by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

In November, 1979, Mother Jones, one of America’s leading investigative journals, devoted nearly an entire issue to that it called “The Corporate Crime of the Century.” Several aspects of this story have been dealt with in previous Project Censored efforts.

The third “best censored” story in 1976 concerned the selling of banned pesticides and drugs to Third World countries. That story cited a conservative World Health Organization estimate that some 500,000 people are poisoned yearly by pesticides and drugs banned from sale in the United States but exported overseas.

In 1977, the fifth “best censored” story of the year was titled the “Baby Bottle Scandal.” It revealed how some major infant formula manufacturers were pushing their products with exploitive tactics.

Infant formula feeding was estimated to account for 35,000 deaths and an untold amount of brain damage in infants of predominantly Third World countries.

The fourth “best censored” story of 1978 revealed how the U.S. “exports death” — “The Third World Asbestos Industry.” When our government tightened regulations for asbestos manufacturers because of the threat to workers° health, some of them merely moved their plants to Third World countries like Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, India, and Brazil.

But, the November Mother Jones‘ issue revealed, for the first time, the full scope of American corporate exploitation of Third World countries. The mass media have yet to explore and expose the international tragedy of what is sometimes called “dumping.”

While “dumping” may not be technically illegal, it is a widespread practice which endangers the health, lives, and environment of millions of people outside the United States.  It is done by American business in the name of profit.

Manufacturers of products which are restricted or banned from use in the U.S. can legally export and sell them to other less wary and less knowledgeable countries. The government allows the export of dangerous chemicals, toxic pesticides, and defective medical drugs and devices, to name just a few such exports.

Every pesticide which has been banned or restricted in this country has been exported elsewhere. In 1976 alone, U.S. chemical producers exported 161 million pounds of pesticides which were not registered for use here. Some of the pesticides and chemical exports are suspected of causing birth defects, reduced fertility, genetic mutations, cancer, and bone marrow, blood, and respiratory changes.

The Food and Drug Administration allows drug manufacturers to export banned drugs, stale-dated drugs, and even unapproved new drugs.

Profiting from products difficult or illegal to sell in the U.S. is not limited to pesticides and drugs. As the U.S. nuclear industry encountered difficulties in selling reactors to wary American communities, it turned to sales in countries where dissent can be silenced and political payoffs can bring quick results.

As of late 1978, the export market for American nuclear reactors stood at $ 36 billion, representing the sale of 59 large power plants abroad. That’s just 13 less than the total number of plants licensed for operation in the U.S. today.

The sale of nuclear power plants to less-developed countries raises yet another critical question — most purchasers have been relatively large nations with strong regional rivalries — Argentina and Brazil, Iraq and Iran, Korea and Taiwan, India and Pakistan.

There is an ironic footnote to the story of corporate exploitation of Third World nations. Exporting poisonous pesticides to developing nations, for example, has what author-researcher Leslie Ware called, in Audobon magazine, “a boomerang effect.” In reference to dumping pesticides in such countries as Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, and Ecuador, Ware points out that “Their use is banned here, but hazardous poisons manufactured by American companies come back to haunt us on the food we import from developing nations.” Ten percent of all imported foods (such as coffee, bananas, and tomatoes) are contaminated with illegal levels of pesticide residues. Much of this pesticide contamination comes from our own exports.

And one final note which indicates that corporate profit isn’t always the most overriding issue with the mass media. Mother Jones submitted an advertisement to Time magazine which displayed the “corporate crime of the century” cover. Time refused to run the ad because, according to Mother Jones, some of the advertising copy “offended” them.

The failure of the mass media to investigate and expose “The Corporate Crime of the Century” and it’s future repercussions (potentially more serious than contaminated bananas) on the American people qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1979.


Mother Jones, November 1979, “The Corporate Crime of the Century, and other stories, by Mark Dowie, Barbara Enrenriech, Stephen Minken, Mark Shapiro, Terry Jacobs, and David Weir; Mother Jones, August 1979, “Radiation Roulette,” by Harvey Wasserman; Audobon, September 1979, “The Pesticide Boomerang,” by Leslie Ware; The Progressive, December 1979, “Hustline Drugs in the Third World,” by Michael Bader.