Monday, April 14, 2003

Broaden the Struggle: We all have a Right to Know

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a story about the Tualatin Valley Water District that had discovered that it bought products from McWane Industries, a company investigated by the NY Times and Frontline for the high number of worker deaths and injuries in their facilities. The water district was exploring the idea of changing suppliers due to the company’s record. Since then, I have received inquiries from municipal unions interested in taking similar actions against McWane.

But why stop with McWane? McWane may have been one of the worst actors, but certainly not the only bad actor in the United States, much less the rest of the world. How can public entities and other companies and organizations that are interested in sending a real message to corporate outlaws get the information that is needed about their environmental, labor and human rights practices?

Good question. One coalition is already working on this problem. The International Right To Know Campaign is a coalition of labor, environmental and human rights groups with the following purpose:
At this time of heightened concern about international issues, U.S. companies are informal ambassadors of our country around the world. When operating abroad, they should represent our democratic ideals and our values. However, American companies have too often been implicated in human rights abuses, environmental destruction and labor rights violations.

Here at home, U.S. companies are required to report specific environmental and labor information publicly. However, U.S. corporations have no legally binding obligations whatsoever to disclose comparable information for their operations abroad. Restoring trust in corporate America means U.S. companies must not only provide accurate financial information, they must also disclose information concerning their environmental, labor and human rights practices. Disclosure would allow investors and consumers to make educated choices – choices that are based on a factual and comprehensive portrayal of a company’s business activities – both here at home and abroad.
Check it out.

Southwestern Exposure

And, if you’re interested in what’s happening below (and on) the U.S.-Mexican border with U.S. companies, unions on both sides of the border, and campaigns to protect workers, check out the Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network, which is a network of 400 occupational safety and health professionals providing
information, technical assistance and on-site instruction regarding workplace hazards in the 3,000 "maquiladora" (foreign-owned assembly) plants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Network members, including industrial hygienists, occupational physicians and nurses, and health educators among others, are donating their time and expertise to create safer and healthier working conditions for the one million maquiladora workers employed by primarily U.S.-owned transnational corporations along Mexico's northern border from Matamoros to Tijuana.