6 times companies in Africa didn’t care about the environment


Automaker, Volkswagen, lost a stunning 17.1 percent of its value (more than 13 billion euros) on Monday after it intentionally rigged nearly half a million cars to thwart federal clean air laws in the US. According to Yahoo news, the company admitted intentionally installing software programmed to switch engines to a cleaner mode during official emissions testing. The software then switches off again, enabling cars to drive more powerfully on the road while emitting as much as 40 times the legal pollution limit.

Volkswagen’s chief executive, Martin Winterkorn has apologized for the diesel emissions manipulation, which could cost billions. He acknowledged that his company had “broken the trust of our customers”.

But this is of course, not the first time companies have demonstrated little or no consideration for the environment, or communities they operate in. For instance, within Africa, foreign companies have continued to dodge allegations of environmental pollution, which has resulted in death, hunger and the spread of disease. Here are six times, companies operational within Africa revealed that they didn’t care about the land, or its’ residents.

Shell Nigeria

Shell has been operational in Nigeria since 1937.  They have also been guilty of polluting Ogoniland, Cross River state. In a study conducted by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), several examples of contaminated water and land in Ogoni were outlined. “Families are drinking water from wells that are contaminated with benzene a known carcinogen at levels over 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines.” Oil production stopped in Ogoniland in 1993, but some of the equipment wasn’t fully decommissioned, leaving it open to sabotage and corrosion, the UN report found. In January 2013, Shell requested approval from the government to decommission its assets in Ogoniland, and was granted an approval more than a year later, in February 2014, according to the report. “Shell’s description of what has been achieved amounts to almost no action whatever,” the groups said. “The people of Ogoniland continue to suffer the effects of fifty years of an oil industry which has polluted their land, air and water,” the groups said. “Only some of the emergency measures have been implemented and then only partially.” The groups accused Shell of putting the blame on oil theft, rather than taking responsibility and acting on the findings of the UN report.

Hebei Iron and Steel South Africa

In 2014, Hebei Iron and Steel announced that it is building a plant in South Africa capable of making five million tons annually. While the arrival of the steel company was good for employment, it was also potentially bad for the environment. Western companies often export high pollution activities to Africa, says International Policy Digest. It claims Africa-wide and sub-regional environmental initiatives have suffered as a result of slow policy implementation, inadequate environmental legislation and institutions at the national and sub-national levels, poor legal enforcement, and insufficient financial and human capacity to implement the agreements. In most African countries, the environmental laws and standards are much lower than accepted international norms. Take for instance, the global recall of Toyota cars in March 2013, due to improper functioning of air bags made by Takata, and other self-acceleration problems which were not accounted for in Nigeria due to lax policy implementation.

SASOL South Africa

SASOL South Africa, despite being an indigenous energy and chemical company, benefits more from environmental pollution than increased production. “South Africa is bearing the pollution cost of SASOL’s activity which enables higher profits, but which is not invested in SA but overseas,” Earthlife Africa’s Project Coordinator, Tristen Taylor, told News24. SASOL’s Integrated report for 2013 showed that absolute carbon dioxide emissions for its South African energy operation rose from 45.8 in 2012 to 49.4 million tons in 2013. According to Taylor, SASOL’s profits are better explained in terms of ‘profits from pollution’ than increased production. In the company’s Sustainable Development Report, it shows that SASOL emitted more greenhouse gases per ton of fuel it produced in 2013 than it did in 2012. Atmospheric pollutants including nitrogen oxide, sulphur oxide, and particulates (fly ash) also increased, which impact air quality and climate change. By extension, SASOL is responsible for leaving those who depend on subsistence living, vulnerable to hunger.

Unilever Kenya

Formerly known as Lever Brothers, Unilever is an Anglo-Dutch company with subsidiaries in South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, the Philipines, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Uganda. In 1991, a sulphuric acid plant in Nairobi Kenya, which supplies Unilever was closed down for three months because sulphur dioxide emissions were up to 900 times above the World Health Organization’s limits.

Coca Cola Kenya

In February 2011, All Africa Global Media described how two Kisumu-based Coca-Cola factories about 230 miles from Nairobi, operating under the name Equator Bottlers, were closed after public health officers threatened to shut them down over contamination of some of its bottling lines. Samples of sodas from the plants were found to have impurities. In Nairobi, Kenya, the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Embakasi, a stone’s throw away from the international airport, discharges its liquid effluent into the open. This was going on for several years, creating a massive wetland of noxious effluent. The wetland created a perennial river of blackish effluent, which flowed down to the Ngong River several kilometres away, passing by heavily populated residential estates. Nothing was done to stop the effluent discharges by the company. Mr Mabeya Mogaka, Kisumu East District Officer, reportedly said the firm had been given some time to clear all the already mixed chemicals. “They told us they were not able to close because they were likely to suffer heavy losses since they had already mixed chemicals”, he said.

Pfizer Nigeria

In 1996, Pfizer violated international law by testing a drug called Trovan on children in Kano state, disguising the exercise as a humanitarian effort. The exercise was carried out during a record meningitis epidemic and children developed brain damage and crippling arthritis. Pfizer issued a statement dismissed the Nigerian court action against them as “only a procedural ruling.” “It is not a determination on their merits,” the statement said. “Indeed, the strong dissent by one of the judges may be grounds for further appellate proceedings. Pfizer remains confident that it will prevail in these cases, and is weighing its options on how to best respond to this decision”. Pfizer said the clinical study was conducted with the approval of the Nigerian government and the consent of the participants’ parents or guardians. According to them, the trial violated no international or Nigerian laws. The case was eventually settled out of court for $75 million.

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