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Monsanto Company

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Corporate Statistics
Monsanto Company logo
Worker Rights Human Rights Political Influence Environmental Business Ethics

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Monsanto Company

800 N. Lindbergh Blvd. St. Louis Missouri USA
63167
(314) 694-1000
http://www.monsanto.com/

Type:

Public (NYSE: MON)

Corn the size of a Trident missile? Not quite, but Monsanto is all about bioengineered crops. Monsanto helps farmers grow more crops by applying biotechnology, genomics, and molecular breeding technology to herbicides and seeds. Its flagship product, Roundup, is the world's #1 herbicide. Monsanto also produces genetically altered seeds (cotton, corn, soybean, and canola) that tolerate Roundup and resist bugs; it estimates that more than 70% of the world's insect- and herbicide-resistant crops bears its stamp. It also produces Asgrow, Hartz, and DEKALB seeds. In this decade Monsanto has been re-making itself as a seed and biotech company, as opposed to one focused on agricultural chemicals.

Contents

Monsanto protest
Monsanto protest

[edit] Corporate History

Founded in 1901 in St. Louis, Missouri by John F. Queeny, a veteran of the pharmaceutical industry, Monsanto’s debut product was saccharin, the world’s first artificial sweetener.1

In the course of the 20th century, Monsanto grew dramatically both horizontally and vertically, broadening its target markets and diversifying its product offerings. From the production of industrial chemicals to the manufacturing of plastics and synthetic fibers, from engineering genetically modified seeds to developing chemical weapons, Monsanto staked and maintained a strong position in numerous sectors of the chemical market.2

In 1981, Monsanto established a molecular biology group and made its chief research and development focus agriculture-related biotechnology. A year later, scientists working for the company became the first in the world to genetically modify a plant cell.3 Monsanto’s strategic reorientation toward bioengineering has paid off. In addition to its leading herbicide offerings it also holds a dominant market share over a wide variety of genetically modified crops, including corn, cotton, and canola seeds, as well over a range of GM vegetables.4

Through a confusing series of transactions, the Monsanto that existed between 1901 and 2000 and the current Monsanto are legally two different entities, although they share the same name, corporate headquarters, many of the same executives and other employees, and responsibility for liabilities arising out of its former activities in the industrial chemical business. During the mergers and spin-offs between 1997 and 2002, Monsanto also made the deliberate transition from chemical to biotech giant.5


[edit] Corporate Structure, Locations, Management, Ownership

Monsanto’s Board of Directors is made up of ten individuals, many who served on Monsanto’s former board as well. Hugh Grant is the current chairman of the board, president, and chief executive officer of Monsanto. He has been with Monsanto since 1981, when the company began shifting its focus to agricultural biotechnology.


Though headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, Monsanto’s reach is decidedly global. Monsanto has locations in over sixty countries around the world and employs some 16,000 people. Its operations in a given country may include administrative and sales offices, manufacturing plants, seed production facilities or research centers.6

[edit] Criticisms

[edit] Human Rights

On April 19, 2006, Monsanto adopted a “Human Rights Policy,” pledging to uphold key human rights principles. The policy highlights such issues as child labor, safety, harassment, fair compensation and work hours, and forced labor.7 Perhaps Monsanto drafted this policy in an attempt to counter its reputation as one of the most egregious corporate abusers of human rights in modern times.

Monsanto’s practices and products have been considered a threat to, and often displaced, family and sustenance farmers. The higher yield produced by Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds and specialty herbicides has drastically undercut food prices in countries like Mexico, Brazil and India, leading to the uprooting of millions of small farmers unable to contend with, or afford, Monsanto’s products. For this reason, Argentinean farmers relied on GM soya as their only produce. In 2004, anti-GM soya activists claimed that the widespread use of Monsanto-engineered soy in Argentina displaced a huge number of small farmers from the countryside who could not make a living since they could not afford GM seeds. It also forces farmers to buy new GM seeds every year as the seeds produced by GM crops cannot be reused.8

Monsanto has also been quick to litigate family farmers who it believes have unfairly profited from its products. Percy Shmeiser, a Canadian farmer, is currently being sued by Monsanto for having had his canola field contaminated by Round-Up Ready Canola. Monsanto alleges that it is immaterial whether or not Shmeiser purposefully seeded, or even wanted to seed, their product, but only that his crop is now laced with their proprietary goods.9 According to the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, over a hundred other U.S. farmers are facing similar suits for alleged seed patent violations. The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Science Policy analyst stated that many small farmers settle these cases out of court, despite their innocence, in order to avoid the time consuming and expensive legal process.

In a similar instance of Monsanto undermining the autonomy of small farmers, the corporation sued the Maine company Oakhurst Dairy for advertising that its milk did not contain rBGH, a Monsanto engineered synthetic hormone that is banned in every developed country except the United States. Monsanto claimed that Oakhurst Dairy had no right to inform consumers of the absence of synthetic chemicals in its milk. An advocacy group called Afact, made up of large dairy conglomerates and tied to Monsanto itself, has exerted tremendous pressure at the state-level, via high-powered lobbying, to disallow milk that is rBGH free to be labeled as such. These efforts seem intended to combat the tremendous popularity of rBGH-free milk among consumers.10


[edit] Environmental Concerns

Monsanto’s policies, products and practices have led to a host of environmental problems and concerns.

Perhaps the first instance of what would become an enduring pattern of environmental disregard and endangerment came in 1935 when Monsanto learned that the PCBs it manufactured in its Anniston, Alabama plant were toxic. In the first half of the 20th century, PCBs were ubiquitous and their use was, in fact, mandated by safety codes. They could be found in newsprint, insulation, adhesives, electrical equipment and a number of other everyday products.

Rather than discontinuing production of the hazardous chemicals or informing employees of its harmful effects, Monsanto instead chose to inform its industrial customers to tighten health regulations at factories dealing in PCBs, requiring employees to be provided clean clothes at the beginning of each shift and to shower afterwards. Nevertheless, workers began to fall ill in the 50’s, forcing Monsanto to agree to print a warning label on their PCB products. In the company’s own words, “It is our desire to comply with the necessary regulations, but to comply with the minimum.”11

Since minimal compliance did not require Monsanto to alert communities such as Anniston as to the hazardous materials being dumped into their local bodies of waters, it didn’t. In 1966, tests carried out by the company found that the water around the Anniston plant killed fish in less than four minutes. The wastes produced by Monsanto’s factories proved so toxic that even diluting it 1,000 times could still prove fatal. The scientist who conducted these tests recommended that Monsanto clean up the water it had contaminated and stop dumping untreated waste. Monsanto chose to ignore these recommendations, as well as other warnings.

In the early 1970s, when public awareness of PCB-related dangers had become widespread and outcry was building to critical mass, Monsanto responded by promising to “phase out” its use of the chemical, but only after selling as much of it as possible. Not until the decade neared its close did Monsanto finally cease all production of PCBs.12


[edit] Disregard of Business Ethics

Monsanto has engaged in a number of illegal and questionable activities that violate business ethics.

In 2005, Monsanto admitted to bribing an Indonesian official to sidestep an environmental assessment by the government of its genetically modified cotton.13

In 2007, Monsanto was sued by France for false advertising related to its flagship herbicide Roundup. Monsanto was found guilty for misleading consumers by claiming that Roundup was biodegradable and left soil clean after its usage. In fact, Roundup has been shown to be dangerous to the environment and toxic to aquatic life.14

Monsanto has also been widely criticized for overreaching in its patenting of pig breeding techniques and herd filiations. Farmers fear that these patents leave open questions of royalty payments for the selling of “Monsanto” stock and also creates the possibility of Mosanto aggressively litigating small pig breeders for using similar breeding styles or for unintentionally ending up with a patented pig in one’s herd. These concerns echo those of farmers who have been sued over corn and cotton patent infringement after stray seeds inadvertently fertilized their crops.15

In 2004, three Vietnamese took Monsanto, as well as seven other companies, to court for its production of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, claiming that it constituted a war crime. Since its use in throughout the sixties, Agent Orange has proven to be “one of the most virulent poisons known to man,” according to the BBC. Cases of illness and birth defects caused by Agent Orange continue to the present day.16


[edit] Worker's Rights Abuses

According to the India Committee of the Netherlands and the International Labor Rights Fund, Monsanto also employs child labor. In India, an estimated 12,375 children work in cottonseed production for farmers paid by Indian and multinational seed companies, including Monsanto. A subsidiary of Monsanto in India been accused of underpaying children to handle poisonous pesticides in the manufacture of cotton-seeds. Monsanto denied any culpability by noting that it does not directly employ these children.17


[edit] Political Influence & Litigation

Thus far in the 2008 election cycle Monsanto has contributed around $130,000 dollars to federal candidates. 52% of these funds have gone to Republicans and 48% to Democrats. In the 2006 election cycle Monsanto spent a total of $3,640,000 dollars lobbying.18

A number of high-ranking public officials have been formerly employed by Monsanto or have accepted positions at Monsanto after stepping out of public office.

Perhaps most notably, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas worked as an attorney for Monsanto in the 1970’s. In 2001 he wrote the majority opinion on a patent case involving genetically modified crops. The ruling benefited all companies involved in the production of GE foods.19

Donald Rumsfeld was chairman and CEO of G.D. Searle and Co. which was purchased by Monsanto in 1985. Rumsfeld made over 10 million dollars in the transaction.

Michael R. Taylor worked as an assistant to the F.D.A. commissioner before leaving to work for a law firm to gain F.D.A. approval for Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone. Taylor became deputy commissioner of the F.D.A. in 1991. 19

Linda J. Fisher served as an assistant administrator at the E.P.A before becoming a vice president at Monsanto from 1995 - 2000. In 2001, she became the deputy administrator of the E.P.A.

[edit] Brands & Subsidiaries

[edit] Notes

1. Monsanto Company History: http://monsanto.com/who_we_are/history.asp

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Google Finance: http://finance.google.com/finance?q=MON

5. Monsanto Company History: http://monsanto.com/who_we_are/history.asp

6. Monsanto’s Website, Locations: http://monsanto.com/who_we_are/locations.asp

7. http://monsanto.com/responsibility/human_rights.asp

8. http://www.grain.org/articles/?id=26

9. http://www.percyschmeiser.com/conflict.htm

10. http://www.democracynow.org/2003/7/14/headlines

11. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A46648-2001Dec31

12. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A46648-2001Dec31

13. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4153635.stm

14. http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_4114.cfm

15. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/news/monsanto-pig-patent-111

16. http://www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/orange060216.cfm

17. http://www.indiaresource.org/issues/agbiotech/2003/monsantounilever.html

18. http://www.politicalbase.com/groups/monsanto/13227/

19. http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/05/monsanto200805?currentPage=6

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