MCLIBEL TRIAL: From Little Things, Big Things Grow
As the evidence in the McLibel Trial drew to a close, McDonald's much-vaunted claim that it is not connected in any way to rainforest destruction was dealt one more devastating blow.
Lord Vestey, Chairman of Vestey Group Limited, was served with a subpoena by Helen Steel and was forced to come to court to be questioned. In 1983 he was Director of the Vestey family group of companies, who had supplied McDonald's UK with the Brazilian beef from the Vestey plant at Barretos (in the state of Sao Paulo). A letter written at the time, from David Walker (Chairman of McKey Foods, then a subsidiary of McDonald's UK) to the managing director of Weddels (a Vestey subsidiary) revealed that the imports were a matter of great controversy. The letter stated that Prince Philip (then President of the World Wildlife Fund) had recently met the President of McDonald's Canada, and had said : "So you are the people who are tearing down the Brazilian rainforests and breeding cattle".
Following this, the letter stated that the Chairman of the McDonald's Corporation, "issued a worldwide edict that no McDonald's plant was to use Brazilian beef". The very same letter revealed that McDonald's UK had given Walker permission to use the Brazilian beef imports. Since the Brazilian shipments were being arranged at the time of this dispute with Prince Philip, Lord Vestey had been asked by David Walker to write a letter "confirming" that the beef was not "coming from reclaimed land from destroyed rainforests".
Lord Vestey delivered the requested letter in which he stated that the cattle supplied to the meat plant were not from any rainforest region. However, in court, the assurance given in this letter was completely blown apart. When questioned by the McLibel Two, Vestey admitted that the origins of over 150,000 head of cattle slaughtered annually at the plant were untraceable.
They had been transported into central Brazil (Sao Paulo) to be fattened up before slaughter. Brazilian experts for the McLibel Defendants have given evidence that cattle reared in ex-rainforest areas in other states are routinely taken to Sao Paulo state for fattening.
Lord Vestey was one of the last witnesses to appear in this courtcase. His testimony caps two years of evidence whereby, for perhaps the first time in history, a multinational corporation has been effectively put on trial over their business practices -- junk food products, exploitation of workers and animals, advertising strategy and damage to the environment. The alternatives have also been successfully aired and defended. Despite the unfairness of the battle, the oppressive libel laws, and the Defendants' exhaustion, the general feeling of observers is that McDonald's critics have been completely vindicated by the evidence during the trial.
The evidence closed in mid-July. Both sides will return to court in October to present their closing speeches (lasting up to 9 weeks). Judgment is expected at the end of this year or early 1997.
Lord Vestey was a major protagonist in the dispute which gave birth to the Australian Aboriginal Land Rights Movement. Aboriginal stockmen on a cattle station "owned" by Vestey's in the Northern Territory conducted an 18-year campaign to gain ownership of the land. During the term of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, they finally triumphed. Their struggle is described in "From Little Things, Big Things Grow", a song by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly.
NORWAY: Sea Shepherd's Capt. Paul Watson on trial for "ramming his own ship"
The Sea Shephjerd campaign against illegal Norwegian whaling began in 1992. Since then, the militant marine conservation organisation has scuttled two Norwegian whalers and defended itself against a full-blown high seas attack from Norway's largest warship, the Andenes, in the battle of Lofotens. Following the Andenes attack in 1994, authorities in Norway have laid three charges against Sea Shepherd's founder-director, Captain Paul Watson. Watson was was in command of Whales Forever when it was attacked by the warship. The Norwegians accuse Watson of ramming the Andenes, illegally entering Norwegian waters and issuing a false distress signal.
Concerning the first charge, the Sea Shepherd Log (1st quarter, 1996) reports that "Capt. Watson finds it completely absurd that he is being charged for ramming his own ship. The video and photographic evidence is proof enough of what ship was the aggressor." The Sea Shepherd's journal then quotes Watson as saying: "the Norwegian commander either misjudged or he intended to ram my ship. There was nothing I could do to avoid being struck. I had already stopped engines".
With regard to the second charge, Watson cites the account in his own log book as evidence that "my ship was in international waters at all times". In his statement to Norwegian police, Watson said his request for permission to enter Norwegian waters had been met with an aggressive attack". During the attack, Watson issued a distress signal which was picked up in the US, Iceland and Great Britain, thereby determining the exact location of Whales Forever and proving that he did not enter Norwegian waters.
Regarding the third charge, Watson said he felt justified in issuing a distress signal. "After all", he said, "I had been rammed, fired upon twice, one of my props had been intentionally fouled with a howser, four depth-charges had been detonated beneath my ship and the commander of the Andenes had informed me over the radio that he was prepared to sink my ship".
According to the Andenes commander Erik Blom, "even if the Whales Forever had been sunk by us, we are the Coast Guard and we were on station to rescue survivors. A distress signal was unneccessary and irresponsible under these circumstances". Capt. Watson's response: "It was my intention to notify the outside world that I was under attack by the Norwegian Coast Guard and that my crew and ship were in immediate peril".
Source: Sea Shepherd Log, official journal of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, 1st Quarter, 1996. 3107a Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey, CA 90292, USA Ph. 310-301-SEAL(7325) Fax:310-574-3161 email:firstname.lastname@example.org Web Site: http://www.envirolink.org/orgs/seashep/log/logs.html
Update: Norway Withdraws Case Against Capt. Watson
Although Capt. Watson repeatedly notified the Norwegian Consulate of his whereabouts, the Norwegian authorities failed to deliver a summons to appear in a Norwegian court in the Lofoten Islands. Without the papers having been properly served, the Norwegian Government could not legally proceed with hearing charges against Capt. Watson.Sea Shepherd's Norwegian attorney Rolf Bech-Sorensen informed the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on October 10 that Norway has withdrawn the case against Watson. All of the independent journalists aboard witnessed the vicious attack and were also victims of Norway's actions.Some have even filed suits against the government of Norway. The Norwegian government contends that all of the respective journalists on board from England, Germany, France and the US "manipulated" their reporting photographs and film footage and that it is all false. Sea Shepherd believes that Norway does not want to contend with the potential international fallout, since their entire case is based on a lie and would mean that, in order to make their case, deal with a mountain of irrefutable evidence from independent and respected journalists. Norway will hold the indictment to prevent Capt. Watson from returning to Norway to protest their illegal and criminal whaling activities. Norway does not want a trial for Capt. Watson because they want to keep the indictment alive to present the appearance that he committed a criminal act.
SARAWAK: Legal Tussle Bakun Dam Continues
If it goes ahead, the 2,400-megawatt, $5.5 billion Bakun Dam in Sarawak will be one of the world's largest. The project would clear 69,000 hectares (170,000 acres) of forest land and force "more than 9,000 tribal residents to move." Local tribal groups continue legal battles to stop dam construction pending an environmental impact statement.
The dam, which developers plan to complete by 2002, would flood an area the size of Singapore.
In response to a lawsuit by tribals who would be affected by the dam, the Malaysian High Court on June 19 ruled that Ekran Bhd, the dam's main contractor, could not conduct any work related to the dam construction, saying it had broken environmental laws.
If that court order was disobeyed, Ekran, and its chairman Ting Pek Khiing faced contempt of court charges.
But the Court of Appeal on July 13 suspended the High Court's order, allowing Ekran to continue work on the project pending a final decision by the Court of Appeal on whether the company has broken environmental laws. Ekran has said it was not doing any work prohibited by the earlier High Court decision.
In withdrawing the contempt application during an hour-long High Court hearing, G.S. Nijar, the lawyer for the tribals, said the plaintiffs were accepting "in good faith" Ekran's affidavit that it was not carrying out activities against the High Court's June ruling.
During the hearing, High Court Judge James Foong, who had originally issued the order suspending work on Bakun, asked Ekran's lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah if the company is carrying out any work which would be in contempt of the court.
Muhammad Shafee said Ekran was not. "If Ekran had wanted to ignore the [High Court] declaration, then it wouldn't have gone to the Court of Appeal," he said.
He argued that as Nijar had accepted in good faith Ekran's affidavit, the plaintiffs should also drop the injunction application, a move the plaintiffs have declined to take.
The High Court hearing on the injunction has been adjourned.
UNITED STATES: Nearly 900 Arrested in Anti-Redwood Logging Protest
In one of the largest anti-logging protests in recent U.S. history, and perhaps ever, a peaceful protest was held involving 6,000 people. Nine hundred were arrested. The arrests came after a rally in Carlotta, 250 miles north of San Francisco, calling for protection for the towering redwoods, some of which are 2,000 years old. Negotiations continue between the Pacific Lumber Company and the U.S. government to find a way to avert logging of the 3000 acre redwood grove which was the scene of the protest. The environmentalists called demonstrations this week because Pacific Lumber has a permit to begin "salvage logging" in Headwaters forest Monday. The permit allows the company to remove dead, dying and diseased trees from Headwaters, although the company said it would only remove fallen trees. The giant redwoods are worth up to $50,000 each.
Addresses to contact:
President Bill Clinton The President of the United States The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, D.C. 20500 Email: email@example.com Fax: 202 456 2883
Vice-President Al Gore The Vice President of the United States The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, D.C. 20500 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Fax: 202 456 7044
Additionally the White House has a World Wide Web comments page at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/Mail/html/Mail_President.html
94% of World's Forests Unprotected
The World Wide Fund for Nature claims that recent research, utilizing Geographic Information Systems data, shows that 94% of the world's forests are unprotected. This is all the more disheartening when one realizes that the 6% in protected areas have various degrees of real protection, with many continuing to be degraded. Clearly we are witnessing the destruction of the world's forest legacy in our lifetimes.
"In many cases, the solutions to forest problems are obvious but governments are refusing to act. What we need is a dramatic increase in the number of legally protected forest areas as well as the controlled use of forests which fall outside the protective boundary," said Francis Sullivan, Leader of WWF's Forests for Life Campaign. "This issue must be the central theme of IPF if we are to stop the continuing degradation of the world's remaining forests."
The claims are reported in WWF's internet site at < http://www.panda.org/ >. The maps referred to can be accessed at: http://www.panda.org/tda/forest/new/index.htm.
Environmental Groups Warn: World Forests Threatened
At the September 1996 meeting of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Forests, NGOs reiterated the mounting threat of uncontrolled logging for forests and the ecosystem processes they provide. The $100 billion industrial timber industry is held to be largely responsible for accelerating forest loss. National governments have commonly failed to act to reign in forest destruction.
The charges were issued as delegates from 53 countries to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) began a two-week meeting in Geneva to discuss ways of halting increasing forest destruction.
A British- and United States-based group, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said the international timber trade -- valued at around $100 billion a year -- played a critical role in the decline of forest cover.
"The vital ecological, economic and social functions of this precious resource are under increasing threat because the timber industry is subject to no coherent international regulation to match its global power and influence," an EIA study declared.
The study, "Corporate Power, Corruption, and the Destruction of the World's Forests," said the lack of international controls had "encouraged the use of illegal and unethical activities by many large companies, both in their dealings with foreign governments and in their logging operations."
The IPF was set up by the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development in March last year and is working on draft recommendations for consideration by world leaders at a special "Earth Summit" in New York in June 1997.
But environmental activists say the power of the forest product industry -- believed to be the third largest global industrial sector after telecommunications and automobiles -- could prevent any effective action.
UNITED STATES: Vice-President Al Gore Unveils Plan to Protect Alaskan Forest
Election year give-aways continued in the United States as Vice-President Al Gore announced a $33 million plan to protect 64,000 acres of private forests in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
Funded by the Exxon Valdez settlement, the plan will ban commercial timber harvests and protect important habitat for salmon, cutthroat trout, marbled murrelet and a range of other species.
Gore said the agreement was "vital to protecting forest habitat, strengthening the economic independence of Alaska natives, and increasing opportunities for sport, commercial, and subsistence fishing and businesses".
The agreement was reached last week in Anchorage by Tatitlek Corp., an Alaska native village company, the state, and negotiators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It protects subsistence hunting and fishing while allowing the village to retain lands under private ownership.
A similar deal valued at $34 million was reached to protect western Prince William Sound with the Chenega Village corporation three months ago.
PNG: Country 'Can Get K100 Billion from Logs' Through Ecoforestry
According to a report in the National, a newspaper in PNG owned by Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau, a total of 15 million hectares of operable forest remains in Papua New Guinea.
The newspaper report covered a talk given by Mr Max Henderson of the Pacific Heritage Foundation (PHF), speaking at a meeting of over 100 eco-foresters at Kokopo on September 26.
According to the Nation report, Mr Henderson said at the current value, the harvestable logs in these areas is valued at K100 billion.
He said however, that 50% of these areas have already been allocated for harvesting at a value of K50 billion.
Mrt Henderson said harvesting rights will soon be given in another 2.5 million hectares.
He said when this happens, the total areas allocated to harvesting would be 10 million hectares at a value of K67 billion.
Mr Henderson said at the present and projected rate of harvesting, the massive forest resource in PNG will be wiped out in far less than one generation.
"The future is at risk," he stressed.
He added that the resource currently harvested and those planned are all in the hands of foreigners. As such, most of the profits will go into the foreigners' pockets.
He said with all raw log exports going to Japan, on shore processing has declined dramatically since the mid 1970s.
Mr Henderson said 63% of all logs produced were processed domestically in 1973. This figure dropped to less than 15 % by 1991. This included the volume converted to pulp chips by the Japanese company Jant Pty Ltd.
He said at the moment domestic processing share is below 10 %.
Mr Henderson said the introduction of portable sawmills might cause increased forest destruction. He said this might happen when the sawmills are not operated in a controlled and environmentally friendly manner. Mr Henderson said operators may be tempted to increase the harvesting rate to unsustainable levels.
He said that currently there are about 700 sawmills operating in PNG.
Mr Henderson said though the impact of the portable sawmills will be confined to a small area, there is currently no government policy guideline on the use of such sawmills.
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