Monsanto’s 2011 Sustainability Report: Cognitive Dissonance?

From the article:

If we were to look at the 12 leverage points described by Donella Meadows as the places to intervene in a system to try and change it, I believe we would find Monsanto at #12, the first step in the journey. Item 12 is Numbers. It is concerned with measuring and setting targets. Monsanto’s CSR report is full of numbers and targets, primarily aimed at increasing agricultural yield, which is the part of the problem they have been working on. But most experts who have studied world hunger as a system problem, say that poverty, inequality and distribution are the root causes. There is enough food being produced right now, to feed everyone, if we could just get it distributed. In fact, we produce 17% more calories per person today than we did 30 years ago, despite the increase in population. Why then, do we need to double production when the population is only growing by somewhere around 28%?

Apple Again Resists Shareholder Pleas for Emissions Reporting

Rotten Apple
Fortune magazine named Apple the most admired company in the United States in 2008 and in the world in 2009. This certainly doesn’t sound admirable. Read the article here.

In a repeat scenario from last January, Apple Inc. is contesting two petitions from shareholder groups to increase the company’s environmental efforts, according to Apple’s proxy statement, reports EE Times. Two of the proposals call on Apple to establish a board-level sustainability committee, and to report how the consumer electronics company will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address other environmental and social issues such as toxics, recycling and employee and product safety, according to the article.

In January last year, Apple opposed a shareholder resolution that would require the company to publish a corporate social responsibility (CSR) report, despite unveiling a number of new green products.

Apple’s board is rejecting both petitions this year, stating the company has taken appropriate steps to protect the environment including posting information at its Web site since August about its carbon footprint and recently released products, reports EE Times.

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Kohl’s Pledges to Achieve Net Zero Emissions by 2010

Read the article here.

Kohl’s Department Stores is the first retailer to commit to net zero emissions as part of its partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leaders program. Kohl’s pledges to achieve net zero emissions by 2010 and maintain carbon neutrality through 2012. The retailer said its goal is equivalent to offsetting the annual emissions from electricity used by more than 99,084 homes or removing 130,842 vehicles from the road for a year.

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Laboring for change

In this guest column in the University of Maryland student newspaper, the writer recounts a successful campaign on the University of Maryland campus to get the University to end its contract with an athletic apparel company that was violating workers’ rights. She now suggests a “a broader solution that will encourage fundamental change.” Read the article here.

This year, we have already learned about violations at two Nike factories that produce collegiate apparel in which fired workers have been denied owed pay. We cannot stand by as more workers lose their jobs because they stood up for their rights. But we cannot simply cut individual contracts and expect industry-wide reform. We successfully punished Russell’s labor violations last semester, but now we need a broader solution that will encourage fundamental change. We have the power to ensure no university clothing supports unethical policies that harm workers; we just need a way to use it more effectively.

The solution is the Designated Suppliers Program, a plan that would use the licensing power of this university to provide incentives for companies to respect workers’ rights. The DSP would help prevent companies from deserting unionized factories by requiring apparel companies to send a certain percentage of their orders to factories with fair labor practices.

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Silicon Sweatshops

Global Post has assembled a five-part investigation of supply chains that produce many of the world’s most popular tech products. Read the article here.

Embarrassed companies have vowed to do better. They’ve drafted “codes of conduct” for their Asian suppliers, and promised more factory audits to catch abuses.

But here’s the problem, say activists: While such codes may be great public relations, they’re not working to fix the problem. Worse, the codes permit the big brands to pat themselves on the back, even as workers continue to be exploited in the shadowy world of Asian electronics supply chains.

“These codes of conduct and audits are new tools that every brand will have, and they feel so proud of themselves,” said Jenny Chan, a labor rights activist formerly with Hong Kong labor rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM). “But the codes have limits. To see fundamental change, you have to get labor groups involved and gain the trust of workers. Otherwise it’s just a cat-and-mouse game between auditors and suppliers.”

The problem is compounded by a lack of transparency. Asian electronics supply chains are notoriously murky. Contractors shift orders across borders and between factories and subcontractors, and many major brands treat their supplier list as top-secret information.

That makes it difficult to pin down who’s making what for whom and, therefore, difficult to fix blame when allegations of abuse come to light. When a factory catches flak from labor rights groups and negative media coverage, the big customers often cut orders or sever business ties — a surgical strategy that activists say fails to address underlying, systemic problems in the industry.

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Emanuel Said to Press for Sarbanes-Oxley Exemption

Some people never learn. Read the article here.

The Obama administration is pushing House Democrats to spare small public companies the cost of complying with investor-protection rules imposed after the accounting frauds at Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc., according to people familiar with the efforts.

Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is seeking the reprieve from audit requirements under the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the people said. Representative Carolyn Maloney plans to add the exemption, postponing compliance fees for firms with market values of less than $75 million, to a bill overhauling financial rules.

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Propping Up a House of Cards

The New York Times
Joe Nocera
February 27, 2009
Want to get mad(der)? Excerpts are below, but you really want to read the whole article.

These exotic instruments acted as a form of insurance for the securities. In effect, A.I.G. was saying if, by some remote chance (ha!) those mortgage-backed securities suffered losses, the company would be on the hook for the losses. And because A.I.G. had that AAA rating, when it sprinkled its holy water over those mortgage-backed securities, suddenly they had AAA ratings too. That was the ratings arbitrage. “It was a way to exploit the triple A rating,” said Robert J. Arvanitis, a former A.I.G. executive who has since become a leading A.I.G. critic.

Why would Wall Street and the banks go for this? Because it shifted the risk of default from themselves to A.I.G., and the AAA rating made the securities much easier to market. What was in it for A.I.G.? Lucrative fees, naturally. But it also saw the fees as risk-free money; surely it would never have to actually pay up. Like everyone else on Wall Street, A.I.G. operated on the belief that the underlying assets — housing — could only go up in price.
Here’s what is most infuriating: Here we are now, fully aware of how these scams worked. Yet for all practical purposes, the government has to keep them going. Indeed, that may be the single most important reason it can’t let A.I.G. fail. If the company defaulted, hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of credit-default swaps would “blow up,” and all those European banks whose toxic assets are supposedly insured by A.I.G. would suddenly be sitting on immense losses. Their already shaky capital structures would be destroyed. A.I.G. helped create the illusion of regulatory capital with its swaps, and now the government has to actually back up those contracts with taxpayer money to keep the banks from collapsing. It would be funny if it weren’t so awful.

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Pall Corp. says financial statements can ‘no longer be relied upon’

This article has been removed from the Newsday website.

Pall Corp., the manufacturer of filtration systems that last month acknowledged it was trying to determine if it understated income tax payments, Thursday said its financial statements dating back to 1999 can no longer be relied upon and will have to be re-stated.
Pall said that while it cannot predict when its tax liability will finally be determined or whether additional matters will be found in connecting with an ongoing internal inquiry, the company believes its taxes payable to the balances could be in excess of $130 million, exclusive of interest and penalities.

The company said also that it may have one or more material weaknesses in its internal control over financial reporting.