INTERVIEWEE: Susan Mika (SM)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: April 17, 2002
LOCATION: San Antonio, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Chris Flores and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2198 and 2199
Please note that the videos includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. We’re in San Antonio, Texas and it’s April 17 year 2002. And we have the good fortune to be interviewing Sister Susan Mika, who’s a nun with the Benedictine Order. And she’s been involved in a number of areas but they include corporate reform, especially using the shareholder resolution process to try and press companies to be more environmentally responsible and also to take care of their workers in a better way than they have. And I wanted to take this chance to thank you for spending some time with us.
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SM: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.
DT: Good. I’d like to start this interview with a question about your childhood and if there was a time—an instance where you can say that your interest in the environment or in protecting public health might have started. If there was a family member or a friend that might have gotten you interested or something you initiated yourself.
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SM: I think I’ve always been interested in the outdoors. I like to camp. I like to go out and be in—with nature. I’ve also been a photographer it seems like all my life; taking pictures of different situations and when I came upon something that wasn’t—didn’t seem like it was right it just there—there—it just got under my skin, I guess. And so as I begin then, later in life, to work on these things I would remember, “Oh, yes remember when you saw this or you saw that and you didn’t really agree what with was really going on but maybe as a young child you couldn’t really articulate this wasn’t right or this wasn’t what you thought it should be.” So I—I just have some of those kinds of early memories of later being able to recognize, “Oh, oh, okay, that’s what that was.” Whether it was pollution or it was, you know, something wrong with the water or something wrong with the air or that type of thing. My dad was in the service so we lived everywhere for the twenty years that he was in the army and so you do get to see a lot of different things while you’re traveling in the world. That’s for sure.
DT: Can you tell me when you decided to join the Order was there anything of the public health nature, that lead you to be involved in that? Or was it more of a purely spiritual decision on your part?
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SM: Well I think the call comes from God so it’s kind of a hard thing to really explain in that sense. And I felt drawn to the Benedictine Sisters. I had met them when I was in grade school and I attended one of the schools where they taught before we moved back to France. And that’s how I began to know a little bit about the Sisters and then gradually over time learned what they stood for and was attracted to their mission. And in the early days, mainly you either chose to be a nurse or you chose to be a teacher. There weren’t so many opportunities as there are today. And so I was drawn more to teaching and then got involved with students. And my field is English; that I was teaching language arts, religion, psychology, sociology and those types of things. So I’ve
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always tried to weave into my classes kind a holistic look at whatever it is; whether it’s looking at health, looking at ourselves, looking at our spiritual side. So that it’s not just all in little compartments. So for me, it’s very important that we see it as a holistic type of approach to life, rather than just say, “Well, today I’m an environmentalist and tomorrow I’m not.” Or, “Today I’m a teacher and tomorrow I’m not.” I—I just don’t see it that way and I’ve tried to integrate my life so that it is seen as a more holistic—you know in a holistic way.
DT: I understand that one of your early positions, after being ordained, was to join the Socially Responsible Investment Coalition. And I was wondering how that became part of your mission as a Benedictine Nun.
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SM: Well, in 1982 I had the opportunity to interview for this job. At that time it was called Texas Coalition Res—for Responsible Investment. And now it’s changed its focus, not just on Texas, but to our whole region, and it—so it is called today Socially Responsible Investment Coalition. And when I heard the type of work that was being done there—I was—it was—it start up position—I was expected to start up the organization—but it would be part of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in New York as kind of a regional branch. And when I heard of the type of work that it was, I said, “Well, that would be a challenge to me and I would like to try it.” So, I took
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that position in 1982 as the Executive Director of the Texas Coalition for Responsible Investment. And immediately people said, “Go to the border and try to find out what is going on at the U.S./Mexico border.” Some did not know exactly what was going on, but there were reports coming out at that time about problems with the factories, which were called the maquiladoras. And so as part of that ministry, then, I began traveling to the border to try to meet with groups, with workers, with activists that were along the U.S./Mexico border and to see what was really happening. And so I did that for about eight years. And as part of that ministry I also realized that we just in the church sector, in the religious sector, needed to reach out beyond ourselves. Because we had a certain
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perspective that we went to the border with; but we didn’t have all the tools, we didn’t have all the research, we didn’t have all of the other things that some of the other groups had. So as part of my work, then, in 1988, I went to the Texas AFL/CIO and I asked them if we could work together because I had heard that they were trying to set up a task force that would be looking at the maquiladoras. In those days it was called Twin Plant Task Force, because many people actually believed that there were twin plants. And so—so I went to the Texas AFL/CIO and asked if we could start working together. And then about a year later in June of 1989, I helped to host a conference called Problemas Sin Fronteras, which means Problems Without Borders, in Brownsville and Matamoros.
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And so for four days we had people coming together from the unions, from churches, from environmental groups, grass roots groups, workers groups, women’s groups; whoever wanted to come together to try and see if we wanted to work together. And so as a result of that conference, then, we formed a loose alliance which then became the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras within the next timeframe as we tried to put the structure together for what we were wanting to do.
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DT: Maybe we can back up just a little bit. You mentioned your work with Texas (?)…
DT: … I guess it’s what it was originally called and then later called the Socially Responsible Investment Coalition. Can you describe what some of the tools were that you were developing there, the shareholder resolution process…
DT: …and maybe give us some examples of some of the companies you worked with either on the border, like the maquiladoras, or elsewhere.
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SM: Sure. That—in that job I really researched a gamut of things people wanted to talk about or to confront the companies with or go and dialogue with the companies. And so some of the examples would be on nuclear power. We wrote resolutions and took those both to Huston Industries which had the South Texas Nuclear Project and also the Comanche Peak Project which was under Texas Utilities. And I’ll never forget the day that that resolution hit the press. For the next four days, day and night, my telephone rang off the wall. People could not believe that Sisters were involved in trying to raise the question of safety and construction at the South Texas Nuclear Project. And we were
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asking for a halt to construction until the safety could be determined. And so, I still remember when we actually—it—it came to a vote, I think we got about 7% of the vote which was quite high in—in those days because that was in the early eighties. It’s quite high even today, but, nevertheless, we needed 3% of the vote of the shareholders for a first year resolution to continue. So we received that and then, you know, continued to dialogue with the company about that issue. That was just one issue, you know, around the environment. In—in those days, the project was still just being built, and so, the—the, you know, there was a lot of questions about that construction and really, you know, then later, we raised questions about nuclear waste. And things, too, like where would the
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waste going to be stored. And there was one official at the company that kept talking about putting it in space. And then after the Challenger explosion, he never said that again. And we could never get that from the company in writing; that—that that was an option that they seriously considered.
DT: Could you discuss a little bit about Comanche Peak. You said that you were involved in a shareholder action there.
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SM: I toured the Comanche Peak as part of—a—at one point in time, you know, to try understand better that whole nuclear technology and that type of thing. And, again, we were raising questions of the safety and also the storage and—and—and of the nuclear waste with Texas Utilities. Then we moved on to raise other questions with them around environmental concerns in just trying to understand what their policies were and are and looking at—at some of those kinds of specific concerns to utility companies.
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DT: Maybe you can describe some of the concerns that you found with nuclear energy and with the waste cycle that is related to nuclear power.
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SM: The main question is where is that waste going to be stored for the long term. And that’s still a question today when you see that even in 2002 there’s—that—that nuclear waste still has not been moved off site from those plants. In the early ‘80s, there was the absolute surety that some high level facility would be in place by the mid ‘90s or ‘90s for sure. And now we’re already into the 2000s and that—that waste facility still is not in operation. So I think just the concern about that high level nuclear radioactive waste that has a half life of thousands and thousands of years.
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DT: And when you brought up these concerns with the corporate management and, as well, with your fellow shareholders, what was the reaction? You said that some of the public called and were stunned that the Benedictine Order would raise these issues. But what was management’s reaction? What were some of the other owners (inaudible)?
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SM: Well, I think that management always has to look at the shareholders as owners of the company and then if you’ve gone through the proper channels, like through the Securities And Exchange Commission with a Stockholder Resolution, that has to be respected under all of the rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission which were basically set up in 1934 and have come forward. So, you have to have the resolution to the company by a certain date, which they put in their proxy materials. You have to have it within 500 words. You have to have it follow certain criteria that the Securities and
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Exchange Commission has set up. And then there’s a review process so the companies can ask for a review of the staff and then also of senior level of the Securities and Exchange personnel to see if whether or not they have to put these resolutions on the corporate ballot. To give you an example, we raised the question of maquiladora wages in—for almost nine years; from 1990 to 99. With—in a direct way with the corporate management of many of the Fortune 500 companies that have these factories. And then as part of a reform in 1990—I believe it was in 1999—the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that maquiladora wages were ordinary business and that they would not appear on proxy statements anymore.
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DT: Well, maybe you can discuss a little bit more about the SEC’s position. I mean, I guess that essentially there’s supposed to be a referee between the shareholders and the management. But do you find that they follow a pretty moderate course or do they prefer one side or the other?
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SM: Well, companies mostly, I would say, try to get Stockholder Resolutions off the ballot if there’s any way to do so. Because they—the company management are encouraging the shareholders to vote against those propositions. And so rather than have them on the ballot they try to get them off the ballot. So that they appeal to the Securities and Exchange Commission, their lawyers write a response saying why they think they can exclude it, then, we’ve been very fortunate to have a lawyer through the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility that then writes a response back to the SEC and—it’s a back and forth sometimes—and then a determination will be made. And then if you still want to challenge their determination, you still have a chance to do that; to ask for their—like th—their staff makes a decision and you can ask for senior staff or—I’m not sure if
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I’m saying that correctly—but there’s one higher level of appeal there. So, but all of this takes time, all of this takes energy, all of this takes money. So, you know, you have to weigh it against everything there as to, you know, what will be achieved. For instance, with Cooper Industries in the 2002 proxy season, we filed a resolution with them asking them for a Sustainability Report. And in that, we were asking them, “Well, what is your definition of sustainability and how do you look at the triple bottom line; which would be financial, social and environmental concerns?” So that you’re—often times you’re just getting the financial concerns but you’re not looking at the social or the environmental.
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And so we’re encouraging companies to look at this in an integrated way. So, for instance, then, when we filled the resolution, they went to the Securities and Exchange Commission and said, “Look. It’s the same set of stockholders that we had last year. Their resolution didn’t get enough when they were asking for global standards. We—we needed 10% because it was a third year resolution; we got 9.6. And, so, the company was asking to exclude it on that basis. Well, the Securities and Exchange Commission looked at it and ruled that it was a different resolution. It was not asking for a global code of—of conduct for the company or global standards. That it was a Sustainability Report; which is different than asking the company, “What standards to you have across all your factories no matter where they are in the world?” So, as a result of that, then, Cooper Industries did have to put that on the 2002 proxy ballot for all the shareholders to vote on. We received at extraordinary vote of 21.85%. We needed 3% because it was the first year that we introduced it. And it was just an—an amazing vote that we received in—in April of 2002 on that resolution.
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DT: You talked about—one of the starting points for a shareholder resolution is being able to clear a number of thresholds and, you know, the substance of the filing, the length of it and what kind of business it’s related to. I understand that one of the principle criteria is that you own stock in the company. And I was wondering if you could talk about the choice that the Order and that you’ve made to press these issues from within as an owner, knowing that it must be distasteful to own some of these companies that are doing things that offend you. Yet, I guess you feel like you have more leverage as an owner rather than somebody that’s on the outside who might have the right to picket, but wouldn’t really have a direct ability to negotiate with management.
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SM: I believe that—ther—there’s questions for every company. So, I start with that premise “they’re not perfect, I’m not perfect.” So, I feel like there are questions for every company in the Fortune 500 and then those that aren’t in the Fortune 500. But many of the Fortune 500 are the ones that own the maquiladoras. And so, as a result of that, then in the mid ‘80s I had asked the Benedictine Sisters if we could buy a few shares in a number of companies. So many groups have like a code by which they have their investments, or investment guidelines, whatever they would want to call it. And so, like, for instance, General Motors was—it’s—it’s high on the defense contractors list at that
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time. And so I s—and we don’t usually own those stocks. So I asked the Sisters if we could make an exception because General Motors was the largest foreign employer in Mexico at that time; well, and it still is. At that time they had about 75,000 employees. And so we bought some shares in General Motors so we could be at the table as on owner of the company and not just as a consumer. Like, for instance, if we bought their cars or we used, you know, their car radios or whatever that all would be. So it—it’s a way, it’s a tool that some of the religious groups had and that’s what we brought to the table, then, like when we started forming these coalitions. Because some groups bring their
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knowledge; some groups are workers in these factories. They were able to tell us, “Well, this is what is really happening in those factories.” Other groups bring other areas of influence. For instance like with General Motors; the unions in the United States and Canada, I mean, and the workers in Mexico, they’re all working for the same company. So, again, you’ve got some commonalities there. And so in looking at that, we did buy some shares in a number of companies so that we would be able to raise those questions. When the Securities and Exchange Commission first started this in 1934, you could own one share for any length of time and be able to raise a question. And, then—when—in the mid ‘80s, or so, that was raised to one thousand dollars that you had to hold of the shares
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for one year. And in the mid ‘80s, when Ronald Reagan was President, the Securities and Exchange Commission tried to set in motion some tighter regulations on that. There were some articles in, like, for instance, Multi-National Monitor and other magazines, that were saying that the companies were putting a lot of pressure on the President to try to get these pesky shareholders of their backs. So this was one way that this happened, that to tighten up, that you had to own the stock for a year before you could file a formal
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Stockholder Resolution. And that you had to hold a thousand dollars worth. So, if you were a gadfly, then you couldn’t just be a gadfly with a do—you know, with one share, kind of thing. Well, the religious groups are not gadflies in any sense of that word. And so, you know, but it just meant that you had to follow those rules. Then in the 19’90s, there was another push to try to tighten the rules. And at that time, the minimum then was raised to two thousand dollars, still for one year. And in both of those instances, in the ‘80s and in the ‘90s, the—the push to try to raise those minimum levels failed. And I have to say it was through the efforts of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, all of us working together to try to say to the Securities Exchange
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Commission, to say to Congress, I mean, “We have a right to raise these questions.” And Congress actually passed a law in 1998 that—that companies should be more friendly to shareholders. So in—when all of this was going on, we worked with those legislators, then, to try and say, you know, to show how that law—what—what the intent of that law was verses what the companies were trying to say about raising the thresholds. This second time, that—in—in this second decade of trying to change that, the Securities and Exchange Commission wanted to raise the levels to 8% for the first year, 15% to the second year and 30% to the third year; which would virtually eliminate most resolutions
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because sometimes it’s hard for us to get 3% in the first year. But that failed. So it’s still 3% in the first year, 6% the second year and then—the third year and any year after that, 10%. You have to get—receive 10% of the shareholders voting with you.
DT: Maybe you can wind back time a little bit to explain some of the roots of the ICCR and Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility and maybe explain—as I understood it—a lot of it grew out of many communities of faith concerned about South Africa and the press for divestment. Can you explain how this all grew up, maybe before you got involved, but what the longer history of it is?
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SM: The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility started in 1971 and just celebrated, in 2001, thirty years of—of this type of work. It did start over the Episcopal Church filing a shareholder resolution on South Africa. And it was with General Motors. And the—actually, Leon Sullivan was on the Board of General Motors at that time, and as I understand it at the shareholder meeting he got down off of the podium where the Board of Directors were sitting to speak to the shareholders to say that they should vote for that resolution. Very interesting; I’ve never heard that happen in any other meeting. But that was the first foray into this whole area. And the Interfaith Center is—has a
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number of Catholic groups, both men and women’s orders; some dioceses, some pension funds, hospital systems and then some of the mainline Protestant groups, churches in there, and several rabbinical pension funds. And I think we’re about 275 members at this point. And so it continues strong, in—in the sense of after thirty-one years doing this work and continuing to raise questions in any way that the member groups can. ICCR, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, doesn’t own the stock, per say, but it’s the member groups that own the stock. And they facilitate the work, in that sense, of all of us working together on these companies.
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DT: Well, taking the long view from 1971 forward, how do you think this shareholder resolution process has evolved over the intervening years?
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SM: Well, it—it—when I first came to ICCR in—around 1982, it—it was amazing because many groups were filing resolutions with the companies and the companies didn’t want to dialogue or they didn’t want to talk about the issue. And now, when we file a resolution often time the company does want to get into a dialogue about the issue or to see what we’re thinking and that. So now, I think that you have to be much more versed in whatever the issue is and be able to go in depth with the company with the resolution that you’re filing. And so, we look for expertise, you know, people to help us; to raise the questions. We’ve tried to educate ourselves on all of these issues. And so, as a
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result of that, often times people are point persons for a specific issue; whether it’s on genetically modified foods or climate change or the maquiladoras and in pollution or nuclear power or a—any of the EEO issues. I mean, just—there’s—there’s so much that we try to raise with the companies that we sometimes just have to step back and say, “We’re going to focus on one particular area,” because some of these companies are involved in so m—many areas.
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DT: And when you get into negotiations with these companies, do you find very different mind sets or do find commonalities…
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DT: …between the, sort of, religious community and the more business, bottom line management?
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SM: If we file a Stockholder Resolution, it’s almost an immediate—many, many companies take it very negatively and they say, “Well, why us?” or “What—what’s wrong?” or, you know, “Are we the worst?” That type of thing. And it’s—it’s a reaction. And so, but sometimes, like for instance, with Cooper Industries, they had not met with us for four years and it took me five years before that to be able to get into their maquiladoras. And for, you know, they took me into two of their plants. So you can how some of this is just really over the long term because we’re just trying to get the issues
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out there. And so, at the annual meeting in 2002 with Cooper Industries, I knew we must have gotten a good vote because the CEO already announced—even before the vote was announced—that they were going to meet with us. So I knew that we must have gotten a really good vote on this resolution. So, sometimes it—it takes a resolution or it takes a good vote to get the company back to the table.
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DT: Okay. In regard to the other shareholders, you know, it’s a very unusual thing—as I understand it—to get 10%, and certainly 21%, as you did in this latest Cooper vote. Why is it that the votes tend to be so lopsided in favor of the management when you’re bring up what seems like, you know, very reasonable questions?
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SM: Most people don’t vote their own proxies. If they own, like, 401K funds, like for their retirement; those are basically voted with management, unless you have a very progressive socially responsible mutual fund, perhaps, that you have your 401K with. Most of the banks, most of the big institutions that hold these shares would be voting with management. That’s just their practice. So, for instance, in—I want to say in about 1999 or the year 2000, the Domini Social Equity Fund was the first all stock mutual fund to post on their website how they voted their proxies. And since their call for that, several others of the Socially Responsible Investment Funds now put on their websites how
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they’re voting their proxies and they actually have guidelines. But I don’t know that any of the, you know, fidelities or the vanguards or any of those are letting anybody know how they vote their proxies. So we assume they’re voting with management because we don’t know that they’re not, in other words. I don’t know if that makes sense. Do you know what I’m saying? So the large vote that—against these resolutions or—or for a board of directors; all come from those kinds of accounts.
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DT: Large mutual funds, pension funds. Do they feel that it’s their fiduciary duty to vote with management?
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SM: I can’t answer for them. I mean, we feel like it’s their fiduciary responsibility to respond to us. And so, if I had any funds in those types of funds, I would be raising those questions. And I encourage people to do that because that’s the only way it’s going to change is public pressure.
DT: Do you think that there is a fiduciary argument to be made for voting for these resolutions in terms of a company, for instance, having large environmental liabilities that aren’t well disclosed and aren’t really well managed being a negative affect on a company’s future?
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SM: That’s what we were saying in our Sustainability Report because by integrating the financial, the social and the environmental, then you begin to see what the true costs are; to society, the true cost to the company, the true cost to us as the shareholders and really to our world. I mean, I’m—I’m really very strong on that. And, I mean, that’s a theme, I think, throughout these last twenty years of my life as—as I’ve looked around to try to see how are we going to have a sustainable planet for those seven generations that the Native Americans talk about in making decisions, you know, based on what’s going to happen seven generations out. We don’t have that. Right now, like for instance, in this
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world that I’m working in, the companies are looking at their next three months and they’re declaring their profit dividend and they can’t really work, often times, or talk or see beyond that, which is very concerning. I mean, when you look out—even seven years, much less seven generations—what’s going to happen? And so, that’s been a theme in my life of trying to raise those questions. You know, whether it’s like, for instance, in a situation like Panna Maria where the—the, you know, the strip mining going on there and—and, you know, Chevron—we had people that had stock in Chevron and went to the Chevron meeting to say, you know, “What’s happening in this small town in Texas?” And the Sister that went, she said they didn’t even know where Panna
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Maria was. They had to get out a map and try to find it the next day. I mean, you know, so it’s a way of educating corporate America, really, about what is really happening in the trenches; what is really happening in the little towns; what’s really happening in these factories where the things that we’re wearing today are being made. You know, to try to say, it—it—it isn’t sustainable, often times, the way it is now. And so how are we going to change or how is corporate America going to change and all of that just so that we will be sustainable and have a planet for the long term. I mean, at this point in time we can’t live on Venus, we can’t live on Mars, so this really is the only planet that we have. And I know we have the sign in the background, The Sacred Earth, and, I mean, that’s a
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television show that I do each week. And, I mean, that is so—it’s so, you know, it’s so important because that’s all we have. You know, we don’t have another place to live. So, I just think it’s really important, you know, that we look at those kinds of questions; and for the long term, because if we pollute everything that we have, then how can we unpolluted it. You know, whether we’re talking about Los Angeles or we’re talking about the border or Mexico City or, you know, wherever. What are we going to do if we can’t live in those areas at some point in the future?
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DT: You mentioned Panna Maria, which I understand is a small town in Karnes County…
SM: Karnes County.
DT: …southeast of San Antonio where there’ve been some yellow cake mining and milling operations and also radio active waste disposal. Can you talk about your personal connection with that town and what the issues had been there?
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SM: Well, the—my father is from there and my grandmother and grandfather lived all their married lives across from the church there in Panna Maria. It’s a very small little town; and the church, the hall, a couple of houses, a—a gas station, a little country store and little school. And—so I got involved in that situation because of the mining questions and the health of the people there and seeing illnesses and water being contaminated and certainly one area—one road, one country road there right by the plant where people up and down that road died of esophageal cancers and cancers that you don’t just—don’t just—aren’t normal. I mean, you know, in the sense of like, you know, they ingested
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whatever was coming from that mining. And so, just—at that time Chevron owned that plant and so we found one of the Order of Sisters, Sisters of Divine Providence, owns some shares in Chevron, and we asked them if they would go to the meeting, to the annual meeting, and tell the shareholders what was going on there. And then as a result of that, then, we did have some meetings with the company, in Panna Maria, at the mining site and raising the questions. And then, shortly thereafter, within maybe a year, they sold that plant to someone else and it wasn’t a publicly held company. And so we lost the leverage of the—the shareholders had in being able to raise that question. (Inaudible) So this is some of the things that happen to us sometimes as—a—as we get to close to the
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truth. Sometimes companies decide then that they’re going to sell off that plant or that area or withdraw. We’ve seen in the maquiladora industry—we’ve had a number of the companies spin off their maquiladoras into their own company and, so then the liability is at an arms length from that company. We’ve had that happen with AT&T sold off Lucent Technologies. General Motors spun off Delphi and then the latest one is now Ford spun off Visteon.
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DT: And you think part of this effort is to, I guess, diversify their liabilities but also to insulate these operations against shareholder concerns and resolutions?
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SM: No. I’m not saying—I’m not saying that it insulates them against shareholder concerns because then usually if you own the parent company then you get shares in the spin off, or a few. Like, for instance, in Visteon, we received, I think, a hundred and forty-three—I—I—I think we received thirteen shares which is worth about a hundred and forty-three dollars. So in the 19—in the 2002 proxy season, we filed a resolution with them along with some other groups that owned more shares than we did to try and ask them about their global code of conduct. So, we—you still have access but, nevertheless, you have to then form a dialogue with another whole set of people. For instance, like
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when Delphi spun off from General Motors, for all those years, General Motors had done all of the PR, all of the HR, Human Resources, the Public Relations; all of these things for that company. Then all of a sudden, they’re forced to stand of their own two feet and they have to get all of that in order. And so, then when you’re asking them the questions, they’re like, “We’re a new company,” you know. “We’re just trying to get started.” And so, then, you have to build another relationship with the people in that set of management. Because like, for instance, with General Motors. We had been meeting with General Motors for about nine years. So we knew the people at General Motors that were in charge of these areas that related to the maquiladoras. Then all of sudden in the—in the
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year ten we have to form a new relationship with new people that are in the Delphi Company because they’re the ones now that are being raised up to top level management in a new company.
DT: Given the difficulties of pressing forward the shareholder resolution and, you know, whether it’s just with an existing company or the double efforts of trying to deal an entirely new company that might be spun off, why have investors, like you, decided to go this route rather than say the political route of trying to press your elected officials or agency officials to change laws and regulations governing these companies?
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SM: We do both. It wouldn’t be that we’re doing one or the other. I mean, we’re—for instance, when the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, was being debated in the early ‘90s, we were involved in having many journalists come to the border areas; they wanted to found out for themselves what was going on there. Many reporters, many legislative aides, many legislators themselves—for instance, at one point in time, a whole delegation of women came from Congress. It was small put—because we’re still working on getting more women in Congress, but, nevertheless, they came together and wanted to see what was going on at the border. So, and—and—and, you know, many of us testified a—a—before congressional committees. We took workers to those hearings. That’s—
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that kind of thing is still going on wherever it’s possible. In April of 2002, there were some workers that went to—before some congressional aides and congressional legislators about a—a case that’s still going—right now, it’s called the Custom Trim Auto Trim Case; where workers have been severely—their health has been severely damaged by working in this plant. And what they were making is, like, you know, on your steering wheel you have like a—on—on luxury cars that steering wheel cover with all of the—the lacing and—and—that. And they have to stretch that leather so that it goes over that. And they have to use solvents and glues and then—if—if it’s not exactly right they have to take it all apart and—and—and get it right, kind of thing. And so, I mean, there’s many, many instances in that plant of pr-problems of carpal tunnel syndrome
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with, you know, just problems, you know, because of the stretching and, you know, hands and—actually workers, after a period of working in there, they—they are used up. And that’s a thing that we’ve seen, you know, with the maquiladoras; wanting to have very young people working in those factories. Usually those workers are sixteen to twenty-five years old and after that they’re considered to be used up for their work life in that kind of an environment. And it’s very difficult to get people that are in their thirties into the plants if they haven’t already, you know, had a job, and that type of thing. I mean, I know your—you don’t want to believe this, but it is true. And—I, you know, I mean, I say this often times to young people because, you know, when I’m talking to
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high schoolers, those are the people that are in those plants working and making all these things that we enjoy or that we buy or that are parts of a car or parts of, you know, whatever it is; a stereo or painting our cassettes that go in our cameras that we’re filming with. You know, whatever all those things are; somebody’s making those things. And at what cost to their health and to, you know, their long term health and that type of thing. So, there’s—there’s so much that we could say I don’t know; I mean, we don’t have enough time to cover everything but just, you know, there are so many issues around this. And some of this is more covert now, because we revealed so much in the early ‘90s; around the NAFTA debate and that type of thing. At that point in time there was an organization called the National Toxics Campaign. And when we came together as a
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coalition, that was one of the things—I had stood over some of those ditches and s-you know, had the headaches and smelled it; it looks black, it looks this, you know, it was discolored. I couldn’t say what it was. But when the National Toxics Campaign came in, and they put out a—a report, they went from site to site and then they said, “Okay. Well, this is what’s in this site.” So that’s where, for instance, with the Stepan Chemical Company, in the ditch behind their factory in Matamoros there was xylene at 6,000 times the acceptable levels for U.S. receiving waters. A little ways over, in Matamoros, there, in—in the same industrial park area, at the General Motors Romir plant where they were painting our fenders so that they’re the same colors as our cars. They were putting that, you know, xylene, and different things, in—methylene chloride—in holes in the floor
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that went out then into the ditch. And at one ditch there, we found, or the National Toxics Campaign, found methylene chloride at 215,000 times the acceptable levels for U.S. receiving waters. And once we put that out there, General Motors came down on us very harshly. They tried to, you know—in every public forum to discredit that; but on that day that that test happened that’s what was in that water. And if anything, because they had to take it and they had the samples and they went from border city to border city and then back to their laboratory in the East, I mean, it could have diluted if anything. I mean, you know, so there were definitely a lot of things happening in those areas that companies—once we started calling those chemicals by name we became the threat. And then,
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actually, there were threats made against us. In 1993, by the Matamoros Maquiladora Association—every city has their own Maquiladora Association—and we found out that the Maquiladora Association went to the city council in Matamoros and called for a government investigation of six of us by name. And, of course, it was all of us that were very active. And so what we did is we let everyone know in the coalition, at that time, what was happening so that if anything happened to any of us, that action would be taken. Because we knew that we were at risk; I mean, we couldn’t stop the work and we couldn’t stop speaking out. But there was this damper to try and—and not have people be speaking especially about the affects of NAFTA and, you know, what was happening
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with the pollution and that type of thing. And actually they put the progressive lab—labor leader in Matamoros in jail for, gosh, from January of 1993 until October of ‘93. He was under house arrest in Mexico City because he had called for a strike in the early days of—of January of 1993 because of the working conditions. And so, he was arrested and then sort of—he wasn’t in very good health and so they took him to Mexico City and near a hospital and that type of thing. But he was not released until after NAFTA was passed.
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DT: Maybe you can help set the scene a little bit. Could you explain why there are twin plants and, I guess later, the maquiladora industry and where they are and what they typically do? And I think that would help explain it to people who may not be as familiar with it.
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SM: Okay. It’s just—there’s so much—there’s just—okay, I’ll try to not be too excited. It’s just like, oh God. Okay. The Border Industrial Program, it’s called BIP, started in 1965. And this was a program to have supposedly this twin plant idea. Really there are no twin plants. The labor intensive plant is in Mexico and the warehouse is on the United States side of the border, which might employ maybe five, ten employees in a warehouse; verses a labor intensive situation were you have perhaps hundreds of thousand of people even on a shift, in that sense. It started in 1965 because in 1964 the Bracero Program ended and there was unrest at the border. And any time that there’s
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unrest at the border something has to happen. In the Bracero Program, that men, mainly men, came across into the United States for the jobs. And then were free to go back. Now in this program, it didn’t turn out to be mostly the men that got the jobs but rather the women. And so at the beginning that also caused some unrest and kind of a shift in trying to adjust. But the jobs were in Mexico so people were not coming across into the United States for the jobs. And as we see it, many of the people that were—desired for the jobs, were young women because they—they had another whole life outside of the plant; which often times was to do everything in the house, also, to make the household run,
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and work forty-five to forty-eight hours, you know, in the factory. So your not—you don’t have a lot of other time, to perhaps, talk about, you know, joining a union, learning your rights, you know, being anything more—learning anything more to be, you know, more of a leader, you know, in your team—that type of thing. And so when you’re sixteen and if it’s your first job, and some of these workers were even younger than that, you don’t really know what your rights are. You may not even know what your responsibilities are. And so, the first time that I went a workers meeting, they—that’s what they were talking about. They were showing through, like a skit; okay if your supervisor comes and says, you know, “You need to do such and such” and this isn’t part
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of your work, how do you say “no” to your supervisor? Because usually your supervisor was a male. And so, you know, just all of this—like to be able to stand up and say, “Well, if I don’t do the work that I’m doing, I’m not going to get my production bonus because I’m not going to make my quota.” So, it—it’s a very interesting thing and it could be just like saying, like, “I want you to sweep this over here.” And it’s not part of your work because you’re making widgets or you’re making pieces of a computer or you’re making, you know, parts of an airbag or whatever it is that you’re doing. But you’re not going to make enough if you have to go and spend ten minutes doing something else. So, I—I learned from that that we all have to—better know what are our responsibilities and what are our rights. And Mexican labor law is very strong. It’s just not enforced all the time
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and people don’t know what their rights are under the labor law. And in 2000 there is a—a move under foot to try to dilute Mexican labor law, to make it even more attractive for people—for companies to be able to come into Mexico. So we’re always up against all of those kinds of things that are out there, also. As we have this race to the bottom of where we’re looking at, you know; who’s got the cheapest wages; who’s got the most lax environmental rules; who’s got the least enforcement on some of these areas.
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DT: Is that what is appealing to a lot of American corporations? Is it the fact that they can go five miles across the border and benefit from cheaper labor and looser environmental regulations? Is that the chief rational? I’m curious why the Bracero Program, and then later the PIB and Maquiladora Program, was so appealing? Because maybe you could also say just how quickly these have burgeoned; the growth of the maquiladoras.
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SM: The maquiladoras have grown in 2000, before the recession, they—there was about 1.3 million workers in the maquiladora industry across the border areas. And now, of course, they’re—they’re going South, even in Mexico. And beyond into Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador as—continue to look for lower wages and, you know, a little bit further away from environmental, you know, oversight and that type of thing. With the recession in 2002 I would say that there’s, probably still, about a million workers. But about two to three hundred thousand jobs were lost with the U.S. recession. And the reason of that is because these two countries are so tied together with production. You were asking about why a company would want to go? Okay. Well in the NAFTA debate
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in the early ‘90s, we were saying we need to look at the three countries that are trying to go into this debate—into this treaty, or whatever they want to call it—together, agreement. Okay. Canada had higher wages than the United States. Before they settled, a—they went into a—a—a free trade agreement in 1988 and it went into effect in ‘89. And then by 1990, they had already lost 500,000 jobs. And so, when you look at that type of displacement, many of those jobs went across the northern border of the United States. So, for instance, if Canada was paying thirteen dollars an hour and then in the northern border of the United States you could pay nine dollars an hour, those companies went and it wasn’t that far. Okay, then went NAFTA was being debated, we were talking about
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Mexico as underdeveloped country, the U.S. was a developed country, Canada was a developed country, if you were honest. Okay, Mexico said, “No, we’re developing. We’re a developing country. You’re developed and Canada is developed.” Okay, this made a very big difference because you don’t start with the same premise if you’re developing or if you’re underdeveloped. And one of the main areas that we kept talking about was the wages; because there’s such a chasm between the wages. And in 1994, a colleague of ours, Sister Ruth Rosenbaum, did the first Purchasing Power Index Study. And we called it a Market Basket Study in those days. What it showed—I just felt like I was kicked in the stomach when I saw the results the first time, because I had been
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severely criticized during the NAFTA debate for saying that the wage differential was ten times different, you know, from the United States to Mexico. And most people were saying, “Oh, Susan, you’re just exaggerating,” and on and on. Well, in that Market Basket Study that she did with General Motors workers; because, of course, that was the largest foreign employer in Mexico, so we had a number of the wage stubs from those workers. What it showed basically, was, that the workers—and remember this is before the peso devaluation—those workers were getting a dollar six an hour for their work; assembly work, entry line assembly work. Okay. In the—in the UAW, United Auto Workers Contract, for the same period of time that we collected the wages, which was the end of 1993 and that first month or two of ‘94, the UAW Contract called for entry level
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maquil—entry level assembly work for a salary of eighteen dollars and six cents, plus benefits; eighteen dollars and six cents in contrast to paying a dollar six. I mean, it was far beyond what I even imagined could be happening. So when—when you have that kind of a contrast—and I say before the peso devaluation because at the end of 1994, the peso went into freefall. Of course, you know, this was after NAFTA was passed and, you know, all of this because they kept it buoyed up by, you know, Mexican savings during that t—time of the d—that NAFTA was being debated. And then after that, then, you know, after NAFTA was passed then let it go into freefall. So, you know, at the end of 1994 it went from three thousand to six thousand and today it’s right around nine thousand. So, that just gives you some idea of the massive devaluation.
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DT: Well, explain this to me; the American corporations then had an advantage in terms of saving a great deal on wages by moving their plants south of the border, either from Canada to the U.S. or from the U.S. to Mexico and then they could move their products back across the border northward without paying a tax. Is that right?
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DT: There’s no tariff.
DT: Right. Was there also an environmental cost benefit for companies to move slightly south of the border?
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SM: Yes, basically NAFTA provides for free movement of capital but not free movement of anything else; especially people. So, our—our, you know—our—our northern border and southern border of the United States are more militarized than ever. I mean, at some point, you used to be able to get into to Canada without, like, a passport. Now they really prefer that you have a passport. And, I mean, we hear stories all the time about what’s happening, you know, with the border patrol and, you know, the long lines at the border, our southern border. As far as the environmental concerns, right before—
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right as NAFTA was being debated, at that time the Mexican equivalent of the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, was called Seduay. And so Seduay hired a number of extra persons to inspect plants, especially the maquiladoras and, you know, write up things and that type of thing. They didn’t have any money to pay them. So after a month, I mean of, working for free, I mean, people just left those jobs. But it was an attempt to try to say, “We’re doing our part.”
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DT: Can you give us some examples of how you tried to press for environmental improvements in some of these maquiladora plants? You mentioned Stepan before and I think there was another company called Alcoa that had plants within the maquiladora zone that you worked on.
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SM: Stepan Chemical is based in—right outside of Chicago, in Northfield, Illinois. And they have a plant at the border, in Matamoros, and once the National Toxics Campaign revealed this high level of xylene at the—in the—in the ditch behind the Stepan Chemical factory. Actually, we—we were raising questions with them on a number of areas, but again, all environmental. But that just solidified the fact that, I mean, they were dumping that to—that xylene right out into a ditch that was in a—in a—right—right near a colonia railroad track and that type of thing. So, we met with them a number of times. We actually produced a whole video on the Stepan Chemical situation.
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And a colleague of ours, Ed Fagan, who is with the AFL/CIO, actually videotaped people from Stepan putting—dumping stuff—like foamy white stuff that had fumes and everything into the ground all day this one day when he was outside in the colonia, just filming them doing this. And so, of course, we were trying to find out, well, what is that? You know what—what’s happening. Because on—they—they have these shallow ponds on the—on—on the land there, right by the factory. And they covered them up and then they tried to plant grass. And it just never would take. And, so, finally—and they planted oleanders along the edge where the fence was with the colonia. And every week they
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would go out and they would pull out the dead oleanders and put in new ones. And you could see—even if you went there today—you could see how, on a certain side of the plant where it’s not polluted, the oleanders are huge bushes now. And even further along the fence line, were there wasn’t so much pollution, the oleanders grew. But this one area, were there was so much pollution, then the—they just continually took them out and replanted them. And finally they had to bring in a massive amount of top soil because this is a huge area. I want to say it’s like a soccer field or something like that. It’s a very big
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area. They had to bring in dirt in order then, finally, for top soil—for anything to grow because it’s just so polluted beneath that. So we’ve always said that—I mean, they say they’ve spent nine hundred thousand…
DT: Well let’s resume. You were telling us on the last tape about some of your work with Stepan. Could you continue with that?
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SM: W—the—the outcome of all of that was that Stepan basically put in the ground cover, the top soil to—in order—for some of the grass to grow and they just kept replacing the oleanders and there’s still some oleanders there today if you went to look at that. And the—they did change some of their processes and then they covered up this ditch where the xylene was coming into the community. And then now, what’s happening is, whatever the byproducts of their processes are, are going into the sewer. So it makes it much harder to monitor what—what happens. So sometimes that’s an outcome that—you know, you don’t expect necessarily. So we don’t really know everything that’s going into
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the sewer from all of those plants. So that’s just one example. Then you were asking me about Alcoa and, yes, we’ve been involved with Alcoa since 1995. And at that time, the Benedictine Sisters filed a shareholder resolution with them asking them about their wages in Mexico. And they wanted to meet with me—they wanted me to come to Pittsburgh, and I said, “Well, why don’t you come to the border and let’s meet with some of the workers.” So we did. We had a meeting and then—the—some of the people from the corporate headquarters got to hear first hand what was going on in the factories. And the workers made a little chart from Market Basket Survey; they were receiving twenty-one to twenty-six dollars a week, at that time, for working forty-five to forty-eight hours. And they were showing that, with that money, they were able to buy about fifteen or
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sixteen items. And it was basic things like onions and tomatoes and rice and beans and deodorant and toilet paper and some things like that that just were very basic. And we had three babies in the meeting and they were crying and they had to be fed. And it was just a wonderful taste of reality of what these workers face. How are you going to buy diapers? How are you going to buy formula for a child that’s—you know, a small child. And so, after the meeting, I sent a letter to Paul O’Neill saying all of the concerns that the workers had. And we also sent some articles from the local newspaper because some of the workers had been intoxicated and in Spanish it means like being overcome. And so the headlines were that a number of the workers from different plants on diff—at
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different days were in the hospital getting checked out because of this intoxication. And I could tell right away that the corporate secretary from Pittsburgh had no idea that that had gone on. And so, anyway, after the meeting I sent this letter to Paul O’Neill, who is the CEO of Alcoa. And I didn’t hear anything back from him. So it was getting time to meet for the annual meeting in May of that year. And so I was planning on taking some of the workers to the annual meeting because we wanted to find out, well, what had happened. So I get a call—a phone call from Paul O’Neill, and he had found out that we were coming. And, oh, he was very, very angry with me and re—really screaming at me on the phone. And those are my words because he doesn’t remember that he did that. But he was
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just very, very forceful on the phone. And wanting to know if I was coming. And I said, “Yes, that I was.” And he wanted to know if I were bringing workers. And I said, “Well, I’m trying to get them across the border, which is no easy task to get the paperwork and to get visas and all of that.” And—and so after, he was just so angry and upset; he finally calmed down because I refused to get angry with him. And I told him, I said, “We are coming as far as I know—I know I’m coming and, you know, we’re trying to get the workers there.” So he finally calmed down and he said, “Well, do you want to meet with me?” And he has a very strong voice, “DO YOU WANT TO MEET WITH ME?” kind of thing. I mean, it was just interesting because, you know, like on TV he doesn’t always
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come across like that. And so I said, “Well, I’ll have to ask the workers and then see what they would want to do and then we’ll get back with you.” And so I—I still remember coming out from my office and I was just, like, in total shock. I was just, like, “Oh, my gosh!” And so we did talk with the workers and they did want to meet with him. So we did go to the annual meeting. They actually, at—at the door, tried to keep us out. And this was the corporate secretary; he knew who all was coming. They had called our office the day before, even while we were traveling. And they had given them all of our names, including the workers. They wanted to only let me in and the two workers not the two other people that were part of our delegation. I said to him, “This–we’re a delegation,
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were all representing the Benedictine Sisters and we are going in.” And he says, “Well, you’re a shareholder, those two are workers, they can go in, but not these other two.” These were two—Martha Ojeda from the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, and Julia Quinonas, who is a promotora for these workers with Alcoa. And so I told him, I said, “No. We’re all together as a delegation.” And so we literally had to move him aside and I could hear that the meeting had already started. And sometimes these—these meetings are very short. And I was really worried that this was a stalling tactic; that we might not be able to get into the meeting and have the workers actually tell their story. So
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we moved him aside and we went in and we had to sit in the back because it was full and the meeting had already started. But we did have the workers tell their stories in Spanish and a translator translated their—what had happened to them and—you could have heard a pin drop in their. I mean, they were talking about their—the salaries and what they couldn’t buy. The day before they left a women had gotten her leg caught in some of the machinery. They took her out to the clinic. She stayed there for a little while. Then they brought her back out to the line so there was no lost work days or work hours. Things like this and—it’s really horrifying. And so after the workers stopped speaking, then I got up to the microphone and just thanked everyone for listening. And so, Paul O’Neill said, “I
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want you to stay up here because I have questions for you.” So he grilled me for about fifteen to twenty minutes in front of all the stockholders. And I just answered him, every question that he asked and gave challenges back to him because I told him—well, he was wanting to know if we wanted all of the plants that they had out of Mexico, out of Poland, out of any place they were in the world. I told him, I said, “I never said that to you. I said on the phone to you that you needed to pay sustainable wages and you needed to look at environmental conditions wherever you were having those plants. I never said to you that we were trying to get those plants to leave. We’re trying to get you to be responsible, you know, wherever you had those plants.” And so, and then I told him, I said, “You’re an important person. You’re a CEO of a major company. You talk to a lot
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of CEOs everyday, I’m sure, or in meetings.” I said, “But I’m an important person, too. I’m a shareholder in this company. I talk to a lot of people about all these conditions. And, you know, I—I expect something of you,” you know. Anyway, he made some strange statements at the meeting; one was that the floors at those plants were so clean that you could eat off of them. And the press just had a field day, of course, with that. And so anyway, after the meeting then we did meet with him—I don’t know what floor, the thirty-first floor or whatever of the—at the Alcoa Headquarters at that point and time. And he brought in a couple of other people to listen to the workers and he spent about an hour and forty-five minutes with us. He asked us for six weeks after that. And we said,
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“Well, that’s fine.” So he went down there himself. He’s the only CEO that I know of that actually went down there to do the investigating. And he made changes, he made big changes. Even though he said at the shareholders meeting to me and to all of the two, three hundred shareholders there that he would not raise those wages; those wages were competitive. He raised the wages five dollars and thirty cents a week for each worker. We figured that that put about a million to a million and a half dollars into that economy because those are small economies. And then Alcoa has eight to ten thousand workers in Ciudada Cuna and Piedra Negras; just in those two little areas. He paid profit sharing which he—which they had not paid. Alcoa, that year, had seven hundred and ninety
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million dollars profit. And Paul O’Neill said to the workers—and when they said, “Well, why didn’t you pay us profit sharing?” It’s an arrangement under Mexican law that is mandated. And he said, “There was no profit in your company.” And so they said, “We just heard in the big meeting where there was a lot of profit in our company,” because, of course, they were bragging about the—the profit. So it was really a chance for workers to speak truth to power. It was just an amazing conversation. And—and then, he also—well, the workers had said the bathrooms were locked; there was no soap and toilet paper in the bathrooms and that they had to go get permission and a key, and, you know, type of thing. Well, the next day, after the stockholder meeting—we were still in Pittsburgh—and
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those doors were unlocked and there was toilet paper and soap in those bathrooms. And then the other thing that he did, after this whole investigation, is he fired the CEO of that company, Alcoa Fujikura, who was based in Nashville. He said that this man—he had worked for the company for thirty-four years but he didn’t live up to the company standards. And, I mean, it was pretty startling. But that was the—I didn’t realize then how obsessed he was with safety and health and all of those issues. And, you know, those workers were in the hospital or getting checked out. There was no lost work days on any of the forms. And he showed us the forms when we were in Pittsburgh. He went and got them out of his computer and showed us how every Friday by noon, or whatever day it
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was, that every plant in the whole world that they had had to have those figures in to him on his desk. And he went and checked the dates according to the newspaper articles and, of course, there was no lost work time. Even those—those workers were not at work because they were getting checked out. So, and then, he did an investigation into see what they had been exposed to.
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DT: Well, speaking of exposure, could you talk about, not just worker exposure, but some of the contamination health impacts that you found. I think in 1993, you issued a report on some of the—in fact it’s not just at Alcoa but at other company facilities.
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SM: In 1993 the—between the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras and—put out a—a—a report called The Issue Is Health. And in that, we tried to document what was happening with the anencephalic babies. Anencephaly means really, basically, babies being born without brains. And we were looking at neural tube defects. And there’s two types of neural tube defects; one is when the neural tube doesn’t close in the head. You know, when a baby is—is first born it has a soft spot. And that’s the neural tube that hasn’t closed. And so, in this—in these cases the neural tube had not formed beyond the
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eyebrows. So there was nothing, you know. The babies were literally being born without brains. And then the other type of neural tube defect is spina bifida, where the neural tube doesn’t close in your—at the—at the back. You know, where your spinal cord is. And so, as a result of that, when the baby is born, the ganglia and nerves are actually hanging out from the spinal cord. And they have to go into surgery quickly to try and minimize the damage. Well, in the early ‘90s—this is documented cases—there were nineteen cases of this type of neural tube defects on the U.S. side and thirty-one cases—this was in Brownsville—and thirty-one cases in Matamoros. And the reason why I say documented, because there’s many cases that don’t get the documented because babies are born
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through midwives and if the baby is stillborn or—it may not get reflected in, you know, in what was actually the problem with the baby. And then, also, for instance, babies under twenty—fetuses under twenty weeks are not counted if there is a termination of the pregnancy. So that’s why I say documented cases. So at that time, Prime Time Live came to that area to do a twenty minute segment and really reveal it to the world. And in the meantime, also, because of the North American Free Trade Agreement being debated in Congress, the Center for Disease Control came to that area to do a study. Because it was—people were very alarmed because, I mean, that wasn’t the only area of the border
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that was having it, but that was so many. The normal—normal—statistics say that you should three per ten thousand live births. So any way you look at this, this was probably four, five, six times the normal. And that’s why I say, those were just the ones that were documented. So the Center for Disease Control came in and because of boundary limitations, did not look on the Mexican side for any answers. So this points out a problem that we—we face in these border areas because we don’t have jurisdiction in a binational manner in-in-in many of these, you know, investigations. So basically at the end of their study, what they said, is it was inconclusive. They spent eighteen months studying the situation; it was inconclusive. And they had Lederle Labs give all of the
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clinics vitamins so that people would get more folic acid. Now granted, if you are lacking in folic acid, you are prone to neural tube defects. However, the studies that were done on these women, as part of this Center for Disease Control group, showed that the women did not have low blood foliate levels. Because they eat a lot of beans and beans are high in foliate. So the premise didn’t even hold up. But because of that all of us are getting more folic acid. So if you’re drinking orange juice or you’re drinking milk or you’re drinking—or eating cereal or you’re looking at your rice or your spaghetti or whatever,
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look at it and see if it’s been enriched with folic acid; because we’re all getting more folic acid because that happened in Brownsville and Matamoros in 1993. Now, in 19—fast forward—1998, in the McAllen Monitor, they were—they had already documented through the registry—Birth Defects Registry—that was set up—19.98 births of neural tube defects in, you know, January to August in 1998. Why is there not another study? Why is there not another investigation? We weren’t talking about a North American Free Trade Agreement. We weren’t talking about any other things that really stimulated enough interest to have people demand that you come back and do another study. So if
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you look up and down the border, and, you know, like we do in the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras; meetings and hear people and see what they’re doing. Some colonias have even gone door to door to try to documents the birth defects or to document problems that they’re having with breathing or whatever it is because no one else seems to care. So they’re just trying to do it on their own.
DT: You’ve talked about the shareholder resolution process (inaudible) for corporate reform, generally. And you’ve given us some examples of what’s going on in the maquiladoras and the particular problems there. I was wondering if you could expand that to talk about what’s been going on, on sort of a more global basis. It seems like there’s been a recent trend through GAT and the World Trade Council to increase, sort of, the free trade zones that NAFTA set up and that the maquiladoras were part of. And I was wondering if you could comment on what you’re sort of seeing there and…
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SM: Many groups coined a term, “their trade not free trade” way back when the North American Free Trade agreement was being negotiated; and that still stands for today. I mean when we talk about what trade needs to include, it needs to include human rights, environmental concerns; it needs to look at wages and—and all of the concerns that we feel have to be brought to the table in order to have sustainability for all of us for the long term in the world. If we are constantly looking at going to the lowest common denominator for salaries, for environmental laws or any of these types of things that we’ve been talking about, it can’t work for all of us. Because it—it, you now, it just ther—there’s unrest, there’s pollution and it affects all of us across borders. I mean, in the
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case of the anencephalic babies, women on the Brownsville side of the border or in McAllen or in any of the other small towns there, were having sonograms at the earliest possible stages to see if from the air or the water or what is it? Why are so many birth defects happening? And as I mentioned earlier, if those fetuses are terminated in any way under twenty weeks, they’re not counted in any statistics. So you don’t really always get a full picture because people are embarrassed or they don’t want you to know or, you know, you go on and on. I mean, when we look at some of these things around pollution; pollution knows no boundaries. You know, and—and so I think that as companies search around the world for lower wages or lower standards, I mean, this is what we’re seeing.
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Many companies have gone to China. We don’t have good information about China right now. We don’t know what they’re paying. We don’t know if it’s prison labor. We don’t know what kind of environmental dumping is being done. So hopefully in the next years that can happen were there’ll be more interchange between us and China. We know this border so well because we live so close.
DT: I think one of your roles in this whole global trade discussion, is with the Global Corporate Accountability Steering Committee—ICCR. Could you maybe give us some examples of what you’re working on there?
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SM: The Global Corporate Accountability Program in—at ICCR is one of several programs that—that the Interfaith Center has. And that particular program focuses on the various questions that we ask the companies around codes of conduct. For instance, there’s many codes out there. Some companies have written their own code. We, through the Interfaith Center, through the group in England that works on corporate responsibility and through the Canadian group, we three groups collectively wrote our own code for sustainable development. And so we hold that against all of the other codes. We say, “Well, does your code have, let’s say, freedom of association for workers. Does it, you know, include some of these other things that we feel are important; sustainable wages.”
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So we kind of analyze all of the other codes. Whether it’s Leon Sullivan’s global code or any of these others that the companies but forth based on what we have in ours. And we’re constantly updating ours, too. I think we’re on the third printing of it now and we’re working with groups. In 1999, we went to London and there we had a conference with twenty-one—people from twenty-one countries about that code to try and see what works; what works for you, what doesn’t work for you. And we’ve translated it into a number of languages. And everybody’s out there using it. And then at some time in the future, we hope to have another conference were we get together again and then rewrite the portions that we feel still need to be strengthened. Our code of conduct starts with community as the center. All the companies start with themselves as the center. So it’s a
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very different starting point when you look at starting for—with a code of conduct. In—in that accountability group, we also look at the whole area of the maquiladoras. We look at wages, just—just, you know, generally across the countries. We look at vendor standards because, again, some companies don’t have factories. Look at Wal-Mart, look at, you know, some of these other companies that—they—what standards do they have for their vendors; do they just take anything. And we’ve met with Wal-Mart a number of times trying to see about independent monitoring of some of the factories that are producing for Wal-Mart. So there’s many levels of—and—and, you know, you’d have to take almost each company to say what are you raising with that company. Like, for instance, we mentioned earlier the Sustainability Report for R. R. Donnelly and for Cooper Industries. So that was just one example of how we went to that company with a particular focus.
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DT: Tell me what happens when you present you ideas to a company and they say, “Well, if you protect the environment too stringently it’s going to cost too much and it won’t be the jobs or the jobs that exist there will not have the wages and you’ll be crippling the economies of these developing or undeveloped nations by trying to protect the environment or to provide better worker safety.” What’s your response to claims like that?
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SM: Why should workers have to live next door to polluted streams or polluted ponds or just polluted areas? I mean, what—does the head of the company want to live there? Many of these, you know—ones that are running those factories, go back to the United States to live across in the border city. So why should workers have to put up with those kinds of things that those managers wouldn’t put up with next to their house and, you know, wherever they might live. That’s not in anyway fair. And the long terms effects on the earth. I mean some of these things leach into the soil and then, you know, they can go into water tables and, you know, have problems with the water of an area or any of those types of—of things. How do you clean up some of this stuff? And—and look at it for the
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long term. I have the long term view because I’ve been in this of work for, you know like—this particular part of the work—for twenty years. So, you have to look twenty to fifty years out. I mean you can’t just be saying, “What is it going to be tomorrow.” And when you talk about wages; yes, in a recession, it’s the hardest thing, now, to bring up the wages. But we’ve been bringing up wages for ten years, before the recession, when times were good. So we have to be consistent in whatever it is that we’re raising. And when a person is—when we’re looking at those sustainable wages—and we have a new study, now, for 2000. And the—the study for 2000, Sister Ruth Rosenbaum, went—and her crew, went to fifteen cities, fifteen sites in Mexico; not just at the border but also, like,
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Monterrey and others that have big maquiladora there. Basically her study shows that, for very minimal survivability; okay, for two adults and two children, and the adults would each have three sets of clothing, the children would have seven sets of clothing. They would have water, they would have electricity, they would housing—some type of housing. I mean, you know, just the—the basics. At—the cost of—of the items, in two—in the year 2000, workers need between eighteen dollars and twenty three dollars a day, depending on which area of the border they—they work. And—and also Monterrey. I mean, I shouldn’t just say the border. So that’s, that’s factual. That’s new information now in the 2000s for what is actually needed. We have been asking the companies to do that type of a study since 1990. General Motors prevented some of the others companies
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from even considering doing it. We had two companies do it but then, of course, they owned the results. So finally, three years ago, we raised the money to do the study ourselves so we own the study. And that’s what it shows.
DW: I just have a question related to the previous comment. Have you ever found your organizations to be the victim of corporate green washing; that they will, “Yes, we’ll assure you that we’ll take action.” They’ll trumpet it in the annual—you know, they install a recycling bin and it makes the second page of their annual report that they are now a “green” company. And how often have you found them—what’s the word—backsliding on their promises and had to expose that? And do you follow up a year later and make sure that they’re not touting something that they’re really not living up to?
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SM: With any of the companies I think it’s an ongoing monitoring process and, I think I’ve mentioned that, like for instance, we’ve been involved with Alcoa since 1995. We’ve certainly been talking to GM since 1990. You know, you can kind of go down the line. It is a back and forth kind of thing. For instance, we were raising these questions with General Motors about a sustainable wage. Instead—I want to say around 1998, maybe, or 1999—they decided instead, of raising their seventy-five thousand workers salaries to a sustainable level, to build houses for six to seven thousand of their workers. And Jack Smith, the CEO at that time of General Motors, could not understand why I was speaking
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out against that. He said, “Well, doesn’t everyone need a home? Doesn’t everyone need a house? I mean, why are you so angry with us?” You have to understand—that, I mean, the millions of dollars you’re pouring into that, could have been spread over all your employees. So what they—now they get, like a—you call it—a town, I mean, a country—I mean a company house or something. So what happens to them if they don’t work for General Motors anymore; and there’s a large turnover in any factories in the border. I mean, they’re happy with two or three percent turnover a month. So, I mean, you know, it’s all those kinds of long term questions. But he didn’t see it that way. And at one of the meetings that we had with him one time before the annual meeting, he sat as
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close as we are together here, and just, you know, lambasted me again in person; because he sent me a very strong letter about all of this. But it just—you come from a different viewpoint. And when you start from the point of view of trying to look at what’s going to benefit all of the workers verses a few of the workers, you know, especially like in wages—to me that makes a big difference. So we have to keep at it. And we—we’re still keeping at that. You know, if—if a company says that they’re going to consider something then we have to go back and say, “Did you really do it?” We’ve had the example of Wal-Mart. We had met with them a couple of times. We actually went to
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Bentonville twice because we could meet with more people there. They would only send one or two people to a meeting in New York; whereas in Bentonville we met with a number of their people, going in and out of the room all day. And then they had agreed to consider an independent monitoring of some of their factories; like a project, a pilot project. And then they reneged on that. And then, almost at the very same time, the business—Business Week Magazine had a whole exposé of one of their factories. And what was actually going on—not, I mean—I’m sorry—not one of their factories, but one of their vendors, you know, that was making things for Wal-Mart because they don’t own
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the factory. That’s why we were asking them about vendor standards. And so then, there were consequences to all of that. We broke off, you know, with them. And then, probably about three to four hundred people wrote them, e-mailed them, tried to talk to them. You know, say, like, “These things are really important.” The Domini Social Inde—Domini Social Equity Index dropped them after ten years of being in that fund. So there’s consequences, I think, you know, as you start to look at some of these things. Some are more obvious, some are less obvious.
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DT: Do you feel that as companies become more global, that the only accountability that they have is to their shareholders because they’re super national? I mean, the individual countries where they operate may not have the jurisdiction to address the things that need to be dealt with.
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SM: I think that’s exactly—a—a—a good point because as we cross more boundary lines; some countries have different laws, some countries have stronger laws, some countries have more enforcement, some countries have less enforcement. And it’s—it’s hard to know exactly what to say because some people want, like, a global authority. Other people don’t want that. The problem has been that some of these more global types of treaties undo laws that countries have that are strong. And that’s really very concerning. And so I think, not too long ago, Bill Moyers had a whole—an—an—an
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hour’s program called Trading Democracy on PBS. Where he was talking about a loophole, Chapter Eleven, in the NAFTA agreement where companies are now using that to sue the government for lost business or lost revenue. And then they’re exacting millions of dollars from government because of what happened—if something tried to be enforced. That is very, very concerning to all of us. Because it was hidden in there, written in by lawyers and now those lawyers are the ones helping those companies try to take those countries to task over this. So, those types of things are very concerning for the future because we’re looking at—word about, you know, a free trade area of the
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Americas. We’re looking at this Puebla to Panama plan that Mexico is looking at along with other investors. And so, yes, there are many, many concerns about how this will be played out and whether standards will even go down lower than they are now.
DT: In doing this work, it seems like you’ve gotten together quite a network of partners and friends and allies. Could you talk about some of your support outside of the community of faith and maybe talk about partners in the union world or in the environmental arena?
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SM: In 1989, when we called together the different sectors of—of—of unions, churches, environmental groups, workers, women’s groups; anyone, basically, that wanted to work on these issues. That was a ground breaking step. In the battle over trade agreements and all, there were many other groups that came together across sectors. But we were really—through the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras—one of the first multi-sector groups. I would never go back to just working in my own sector on these issues because there’s just too much out there that the other groups have to offer. Whether it’s the research or the testing or being able to tell us—you know, health and
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safety people being able to tell us, “Well, why is toluene bad? Or why is benzene bad?” Or, you know, these types of things and I—I don’t—that’s not my training. And so, I was enriched by having so much shared by so many groups and so many other people coming into this work with us all. And I think we enriched them, too. So it’s a two-way street in that sense—that we have a lot to give; whether it’s saying this from a faith-based perspective, saying it from a moral imperative or saying it from scriptures. Whatever that motivation is, I think, that comes out of the religious sector. I mean we stand firm. We take the long term view. We’re looking at it as our sacred Earth. What are we—what are we doing for the future? Whereas, you know, sometimes, other groups have to be involved in campaigns, or they need to, you know—it’s maybe—it’s a more short term.
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But somehow we meld together in these actions that we take and try to move—whether it’s a company or whether it’s a campaign—and-and-and that’s worked. I mean, I think we all benefit from that. And just personally, I don’t see myself going back. I—I see it as almost like a regression, well, to say, “I would just work in my own sector on this.” Because we don’t have those other ways of doing some of that; environmental testing or some of the health and safety, or even some of the language that unions use that are in contracts and some of that type of thing. They have more fam—familiarity with all of that than we do, sometimes. So, you know, I think that the point is that we can all benefit from one another’s expertise and learnings and knowledge.
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DT: On the other side, apart from all you partnerships, could you focus a little bit on the faith based commitment to these concerns? Both yourself, personally, and also maybe the Benedictine Order and the Catholic Church in general.
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SM: Well, the Catholic Church has the social teachings of the church that really look at all of these areas through so many popes doing writing and bishops doing writing; putting forth basic justice principals. And looking at, what do people need, you know, for basic living? I mean, way back—even like Pope John XXIII. I mean, he wrote so many things; Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). I mean that was back, in like, 1963, where he was talking about some of these things that we’re talking about today as far as, like, wages and, you know, really looking at living conditions and, you know, some kind of social security or medical or whatever. I mean, I’m just always amazed when I reread some of
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that; that he had such insight way before, you know, a lot of this globalization and globalizing of, you know, looking at different nations and certainly companies looking across boundaries. The Church has always been very strong on looking at the poor; working with the poor. And I think that, like for myself, the Benedictine Sisters—Saint Benedict always talked about being involved in the local. So for us the local is South Central Texas. It’s certainly the Rio Grande the U.S./Mexico border. I see it broader than that in a lot of the work that I do, but nevertheless, I mean, that’s where we need to make an impact. So that’s where we try to focus the efforts of our corporate responsibility and
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looking at the companies that we own to raise those questions. Personally, once I got into this and I saw all the injustices, it just made me madder and madder and I used that, you know, anger—getting in touch with some of that anger, then, to try to go forth and put forth efforts that are going to change—change the world. Change whatever part of the world we’re in. Whether it’s just like one little step or whether it’s a baby step or a big step or whatever it is. I mean, I think we all each have to do whatever it is we can do wherever we are.
DT: I’m sorry, but a quick question to follow up on that. A lot of activists seem to have a problem with that anger. When does it become all consuming? When does it lead to the feeling that in a Sisyphian way you’re pushing the boulder up the hill, only to have it role back down on yourself again and how to balance the fine line between wanting the fire to drive you put not being consumed by it at the same time?
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SM: Many people could get discouraged by their anger, or depressed, or stay in that state because they think that maybe nothing will ever change; maybe nothing will ever happen in their lifetime. I don’t feel that way. If I stayed in that state, I couldn’t do my work. I need other people to give me support or to say, you know, “Let’s keep on working in this struggle together because we are making a difference.” When I think back over—just even some of the examples of things that I’ve shared with you today, I know that I and we, collectively, have made a difference. You know, when you take any of
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those stories about either those factories or those workers, I would say—if they were sitting here with me today—they would say, “That is a step in a very long process towards change.” We’re trying to change systems. We can hardly even change our own behavior, sometimes, much less how can we change the systems that we’re involved in. That is so crucial and it takes a long time and it takes a long term commitment. And I think that’s what we have to see. How is it that this one small change, for instance, in Alcoa, when they fired that CEO—how did that change their corporate culture? How did
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that change with-in the work with us? I mean, that is just, like, one example and it’s a big example because you don’t have that happening every day. But a lot of change happened because of that one action. And if we hadn’t been there to raise that question; if we hadn’t been there to take those workers to that meeting; if we hadn’t been there to have the CEO go and try to actually find out if anything we said was true, that wouldn’t have happened.
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DT: Speaking of Alcoa, can you look at it from these international corporations point of view and tell us that maybe why it is that conditions are so bad in some of these international areas? Whether it’s the maquiladoras along the border or it’s China, as you mentioned before? Do you think that these corporate managers are myopic, negligent, ignorant, evil? What is it that drives them to do things that you see as being morally wrong for not just if you’re doing it but also if, you know, in the case that they’re doing it?
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SM: The world is being driven by consumerism and greed at this moment in our history. When you look at each—every three months that the companies have to declare their profit for their stockholders, and oftentimes even when they declare what the dividend is, Wall Street still punishes them even if they meet their expectations of whatever Wall Street is. It’s a very difficult environment to be in, in that sense. But we’re trying to change that perception. We’re trying to ask people, “Do we need everything that we have?” I mean, what are we looking at for the future? And how greedy can we be in a sense because, mainly, we have much more than any of the workers that, you know, I see in Mexico. So you know, what—what is happening here? You know, we have to look at
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all of those things within ourselves, within our culture. We’re trying to change our culture. You know, some of the things that we have in our culture, I don’t think, are that healthy. But we just keep going without necessarily thinking about it or without examining that. And with the companies, I think they are driven by each quarterly dividend that has to be met. And so, you know, when you have Wal-Mart now being the largest company in the world. And then they say, you know, “We try to squeeze every penny from, you know, whatever the area is that—that we’re working on.” Whether it’s the lower level or the middle level management or, you know, whoever they’re dealing with. They keep saying in their advertisements, you know, “We’re cutting prices. We’re
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cutting prices.” And so, in order to do that, what is the effect underneath that, you know. Me as the consumer, I want to go there because maybe it’s cheaper than Target or some other place. So what does that say? It asks that question of all of us. And people are trying to figure out—okay, like, I mean you know if someone is making my jacket and we could pay them one cent more, five cents more, you know, for buying it. What would that look like on the other side for the workers pay? I mean, those are questions that I think we have to look at. We’ve been raising questions about—okay, can we look at CEO pay? Can we look at, you know, the profit that the company has? Can we look at bonuses? What—what can we look at to try and have a more equitable distribution even of pay, when you look at what a CEO is being paid today. A few years back, I was raising
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that question at Cooper Industries. And I had just done a little analysis just from what was in the proxy material at that time. I think this was probably about 1995 or ‘96 and the CEO was receiving nineteen thousand five hundred dollars a week. And the workers, in Mexico, were receiving thirty-five to forty dollars a week. And I was just making that point, you know. The—the contrast of what the CEO was making. And he was a lower paid CEO verses some of the other CEOs that are out there, you know, even at that time. So just that contrast of nineteen thousand five hundred dollars a week to your worker,
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who is actually making the things that you sell to keep your company in business, making thirty-five to forty dollars a week. So, I try to use that anger and that movement that I have, to remember, okay, well who is out there doing the work and how is it that I’m a bridge? How am I linking people together? Because as an owner of that company I have a responsibility to. It’s very obvious to me.
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DT: Can you tell us—when you consider all of the experiences that you’ve had, all of the meetings that you’ve had and some of the lessons that you’ve learned; when you look into the future, what do you think some of the big environmental challenges might be?
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SM: I think the biggest environmental challenges are around water and air. Because when we look at the pollution levels—I mean, if we don’t have air and we don’t have clean water, what do we have? Those—you can only live so long without air and you can only live so long without water. I don’t know the exact number of days, but it’s very short compared to how long we can live without food. So if—if we are abusing our water and our air, it affects all of us. I mean, air knows no boundaries in that sense. I was mentioning that in the earlier example of the anencephalic babies. What is causing that on
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either side of the U.S./Mexico border? And, you know, we’re not sure. We don’t have the exact answers. But that air flows from on side to the other. And, I mean, without air, I’m dead in a very few seconds. So that, to me, is very crucial. The water issues, I think, are crucial throughout Texas but also just our region and our world. You’re hearing more and more about privatization of water. You’re looking at water rights. You’re looking at so many issues around water. We’ve had a number of issues; in April of 2002, in San Antonio, around our aquifer and whether or not it will be polluted. I mean, so it’s a constant question, especially because our area also has so much drought. And so water
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becomes so precious and we begin to look for it in anywhere—any way we can find it. And so, I think, that in the future, those issues are so crucial. All the issues I talk about are crucial. And I think those two kind of sum it up in a way that it—it—if we’re not sustainable with our water and our air, we don’t have a place to live. And to, you know—to drink the water or to take in the water that we need. And we have to have that every day. We can’t get along without that. So to me that’s bottom line.
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DT: You’ve discussed some of the things that our children, grandchildren, you know generations that come after us may face, perhaps us as well. Can you explain what you might say to somebody who’s young, who’s coming up and who has an open mind; is looking at things he or she might be able to do and how you might appeal to them to be involved in issues like the environment and public health?
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SM: The earth is all of ours. None of us has, I don’t think, has a corner on—on it. And so it’s going to take all of us together to preserve it and keep it sacred. And for me, young people need to be involved in all of these issues. I am a teacher. I was a principal. We had recycling programs. We had the students go and plant gardens. We had them look at how things grew. We had science fairs. We were always looking at different ways that—that—that the students could then take that home to the parents. Because if you have a child that is getting into recycling, they go home and they, “Oh, Mom! You’re not going to throw that away, are you? Oh, Dad! We have to put that in recycle!” So we’re teaching
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through children; often times we’re teaching the parents what they need to be doing if they don’t already have the message. So for young people I think it’s just crucial that they’re involved in all of these kinds of very—you know, whatever their level is be involved at that level. High schoolers, junior high—go to the border. Find out what’s going on. We’ve had students going down there during spring break or Christmas break or over a weekend to try to understand what those realities are. And they are touched. Their minds are open. Their hearts are open. Their eyes see in a different way. And then they come back and then they evaluate, “Well, gosh. I have twenty stuffed animals on my bed. You know, do I need all of those?” You know, “I saw kids that didn’t have any
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Christmas presents or any—or anything in their house.” So I mean, you know, it’s a way of saying come on and be involved; come and see what is happening; come and see what we’re doing. Be involved at whatever level you can. Because we know everybody can’t do everything but I think everybody can do something. And that’s, to me, a very fundamental premise that I start out with, with, you know, whatever level you are. Whether, you know, you’re a child or you’re a young person or whether you’re old. I mean, you need to be involved in whatever way you can be, because only when we all do it together is it going to make a difference. I know for myself, when I started recycling and putting things in all the different bins or sorting out things, I hardly had anything left
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in my trashcan. And I was like, “This is neat!” But you don’t get to that point just like that. You have to learn it. Well, what can be recycled, what can’t be. And then I’m always thinking like, “Well, how can we not—you know, what could we do with this that could still have a little more use in it.” And you see this at the border all the time. I mean, my mom and dad taught me that. And I see it at the border all the time. People use every little scrap of everything to build a house, to have a curtain, to have any level of privacy or—I mean, you see people using the insides of like a—a—the cardboard—a—a—you know, like a Christmas wrap; the cardboard that’s inside that. That’s their fence. They take—they dig out and put that in. Here’s a little fence of these cardboard—insides of a
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tube of—of wrapping paper. I mean, you know—and me, I have a fence or whatever. So it’s trying to make those connections of how I have so much and other people don’t. And so, how we’re going to meet each other somewhere along the line because the preservation of the planet does depend on all of us working together and moving forward and if—with such inequality it’s oftentimes very different—difficult; different and difficult.
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DT: In all of this work of teaching advocacy you must get tired and distracted and at times need to be recharged. Where do you go? How do you find some solace and serenity?
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SM: Well, God has blessed me with a lot of energy and a lot of get up and go. And I’ve always been that way. And I do like to take pictures—photography. I like to be out with nature. I think that, you know, I have a number of albums of just beautiful pictures. I think that it’s kind of way of also having to always document the things that aren’t so beautiful and some of the pollution. So I sort of, you know, kind of do both. And then our monastery is in Boerne and we have a lovely setting there. We have a retreat center. And
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so, we have some acreage there where people can come and be themselves; walk, jog, whatever. So that also helps me. I try to walk whenever I can. You know, just be outside; just taking in nature. Because, somehow, that just replenishes my spirit. And so, I—I just try to, you know, do some of those kinds of things because I think it’s important that we do keep ourselves, you know, balanced and in balance. And all of that is very Benedictine, too, because Benedict talks about a life of balance.
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DT: Well, I’m glad that you’ve found that and I hope you continue to have success in what you’re doing. Is there anything that you’d like to add?
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SM: Gosh. I don’t know. Is there anything that you can think of that…
DW: I just have a question. How does the groups that you’re involved with deal with issue of nuclear waste? Well, we don’t what it where it is because of the impacted community. We don’t want to send it to Yucca Mountain anyway. We know we can’t launch it into space. Do have actually a policy on that? That’s a tough (inaudible).
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SM: I know. The issue of nuclear waste is—is something, really, I feel like we need to put more energy into figuring out what we can do for the long term. Because I, too, don’t think that storing it in Yucca Mountain is going to work for the next ten thousand years. I mean, we have to really be thinking about the long term. Secretly in my heart I’m always hoping that someone is going to find a way to reverse some of that. You know, we—we challenge people to do so many things and why can’t we challenge them to do something with nuclear waste that’s going to be able to break it down in some other way that it
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doesn’t last for all of those ten thousand years or so. So, I, you know, I—I try to do my part in, you know, raising the questions and—and in keeping in touch with, you know, what’s going on. And I don’t know that right now there is a good answer on that long term storage. I think we have to work at it and see what other alternatives are actually out there for—for that. Right now I know most of that nuclear waste is still at each plant. And some of those plants are really getting to the point of not being able to store it
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anymore. So, it will become more urgent. When it becomes a more urgent priority then maybe more people will work on it; or more scientists, or more minds. That’s my challenge out there to anybody that is a scientist; couldn’t you help us think in terms of some other way of breaking that down? And—and that’s my hope.
DT: I have one other question that David’s thought brought up. When he was mentioning the processing of nuclear waste. I know that you’ve been involved in a lot of peace work. And I was wondering if you could talk about any links you see between men’s violence among themselves and the violence against the earth. Do you see a connection there or are they two different issues?
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SM: It seems like there’s so much violence in our society and we need to look at the roots of it. One of the programs that the Benedictine Sisters have helped to start was called Peace Initiatives and it’s a program that works on domestic violence. And part of the—the things that we see in that program is that if you are in a violent situation then you tend to be violent maybe at work or you tend to be violent towards your dog. Or, I mean, all these different ways taking out that violence. And so, it’s like how can we work towards a less violent society on all levels; you know, starting from our homes, starting
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from our schools, starting from our work, starting from our government. I mean, you know, whatever all those levels are out there. And I think it does start with each person because one violent person in the family can then trigger so much with the rest of the family or abuse or that type of thing. So I think we have to keep working on it, you know, within society but within families, within ourselves because to me that’s one way of trying to have a less violent world because, you know, each of us has to do our part.
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DW: So it’s not just nuclear weapons it may be how you treat your spouse or your child.
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SM: Oh, definitely. I mean, there’s just—I think that there is just so much violence perpetrated on television and, I mean, there’s a lot of studies now that show how kids that watch incessant hours of TV are more aggressive. I mean whether it’s at daycare or whatever. So, I mean, there’s some kind of a—a—a—a residual affect. I mean, how many killings can you see? How many shooting can you see? How many car chases can you see without somehow being involved in that? In—in San Antonio, after this one car racing movie was released, we had four accidents that involved killings with people racing cars up and down a street—a near by street here. I mean, you know, they saw the
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movie and then they were motivated to try to do the drag racing themselves on a—on a crowded street. So, I mean, we’re affected by what we see. We’re affected by what we hear. We’re affected by what we eat. You know, I mean, all of that. It’s all the environment in which we live. And so, how can we be part of a less violent environment so that we ourselves can have that balance and can, you know, put forth less violence on our own part. I mean, I think all of us have some degree of violence inside ourselves. And we just keep working on that to try to lessen it. I mean, it—I mean, that’s how I feel. I mean, other people can say, “Oh well, no, that’s not true.” But you do, whether it’s in an argument or in some other form or fashion. So how do we try and, you know, have a less
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violent world. I think by be—being less violent ourselves. And sometimes it’s in our language. You know, we use very violent language. Like, you know, well—it’s too much to go into, but just, you know, how we speak about things.
DT: It’s helpful. Well, I think that we’re drawing close on the end of the tape. But thank you very much for talking about all of these related issues about corporate behavior and reform, not just within large companies, but also within how we interact as individuals.
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SM: Well, thanks for having me.
[End of reel 2199]
[End of interview with Susan Mika]