Let's make the world a better place. *Props to Urban Octopus for the artwork ^
What do Monsanto, Philip Morris, the IMF, and Argentine farmers have in common?
Agricultural giant Monsanto continues to ruin the lives of agricultural producers and consumers - this time with a partner-in-crime, Philip Morris USA. This week in Delaware, a suit was filed against Monsanto and Philip Morris USA, among its subsidiaries, on behalf of Argentine farmers, who claim the alleged culprits “knowingly poison[ed] farmers” giving the plaintiffs “devastating birth defects.”
The tag team of Monsanto and Philip Morris urged Argentine farmers to use Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready herbicide to clear tobacco fields. However, these farmers were neither informed on the dangers of the herbicide nor trained on how to handle it. What’s more, the farmers claim “leftover pesticides were discarded in locations where they leached into the water supply,” due to ineffective disposal training (which, is actually an oxymoron - there is no way to safely dispose of the herbicide). Rampant birth defects ensued, including “cerebral palsy, psychomotor retardation, epilepsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, metabolic disorders, congenital heart defects, Down syndrome, missing fingers and blindness.”
In addition to these horrendous human defects, native Argentine tobacco fields are being replaced by genetically engineered tobacco crops. According to the plaintiffs, Philip Morris and its subsidiaries urged the farmers to stop growing native tobacco in favor of a new type, which requires more pesticides. This new type of tobacco has not been disclosed.
This is a classic case of economic bullying of a first world corporation over a third world raw material producer. Although Monsanto and Philip Morris may claim they did not demand or directly force the farmers to start growing the new pesticide-intensive tobacco crop and applying RoundUp Ready herbicide, the farmers risked Philip Morris moving business elsewhere had they not complied.
This case of bullying can be opened a bit more. Argentina underwent a massive economic crisis at the turn of the millennium. As a result of the crisis, the IMF and World Bank stepped in to aid the country towards economic recovery. In the case of Argentina’s crisis, debt restructuring called for a devaluation of the Argentine Peso, in the hopes of increasing foreign investment, because well, the economy was so bad that there was little-to-no opportunity for immediate domestic investment. What’s more, the Argentine government and the IMF awarded export credits to industries like manufacturing and agriculture to jump-start recovery.
Enter Philip Morris and Monsanto. In 1984, Philip Morris created Tabacos Norte, a tobacco subsidiary based in the Argentine province of Misiones, in which Tabacos Norte is a primary employer. As the Peso is devalued, Philip Morris can purchase more exported Argentine tobacco for less. In addition, its subsidiary can take advantage of export credits from the government that incentivize even cheaper selling of its tobacco. On top of those incentives, the Argentine government also supports a Tobacco Special Fund that subsidizes the tobacco industry.
Large multinational corporations can take advantage of debt restructuring in countries that produce the raw materials needed for first world consumption. These attempts to benefit the struggling country end up incentivizing predatory economic tactics and harm individual producers economically and, as in the recent lawsuit, with respect to their health.
We need to be aware of the deep scars that exist in our world system. Seemingly unrelated nodes in the global socio-politico-economic network can be connected.
Monsanto and Philip Morris have more than enough legal firepower to put up a fight against Argentine farmers. We will learn more in the days to come…