Below is a guest post by Chuck Palazzo, an American war
veteran and Agent Orange and Unexploded Ordnance activist and
researcher, who is currently living, writing and working in Danang.
A 13 October 2014 post on Monsanto’s blog Beyond the Rows, entitled Monsanto and Vietnam University of Agriculture Collaborate to Develop Talents in Agricultural Biotechnology,
announced a new VND 1.5 billion scholarship program “for outstanding
students studying agricultural biotechnology. This scholarship aims to
nurture and encourage the engagement of young talents in the development
of agricultural biotechnology and products thereof to support
farmers.” How noble but I wish the source of funding weren’t an entity
that was once voted the Most Evil Corporation of the Year and which happens to have an unsavory “Vietnam connection.” Audacity (the Yiddish word “chutzpah” also comes to mind) is the correct word to describe this charm offensive.
[I once advised a well-known student organization that they should be
careful who they take money from in the form of corporate sponsorship.
One example was an organization that promotes the sale of cigarettes
and other tobacco-related products. The moral of the story is choose carefully and ethically, when it comes to sponsorship.]
At first glance, I had a visceral reaction to the obscene symbolic
and practical significance of this scholarship program, sponsored by
Monsanto, one of the companies that gave the world – and profited
handsomely from – Agent Orange (AO) and is now reaping huge profits
from highly controversial genetically modified (GM) crops.
For a paltry $70,000, rounded down, they have bought their way into the
Vietnam University of Agriculture and the country’s media, a wolf in
sheep’s clothing – in more than one media reference – with a Trojan horse approach to improving the bottom line, so to speak.
Keeping in mind that Monsanto’s 2013 revenue was nearly $15 billion, I
wonder what the ROI will be on that 70k? Monsanto execs must be
smiling like a Cheshire cat at how easy it is to buy access and
influence in a country that was once on the receiving end of one of its
most infamous products, a country that continues to pay a steep price in
environmental degradation and human suffering, as do US war veterans
and others exposed to AO.
If the world were just, Monsanto is one of a number of multinational
companies of US origin that would be forced to compensate the millions
of victims – here, in the US and elsewhere – for the multi-generational
effects of one of their marquee products, Agent Orange, rather than
being given the opportunity to (once again) profit from Vietnam. If
they want to curry favor with the public here and massage global public
opinion, why not establish a multimillion dollar grant program for AO
victims, all four generations of them? No need to accept any
responsibility, just make the lives of these people more bearable, less
painful, more livable. Just do the right thing.