China: corporations and pollution

The Kassandra Project

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china pollution
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Big-name multinationals are among those criticised for environmental misdemeanours in China

An Ethical Corporation pub quiz question for you all.

Q: What do Nestlé, Fosters, Pepsi and Panasonic have in common?

A: They have all just been found guilty of violating water pollution control guidelines in China by the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

OK, so there were another 2,700-odd companies in China found guilty of breaking the regulations, but the Chinese press has had a jolly old time naming and shaming the foreigners – particularly Nestlé and Panasonic in Shanghai and Pepsi out in Changchun.

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The general message to the foreigners has been: “Those in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones.”

The report that named and shamed the dirty foreigners was given more credence than the usual government-generated reports, as it came form the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a non-governmental organisation in China headed by the well-known and highly respected Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun.

And there does seem to be an element of high handedness by the foreigners here. Ma claimed that Nestlé Shanghai’s project went into operation before the local environmental protection bureau could test its facilities.

The foreign companies have come out with a raft of excuses from the unverifiable “this was the only time”, to the rather lame “on that day the environmental manager was on holiday”, to outright denial of knowledge of the regulations. In China, as in most other places, ignorance is not a defence.

Nobody has yet claimed that the dog ate their homework, but it looks likely to be used at some point soon.

Ma is surprised at the number and high profile of the foreigners he caught. “We’re not talking about very high standards. These companies are known for their commitment to the environment,” he says.

They are indeed, and perhaps now known a little better in China.

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