If the latest listing of multinational companies (MNCs) in Boycott Action News is anything to go by, something is terribly wrong with international capitalism. This reliable magazine notes more than 50 ongoing actions against some of the world's largest companies for crimes ranging from labour disputes and environmental destruction to armament manufacture and human rights abuses. The names are household favourites: Adidas (trade in endangered species), Caltex (work in Burma), Nestlé (unethical marketing practices), Dole (pesticide misuse), EMI (armament supplier), General Motors (largest defence manufacturer in the world), Gillette (animal testing), IBM (arms production), ICI (pesticide and explosives), Levi Strauss (unfair labour practices), Mitsubishi (mass deforestation), PepsiCo/Pizza Hut (connections with Burma), and Shell (links to Nigerian military regime).

This listing is not extensive. Take, for example, the case of Nestlé. For some time now, Nestlé have undermined the practice of breast-feeding in Third World countries to create a market for its baby milks. As a result, some researchers estimate that unsafe bottle-feeding kills one baby every 30 seconds. Yet the Milky Bar Kid doesn't only market milk and chocolate. Nestlé owns a large number of other brands including: Tip-Top, Perrier, Vittel, Milo, KitKat, Rolo, Friskies, Go-Cat, Maggi, L'Oreal, and Smarties... Short of buying a major shareholding in the company, a boycott of Nestlé products at home in New Zealand (along with a letter of explanation) is possibly one of the only ways we, as individuals, can complain about the behaviour of MNCs like Nestlé.

Alternatively, we could refuse to work for them. Every year, a handful of graduates leave Victoria for the lure of working with one of the biggest companies in the world - The Royal Dutch Shell Group. Like all of the major oil companies, Shell has connections with the manufacture and sale of armaments and an appalling environmental record. However, it was for human rights violations which drew them to mainstream world attention late last year. The extra-judicial execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria highlighted not only the desperate state of human rights abuses in Nigeria but also Shell's blatant complicity with the military regime in command. When a country like Nigeria is totally dependent upon revenues derived from oil extraction, and Shell controls 50% of that industry, it is not too difficult to imagine how the two must necessarily work closely together to achieve their independent goals. Avoid Shell.

Behind the cute little marketing jingles and the strategic sponsorship of high profile events lies a more malevolent side to multinational capitalism. And our consumptive behaviour can implicitly connect us to this exploitive and environmentally destructive paradigm. Only when we understand this, can we really be sure of MNCs like Shell.

Robert Bentz Ashe

For more information on these companies and their nasty surprises, come along to the Human Rights Action Group, or check out the Rainforest Action Network
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