Helen Clark criticised for tobacco award

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 09:44 17/07/2012

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Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has been criticised for her role in granting a business award to India's biggest tobacco company.

Clark, who is now head of the United Nations Development Agency, presented India's largest cigarette maker, ITC (formerly Indian Tobacco Company) with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development's (WBCSD) highest prize for improving the environment and removing poverty.

"The award is possibly the biggest travesty of justice even by the UN and the World Bank's weak ethical standards," Pranay Lal of Union Southeast Asia, a lobby group fighting tuberculosis and lung disease.

Writing on India's Daily News and Analysis website, he said ITC was primarily a cigarette maker and tobacco trader although it now claims to be a diversified company selling soap, biscuits and hospitality.

He asked why the UN, the World Bank or even the World Health Organisation continue to partner and recognise perverse industries like tobacco companies.

"The answer is simply - money. Starved of public financing, the UN agencies rely upon 'voluntary' contributions like donors, private philanthropies and companies."

He said ITC and Brazil's largest tobacco producer, Souza Cruz, were close to UN policy because of their funding.

"What is tragic is that Helen Clark, a responsible prime minister and wife of a respected public health expert could not have given this award in New Zealand or any other developed country," Lal said.

Clark is married to Auckland University public health specialist Peter Davis.

"WBCSD is a curious club of organisations ranging from the most wanted corporate criminals (Dow Chemicals) to good Samaritans (Infosys), Lal said.

Dow is reviled in India in the wake of the Bhopal gas disaster in 1984 in which up to 12,000 people may have died. A number of corporate officials have been convicted over the disaster in India, but Dow internationally does not accept liability.

ITC's chairman, Y C Deveshwar, accepted the award from Clark.

"I receive this award with humility and pride, on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of tribals and poor farmers whose lives have been transformed by ITC's Social and Farm Forestry initiative," he said.

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