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Monsanto’s Pledge on Business Ethics Oxymoron

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Monsanto’s pledge on business ethics: Oxymoron?
“Producing more, conserving more, improving lives – that’s sustainable agriculture. And that’s what Monsanto is all about. Billions of people depend upon what farmers do. And so will billions more. In the next few decades, farmers will have to grow as much food as they have in the past 10,000 years – combined. We work alongside farmers to do exactly that by selling seeds, traits developed through biotechnology, and crop protection chemicals. We are working to double yields in our core crops by 2030 with one-third fewer resources such as land, water and energy per unit produced and helping farmers to raise themselves from poverty to prosperity, along with many more people.” (Compiled from www.monsanto.com)
On its website, Monsanto positions itself as a relatively new agricultural company that aims to help farmers produce healthier food by increasing productivity, repressing weeds and combating insects while ensuring that environmental standards are not only met but exceeded, and while protecting the safety of people and communities. Its leading product is ‘Roundup’, world’s best selling agriculture herbicide for the last thirty years. Monsanto is also the world leader in biotechnology. 90 percent of GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) crops grown on the planet belonged to Monsanto (1). But then Monsanto is also arguably the world's most controversial company, praised by those who see a future of environmentally friendly farming and healthier diets in high-tech crops, and damned by others who consider them as promoters of ecological destruction and corporate control of global food supply.
Whether commercial application of biotechnology is a boon or a bane for the planet is a debate best left for scientists and ecologists to conclude. But there is a more appalling, prominent matter of business misconduct. Monsanto has been accused (even found guilty) umpteen times of heinous unethical practices as a corporation. The multi-national giant can easily be considered as equivalent of a corporate paragon of malevolence and covetousness. A series of headlines, as follows, has tarnished Monsanto’s position and purpose in the industry.
Monsanto: The least ethical corporation in the world (2). Monsanto guilty in 'false ad' row (3). Monsanto fined $1.5m for bribery (4). Jury finds Monsanto guilty in PCB contamination case (5). Millions against Monsanto march towards Washington D.C. (6).
The major controversial issues that highlight Monsanto’s journey though the 20th century are:
PCB contamination in Anniston, US
Monsanto dumped millions of pounds of PCB (widely used as dielectric and coolant fluids, for example in transformers, capacitors and electric motors) into oozing open pit landfills in west of Anniston in Alabama, US. Monsanto was fined $700 million for poisoning people with PCBs (7).
Controversy over Monsanto’s Roundup Ready technology
Roundup herbicide is sprayed on Monsanto Roundup Ready GMO soybeans which resist Roundup while everything else dies. This technology is now used all over the world. Studies have linked Roundup to birth defects and effect on cell division process.(8)
Concerns over possible health problems related to rBGH-treated cows
Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH), although banned in most other industrialized nations due to health risks to humans and harm to the animals, is still injected into dairy cows in the US to increase milk-production.(9)
Hazards due to Agent Orange
During Vietnam War, millions of gallons of Agent Orange containing 400kg of Monsanto manufactured pure dioxin as its main ingredient was sprayed on trees in southern Vietnam (10). 3 million people were contaminated including thousands of American soldiers. After-effects included cancer and serious genetic birth defects. Monsanto bluntly denied the claims of war veterans that dioxin or Agent Orange caused serious long term health defects to them.
Aggressive litigation and growing GMO contamination
Monsanto filed lawsuits against many farmers in Canada and U.S.A. on the grounds of patent infringement (1). Farmers claim Monsanto’s monopoly controls the seed market and they are forced to buy its seeds (14). Moreover, GMO seeds are seen as eliminating the existence of organic seeds with growing emergence of drastic results of GMO contamination.
Monsanto’s Pledge (11) of integrity, honesty, transparency, sharing, decency, dialogue, and respect would seem an oxymoron to anyone who knows a bit about history of the company and its alleged practices. Monsanto has likely demonstrated every possible aspect of dark side of capitalism and broken every principle of ethical corporate behavior as illustrated below: 1. DO NO HARM
In 1979, the U.S. government banned manufacture and use of PCBs because studies had proven that PCBs were a probable carcinogen. As early as 1966, Monsanto managers discovered that fish submerged into the same creeks in which the company dumped waste water turned belly up within ten seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin. They told no one. Company memos reveal company’s conclusion - “there was no reason to go to expensive extremes in limiting discharge from the plant.” Company findings that PCBs caused tumors in rats were changed from “slightly tumorigenic" to "does not appear to be carcinogenic." (12) Monsanto concealed its knowledge of the health effects and vast PCB pollution problems from local residents who suffered learning disabilities, increased asthma rates and reproductive deformities besides increased incidents of cancer (13). Monsanto clearly showed no respect for human life or concern for environment protection. When sued, it ended up paying a fine of 700 million dollars, which actually turns out to be a fraction of its profits over four decades of unregulated production of PCB.
Recently there have been humongous concerns over unabated contamination of organic species of crops by GMO seeds produced by Monsanto. Monsanto claimed that transgenic seeds and its natural counterparts can coexist peacefully but it has been found in Mexico corn that any presence of GMO seeds produces some monstrous species in the original corn fields. 2. INTEGRITY AND HONESTY
Monsanto has been found guilty twice of false advertising in Europe for labeling its herbicide Roundup as ‘biodegradable’ whereas it has extensively campaigned against labeling of its GMO products as ‘genetically modified’. In Monsanto, studies on safety of GMOs have been constructed on the ‘Principle of Substantial Equivalence’ and in some cases, results provide only “some reassurance” that GMO product is very similar to the organic one. Farming communities have long protested that the primary purpose of invention of GMO crops has been to sell pest and weed control chemicals and not to solve food.
It is evident from these instances that Monsanto’s principal mission has been to befool human population into buying its products by any means possible. 3. ANTI CORRUPTION
Several times, Monsanto has been accused of exercising influence on regulatory bodies like FDA by employing government officials and implanting its own “agents” in key positions to obtain approvals on its products. This manipulative strategy is also known as “Revolving Doors.” Monsanto’s rBGH was denied approval by Health Canada after Monsanto was found guilty of attempt to bribe Canada Health officials to ignore significant skepticisms over product safety.
Use of manipulative means through bribes or political influence in order to approve and sell their products totally negates Monsanto’s cocksure pledge. 4. TRANSPARENCY AND ANTI-HARASSMENT
Falsification of Information: What happened in Vietnam War is a political matter but there is no escaping the allegations made by a “whistle-blower” that Monsanto killed the truth beneath heaps of manipulated data on studies on health effects of dioxin contained in Agent Orange. Many EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) scientists have claimed that data was misrepresented to hide carcinogenicity of dioxin which stripped many US veterans of health damages, if not to mention the unaccounted devastation on millions of Vietnamese people.
Refusal to share information: Scientists were refused access to research studies on safety standards of Roundup Soybeans (22).
Threatening, harassments and “Dirty tricks”: Whistle blowers have been persecuted and Scientists harassed under a silent “smear campaign” by Monsanto, as claimed (12).
A question flashes before us – Can we trust a multi-national like Monsanto to tell the truth? 5. FAIRNESS
Monsanto says it sues US farmers for enforcing its patents and providing a level playing field for all farmers. Fair enough! But controlling 90% of the seed market, threatening hundreds of farmers with lawsuits, intimidating “non-compliant” farmers with constant surveillance, not permitting farmers to save seeds, and $15 million granted in favor of Monsanto is nothing less than bullying farmers and creating a feudal system of seed ownership. Small scale farmers in developing countries just can’t resist dominance of Monsanto in the seed market. For example, suicide rate of farmers in India has shot up astoundingly since the introduction of BT-Cotton (1).
India filed bio-piracy lawsuit against Monsanto, when Monsanto used conventional crops to produce transgenic variety (BT-Brinjal), forced it into market and then demanded royalties (20). India claims that farmers, for thousands of years, have preserved original species of the crops which were used without authorization by Monsanto to develop GMO variety. Now, Monsanto holds the patent and thus, becomes the legal owner of that seed. Is this fair?
Conclusion: Walk the Talk
It is convenient to publish a company’s ethic statement on its website in order to maintain a positive image of the corporation, but it takes much more than just words to define the real cornerstones of a company’s ethical values. But could a corporation like Monsanto share information, publicly collaborate with scientists, inform public of loopholes in its product findings and hold back its commercial exploits, and admit to mistakes without being provoked by lawsuits? Would Monsanto’s success be any lesser? Would the world be any better? No one has a definite answer to that. But an honest approach towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) by Monsanto is definitely what any consumer and a human being would expect. If corporate management incorporates social responsibility and environmental sustainability in all its major business decision, then world would definitely be a better place, I believe.
Today, Monsanto’s new management is big on public dialogue (18). That Monsanto is now talking to the public is good. However, it’s the walk that follows the talk which matters.
Talwinder Nirwan, UoA, Edmonton (December 6th, 2011)
Reference List (1) “Monsanto” Wikipedia.com. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto (2) “Monsanto: The least ethical corporation in the world.” GreenAnswers.com. Retrieved from http://greenanswers.com/news/267221/2011-newsweek-green-rankings-name-ibm-greenest-company-america (3) 15 October 2009 “Monsanto guilty in 'false ad' row.” BBC News. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8308903.stm (4) 7 January, 2005 “Monsanto fined $1.5m for bribery.” BBC News. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4153635.stm (5) February 22, 2002 “Jury finds Monsanto guilty in PCB contamination case” CNN.COM. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2002/LAW/02/22/monsanto.pcb.verdict/index.html?related (6) “Millions Against Monsanto March Towards Washington D.C.” Retrieved from http://www.care2.com/greenliving/millions-against-monsanto-march-towards-washington-d-c.html (7) “Monsanto fined $700 million for poisoning people with PCBs” Organic Consumers Association. Retrieved from http://www.organicconsumers.org/Toxic/monsanto_pcbs.cfm (8) September 30, 2010 “Study Shows Monsanto Roundup Herbicide Link to Birth Defects” By F. William Engdahl, http://oilgeopolitics.net/GMO/Roundup_Study/roundup_study.html (9) “Your Milk on Drugs: The Dangers of rBGH in Dairy Products.” Retrieved from http://www.yourmilkondrugs.com/ (10) “Agent Orange.” Wikipedia.com Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_Orange (11) “Our Pledge” monsanto.com. Retrieved from http://www.monsanto.com/whoweare/Pages/monsanto-pledge.aspx (12) “Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution PCBs Drenched Ala. Town, But No One Was Ever Told.” The Washington Post” Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A46648-2001Dec31 (13) “ PCB Pollution in Anniston, Alabama.” Steven Lyon. Retrieved from http://www.commonweal.org/programs/brc/ppt-presentations/Anniston_AL_PCB.pdf (14) “Monsanto versus Farmers.” The Institute of Science in Society. Retrieved from http://www.i-sis.org.uk/MonsantovsFarmers.php (15) “Monsanto sues and sues and sues and...“ Paul Beingessner. Retrieved from http://www.keepmainefree.org/suesuesue.html (16) “Top Scientists Warn That Genetically-Manipulated Crops Could Irreversibly Change Farm Soil.” Retrieved from http://www.ethicalinvesting.com/monsanto/news/10070.htm (17) “Consumer Protection: GMO Contamination of Organic Food.” Retrieved from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=17870 (18) “Genetically modified company. Has Monsanto learned its lesson since causing a stir in the late 1990s?” The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/1284020 (19) “Monsanto Stock Investment News.” Ethical Investing Retrieved from http://www.ethicalinvesting.com/monsanto/news/ (20) India vs. Monsanto: seeds of discord. FRANCE 24. Retrieved from http://www.france24.com/en/20110921-india-monsanto-gmo-brinjal-bio-piracy-biopiracy-steal-seeds-terminator-cotton-onion-melon-debt-suicide (21) “Controlling Our Food.” - The World According to Monsanto. Directed by Marie-Monique Robin http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6262083407501596844 (22) Class Business Ethics Statement - Wednesday AM class. By students, School of Business, University of Alberta.…...

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American Business Ethics a Modern Day Oxymoron

...American Business Ethics a Modern Day Oxymoron The dictionary defines an oxymoron as a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. Examples of this are dark light or living dead. This term is related with business because although most companies have a small book outlining ethics and guidelines that should be followed on a daily basis, many of them do not fully comply. The oxymoron “American Business Ethics” contradicts American Business with Ethics. The ethics of many American companies are not law but should be treated as such however these regulations are rarely followed and sometimes not followed at all. The risks that companies have been taking to increase profits and put more money into the CEO’s pockets use illegal actions. In recent times, companies such as Enron, Wal-Mart and BP have been guilty of multiple charges against ethical principles which have led to bankruptcies, housing market crashes and environmental disasters. The most famous case related to Enron and their aggressive accounting practices of reporting losses as profits to keep the stock price high. This act ultimately led to the bankruptcy of the company. Enron was founded in Omaha, Nebraska by Kenneth Lay in 1985. It was an American energy, commodities and services company based in Houston, Texas. Enron was once viewed as one of the best companies in America during its initial years of operation. Fortune magazine named Enron “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive......

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