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The Corporate Crime of the Century

SYNOPSIS: In November 1979, Mother Jones, one of America's leading investigative journals, devoted nearly an entire issue to "The Corporate Crime of the Century"-documenting the full scope of American corporate exploitation of Third World countries. Mother Jones elaborated on and documented the issues, discussing exporting dangerous products overseas. The crime is called "dumping"-exporting dangerous chemicals, toxic pesticides, and defective medical drugs and devices, which have been restricted or banned in the United States, to less wary Third World countries.

Every pesticide which has been banned or restricted in this country has been exported elsewhere. Some of the pesticides and chemical exports are suspected of causing birth defects, reduced fertility, genetic mutations, cancer, and bone marrow, blood, and respiratory changes. The Food and Drug Administration allows U.S. drug manufacturers to export banned drugs, stale out-dated drugs, and even unapproved new drugs.

When the U.S. nuclear industry encountered difficulties in selling reactors to wary American communities, it turned to countries where dissent can be silenced and political payoffs bring quick results. The U.S. nuclear industry sold its power plants to less-developed countries, and most buyers were nations with strong regional rivalries-Iraq and Iran, Korea and Taiwan, Argentina and Brazil, India and Pakistan.


UPDATE: To prevent problems caused by our exploitative export policies, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order on January 15, 1981, creating a uniform notification system for the export of hazardous or domestically restricted products. Just over a month later, on February 17, 1981, newly-elected president, Ronald Reagan revoked the executive order, saying the controls were "unduly burdensome for U.S. industry and would threaten U.S. jobs" (Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Fall 1991).

In April 1994, the Clinton Administration tightened the export policy on pesticides by requiring that foreign governments be notified of the shipments of U.S.-banned or never-registered pesticides, but it didn't stop such exports.

On July 11, 1994, the Boston Globe ran a well documented story titled "Foul Trade: Using U.S. Exports Can Be Risky," as part of a three-part series on foreign trade. "In the global economy," it reported, "let the buyer beware. Just as some American companies take advantage of weak labor and environmental laws in poor countries, they also manufacture or export products (including powerful drugs and pesticides) that are illegal in the United States, or inappropriate for the Third World consumer being urged to buy them."


International Panel Finds U.S. Guilty of Human Rights Violations

SYNOPSIS: When the world's leading proponent of human rights is found guilty of human rights violations, one would expect it to make news. But it didn't in 1979 when the United States was the subject of an international inquiry into human rights violations-and found guilty.

In late 1978, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and the Commission of Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ filed a petition with the United Nations. It alleged there were consistent patterns of human rights violations with classes of prisoners in the U.S. because of their race, economic status, and political beliefs.

A panel of seven international jurists, experienced in human rights cases, came to the U.S. to investigate violations of the document of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners.

After a comprehensive national investigation, including interviews with inmates and officials in prisons across the country, the jurists' final report stated there was a "clear prima facia case" of human rights violations in American prisons.

On August 21, 1979, the jurists' findings were announced at a press conference held in the UN's Church Center on UN Plaza. The results were not reported by the mass media. According to a report in The Village Voice, when asked why the story wasn't covered, media representatives responded, "The big black story now is Andy Young and the fallout from his resignation." There is only room for one sizable "black story" at a time, media representatives explained.


UPDATE: Prisoners' rights have been under a new assault since the latest crackdown on crime, led by the "three-strikes, you're out" law. The growing cost of new prisons plagues the already burdened taxpayers. The political solution? "Harness the vast pool of idle inmate labor in the hope that overcrowded prisons can soon pay for themselves. Since 1990, 30 states have legalized the contracting out of prison labor to private companies." according to a report in The Nation (1/29/96). While some of the companies pay minimum wage, prisoners receive only about 20 percent of it while the rest goes to state governments or private prison managers. "Inmates working in the California Joint Venture Program receive minimum wage, $4.25, minus the 80 percent that is garnished. In other states, prison wages are even lower. In Colorado, AT&T paid 50 inmate telemarketers $2 an hour."

While cheap labor is what fuels the rise of for-profit prison labor, it also offers employers another benefit: no strikes or union organizing. This charge is echoed by Vincent Schiraldi of the San Francisco-based Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice: "All over the country states are stripping inmates of their rights. They're losing everything from TV to First Amendment rights. What other labor pool has no access to the media, labor organizers, or other community groups?" One wonders what a UN investigation of our prisons would reveal today.



U.S. Electronic Firms Operate Third World Sweatshops

SYNOPSIS: In order to find cheap labor and escape health and safety regulations and the unions, many American corporations are setting up branches or contracting out jobs in Third World countries. American electronics firms are major exporters of jobs abroad. California-based companies alone have 65 Asian branch plants, mainly in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea.

In 1977, the Zenith Radio Corporation's Chicago plant eliminated 5,00() U.S. jobs which paid an average of $5.25 an hour and $1.75 in fringe benefits. According to a company spokesman, workers in Taiwan now produce the same circuit boards for Zenith for an average wage of 36 cents an hour, plus 26 cents in fringes. Because of the mental and physical strains of the job and working conditions, the average working life of these workers is estimated at about ten years. Conditions in other American firms' branch plants in Asia are similar. Representatives from the American Friends Service Committee investigated conditions at the National Semiconductor plant in the Free Trade Zone. Penang, Malaysia, and found the average wage to be about $2 per day for making integrated circuits for calculators and computers. Similar conditions exist in the textile and apparel industry.


UPDATE: In 1996, similar conditions in the apparel industry became a national scandal when highly paid entertainers and sports figures, such as Kathy Lee Gifford and Michael Jordan, were forced to explain how they could profit from corporations that exploited Third World children (Time 6/17/96).

While the 1979 Censored story specifically warned that U.S. electronic firms were operating Third World sweatshops for assembly line production, at the time it was assumed that jobs requiring higher education qualifications would remain in the U.S. Now it appears that is no longer true. There is evidence that the benefits of an education-based economy is not guaranteed for the United States as reported in The Independent (12/5/94). A spokesman for the chipmaker Intel warned, "Anybody who still thinks that the only competitive edge of developing countries is cheap, unskilled labor has a lot of catching up to do. Just as Western companies learned in the 1970s and 1980s that manufacturing could be moved virtually anywhere, today it is getting easier to shift knowledge-based work as well." While exporting low-skilled, low-paid assembly line jobs to the Third World is fairly common knowledge now and even encouraged by the government through trade pacts like NAFTA, the fact that these electronic companies are now starting to export their high-skilled, high-paying jobs as well is not widely known.



The Press Cover up of the Tragedy in East Timor

SYNOPSIS: Human rights violations rivaling those in Cambodia are occurring in East Timor with the support of the United States but without the American public's knowledge.

In December 1975, Indonesian military forces invaded East Timor following a short-lived civil war there. The little-known war of aggression by lndonesia has continued with the assistance of the United States. The results have been the establishment of Indonesian military rule in East Timor, as well as major violations of the population's human rights and their right to self-determination.

Neutral observers have estimated the number of people slaughtered at least 50,000 to 100,000-almost ten percent of the population. Yet the Western press has given little coverage to the massive atrocities committed by the Indonesian forces. The press adheres to the Indonesian-U.S. State Department version of the situation in East Timor, that most of the lives were lost in the civil war prior to the Indonesian intervention. However, other reports cite the number of dead from the civil war at just 2,000 to 3,000.
The U.S. government claims to have suspended military aid to Indonesia from December 1975, when the invasion started, to June 1976. However, military aid during that period was above what the State Department had originally proposed to Congress and it has continued to increase, largely concealed from public knowledge.


UPDATE: Today East Timor is sometimes referred to as the site of the world's worst case of genocide, proportionately speaking, since the Holocaust. The Associated Press reported (10/16/96) as many as 260,000 people have died in East Timor. Joseph Szwaja, a Seattle teacher and member of the East Timor Action Network, recounted the horrors on the 20th anniversary of the Indonesian invasion, and asked, "Why has so little been heard in our country about these nauseating abuses?" (Seattle Times, 7/18/96) Szwaja attributes the silence to government and corporate interests. The world's leading oil companies were interested in the offshore oil deposits. The United States provided Indonesia with armaments, military training, and political support. Nevertheless, the media were silent.

The U.S. officially suspended its military assistance program to Indonesia in 1992 allegedly because of the East Timor holocaust. In 1996, the U.S. Congress restored grants to Indonesia for military education and training. The U.S. gave Indonesia $600,000 so that it could send its military and civilian personnel to U.S. military educational and training institutes. This reversal of military support for Indonesia was reported in Jane's Defense Weekly, on April 17, 1996.

Meanwhile the offshore petroleum industry is reportedly on the brink of a worldwide high growth period, expected to last at least through 1997-1998 and probably to 2002 or beyond. Companies poised to exploit oil reserves off Indonesia and East Timor include Exxon, Conoco, Chevron, Texaco, Maxus Energy, Marathon, Arco, and Unocal (Offshore, May 1996).

The New York Times has led the media cheerleaders with an editorial (7/20/96) urging Washington to exert a significant positive influence in Indonesia's future. The Times acknowledged that "Washington too often overlooked the Suharto Government's repressive ways along with its forcible annexation and occupation of East Timor. Today a more forthright approach is needed." In defense of Suharto, however, The Times pointed out, "The Suharto regime crushed the Communists in a bloody purge, imposed political order and gradually rebuilt the economy." In yet another apologia, Thomas L. Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, reported (7/11/97) that "Indonesia has to be the least understood country in the world." Suggesting that Indonesia is misunderstood over the East Timor situation, Friedman didn't mention its oil resources.
For a possible explanation of why the U.S. is still supporting a repressive regime in Indonesia, consider the case of Freeport-McMoRan, a New Orleans-based company that runs the world's biggest gold mine in the Indonesian rainforests. In 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor with the approval of Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford. It then embarked on its genocide of the Timorese. Kissinger is now on the board of directors of Freeport-McMoRan (The Progressive, February 1996).

In an ironic twist to the tragic East Timor story, the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo and political activist Jose Ramos-Horta for their efforts to bring peace to East Timor-the island that the world knows so little about (Los Angeles Times. 10/12/96). In accepting the prize on December 10, 1996, in Oslo, Norway, co-winner Ramos-Horta severely criticized Indonesia and proposed a plan for East Timorese independence (The New York Times, 12/11/96).

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