ConAgra's generous image
Special to the
Courier & Press
Tuesday July 7,
July 9, the public will have perhaps one of the last
opportunities to speak out about the
planned for rural Posey County farmland near the historic town
of West Franklin, Ind.
The plant will
release some 937 tons of normal Hexane, a chemical used in the
each year. The
plant will be less than two miles from the Vanderburgh County
line at the West Franklin site.
During the past few
months, officials at ConAgra have sponsored fund-raising events
support to various charities and civic groups in Posey and
This has meant a
sizable financial contributions for such groups as the Posey
$2,000 donation to the Rehabilitation Center in Mt. Vernon and
of the Evansville
donations are laudable and probably badly needed, they are no
doubt designed to
corporate image of this industrial Leviathan locally.
But if we are to
believe observers of the Wall Street concern about corporate
responsibility, the company
may have things its
not telling local state and federal officials, local bankers and
other interested citizens.
The Council on
Economic Priorities (CEP), a Manhattan-based group dedicated to
educating corporate investors
and workplace issues, has been monitoring the company's
performance for several
years and does not
much like what it sees.
foundation published a book entitled "The Corporate Report Card
-- Rating 250 of America's
the Socially Responsible Investor."
In it, the group
paints a rather unglamorous picture of the $28 billion corporate
The CEP reports
that "As one of the largest farming and livestock companies,
much of ConAgra's environmental
pesticides and land use issues. ConAgra's TRI (Toxic
Release Inventory) releases were the highest in
the food industry
and almost 10 times worse than the industry average. The
company released 5.4 million pounds in
1994, an increase
of 20 per cent from 1993. ConAgra's hazardous waste
generation and accidental spill records
were also worse
than the industry average."
company, in its acquisition of the Beatrice Corporation in 1990,
inherited numerous cases
of litigation and
The report states
that because of environmental violations, "Beatrice is presently
named (by EPA) as a potentially
at 42 Superfund sites across the country."
While the group
acknowledges that ConAgra's charitable contributions to worthy
causes totaled $8 million
in cash in 1996
(approximately 2 per cent of pre-tax earnings), the report goes
on to grade the company
with an F for the
many workplace issues where the company was fined for numerous
worker safety and
The CEP report
continues: ". . . the record of the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration indicates that
26 health and safety inspections from 1994 to 1996. The
violations reported by OSHA as a
result of the
inspections include nine classified as 'willful' or 'repeat' and
114 classified as 'serious.'
The company was
forced to pay $234,575 as a result of violations, or an average
of $10,176 per inspection.
In comparison, the
median amount of fines per inspection for other companies in the
food, beverage and
industries was $1,515."
In addition to the
environmental and workforce violations of the company, they also
seems not to be too concerned
livelihoods of workers.
concludes that "ConAgra closed nine plants and businesses in 22
states in 1996, resulting in the loss of
6,300 jobs or 7 per
cent of the company's work force.
Stating that a
major restructuring was responsible for the layoffs to improve
the company's efficiency, "the company
claims that 5,346
jobs were added the following year.
With Posey County
elected officials and chamber-of-commerce types rolling out the
red carpet with tax abatements
(Tax-Increment Financing) bonds for infrastructure improvements
for our new corporate citizen, one
wonders if the
paltry guarantees of some 200 jobs at the plant is worth all of
the environmental impacts on
the region, as well
as the bank erosion and air concerns of riverside residents in
the West Franklin area.
residents will also pay dearly through increased property taxes
to pay for the TIF financing.
potential of being one of the largest point sources of volatile
organic compounds in this area, it is virtually
consider the industrial impact of a facility of this nature
without discussing the serious
constraints it will place upon other potential economic
development prospects of this entire region long
into the future.
It is for this
reason that elected officials and the power establishment of
Vanderburgh County should be gravely
this plant and its planned location.
Thursday at 7 p.m. at Hovey House in Mount Vernon, Ind will be
to discuss the change in zoning of the
"Flood Plain" to "M-2" the zoning for heavy industrial
and elected officials from this entire region should attend this
important meeting and let
their voices be
David Coker is a
resident of Evansville.