the long-running
human rights abuses. The extraction and liquefication activities
could not have been performed without a heavy military presence by the
Indonesian military because of the involvement with and identification
with the project by the Suharto regime, the suit charges. As part
of the deal in which Mobil gains rights to the Arun field, Suharto agreed
to dedicate a unit of the military, known by its Indonesian acronym TNI,
to provide security to the natural gas project, the suit claims. At
least one unit of the TNI, No. 113, was assigned for the sole and specific
purpose of providing such security for the Arun Project.
The lawsuit charges that Mobil and PT Arun always had the ability
to control and direct, and have indeed controlled and directed, the activities
of the TNI units assigned to protect Defendants interests in the
Arun Project. Such control and direction includes conditioning payment
on the provision of specific security services, making decisions about
where to place bases, strategic mission planning, and making decisions
about specific deployment areas.
Mobil worsened the situation by providing logistical and material support
to the TNI, the suit claims. It alleges Mobil provided buildings and barracks
near the companys operations which were used by the Indonesian Kopassus
special forces to interrogate, torture and murder Achenese civilians
suspected of engaging in separatist activities, and provided heavy
equipment used by the military to dig mass graves.
ExxonMobil disdains the notion that it is in any way responsible for
the violence and human rights abuses in Aceh. We are deeply troubled
and highly concerned about the violence in North Aceh, ExxonMobil
said in its statement. We have a very long history in Indonesia
and we have always been sensitive to the needs of local residents, our
employees and the government. The unrest in this area seriously impacts
the safety and well being of our workers, their families and our contractors,
as well as those who live in the area.
ExxonMobil points out that it suspended operations in Aceh because of
violence in March 2001, though the suit argues that the suspension came
because the company wanted TNI to increase the number of troops in the
area, not ratchet down the violence.
We do not underestimate the severe economic and political disruptions
that Indonesia is experiencing, ExxonMobil says. It is our
steadfast hope that the political and economic turmoil in Aceh will be
peacefully resolved, so that Indonesia might use its rich base of natural
and human resources for the benefit of its people and to maintain its
leadership position in the Asia Pacific region. The company says
it is a positive force in the region, employing more than 2,000 Acehenese,
providing health services to local villagers, supporting schools, and
building water systems, roads, bridges and other community infrastructure