BAYER in Brazil and Germany: double standards
"In the Land of the Sugar Loaf Mountain" an article which appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) was a song of praise to the German multinationals, who according to the paper act just as environmentally conscious in Brazil as they do in Germany. Obviously the FAZ relied solely on PR department press releases of the ompanies mentioned.
It is not fiction but fact that last year government investigation was conducted in connection to the highly praised Bayer factory in Belford Roxo near Rio de Janeiro, because several accidents, incidents, and subsequent complaints by residents and the trade union could no longer be swept under the carpet. "The testimony and reports make evident that the company: continuously violated basic regulations on industrial health and safety; refused to recognize occupational diseases and industrial accidents, used the highest limits, and enforced working hours above the legal maximum; contracted specialized and hazardous work to third parties; and restricted inspection and monitoring by authorized commissions." (Extract from the decree of the district attorney at the Rio de Janeiro labour court, 3 June 1994). In 1993 environmental organizations awarded Bayer fourth place among the "dirty half dozen" in the federal state of Rio de Janeiro and submitted a dossier to the German Consulate outlining a multitude of concrete accusations and complaints about "double standards". All ideology? Or is it true that the Brazilian law on waste reduction was violated and emissions were not reduced to the same extent as in Germany? The dossier also contains reports on illegal discharges into a river. Wolfgang Muhlhaus, who was Production Manager in 1993 at the time of the incident, admitted himself that Bayer had polluted the river Sarapui and consequently the Guanabara bay. There would have been no point in lying anyway since the discharge was documented in a study of the environmental agency.
Modern products and plants? Another issue the FAZ did not bother to mention is the treatment of the relatives of two victims who were killed in lethal accidents last year. Although the two chemical workers suffocated in a tank truck on the company's premises, Bayer relocated the deaths to a place outside the works to avoid the consequences, such as investigations and compensation claims. Eight people have died in the last six years in this factory with 2500 - 1600 employees, three alone as a result of sulphuric acid burns. There have also been cases of contamination with phosgene, chromium and highly toxic phosphoric esters. Even the giant Leverkusen complex with its 30,000 employees cannot compete with such figures. As recently as the end of September there was a fire in Belford Roxo involving the "modern" product parathion, a derivative of E 605. Due to its high toxicity, the WHO classifies this chemical in category la., extremely hazardous. And interested readers may wonder where the contaminated fire-fighting water went to. Is there a separate drainage or a collecting basin such as those that were constructed in Bayer's German factories after the Sandoz catastrophe? The simple answer is no.
The FAZ claim that only modern equipment is used in Belford Roxo was even contradicted by Bayer itself in a recently concluded wage round, in which representatives reported that the chromate plant was substantially less modern and therefore less profitable than the one in Argentina. They also stated that investment was at risk if demands for higher wages were met. In Malaysia wages would be even lower. As long ago as 1990 members of German Bayer Work demanded investments to modernize the problematic chromate plant. And which modern products are meant? Phosgene, sulphuric acid, chlorobenzene, phosphoric esters, dichromates, isocyanates? These have been known since the First World War at least.
Speaking of occupational diseases. Although the lay-off notification period for employees suffering from occupational diseases is one year, the BAYER plant Tibras just fires them immediately. The one year's wage which is the minimum entitlement of the dismissed person is not paid in many cases. In the wave of lay-offs at the beginning of the nineties, 40% of the laid-off workers had to be reinstated because they "happened to be" suffering from an occupational disease. The workers had to go to court to enforce their right of access to the results of their company medical examinations. Last year, 280 employees and ex-employees mounted a factory gate protest against yet another blatant example of injustice. For fourteen years parts of their wages, such as overtime bonuses and shift payments had been withheld even after they had won law suits at all levels. Anyone who knows a little about Brazil will recognize what this withholding of wages meant for those affected. It is also a scandal that drastic personnel cuts were not accompanied by a redundancy plan, instead long-serving colleagues were fired two or three years beforer reaching retirement age and therefore lost a large part of their retirement entitlements. Last month Tibras showed once again what a paragon BAYER Brazil is. Two employees suffered burns, some of them third degree, while repairing equipment which operates involving X-rays. The first doctor to examine them demanded that this accident be reported, to comply with the statutory requirement. Five days later he was dismissed after another member of the medical staff had stated that the injuries were common allergic reactions. Tibras management was informed otherwise by the federal atomic authority and, following pressure from the trade union, submitted a backdated accident report after a delay of ten days. So much for the paragon Tibras, a Bayer subsidiary.
"What applies to Bayer should also apply to the Hoechst and BASF factories in Brazil", the FAZ wrote. How true! In 1990 the BASF subsidiary Glasurit circumvented the standard which prohibits asbestos as part of building materials. Members of German Works Councils, who had just conducted asbestos clean up in their local factories, were told by Plant Manager Roth during a tour of the factory that Brazilian law did not prohibit the use of asbestos and that he therefore saw no need for action. Another example of double standards and disregard for human life, as the German colleagues noted.
Trade unionists not welcome The multinationals don´t have a record to be proud of when it comes to workers' rights either. Only after prolonged protests did Bayer and BASF grant their employees in Brazil the opportunity of electing a Works Council - with minimal rights. To this day Hoechst still refuses to do this. The company is not interested in the long list of trade union members punished by dismissal, which it is repeatedly confronted with. There are currently two salesmen in Rio and ten trade union in Suzano who have to pay this way for their union activities. During the strike at Bayer Belford Roxo in 1989, the military police was called onto the scene, and shortly afterwards the head of company security was decorated with a military medal, an event greatly celebrated in the company newspaper. Furthermore, the entire union leadership was fired. Glasurit also fired union activists although some of them were reinstated following support from colleagues in Germany. German Works Council members and trade unionists have also received threats in order to prevent them from informing the public about incidents . This is called duty of loyalty.
Are the chemical factories in Germany then really paragons? The accidents at Sandoz, Hoechst and most recently at BASF show that there is a lot that still needs to be improved in this country as well and pressure from these companies to dilute statutes and regulations must be resisted.
translated by Elke Mertens and Nikki Zeuner (Arizona Toxics Information)