THE Scottish boss of the genetically modified (GM) crops multinational Monsanto is under pressure to quit as a business adviser to Scottish Enterprise after his company admitted to paying $750,000 (£401,000) in bribes to government officials in Indonesia.
At the end of last week the US-based company agreed to pay fines totalling $1.5 million (£803,000) to the US government for breaking anti-corruption laws. Allegations of bribery had been under investigation by the US Department of Justice and the financial regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Monsanto was accused of bribing more than 140 Indonesian officials and members of their families between 1997 and 2002 to boost business. In 2002, one senior civil servant was paid $50,000 (£26,800) in a bid to by-pass environmental controls on GM cotton.
Now environmentalists are demanding that the company’s president and chief executive, Hugh Grant, be kicked off the International Advisory Board set up by Scottish Enterprise. The board is meant to help Scottish companies develop and expand their businesses abroad.
Mark Ruskell MSP, the Green Party’s environment spokes man, called on ministers to sack him. “It is plainly ridiculous that a senior figure from Monsanto is at the heart of informing the Executive’s strategy for Scotland’s economic development,” he said.
“This highlights the cosy relationship between GM corporations and the Labour-LibDem government in Scotland. Ministers must remove Hugh Grant immediately.”
Ruskell suggested it was no surprise that Monsanto had been caught bribing the Indonesian government. He added: “GM companies appear willing to do almost anything to get their way.”
Grant was born in 1958 in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, and educated at both Glasgow and Edinburgh universities. He joined Monsanto in Scotland in 1981 and has risen through the ranks to lead one of the world’s biggest GM corporations.
Monsanto, based in St Louis, Missouri, has faced fierce criticisms for its attempts to promote GM crops . Despite this, along with 15 other “global business leaders” in 2002, Grant was appointed to Scottish Enterprise’s new International Advisory Board.
On Thursday, Monsanto announced that it had reached a settlement with the US authorities over the Indonesian bribery allegations. As well as paying two financial penalties of $1 million (£535,000) and $500,000 (£268,000), it has agreed to retain an independent consultant for three years to check there are no further breaches of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Monsanto accepted that $50,000 was paid to an official in the Indonesian environment ministry in an attempt to persuade him to scrap a requirement that GM crops should be subject to an environmental impact assessment. The bribe was unsuccessful, however, because the requirement remained in place.
In addition, the company admitted that a series of “illegal or questionable” payments totalling “at least” $700,000 (£375,000) were made to various Indonesian officials between 1997 and 2002. The payments were partly financed “through unauthorised, improperly documented and inflated sales of Monsanto’s pesticide products in Indonesia”, the company said.
“We accept full responsibility for the improper activities that occurred in connection with our Indonesian affiliates,” admitted Lori Fisher, a spokeswoman for Monsanto in St Louis. “Such behaviour is not condoned nor accepted at Monsanto, and the people involved are no longer employed by Monsanto.”
She pointed out that the company had voluntarily disclosed the potential irregularities to the US authorities after they had been discovered by an internal audit and review.
“The Indonesian affiliates violated the accounting policies, controls and procedures of Monsanto,” Fisher said.
“We took appropriate action to address the improper activities upon learning about the situation.”
Nevertheless, the Greens have been joined by other environmental campaigners in demanding Grant’s scalp. “This man is steeped in a company culture that allowed this to happen,” claimed Jonathan Matthews, director of GM Watch.
“This is a company with a very bad record. Why on Earth would Scotland want to use it as a model?
“What has emerged about corrupt practices in Indonesia may just be the tip of the iceberg.”
Dr Dan Barlow, head of research at Friends of the Earth Scotland, urged Scottish Enterprise to review Grant’s appointment .
He said: “It is inappropriate for managers of companies practicing such unscrupulous behaviour to be held up as role models.
“Instead Scottish Enterprise should be looking for advisers who practice high ethical and environmental business standards.”
Scottish Enterprise rejected calls for Grant’s resignation, and defended his reputation as a “respected global player” saying he was on the International Advisory Board in a personal capacity not as a representative of Monsanto.
“The advice we receive from Mr Grant and the other International Advisory Board members is invaluable and we are extremely lucky that they are willing to take time out of their very busy schedules to use their knowledge and expertise for the wider benefit of Scotland and Scottish companies,” said the spokesman.
“Monsanto has condemned the actions of the employee in question and accepted responsibility for them, but we do not consider this to be grounds for reviewing Mr Grant’s membership of the International Advisory Board.”
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