issue 164 - October 1986
Colgate-Palmolive In dock
Ethics cannot be said to be top of any multinational's list of priorities. Colgate-Palmolive, the bathroom products manufacturer, is no exception. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) has repeatedly, but in vain, argued for Colgate-Palmolive to discontinue the marketing of its newly acquired 'Darkie' toothpaste, which it sells by using an offensive racist stereotype.
ICCR have asked Colgate's Chairman Keith Crane to take immediate action 'to stop (using) this product's name, so that a United States company will not be associated with promoting racial stereotypes in the Third World'. (The product is only sold in the Far East). But so far there has not been any sign that Colgate cares about the racist implications of what they are doing: largely because they do not think that racism in the Third World matters. Colgate have written to ICCR saying: 'Our position on Darkie (Black and White) toothpaste would be different if the product were sold in the US or in any Western, English-speaking country - which, (we) have stated several times - will not happen.' Colgate have gone further, accusing ICCR of trying 'to create an issue here, where there is none'. ICCR are continuing their campaign to get Colgate to change their brand image on the grounds that Colgate is displaying 'insensitivity to the issue of racial stereotyping'.
For more information on this and other ICCR activities, contact:
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility,
475 Riverside Drive. No 566 New York NY 10115, USA
Love it or loathe it, tourism provides an income for many who would otherwise be forced below the poverty line. But this summer the number of those travelling to different parts of the world has slumped dramatically. Some Americans refused to visit Europe because they were frightened by the prospect of terrorist attacks and alarmed by the Chernobyl radiation cloud. Other Americans cancelled European vacations because NATO allies such as France and Spain refused to allow US F-111s to fly over their countries on their way to the bombing mission in Libya. As one US citizen put it: 'I don't want to travel anywhere that doesn't support the US.' Hotel bookings in London fell by as much as 50 per cent.
Tourism in Third World countries has also fallen as a result of the fears of terrorism. Civil unrest has seriously hurt the tourist industries of the Indian Ocean islands of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The Sri Lankan government has been fighting a bloody civil war with Tamil guerrillas and although the battles are far from the southern beaches used by tourists, the number of those visiting has dried to a trickle. Business is so slow, said one recent visitor, that a five-star hotel can cost as little as $7.50 a night and a lobster dinner just $3.00. The Maldives are affected because visitors are reluctant to pass through the airport at Colombo - the scene of a recent bombing - yet they have to change planes there if they are to get to the Maldives.
Panic generated by false reports can also damage the tourist industry. Tourism to the Gambia might fall as a result of an incorrect report that a new strain of AIDS virus had been found there. Samba Fye, director of the Gambian National Tourist Office in London, said of the offending article: 'They have made a very serious mistake and we intend to take it up.' 30,000 Britons flock to the Gambia each year, accounting for half the total number of visitors. Tourism contributes ten per cent of the country's gross national product and is the second most important source of foreign income after agriculture.
Progress on sickle-cell disease
New discoveries are throwing new light on sickle-cell anaemia (SCA). In the past, SCA has received very little attention, perhaps because the disease is found almost exclusively in black people. But the disease is by no means rare: in some parts of Africa as much as 40 per cent of the population have SCA in a mild form. Over 50,000 black Americans are victims of this inherited blood disease.
Sickle-cell anaemia occurs because of a genetic condition that disrupts normal blood functions. Blood cells which might have transported oxygen around the body become deformed and are then destroyed by the body's own defence mechanism. Because of this a person with SCA has poor blood circulation and lacks oxygen. Sufferers show many of the symptoms of anaemia, including debilitating and painful attacks of cramp.
The incidence of SCA in Africa exposes fascinating evolutionary and ecological factors. The disease is often fatal in childhood, but those who survive have a milder form of the condition. Although suffering poor health, people with this form of the disease actually have a fair degree of resistance to malaria. They therefore survive longer and pass the genetic coding for the disease on to their offspring.
In Africa 400 million people depend on cassava as their main source of food. This strangest of all food crops is highly drought-resistant but amongst its long list of unusual qualities, it has a high cyanide content.
When very small quantities of cyanide enter the human body it is converted to thiocyanate, which is actually used in the treatment of SCA. It is therefore likely that eating cassava, which millions of Africans do, may be beneficial in helping to alleviate the symptoms of SCA, from which many suffer.
The Nestlé boycott, which resulted in the baby-milk companies promising to uphold the 1981 WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, was a major victory for health campaigners. It prevented women from being subjected to marketing that was biased against breast-feeding. But the multinational companies involved are backsliding on this agreement, particularly in the Third World.
Selling powdered baby milk is so profitable that active counter-pressure is needed to keep the manufacturers in check. As an example, within a few months of the termination of the controversy, Nestlé, the largest manufacturer of infant formula in the United States, had disbanded its Business Practices Department, terminated the job of the pro-breast-feeding medical anthropologist who served as the Manager of Third World Research in that department, and was actively campaigning against laws that would ensure that US hospitals provided unbiased information about infant feeding to new mothers. In April 1985, a well-known nutritional scientist was offered $100,000 per year to become the Director of International Research for an infant formula company.
A counter-offensive against breast-feeding has been launched by the Infant Formula Council and its international counterpart, the International Council of Infant Food Industries since the termination of the Nestlé boycott about 18 months ago. Tactics include an increase in the number of prizes and awards given to scientists whose research supports the industry's position. The baby milk companies have sponsored special editions of professional journals reporting the results of infant feeding research. They have also sponsored and published supposedly scientific booklets about breast-feeding with conclusions that are lukewarm to negative.
Without a committed and vocal group of people to oppose the makers of baby milk products and their marketing, the numbers of women who breast-feed in developing countries will undoubtedly fall - with disastrous results for babies.
Resistance by those islanders who have been used as pawns in the West's arms race is growing. The people who used to live on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, are mounting a campaign to get decent compensation for the loss of their homeland. In 1968 the island was part of a deal in which Mauritius got its independence, and the UK got the use of the island. (The exchange was in contravention of a UN resolution.) The archipelago was then made available to the US for 'joint military purposes'. These events precipitated a new arms race in the Indian Ocean, with dire consequences for the Illois (as the islanders are known).
The Illois are of African and Indian origin. They came to work on the copra (coconut) plantation in the mid-18th century and settled there. Over the years, the Illois developed a distinct language and culture. Their society is matriarchal. Unions are flexible. Mothers and daughters live together and care for the children.
People and military bases, however, do not mix. The US wanted the islanders removed. So began a process whereby the Illois were made refugees in Mauritius by the British Government After the UK/US agreement, some Illois found that when visiting Mauritius, there would be no boats to bring them back. Others were offered free trips and found that these were one-way journeys. Bewildered and politically innocent, they squatted on the quayside or in the Port Louis slums. At a stroke they were homeless. The British Government bought the plantation and closed it, making those who remained jobless. Finally the food supply boats were stopped.
The British Government initially offered the Mauritian Government around $90,000 to resettle the Illois. Resistance from the Illois and people who have come to their aid has resulted in a series of 'full and final offers'. Finally, seventeen years after the Illois' persecution began, the two Governments signed an agreement for $6,000,000 'in full and final' settlement.
Ten years later, the Ibis' problems remain unresolved. They still live in abject poverty.
Unemployment is high. Alcoholism is high. Suicide is high. Some have signed away their rights - 17 years is a long wait - but many have refused to do so.
Further details from. The Secretary, People for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, P0 Box 107, Freemantle, Western Australia 6160, Australia. Or. Campaign for Demilitarisation of the Indian Ocean, 30 Stonedene Close, Forest Row, E. Sussex, UK