New Internationalist

Speaking Their Mind

November 1983

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DUMPING [image, unknown] The corporate view

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Speaking their mind
While some companies like Ciba-Geigy, ICI and Dow are taking steps to improve consumer safety for their products used in the Third World, many industry spokesmen feel that their own company’s behaviour in developing countries is quite acceptable. On these pages they give their views.
Illustration: Clive Offley

[image, unknown] The risk-benefit

‘The risk-benefit analysis of a developing country will have to be quite different from that of an industrialised country. To apply the decisions on registration taken in Switzerland to all countries in the Third World would mean tackling the question from the wrong side.’ (Dr Hans Geissbühler, director of research and development, Plant Protection, Ciba-Geigy).

It is unlikely that anyone really works out this ratio and makes an objective judgement based on it. Decisions are made instead by companies, if no import restrictions exist in a country, or bypoliticians who may be corrupt or swayed by the strongest lobby group. But there is no excuse to dump the West’s least safe products.

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‘It is obligatory for local companies to have all material used for doctors’ information approved by headquarters. Unfortunately, sometimes the system does not work and something slips through...’ (Organon spokesman on Bangladesh subsidiary’s literature promoting anabolic steroids for childrens use).

The idea that incidents of dumping are just isolated aberrations is getting harder to believe as more and more examples come to light. In Organon 's case, for instance, their subsidiary in the Philippines was also promoting anabolic steroids for child use with almost identical literature to the unapproved Bangladeshi variety.

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Anything goes

‘What manufacturers will produce and sell should best be left to the investors or their authorised representatives. Attempts should not be made to disrupt the laws of demand and supply through government dictum.’ (Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries spokesman).

The laws of supply and demand are of course already subject to pressure. Industry-stimulated demand in Bangladesh led to nearly one third of the country s total 1982 drug expenditure being used to buy inessential vitamins and tonics.

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High-tech for all

‘Lesser developed countries demand the right to destroy their existing culture and to join us in the perilous adventure of exploiting high technology... Those who urge the reduction of the impact of pesticides on the world environment do not speak for the lesser developed countries’ (Mr F J Rang, Rohm and Haas).

Ordinary people in the Third World rarely participate in decisions such as this. It is not likely that they would welcome high technology exploits which further impoverish their lives and destroy their environment.

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‘It is not up to industrialised countries to implement export regulations because this would be impinging on the sovereign rights of importing countries and would be tantamount to regarding such countries as irresponsible.’ (GIFAP Bulletin).

‘Sovereign’ rights have presented no barrier to coercion, corruption and military intervention by industrialised countries in the Third World in the past. It is a pity that the principle of sovereign rights now presents such a barrier to responsible action which could help protect people from the unpublicised hazards of products they work with.

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If we don’t sell it, someone else will

‘If we’re out, the next day the Russians are in.’ (Mr Jim Reis, director of asbestos policy, Manville Corporation).

If an importing country was fully aware ofthe hazards that accompanied some of its imports it is unlikely that it would import them from anyone.

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The lesser of two evils

‘When life is often nasty, brutish and short, the significance of a persistent organochlorine insecticide pales alongside the lives it can save.’ (British Agrochemicals Association spokesman).

This is certainly one point of view. Another might be that life is made nastier, more brutish and even shorter because ofthat persistent organochlorine insecticide.

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[image, unknown] Our own house is in order

‘We are very proud of what we do. We believe we manage the risks well and most definitely to the advantage of developing countries.’ (Mr John Mitchell, Plant Protection Division, ICI).

Developing countries would further be helped by having labels on imported products that were in their own language and that gave full information about use and dangers of the product. Industry profits could also be channelled into developing tropical protective clothing against chemicals and ensuring that company sales representatives spent enough time explaining how hazardous chemicals should be applied.

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‘At a certain point the responsibility of the company ends. We cannot be made responsible to the last user and to the last inhabitant. Somewhere the companies applying the chemicals and the farmers should take up their own responsibility, and so should the authorities.’ (Dr Hans Geissbuhler, director of research and development, Plant Protection, Ciba-Geigy).

Most Third World countries do not have the infrastructure to operate regulatory bodies. Local illiteracy and inability to read label warnings adds to their problems. And many importing officials have to rely on manufacturers for information about their products - hardly an unbiased source.

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We’re doing them a favour

'... the food priority countries... need to attain a sustained growth rate in food production to alleviate the problem of malnutrition... The implementation of change must involve a degree of compromise but where amongst consumers, institutions and environmentalists is there a willingness to accept a trade-off between the need for more food and a ‘purer’ environment?’ (Mr John Smith, General Manager, Agrochemicals Division, Shell).

The world already produces enough food to fred its people. The problem is not about production but about distribution and people’s buying power. Increased use of agrochemicals will not change this.

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