An agricultural scientist from Nelson will help spearhead a new project aimed at examining the environmental and industrial pollution record of multi-national companies operating in China.
Charlie Clutterbuck’s involvement comes after he was invited by the European Union to participate in a three-day conference in Guangzhou, China’s third largest city, aimed at fostering EU-China civil society dialogue.
Joining him from within the world’s fastest growing economy were Chinese government officials, scientists, University students and representatives from Non-governmental organisations, including Greenpeace.
Clutterbuck is himself active in NGO’s in this country, being a trustee at the Food Ethics Council and the Pesticides Action Network. He has also in the past acted as an advisor to the government on pesticides. He detailed some of his experiences when he addressed the conference and at a workshop he co-organised, where he outlined plans to use web-based learning for environmental and health improvements.
“It’s quite straight-forward. Myself and other European colleagues will be making available on the web the environmental statements made by multi-national companies about their practices in China. NGO’s, students and scientists there can then choose to see if these live up to the reality on the ground. If they don’t then they can either lobby the companies to ensure they do or call on the government to force them to do so.”
Clutterbuck has already set up using Mandarin a site on the Co-op. He believes that as most of the companies - who’ve managed to negotiate with the Chinese government to open premises there - are well known such as BMW, Tesco, Walmart/Asda it will be relatively easy to create similar websites.
Discussions with Chinese NGO’s and Government officials also convinced him that, at the very least, there is an urgency to avoid mistakes made in earlier times in countries undergoing rapid economic development.
“On asbestos I was heartened by what I heard. Greenpeace also told me of legal action they’re planning against one major company over the use of pesticides that are banned in the UK. On the plane home I also met by chance a representative of a large firm. He told me had been trying to secure a regular supply of the ‘rare earth’ minerals that are so essential for mobile phones and whose extraction procedures are now being significantly tightened up on,” says Clutterbuck.
He was however less impressed by what he perceived was an unwillingness of the Chinese to consider the role trade unions could play in shaping the future. Clutterbuck, an elected member on the executive committee of the agricultural workers sector of Unite, found with the “exception of one NGO rep working with Philippine plantation workers no-one interested in discussing how allowing workers to elect people to represent them could play a part in improving conditions in society.”
If this disturbed him then so too did a visit to the Tesco store in Guangzhou. There he found that in taking the escalators customers could use one hand to pick up chocolate bars and the other to collect crisps. He warned the conference that obesity was likely to be a problem sooner rather than later.