Awards shine spotlight on big business green record

Public Eye Awards

Photograph: The Berne Declaration

The corporation judged to have wreaked the most social and ecological damage is to be named and shamed at the Public Eye awards tomorrow.

Three companies have been shortlisted this year: the French state nuclear company Areva, multinational German chemical company Bayer CropScience and the Philippine subsidiary of US fruit company Dole Foods.

The winner is chosen by Pro Natura, the Swiss branch of Friend of the Earth, and the Berne Declaration, a development campaign, and presented in Davos, Switzerland, where world business leaders are gathering for the World Economic Forum (WEF), to highlight the "dark side of globalisation".

"The Public Eye stands for an informed public that is not fooled by ethics PR and greenwashing," said Sonja Ribi of Pro Natura.

"The tide has turned," said Oliver Classen of the Berne Declaration. "Today, transnational corporations like the 1,000 WEF members must accept more responsibility, or else they will lose not only credibility but also investors, employees and customers."

Areva has been nominated for its 40-year record of uranium mining by two subsidiaries in the former French colony of Niger. "The riches of this country - one of the world's poorest - are mined and carried of mostly by others," the nomination, by the Swiss Energy Foundation, reads.

However Areva says that its buys uranium extracted on site from companies of which the Republic of Niger is a shareholder. Some of this uranium also goes back to Niger's authorities, a spokesperson said.

The nomination form also claims that Areva mineworkers are not sufficiently informed about health risks and "only patients who pay can receive appropriate treatment" at the company-owned hospital.

Areva argues that its hospitals perform 200,000 health procedures annually for free, and have "helped significantly improve the state of the population's health".

Another charge laid against Areva is that workers with cancer are said to be deliberately given a false diagnosis of HIV/Aids. "As for the accusations of 'false diagnoses' of imaginary cases of Aids of malaria, the group has no intention of commenting upon such insults. It should simply point out that the local doctors in these hospitals are independent and their professional code of ethics should not be subject to this kind of suspicion," a spokesperson said.

The second nominee for the global Public Eye award, Bayer CropScience, the world's largest producer of pesticides, which is accused of "engaging in systematic greenwashing".

"Although its products harm biodiversity and the environment, Bayer is keen on presenting a sustainable image," its nominators, the Coalition Against Bayer-Dangers and the Pesticide Action Network said.

The awards cite a recent example of the firm's attempt to push the cultivation of the controversial agrofuel plant jatropha, which with 40% oil content, is touted as a good candidate for biodiesel production.

But environmental organisations have warned against its widespread cultivation, saying that it could lead to food shortages as farmers choose to grow the cash crop instead of traditional food sources.

But a spokesperson for Bayer CropScience defended the firm's record. Jatropha could only be grown on low-yield land of marginal soils that were not suitable for food production, he said, and would "in no shape or form" displace food crops. "Jatropha can offer farmers an additional source of income while at the same time helping to prevent soil erosion," said Julian Little, the public and government affairs manager.

The nomination for the award alleges that Bayer is now intensively developing jatropha seeds and crop protection products, and investing and moving into the Indian market. The nomination form for the award also says that in order to expand jatropha cultivation, Bayer is using its contacts to lobby for support at the UN to develop this highly profitable crop.

"Bayer CropScience is not developing genetically modified, herbicide resistant Jatropha seed," Little said. "The company is in fact involved in research into crop protection products for use with this plant.

"There is absolutely no basis for the demand issues in conjunction with [this] nomination that Batyer CropScience should halt its efforts to bring biofuels to market since the company does not produce biofuels."

The third nominee in the global category is Dole Philippines Inc, which has pineapple plantations on 12,000 hectares of land in the Philippines, as well as a canning and packaging plant.

The charges laid against the subsidiary of the US Dole Food Company, is that is exploits plantation workers by paying them "starvation wages" of around £2 a week.

"While the pineapples are sweet and health, the work on the plantations and in the packing plants is bitter and dangerous," the nomination reads.

Dole, on the other hand, says it treats its employees with respect, paying them living wages of PHP 410-800 (£5-£9.90) including benefits. This is higher than the government-mandated minimum basic wage of PHP229.50 (£2.84), it says.

The nomination also accuses Dole of polluting the environment with pesticides and the pumping of industrial wastewater.

"Most of the products mentioned in the original report provided by the nomination organisation are not used since the company is using only chemicals duly approved for pineapple production by the Philippine agencies," said Sylvain Cuperlier, the vice-president and director of corporate social responsibility for Dole Inc.

Cuperlier said the accusation about water "does not make sense".

"The nearest river to the plant is around 12km to the north and about 5km down south. The wastewater from the cannery is tested in a series of nine ponds before it is discharged. The ponds are periodically examined and tested by the company as well as accredited by government agencies.

"All these facts are documented in our labour and environmental certifications," Cuperlier continued. "This means our company can demonstrate that most of the allegations contained in the supporting documentation are fallacious.

She said the company was discussing internally "the best way to re-establish the truth" given the given the seriousness of the accusations.

The awards will be announced at 2pm tomorrow.

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Awards shine spotlight on big business green record

This article was first published on at 16.07 GMT on Tuesday 22 January 2008. It was last updated at 16.07 GMT on Tuesday 22 January 2008.

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