Socialist Worker

Toxic cost of free trade

Issue No. 1714

Toxic cost of free trade

THE ORGANISATION in charge of American free trade has backed a US company's right to pollute and fined the Mexican government a staggering 17 million. The innocuous-sounding North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is charged with regulating trade agreements between the US, Canada and Mexico.

Like the World Trade Organisation, secret committees sit to make sure nothing gets in the way of the multinationals' profits. Anyone who does "break the rules" is fined until they obey.

In this latest case US giant Metalclad wanted to build a hazardous waste plant in Mexico, handling up to 360,000 tonnes of toxic waste a year. The Mexican government agreed to the plan in 1995, but local people objected, forcing the local authorities to investigate the plan.

They found that the plant was to be built on top of a sensitive underground stream and refused to allow Metalclad to operate, declaring the area an ecological zone.

The company claimed this had lost it future profits of $90 million and took the case to NAFTA. Campaigners noted that this figure was larger than the combined annual income of every family in the county where the dump was located.

The three judge NAFTA tribunal, sitting under the title of the International Centre for Investment Dispute Settlement, has given the Mexican government 45 days to start coughing up the "compensation".

Banks stash loot

BRITAIN'S banks are holding on to vast sums of money stolen by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. It is estimated that there is around $450 million stashed away in up to 20 accounts in branches of HSBC, Barclays and Citibank.

Abacha and his family stole a total of $4.3 billion. International banks were happy to hoard the cash and transfer funds around the world. So far $1.4 billion has been found and frozen in Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein.

The Belgrave Square offices of Citibank gave two of Abacha's sons a special account through which a huge fortune flowed for over a decade. Citibank also advised Abacha's sons to open accounts in New York in 1992. Within three years the account had swollen by $35 million.

Peeved Putin

A GENERAL appointed by Russian president Putin to run the Urals region is homeless. General Latyshev hasn't been able to occupy his huge 18th century mansion for a month.

The mansion has been a children's centre for over 60 years and the children just won't go. Neither will their parents or the staff. The local governor has vainly ordered them to move into a smaller building.

When the jumped-up general first swept into town, hundreds of protesters of all ages greeted him with placards like "General 1 children 4,000".

Off target by forty million

THE MINISTRY of Defence has been condemned by MPs for wasting almost 40 million on two failed information technology projects. The Public Accounts Committee said the MoD had "lost" 21 million on a system that was supposed to have replaced teleprinters for the RAF. It has to be scrapped completely.

The MoD also wasted 8.7 million on a new Royal Navy payroll system. This too had to be abandoned. The Public Accounts Committee also hit out at the MoD over "weaknesses in password control" that allowed one Marvin Hammill to defraud army pensions of 477,000.

As a final humiliating blow the committee condemned the ministry for overshooting its spending limit for the fourth year in a row and being unable to draw up accounts satisfactorily.

Perma temps

AMERICAN BOSSES are profiting by violating workers' rights. A Human Rights Watch report has slammed the US's eight year "economic miracle" for being at the expense of the workforce.

The report slams US bosses for flouting labour protection laws. Bosses are taking advantage of immigrant workers and growing numbers of part time and contract employees.

Migrant farm workers have been threatened with investigation by immigration authorities, and deportation for trying to set up a trade union. The computer giant Microsoft was also nailed for flouting employees' rights. Staff totalling 6,000 are officially employed by an agency.

They have worked for Microsoft so long they are known as "perma-temps".

  • AS IF the market in higher education was not bad enough, the University of Salford has launched its own platinum credit card.

Salford is targeting their hard-up ex-students, who are offered more ways to get into debt with the slogan "Don't resist temptation."

The University of Salford receives a one-off payment of 2.50 if the credit card is applied for and used just once. For each 100 of credit spent the university gets 25p.

In the small print you can just about pick out that the interest rate doubles after 12 months.

  • A McDONALD'S "Happy Meal" toy supplier has been caught out exploiting child labour.

City Toys has factories in the "special economic zone" in southern China. They rushed to sack their underage factory workers after a press expos of their labour practices.

The child workers were forced to work 15 hours a day, seven days a week. Their working day could top 20 hours. Many of the youngsters lived in factory dormitories. Sacked workers were paid one month's wages, and told to pack and leave immediately.

Things they say

"GOD, Gordon can be impossible."

  • Prime minister TONY BLAIR on chancellor Gordon Brown

"GORDON'S problem is that he hasn't got a family."


"YOU'VE stolen my fucking budget."

  • GORDON BROWN to Blair

"TONY WANTS to tax less, spend more and borrow less. Our job is to make it add up for him."


"THIS IS my decision. It's nothing to do with politics, it's nothing to do with Tony Blair and Number Ten."

  • MO MOWLAM explaining why she is going

"THE TALK at Westminster will be all about the 'whispering campaign' against Mo Mowlam which, it is said, has been orchestrated by anonymous sources in and around Downing Street."

  • ROY HATTERSLEY, former deputy leader of the Labour Party

"IT'S NOT a tacky theme park nor a one-year white elephant."

  • PETER MANDELSON on the Dome

"WHAT people said at the time was that we could never pull it off, that it could never be done, and I think that amongst all the hue and cry over the Dome people should look at the other side of the balance sheet."


"IF WE can't make this work, we're not much of a government."

  • JOHN PRESCOTT on the Dome

"JOHN MAJOR'S Conservative government had taken the decision which led to the Dome from its conception to its location at Greenwich and its design."


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Article information

Sat 16 Sep 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1714
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