Page 19


Y 41 YIEXAS se Available at the following locations: Bookstop 1400 N. 1-35 Austin Old World Bakery 814 W. 12th Street Austin Garner & Smith Books 1109 Nueces Austin Tom Schlesinger, of the Southern Finance Project in Charlotte, North Carolina, says the RTC is “selling off huge chunks of land in half-dollar chunks.” The federal agency hopes in September to dispose of as much property as possible, he said. Congress must be convinced that these properties are worth protecting, because only Congress can put enough pressure on the federal agencies to protect the environment. Schlesinger pointed to one 450-acre area in an aquifer recharge zone near Nags Head, North Carolina. All of North Carolina’s Congressional delegation is involyed in saving this area, Schlesinger said, because “everybody recognizes the need to keep the water clean.” Schlesinger described the project as a “grass-roots effort,” saying local groups need to get involved in each area, in order to preserve their own environment. The fight to save Nags Head could serve as a model for other such efforts. Perhaps even the Texas delegation, which rarely knock the top off of anyone’s environmental scorecard, can be compelled to look at Playa del Rio for beginners. The Other Summit Suing the Corporation BY BRETT CAMPBELL THE GREATEST impending threat to humanity may no longer come from aggressive nation-states, such as Germany, the U.S.S.R., or Iraq. Instead, according to the speakers at TOES “Corporate Accountability” workshop, the new global villains are the almostinvisible multinational corporations who play the nations of the world against each other, and are willing to destroy environment and people, all to achieve a single goal: profits. Ty Fain, an Austin businessman and political activist, began by observing that multinational corporations have their own logic the bottom line. MNCs pursue only profit, and therefore do their best to avoid paying taxes and wages. These presence of these corporations is so powerful, especially in smaller countries, that it will take strong popular pressure and direct action to effect any positive change, Fain said. Mark Ritchie, of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, picked up the theme, urging activists to “Think locally, act globally” the reverse of the ’70s activist’s maxim. In order to clean up our own homes and towns, we might have to exert international pressure on the multinational corporations which threaten us. The Nestle boycott, company’s profitable but dangerous practice of selling infant formula in the Third World, is a good example, he said. But while consumers and other unempowered groups can exert pressure on governments to rein in MNCs, they must work to achieve enforceable agreements than can be backed up by government laws and, if necessary, police and military power. That’s why international agreements, such as the much-derided GATT, can be a two-edged sword, Ritchie said: Canada used such a pact to achieve sensible fishing regulations, while California may see its heralded proposed Big Green pesticidecontrol law trumped by GATT. Next up was Charles Siegel, the Dallas attorney who won the jurisdictional battle in the continuing but already celebrated Alfaro case Siegel recounted the story of how Costa Rican banana plantation workers were sterilized by the pesticide DBCP, manufactured by two multinational companies. The substance had been banned in the United States for years before companies shipped it to Costa Rica and then to Honduras when the Costa Ricans refused to sell it. HAT CAN poor workers and other victims do to stop such multinational terrorism? Siegel pointed out that the legal systems in most countries are dominated by the multinational economic entities. Only the United States has the combined contingency fee and jury trial system \(and even those are now under possible for citizens of average means to take on megacorporations. Even in the United States, it can cost a fortune to mount a successful legal challenge against even an obvious wrongdoer if the culprit happens to be a billion-dollar multinational concern that can hire squadrons of lawyers to deploy delaying tactics and antiquated legal doctrines to impede just compensation. Siegel’s law firm, Baron & Budd, is one of the few plaintiffs’ firms with the inclination and resources to take on major multinational corporations, and even they are still tied up in court, years after the workers were poisoned. And the corporate colossi now are employing legal and accounting strategies to protect their assets in this country by shifting them overseas where they cannot be obtained by their injured victims to be used for medical care to treat the damage the corporations have wreaked. Tony Mazzocchi of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union made a cameo appearance to note the ancillary value of lawsuits like the Alfaro suit filed on behalf of the Costa Rican farmworkers. Apart from attempting to wrest just reparations for the immediate victims of corporate crime, such suits can also develop information from corporate records that can be useful to other victims. Ward Morehouse, author of some of the most informative work on MNCs, chipped in with the welcome addendum that even in countries without a contingency fee system, sometimes the government can be persuaded to help fight the multinationals. That’s what has happened in India, he said; the new government may yet be able to extract from Union. Carbide a fair compensation for the Bhopal victims. But on the other hand, baby, as Ray Charles sang, government is more often a foe of the people and friend of the big companies. Mario Sanpaio of Brazil said that his country’s government was so closely connected to the iron industry that it was difficult to even identify the culpable figures in the deaths of iron-ore miners there. Just determining which government agency is supposed to regulate such abuses is difficult, and getting them to do something about it has so far proven impossible. Overall, while the panel painted a pessi mistic portrait of multinational nefarious ness, the discussion of legal and social strate gies for rectifying the worst corporate abuses was practical, and therefore quite valuable. 0 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9