New Internationalist

Update

Issue 297

Update

LATIN AMERICA

Sticky business
Legal solvent sales questioned

Sniffing solvents: high times are due to low corporate standards.
SEAN SPRAGUE / PANOS PICTURES

Sales of potentially addictive products by US-based company HB Fuller have come under scrutiny. Bruce Harris, Executive Director of Casa Alianza (a charity for street children), reported that an estimated half of Latin America’s 40 million homeless children are addicted to glue. Each child addict consumes an average of a gallon of glue per month leading to permanent brain damage and eventually death. He said Fuller was a ‘legal drug trafficker to Latin American street children’.

Harris called for governments to regulate by law sales of solvents and for corporations to limit the use of addictive substances in glue and other products. He accused Fuller of replacing toluene, an addictive substance used in its glue, with cyclohexane, which has a similar chemical structure and cannot be considered safe. Fuller’s conduct has been contrasted with that of its competitor Henkell, a German-based corporation, which replaced its toluene glue with a water-based formula in Central America due to pressure from Casa Alianza. Henkell did not take toluene glue off the market in other parts of Latin America, allegedly because Casa Alianza does not operate there.

Casa Alianza would like the US to prohibit retail sales of any dangerous chemical inhaled by youth. The organization is also pushing for legislation in other countries to control the sale of solvents including toluene-based paint thinner, another favourite with street children.

Harris emphasized that, despite Fuller’s seal of approval from many US social-investment funds and its reputation for generous contributions to non-profit organizations, the company continues to act irresponsibly ‘south of the Rio Grande’.

Journalist Bonnie Hayster has stated that a recent donation of a million dollars by Fuller to the University of Minnesota resulted in a chair position for company official Norm Bowies, who promptly published an article praising Fuller for its socially responsible conduct in Honduras.

The debate between Casa Alianza and Fuller continues. Roxana Viquez, Fuller’s Director of Communications for Latin America reported that the company first received reports of the abuse of shoe glue in the early 1990s. Harris said his organization expressed its concerns to Fuller in 1987. Viquez then stated that in 1992 Fuller subsidiaries in Honduras and Guatemala ended all retail sales of Resitol rubber-based solvent. Harris said that only an insignificant fraction was removed from shelves, while industrial sales continued.

In a written statement, Viquez replied: ‘To this date we have received virtually no complaints of glue-sniffing products misused.’

David Petritz / Tico Times

Whales
DOMINIC HARCOURT-WEBSTER /
PANOS PICTURES

Strange encounters
Antarctic researchers have to include a new event in their environmental impact assessments – whales meeting weather balloons. The balloons are launched each year from Antarctic bases carrying weather monitors and other instruments. They travel into the atmosphere, where they burst and fall into the ocean. Each whale swimming through the Antarctic has about a seven-per-cent chance of meeting a balloon in the course of a year. For a population of several thousand whales, that translates into a few hundred encounters each year. Scientists are concerned that whales may swallow balloons and weather instruments causing harm or death.

New Scientist No 2096.

The Yellow River.
CHRIS STOWERS / PANOS PICTURES

Rivers of tears
The Yellow River is again living up to its ancient nickname ‘China’s Sorrow’. With declining levels of precipitation, the river is drying up. The Government recently seeded clouds to make rain, with the result that river flow resumed through Shandong – but only for 58 hours. ‘It’s industrial and agricultural demand for water in the valley’s lower reaches which has really dried the river up,’ says Zhu Dengquan, Deputy Water Resources Minister. ‘Moreover, the trend looks pessimistic, with demand for water going up and up.’

Pan Xiaoying / Gemini News Service.

Environmental award questioned
Shell Oil has been nominated to receive an environmental award in British Columbia, Canada, despite criticism directed at the company over its operations in Nigeria. The World Wildlife Fund nominated Shell for the Minister’s Environmental Award because the company gave up their marine exploration rights in British Columbia.

Eco-forum Vol 21 No 2.

SPORT

Football fever
Women kick off debate in Zanzibar

Opening doors: women are beginning to step outside traditional roles.
PENNY TWEEDIE /
PANOS PICTURES

When female footballers kick off in Zanzibar they risk more than a battle with the opposing team. The team, the Women Fighters, also challenge convention. In a society where the traditional Muslim higab covers women from head to foot, their soccer outfits have provoked outrage. But the Chair of the Zanzibar Football Association (ZFA), Ali Ferej Tamim, is unambiguous about their no-nonsense attire: ‘In soccer, you have to dress like that or you can’t play.’

The nine-year old women’s team is unusual in Muslim countries. Ferej says he knows of only one other team, a Sudanese one, in the Muslim world.

Some players have been rebuked by their families and suffer violence. They report brothers beating them in front of their team-mates. The authorities have also been less than helpful. The women are forced to train on a patch of spare ground because the men who control the practice fields exclude them, saying the pitches are always booked.

Despite the challenges, the Women Fighters have about 16 players ranging from 17 to 35 years old. They play because they love the game. Juma grew up playing football with her brothers. ‘Football is in my blood,’ she says.

Juma says the Women Fighters are serious about football and have been known to win games against male teams. ‘The men don’t believe women can play football. They don’t prepare themselves properly and sometimes we beat them. The men are all confused on the pitch. It’s a great shock to them.’

The team’s exhibition games have drawn crowds in Stone Town and in small villages on the Zanzibar islands of Unguja and Pemba. Juma says the crowds are especially large in rural areas.

‘Lots of ladies come just to see what’s going on. They say, “You have to come again. This thing is very new to us.” They like us.’

The team now has the backing of Zanzibar’s Ministry of Sport and the ZFA. Football’s international governing body, FIFA, told the local authorities to start supporting women’s football. If a male team were to be entered in a major competition, a women’s team had to take part in an equivalent event. The ZFA quickly complied.

The Women Fighters are seeking sponsorship to compete in international competitions. They are currently preparing to compete in a female African Challenge Cup tournament to be held in Kenya next year.

Juma spends a large proportion of her pay earned as an immigration officer on equipment for the team. She says investment in better equipment and facilities is vital. Influential sponsor Abdulhamy Msoma, former coach of one of Zanzibar’s leading football teams, acknowledges the problems women footballers face: ‘I believe sport is for everybody. To have fun is the right of every human. I wonder why women should not have fun?’

‘We want to show people we can play this game,’ Juma says. ‘Women can do the same things as men. I believe that 100 per cent.’

David White & Kanina Holmes
Gemini News Service

Planes pay for pollution
Zurich airport in Switzerland has become the first in the world to charge stiffer landing fees for aircraft which emit more pollution. The cleanest aircraft pay five per cent less than before and the dirtiest pay 40 per cent more.

New Scientist No 2098.

Big Bad World Illustration by POLYP

MONGOLIA

The big chill
Shepherding press freedom

Selling the news: papers proliferate but Mongolian journalists say the price of information is too high.
CHRIS STOWERS/ PANOS PICTURES

The man who sells newspapers on Peace Avenue in Ulan Bator resembles a shepherd tending his flock. On some days he has 40 to 50 separate titles spread across the pavement like a monochrome quilt. When the wind blows in from the steppes, he weighs down each pile with a chunk of concrete and on snowy days he walks up and down flicking ice flakes off the pages.

Mongolians embraced press freedom as part of the 1990 pro-democracy movement. After suppression of the press for 70 years, they were soon producing more newspapers per head than anywhere else in the world: a nation of 2.5 million people had 550 new publications.

Some have floundered and many journals are of poor quality, featuring sensational rumours and sometimes pornography. Proposed changes to media law which are to be debated in parliament include censorship of pornography, new licensing regulations and an end to the current rationing of imported newsprint. There are also calls for restrictions on articles that defame religious institutions, a widening of defamation laws so that publishers as well as authors can be sued and a mandatory ethical code of conduct for journalists and publishers with penalties for infringement.

The Free Democratic Journalists’ Association President Tsendiin Dashdondov opposes any censorship. ‘The freer the press, the healthier the nation,’ he argues. But, he admits: ‘The image of the free press has certainly been damaged by unqualified, untalented journalists publishing newspapers and periodicals of poor journalistic quality.’

Dashdondov is anxious not to give those who seek to control the press a reason to take legal action and reintroduce censorship. While pay in the profession can be as low as 28,000 tugrik ($60) a month, one journalist was recently ordered to pay 12 million tugrik ($2,570) in damages.

Journalists have complained that government officials are a long way from embracing openness in the way they respond to media enquiries. Most requests receive hostile responses and blank refusals to provide information.

In Erdenet, the site of a large copper mine which is Mongolia’s main export earner, local reporters seek to investigate environmental damage caused by the mine. Journalists say they face a brick wall when trying to get information from mine officials and local authorities.

J Erdenetsogt, a reporter with the state-owned Mongolian television, aired his frustration at a recent media conference: ‘It’s one thing for Western journalists to come and talk to us about freedom of information, but what can we do when the officials simply don’t respect this idea?’

Barry Lowe / Gemini News Service

Garment workers celebrate win
In a major advance for the rights of garment workers in Central America, employees of a Guatemalan factory owned by the US Philips-Van Heusen Corporation (PVH) have ratified a contract agreement with the company. This is the only collective bargaining agreement in Guatemala’s maquiladora export garment sector and one of very few in the region. The contract calls for an increase in wages equivalent to 11 per cent in the first year and 12.5 per cent in the second; maintaining current levels of employment; a grievance procedure; increased subsidies for school-age children, transport and lunch; a signing bonus; plus visible recognition of the union including the right to have a bulletin board in the factory and to use plant facilities for an anniversary party.

US/Guatemala Labour Education Project.

Betel-nut plant.
CHRIS STOWERS/
PANOS PICTURES

Crackdown on nuts
In Taiwan, officials are cracking down on the national pastime of betel-nut chewing. Betel nuts are ground and chewed like tobacco. The Government claims the habit is responsible for lax morals including laziness and promiscuity. Plantations on government-protected lands are being destroyed, roadside stalls are banned and a tax is imposed on betel-nut vendors. There is growing evidence that limits on betel-nut chewing may improve public health as the copper content may be the cause of the nation’s high oral cancer rate. Betel-nuts contain ten times the amount of copper found in peanuts. Dr Tsai Ming-shou at Taipei’s Chang Gung Hospital claims 80 per cent of his oral cancer patients are betel-nut chewers.

Down to Earth Vol 6 No 6.

Quote

‘It’s traditionally been the day on which the number of
Bogotanos willing to kill their neighbour triples.’

Mayor of Bogota Paul Bromberg’s description of Colombia’s
‘Love and Friendship Day’.

[image, unknown]

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