PANNA: NGOs Denounce World Bank Partnerships with Unethical Multinational Corporations


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NGOs Denounce World Bank Partnerships with Unethical Multinational Corporations
June 24, 2002

The World Bank showcased its partnerships with multinational corporations including some of the world's most notorious polluters and violators of human rights at its Staff Exchange Program Conference & Expo from June 19-21 in Washington, DC. Pesticide Action Network North America and other NGOs are calling for an end to the World Bank's partnerships with these unethical companies.

Initiated by the Bank in 1995, the Staff Exchange, or "Share," Program provides opportunities for World Bank staff to work at private corporations or other organizations and for staff of these corporations or organizations to work at the World Bank. Assignments usually last for two years. The program is designed to enable the World Bank to "develop closer partnerships and long-lasting relationships with other organizations operating in the global development arena," according to the Bank's Web site.

Participants in the Staff Exchange Conference included three corporations targeted by public interest organizations for their unethical behavior: the pesticide and biotech titan Dow Chemical Company, the mining company Rio Tinto, and oil and gas giant ExxonMobil. Environmental and human rights organizations expressed concern that the companies were using the conference to clean up their tarnished public images.

"Dow is using the World Bank's Staff Exchange Conference as a platform for greenwashing and as an opportunity to promote its products and make backroom deals," said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Staff Scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America, a San Francisco-based nongovernmental organization (NGO). "The fact that the World Bank has invited Dow, the producer of napalm and the defoliant Agent Orange, to give a presentation on sustainable tree planting is outrageous."

Dow has a history of unethical behavior, including testing its chemicals on humans and continuing to make and export the pesticide DBCP long after it was banned in the United States. (DBCP use on banana plantations has caused the permanent sterility of thousands of workers in developing countries.) Union Carbide, acquired by Dow in 1999, owned the chemical plant in Bhopal, India, that released methyl isocyanate and other chemicals in 1984, causing one of the worst industrial disasters in history. Dow has refused to take responsibility for cleaning up the site or for providing health care to the thousands of survivors, who continue to suffer from the effects of chemical exposure.

On June 20, according to the agenda, the Staff Exchange Program Conference featured a presentation by the mining company Rio Tinto, "a poster child for corporate malfeasance," according to a case study of the company's PT Kelian mine in Kalimantan, Indonesia, by Project Underground, a California-based NGO. According to the report, the Indonesian government's National Human Rights Commission found that the Indonesian military and Rio Tinto security forcibly evicted traditional miners, burned down their villages, and arrested and detained protestors since the mine opened in 1992. Mine employees have also been named in several incidents of rape and violence against local women. Community members say they can no longer drink or bathe in the river, which has been contaminated by the gold leaching process.

ExxonMobil, which hosted an invitation-only business lunch at the conference on Wednesday, has left a trail of environmental and human rights abuses that stretches around the world. Their crimes include supporting the Indonesian military's human rights violations to protect oil drilling operations in Sumatra, bulldozing a town in Colombia in order to expand a coal mine and releasing toxic emissions from oil refineries and chemical plants in Louisiana, USA. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Exxon of approximately 200 violations of the Clean Air Act. In the same year, over 40,000 barrels of oil spilled from a ruptured Mobil pipeline off the coast of Nigeria, affecting roughly 500,000 people in 120 coastal communities.

Ignoring their horrific impacts on communities and the environment, the World Bank has identified multinational companies as key partners in its newly drafted Rural Development Strategy. In April, Pesticide Action Network North America led an international delegation to Washington, DC to lobby the World Bank's Board of Directors to reject the draft Strategy. The delegation, which included NGO representatives from Ecuador, Senegal and Indonesia, advocated that the Bank shift its private sector partnerships in the agricultural sector from pesticide and biotech companies to biological pest control and crop production and marketing organizations that have an interest in providing clean and healthy food. The delegation also advised the Bank to stop funding projects that promote the development and use of genetically engineered crops and instead focus on proven sustainable agricultural practices, such as organic farming and ecologically based integrated pest management.

NOTE: See related Action Alert on the World Bank's Rural Development Strategy, http://www.panna.org/campaigns/worldBank.html.

Sources: World Bank Staff Exchange Program Web site, http://www.staffexchange.org/Info/StaffExchange.asp; Ishii-Eiteman, M. and J. Hamburger, Pesticide and Biotech Companies: The Wrong Partners for the World Bank, Pesticide Action Network North America, April 2002, http://www.panna.org/resources/documents/badPartners.dv.html;
Kennedy, D., Rio Tinto: Global Compact Violator, July 13, 2001, http://www.corpwatch.org/campaigns/PCD.jsp?articleid=622; Partnerships with the Private Sector: Assessment and Approval, Business Partnership & Outreach Group, The World Bank Group, Washington, DC, http://www.worldbank.org/business/03assessment.html#guidance; Stop ExxonMobil Alliance Web site, http://www.stopexxonmobil.org/static/agm_statement.html; Dubious Development: How the World Bank's Private Arm is Failing the Poor and the Environment, Friends of the Earth, Washington, DC, 2000.

Contact: PANNA

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