The Norwegian consul-general Odd E. Hanssen's role in the mining company Ecuanor's activity in Ecuador has resulted in a protest letter from the environmental organisation Accion Ecologica to the Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. In the letter, the consul and Ecuanor are described as a threat against the human rights regulations of the Ecuadorian constitution. The environmental organisation demands that Bondevik interferes against Hanssen and the mining company.
In December the Ministry of Trade and Industry (NHD) presented white paper no. 18, about companies in which the Norwegian state through the Ministry has proprietary interests. This is the way the NHD informs Parliament on the state proprietary interests and the wellbeing of the companies every fourth year. The white paper mentions, among other companies, Norsk Hydro, Kongsberg, Raufoss, and Olivin.
At a meeting of the consultative body for human rights, trade and industry (KOMpakt) on 15 December, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Trade and Industry, Harriet Berg, surprisingly said that the disputed Three Gorges development in China is an example of a project where Norwegian suppliers would probably not get guarantees from the Norwegian Guarantee Institute for Export Credits (GIEK). She made this statement with reference to the new environmental guidelines of the institute. This contradicts the defensive stand taken by the authorities when NorWatch revealed that last summer GIEK had pledged guarantees of almost 500 million kroner (66 million USD) to Norwegian deliveries.
This issue of NorWatch newsletter examines the working conditions within the toy business in China, based on a recent report from Coalition for the Charter on the Safe Production of Toys (CCSPT). According to the report, the situation is far from satisfactory, and it shows that many of the Norwegian children's toys are produced under disgraceful conditions.
The working conditions in 12 factories which are producing toys for Western markets are surveyed in a recent report from Hong Kong. The conclusion of the report is that well-known brand names like Barbie, Chicco, and Fisher Price are produced under extremely inhuman and disgraceful conditions, and also in violation of Chinese law. The same applies to "free toys" from McDonald's and Nestl‚. NorWatch has examined the Norwegian toy market, and has found most of the products in stores in this country.
NorWatch has examined the Norwegian toy market and found toys from the 12 mentioned factories. We have talked to four of the importers of the toys mentioned in the report from Coalition for the Charter on the Safe Production of Toys (CCSPT). The importers say that the report does not agree with their own information on working conditions, yet they point out that many things can, and should, be done in this field. The Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions' (LO) reaction to the report, is that it illustrates the "miserable life" of Chinese toy workers.
When the news of the latest acts of violence related to the Utkal case were broadcast on the NRK (the Norwegian broadcasting system) evening news on the 26 November, Hydro's public relations officer Mr. Thomas Knutzen made serious accusations against the Stromme foundation and the Norwegian Church Aid.
During a visit to Kashipur on 16 November, a delegation from the Utkal project was attacked by local people from the village Kucheipadar. Mr. Otta, who is the local project director in Utkal Alumina was beaten up, and three people employed in Norsk Hydro were taken to Kucheipadar against their will. A public opinion poll which was carried out in the area recently, shows that a majority of 92% is against the development plans.
The Strømme foundation and The future in our hands (FIOH) are now initiating a nationwide campaign to make Norsk Hydro withdraw from the Utkal project in India. The campaign aims to have as many as possible of Norwegian organisations and associations sign an appeal, and thereby increase the pressure on the company and its owners, and call attention to the very negative consequences which the project will have, and has had already.
NorWatch and others who are engaged in preventing deforestation in rain forest areas, are accused by the Norwegian furniture producer Arve Varleite of operating with "double standards" when we demand certification of timber in the South.
The Norwegian garden furniture market was last summer overflowed with hardwood furniture, allegedly produced partly from Vietnamese Shorea, with government approval. This happened in spite of the fact that Vietnam has prohibited this kind of export. Vietnamese sources claim that part of the wood originates from Kampuchea, which has also prohibited export. In spite of the countries' attempt to prevent deforestation, large quantities of next year's garden furniture will also come from illegally felled timber. Danish ScanCom is one of the biggest exporters to Norway.