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On the UN - Corporate Beat, Dow Chemical Luncheon Chickens Come Home to Roost

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, August 22 -- Across from UN on Manhattan's East Side on Tuesday there was a protest of the use of Agent Orange in Southeast Asia. A manufacturer and distributor of Agent Orange, Dow Chemical, was celebrated at UN Headquarters less than a month ago, in a luncheon addressed by Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown and Mr. Amir A. Dossal, the head of the UN Foundation for International Partnerships. Inner City Press covered and questioned the luncheon on July 25, inquiring into how the UN screens and even tries to reform the corporations with which it interacts.

     Tuesday at a noon press conference Kofi Annan's spokesman was asked this question, and he said that "it's clear that the Secretary-General has made an effort to reach out to transnational corporations, who have a role to play in the world we live in." Asked by Inner City Press how the UN's "bully pulpit" is used to improve these corporations, the spokesman said that's what the Global Compact is for.  Video at, Minutes 21:10 to 23:15.

UN-civil society?

            Later on Tuesday the spokesman's office sent Inner City Press a copy of Dow Chemical's May 25, 2006 letter to Kofi Annan, asking him to attend the luncheon at that time two months out. The luncheon and the partnership with the UN are presented as fait accompli. Only the luncheon's date is in question, to accommodate the Secretary-General's schedule. As it turned out, due to intervening world events, Mr. Malloch Brown attended in Kofi Annan's stead. At the luncheon, the Deputy Secretary General said of Dow, "we endorse it."

   Since the May 25 letter does not refer to any review of Dow Chemical's record, or any discussions for example with Amnesty International, which is on record questioning Dow's ethics, the question of question of oversight and safeguards remains unanswered. Email inquiries on Tuesday resulted in a call back from Mr. Dossal's office in New York, saying that he is in London but would call at or just after 5 p.m.. 6 p.m. his office called to say Mr. Dossal had dictated an email, which subsequently arrived. Given the proximity between its receipt and deadline, it is presented in full without comment:

From: dossal [at]

To: matthew.lee [at]


Sent: Tue, 22 Aug 2006 6:02 PM

Subject: Re: Request for your comment on 7/25/06 Dow Chemical lunch, in light of today's Agent Orange protest on 1st Avenue

Dear Mr. Lee,

Thank you very much for the follow-up regarding the Dow/Blue Planet Run event.  I am currently out of the country, but I wanted to provide you with some background information below. As you may know, over 1.5 billion people do not have access to clean water.  Dow Chemical is part of a global water challenge to work on raising our awareness and mobilizing new resources to bring safe drinking water to people in developing countries.  The CEO of Dow is personally committed to this effort, working with the Blue Planet Run Foundation.  The intention is to attract new funders who will contribute towards the achievement of this pressing Millennium Development Goal.

As you might be aware, it has been this Secretary-General's stated commitment to engage all actors, especially to harness the leadership of companies, foundations and NGOs to find creative solutions in addressing problems in the developing world. We feel that encouraging Dow Chemical and other multi-nationals to support the MDGs will make them more sensitive and more aware of their responsibility to be good corporate citizens.  FYI, the Global Water Challenge includes a number of companies and foundations, including the UN Foundation, and NGOs, who are committed to finding solutions. I hope this information is helpful.

Amir A. Dossal, Executive Director

UN Office for International Partnerships

            For now, Inner City Press' previous description of the July 25 Dow luncheon is at and below, with links to other perspectives on Dow Chemical's performance, not mentioned at the lunch or in the lead-up, it appears.

Feedback: editorial [at]

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile: 718-716-3540

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At the UN, Dow Chemical's Invited In, While Teaming Up With Microsoft is Defended

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, July 25 -- How much would a corporation whose brand resonates with Agent Orange and Napalm, and which acquired in 1999 Union Carbide and liability for the deaths it caused in Bhopal, India, pay to be praised by the United Nations?

            For the past two days on the East River behind the UN building, a tugboat has pushed a barge with a billboard bearing Dow Chemical's red diamond logo. On the second day, Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal carried an article, "Dow Chemical Plans Measures to Be More Green." The article quotes UN official Amir Dossal that "what companies like Dow are doing will raise the bar for others."

            Mr. Dossal, the head of the UN Foundation for International Partnership, is described in one of his online biographies as the UN's "point person for partnerships with the private sector, foundations and civil society." Assuming that civil society includes global membership organizations like Amnesty International, it's worth nothing that in May 2006, Amnesty International protested Dow's annual shareholders' meeting, on Dow's continued failure to address the victims of Bhopal.

            On the fourth floor of the UN on Tuesday, Dow was praised over lunch by Mr. Dossal along with Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch-Brown, who said of Dow: "we endorse it." He apologized for the absence of Kofi Annan, in Rome on the issue of Lebanon. It's worth noting that just before he flew to Italy, Mr. Annan spent an hour and forty-five minutes meeting with the chief executives of pharmaceutical companies in the UN's Conference Room 7, after which neither he nor the CEOs took any questions from the press.

Through the corporate looking glass

            The purpose of the lunch, which included vegetable lasagna and either a burrito or a spring roll to the side of crouton-ed salad, was for Dow CEO Andrew N. Liveris to announce Dow Chemical's sponsorships of Blue Planet Run's around-the-word relay in June 2007. A video was shown, on plasma big-screen televisions. Children from Public School 116 came in to recite lines about clean water.

            As the Wall Street Journal dutifully reported, "last month, the company acquired Zhejiang Omex Engineering Co. of China for an undisclosed amount because, Dow officials said, the smaller company specializes in water-purification systems."  As Mark Malloch-Brown said, "This is a business proposition."

            Among the questions raised is how decides what corporations are invited into the UN? Inner City Press asked this question earlier this month with respect to a program under which the UN's refugee agency "teamed up" with Societe Generale in an investment in a fund controlled by Ivan Pictet, who is on the UN Investment Committee for the UN staff's pension.

    The answer, after days of telephone calls and unreturned emails, came from Mark Malloch-Brown, through the Secretariat's spokesman's office: "This case highlights the complexities of the UN's partnerships with the private sector and so current guidelines and practices of various funds and agencies and programs will be reviewed" to try to avoid "potential conflicts of interest" and misuses of UN logos.

            Following receipt of that statement from the Secretariat's spokesman's office, Inner City Press wrote to another UN agency, the World Tourism Organization, asking for comment and documents

regarding the press release last week, "UN tourism agency teams up with Microsoft to boost African tourism," on which [the] contact [is the] Special Advisor to the Secretary-General. The request is for a explanation of the arrangement between the World Tourism Organization and Microsoft, and separately, for a copy of the written agreement between the World Tourism Organization and Microsoft. While it shouldn't need to be said, promoting tourism in Africa is laudable and needed, and Microsoft is a corporation with a venerable track record, but whether "teaming up" is the appropriate public description of this partnership is a matter we'd like you to comment on, along with the above-requested information. If possible, we'd also like you to comment on whether you believe that the UN World Tourism Organization (and other UN affiliated agencies) receive sufficient guidance on engaging with corporations, and any suggestions you'd like to make in this regard.

            Five days after this request was sent, the following response was received:

-----Original Message-----

From: gl [at]

To: matthew.lee [at]; glipman [at] [and two UN lawyers and one spokesperson]

Sent: Fri, 21 Jul 2006 4:00 PM

Subject: RE: Document & comment request re press release re UN Tourism Agency "Teams Up" with Microsoft

Dear Mr. Lee

The key issues in the PPP between UNWTO and Microsoft, as we see, them are the following:

   The agreement is designed to support the MDGs and is in the spirit of MDG 8

   It is voluntary, non exclusive, carries no specific financial commitments, does not allow any use of our logo without agreement and provides for project defined activities based on the UNWTO work program and other international pro development initiatives.

   It aims to capitalise on links between 2 "catalysing sectors" Tourism and ICT

    It strengthens UNWTO's capacity to develop "e" programs in many areas of our mission that we otherwise would not be able to undertake so effectively, without committing us to any Microsoft systems or products unless we so choose.

   By initially focusing on Africa it puts the emphasis where it is most needed because tourism can bring export income, infrastructure, jobs and new hope for poverty reduction. As you rightly note this is a laudable goal and Microsoft has a venerable track record.

   The first projects are both designed to meet defined needs from our work program and intensive consultations held with Member States over the past year.

   The portal for Africa developed with NEPAD will give an immediate new potential for African States and Communities to showcase their products through a new dynamic channel.

   The Emergency Response System will allow us to respond to all types of crisis by providing consolidated information in a way which will help tourist administrations, tourists and concerned stakeholders. Its primary target of avian flu will be a key component in industry wide preparedness program.

   In addition we ate starting to explore development of an eTourism curriculum for schools and other educational systems designed to provide opportunities for young people in poor counties, where none exist today. 

   We have no comment on the use of the expression "teams" and we don't have any problem with working closely with the private sector -- indeed the Constitution of the UNWTO specifically provides for direct involvement in our activities of the Private Sector and we have a vibrant, growing group of companies affiliated to UNWTO as well as academic institutions and ngo's.

   We are quite open to "guidance" on relations with the private sector -- though at the present we feel we deal with this in a responsible fashion under the oversight of our governance bodies -- and we try to do it efficiently and fairly, as in all our cooperative activities.


Geoffrey Lipman    

            The requested documents, copies of the agreement, have yet to be provided. For now we'll only note that Microsoft is one of eleven corporations lists as "Corp Partners " on the UN Foundation for International Partnerships web site, along with


CISCO Systems

Coca Cola

Aveda Corporation


Equal Access

American Electric Power

British Petroleum

Globalegacy International

Hewlett Packard     

            This beat with continue.

            At Tuesday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked the spokesman office to try to get a response from Kofi Annan to the issues raised in (the margin of) the Reuters article about Peter Karim, kidnapper of seven UN peacekeepers, being made a colonel in the Congolese army.  We'll see.

   At Monday's noon briefing, Jan Egeland's implacable deputy Margaret Wahlstrom made the New York portion of the UN's flash appeal for Lebanon. Fuel pricing there have risen by 600%, due to the bombing of gas stations and storage points, and the need for fuel to run back-up generators. Inner City Press asked if Jan Egeland will be visiting the bombed-out Gaza power plant. "That is the plan," was the answer, pending approvals. We'll see.

            On a less dramatic front, Friday the UN announced that its representative in Iraq Ashraf Qazi had been cleared in full. The UN statement criticizes the unnamed ex-employee who complained about Qazi's conduct, saying that a reprimand will be placed in the ex-employee's permanent file (so he or she can never again work for the UN).

            The question is raised: how is it that the treatment of the Qazi case and complainant does not cast a chill on future prospective whistleblowers, whatever the UN's new written policy states?

            Finally, after inquiries we can report the reappearance of sushi for sale in the Austria cafe in the UN conference building basement. It disappeared, sources say, because the supplier had to be re-accredited. Welcome back! The new plastic trays say Daruma of Tokyo. In light of Monday's Security Council straw poll of the so-far only four candidates to be the next Secretary-General (the real question regarding which is, which mission leaked it?) we close as we began, with a question: who'll next be running this casa de sushi? Sashi?

Update 10 p.m. July 25 -- In the aftermath of UNFIL deaths in Lebanon, the lights burned bright on the UN's 37th floor. Howeve as of 10 p.m. no statement would issue...

Another report:

Ship-Breakers Missed by UN's Budget for Travel and Consultants in Bangladesh, Largest UNIFIL Troop Donor

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, August 18 -- Along the beaches of southern Bangladesh, decaying and asbestos-filled ships no longer useful to the West are disassembled for scrap metal by Bangladeshi workers with little to no safety equipment, sometimes without even shoes.

Ship-breaking chaos

            To address or obscure this potentially photogenic flashpoint of globalization, the UN Development Programme three years ago committed to fund a project ostensibly improving the treatment of ship-breaking workers in Bangladesh. There have been allegations, however, of waste and over-paid consultants, about which Inner City Press has asked UNDP, see below.

   The UN's relations with Bangladesh are hardly one-way. Earlier this week, Bangladesh offers 2000 of its soldiers, two mechanized divisions, to the UN Lebanon mission called UNIFIL. Bangladesh's is the largest commitment to date.

            To get response from UNDP, Inner City Press forwarded to Dhaka this quote from ship-breaker Zafar Alam, about UNDP's use of funds: "We wanted them to spend the money on training, development of sanitation, building a hospital, buying ambulances and installation of tube-wells but they never bothered to listen to us. Instead, they spent more than Tk 4 crore on consultancy, foreign trips, well-furnished offices, vehicles and conferences in expensive hotels."

            In a two-page response sent to Inner City Press, UNDP's Najmus Sahar sadiq disclosed the following budget:

"The Safe and Environment Friendly Ship Recycling Project has a total budget of Taka 8 crore. This amount includes also salaries of project staff for the period of 2003-2007. Out of this budget, the following expenditures have been made (all amounts are in Bangladesh Taka):

Consultancy: 8 lakh taka;

Study tour: 18 lakh; a total of 11 persons went on the study tour, two representatives from BSBA (yard owners) and two worker representatives nominated through BSBA.

Office: 16 lakh for renovation; office space has been provided by the Government.

Vehicles: 30 lakh; one car and one motor cycle.

Training: so far 6 lakh, totally planned around 30 lakh

Baseline Survey: 12 lakh."

            As simply one example, this UNDP project has spent five times less on training, one of the stated substantive goals, than on vehicles, and only aspires to equal with training its vehicle spending.  These same issues surfaced in Inner City Press' inquiry earlier this year into UNDP's controversy-plagued and still-suspended disarmament programs in Eastern Uganda's Karamoja region. UNDP-Bangladesh's non-budgetary response included that it is

"not in the projectís mandate to provide facilities such as sanitation and tube wells as mentioned by Zafar Alam... The infrastructural changes involve a far higher investment for which the 3-year budget provided for the project is far from capable of covering. A total of 13 staff is involved in setting up a method of reaching out to 20,000 to 30,000 often illiterate workers. The difficulty of developing a method by which safer working habits can be taught to these persons is never to be taken lightly. To be able to reach out to them it was essential to 67find out how the ship yard workers are actually carrying out their respective jobs. For this a thorough baseline survey was held...developing a one-day training programme for all yard-nominated workers where all aspects of unsafe and occupational health matters can be addressed. The sessions are now being held, and to date (1st August) we have been able to provide training to close to 900 persons...Another aspect with which this project will deal is to raise awareness regarding international concern over the way in which ships are demolished here in Bangladesh, as well as inform the important stakeholders about the international guidelines that have been developed by ILO, IMO and Basel Convention (UNEP)."

            A recent visit to the UNEP / Basel convention web site find a notice that "The Treaty Section of the United Nations web site is now a pay site, to subscribe, please e-mail your request to treaty [at]" One wonders how many ship-breaking workers in Bangladesh can or would pay to subscribe to get information about the Basel Conventional (UNEP).  At another UN level, Friday at the Security Council stakeout a UN guard from Pakistan, on the topic of ship-breaking, said that those who make the money should devote more of it to worker safety.

            Ship-breaking, considered too dangerous and polluting to be performed in Europe or the United States, and now even in South Korea and Taiwan where the industry first moved, is concentrated in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Lloyd's List of August 14, 2006, reported for example that

"Bangladeshi recyclers walked away with the two best deals of the week, picking up two tankers, Ocean Tankers' 88,396 dwt, 1979 Ocean Star and the Prisco-controlled, 17,725 dwt, 1977 Kamensk-Uralskiy. Chittagong operators revealed they were willing to dig deep when the tonnage was exactly what they desired and forked out $385 per ldt for the 18,592 ldt of the Ocean Star and $382 per ldt for the 7,445 ldt of the Prisco vessel. These were offers which could not be matched by their competitors. Ocean Star happened to be the fifth in a series of sister vessels sold to Bangladesh and GMS reported that the swift decision-taking ability of that country's scrappers allowed the deal to be concluded in less than 24 hours. Unidentified buyers picked up the 53,439 dwt, 1973 Spain-built bulk carrier Peng Yang, whose 10.561 ldt were sold on 'as is China region' basis for $315per ldt."

     The flow of junk ships is slated to increase, with the replacement by 2010 of one layer hull oil tankers. Recent reporting about the scrapping of the old SS France ocean liner shows the economics of ship-breaking. The SS France, since renamed SS Norway and then at last the Blue Lady, is worth some $12 million as scrap, which is less than it would cost to remove the asbestos if one followed European environmental laws.  So tow it to Alang beach in India's Gujurat, and let the ship-breaking begin. Then to fend off controversy, as a band aid on a cancer, fund a few consultant in brand new cars.

            A more fundamental approach may be needed.  For now, this analysis is provided, from a Georgetown law review:

"The towing of old rusted vessels contaminated with hazardous wastes across the Atlantic Ocean may fall within one of the prohibited acts set out in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea...Article 19 states that a 'passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in . . . any act of willful and serious pollution contrary to [the] Convention.' United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, opened for signature Dec. 10, 1982, art. 19, 1833 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force Nov. 16, 1994)."

While the UN's Bangladesh account may not balance, the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea may be of use.

Disclosure: Georgetown Law School's Institute for Public Representation has provided legal help to Inner City Press, most recently in overturning Delaware's citizen-only Freedom of Information Act, 3d Circuit Court of Appeals decision here, also in NY Times of August 17, 2006, Page C7, and here.

Feedback: editorial [at]

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 718-716-3540

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