Case 1.1 Made in the U. S. A.— Dumped in Brazil, Africa, Iraq . . .
when it comes to the safety of young children, fire is a parent’s nightmare. Just the thought of their
young ones trapped in their cribs or beds by a raging nocturnal blaze is enough to make most mothers
and fathers take every precaution to ensure their children’s safety. Little wonder that when fire-
retardant children’s pajamas first hit the market, they proved an overnight success. Within a few short
years more than 200 million pairs were sold, and the sales of millions more were all but guaranteed. For
their manufacturers, the future could not have been brighter. Then, like a bolt from the blue, came word
that the pajamas were killers. The U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission ( CPSC) moved quickly to
ban their sale and recall millions of pairs. Reason: The pajamas contained the flame- retardant chemical
Tris ( 2,3- dibromoprophyl), which had been found to cause kidney cancer in children. Because of its
toxicity, the sleepwear couldn’t even be thrown away, let alone sold. Indeed, the CPSC left no doubt
about how the pajamas were to be disposed of— buried or burned or used as industrial wiping cloths.
Whereas just months earlier the manufacturers of the Tris- impregnated pajamas couldn’t fill orders fast
enough, suddenly they were worrying about how to get rid of the millions of pairs now sit-ting in
warehouses. Soon, however, ads began appearing in the classified pages of Women’s Wear Daily. “ Tris-
Tris- Tris . . . We will buy any fabric containing Tris,” read one. Another said, “ Tris— we will purchase any
large quantities of garments containing Tris.” The ads had been placed by exporters, who began buy-ing
up the pajamas, usually at 10 to 30 percent of the normal wholesale price. Their intent was clear: to
dump* the carcinogenic pajamas on overseas markets. 21 Tris is not the only example of dumping. There
were the 450,000 baby pacifiers, of the type known to have caused choking deaths, that were exported
for sale overseas, and the 400 Iraqis who died and the 5,000 who were hospitalized after eating wheat
and barley treated with a U. S.- banned organic mercury fungicide. Winstrol, a synthetic male hormone
that had been found to stunt the growth of American children, was made available in Brazil as an
appetite stimulant for children. DowElanco sold its weed killer Galant in Costa Rica, although the
Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA) forbade its sale to U. S. farmers because Galant may cause
cancer. After the U. S. Food and Drug Administration ( FDA) banned the painkiller dipyrone because it can
cause a fatal blood disorder, Winthrop Products continued to sell dipyrone in Mexico City.
Manufacturers that dump products abroad clearly are motivated by profit, or at least by the hope of
avoiding financial losses resulting from having to withdraw a product from the U. S. market. For
government and health agencies that cooperate in the exporting of dangerous products, sometimes the
motives are more complex. For example, when researchers documented the dangers of the Dalkon Shield
intrauterine device— among the adverse reactions were pelvic inflammation, blood poisoning, tubal
pregnancies, and uterine perforations— its manufacturer, A. H. Robins Co., began losing its domestic
market. As a result, the company worked out a deal with the Office of Population within the U. S. Agency
for International Development ( AID), whereby AID bought thousands of the devices at a reduced price
for use in population- control programs in forty- two countries. The agencies involved say their motives
are humanitarian. Because the death rate in childbirth is relatively high in third-world countries, almost
any birth- control device is safer than pregnancy. Analogous arguments are used to defend the export of
pesticides and other products judged too dangerous for use in the United States: Foreign countries
should be free to decide for themselves whether the benefits of those products are worth their risks. In
line with this, some third- world government officials insist that denying their countries access to these
products is tantamount to violating their countries’ national sovereignty. This reasoning has found a
sympathetic ear in Washington, for it turns up in the “ notification” system that regulates the export of
banned or dangerous products overseas. Based on the principles of national sovereignty, self-
determination, and free trade, the notification system requires that foreign governments be notified
whenever a product is banned, deregulated, suspended, or canceled by a U. S. regulatory agency. The
State Department, which implements the system, has a policy statement on the subject that reads in
part: “ No country should establish itself as the arbiter of others’ health and safety standards. Individual
governments are generally in the best position to establish standards of public health and safety.”
Critics of the system claim that notifying foreign health officials is virtually useless. For one thing,
governments in poor countries can rarely establish health standards or even control imports into their
countries. Indeed, most of the third-world countries where banned or dangerous products are dumped
lack regulatory agencies, adequate testing facilities, and well- staffed customs departments. Then
there’s the problem of getting the word out about hazardous products. In theory, when a government
agency such as the EPA or the FDA finds a product hazardous, it is supposed to inform the State
Department, which is to notify health officials in other nations. But agencies often fail to inform the
State Department of the product they have banned or found harmful, and when it is notified, its
communiqués typically go no further than U. S. embassies abroad. When foreign officials are notified by
U. S. embassies, they sometimes find the communiqués vague or ambiguous or too technical to
understand. But even if communication procedures were improved or the export of dangerous products
forbidden, there are ways that companies can circumvent these threats to their prof-its— for example,
by simply changing the name of the product or by exporting the individual ingredients of a product to a
plant in a foreign country. Once there, the ingredients can be reassembled and the product dumped. The
United States does prohibit its pharmaceutical companies from exporting drugs banned in this country,
but sidestepping the law is not difficult. “ Unless the package bursts open on the dock,” one drug
company executive observes, “ you have no chance of being caught.” Unfortunately for us, in the case of
pesticides, the effects of overseas dumping are now coming home. In the United States, the EPA bans all
crop uses of DDT and dieldrin, which kill fish, cause tumors in animals, and build up in the fatty tissue of
humans. It also bans heptachlor, chlordane, leptophos, endrin, and many other pesticides, including
2,4,5- T ( which contains the deadly poison dioxin, the active ingredient in Agent Orange, the notorious
defoliant used in Vietnam) because they are dangerous to human beings. No law, how-ever, prohibits the
sale of DDT and these other U. S.- banned pesticides overseas, where thanks to corporate dumping they
are routinely used in agriculture. In one three- month period, for example, U. S. chemical companies
exported 3.9 million pounds of banned and withdrawn pesticides. The FDA now estimates, through spot
checks, that 10 percent of our imported food is contaminated with residues of banned pesticides. And
the FDA’s most commonly used testing procedure does not even check for 70 percent of the pesticides
known to cause cancer. With the doubling of exports of Mexican produce to the United States since the
signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement ( NAFTA), the problem of pesticide- laced food has
only grown worse.
1. Complete the following statements by filling in the blanks with either “ moral” or “ nonmoral” ( e. g.,
or“nonmoral”(e.g., factual, scientific, legal): a. Whether or not dumping should be permitted is a ________
question. b. “ Are dangerous products of any use in the third world?” is a ________ question. c. “ Is it
proper for the U. S. government to sponsor the export of dangerous products overseas?” is a ________
question. d. Whether or not the notification system works as its supporters claim it works is a ________
question. e. “ Is it legal to dump this product overseas?” is a ________ question.
2. Explain what dumping is, giving some examples. Does dumping raise any moral issues? What are they?
What would an ethical relativist say about dumping?
3. Speculate on why dumpers dump. Do you think they believe that what they are doing is morally
permissible? How would you look at the situation if you were one of the manufacturers of Tris-
4. If no law is broken, is there anything wrong with dumping? If so, when is it wrong and why? Do any
moral considerations support dumping products overseas when this violates U. S. law?
5. What moral difference, if any, does it make who is dump-ing, why they are doing it, where they are
doing it, or what the product is?
6. Critically assess the present notification system. Is it the right approach, or is it fundamentally
7. Putting aside the question of legality, what moral arguments can be given for and against dumping?
What is your position on dumping, and what principles and values do you base it on? Should we have
laws prohibiting more types of dumping?
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