The Reynolds American, Inc. 2014 Annual Shareholders Meeting: Change of CEO, change of demeanor, “Transformation” to the status quo.June 24th, 2014
By Edward Sweda
As I entered the Reynolds American Corporate Offices (photo) at 401 North Main Street in Winston-Salem, North Carolina just after 8 A.M. on Thursday, May 8, the company’s “Welcome Shareholders” sign was perched directly above the building’s main entrance. Having cleared through the metal detector, I proceeded to the registration table, where I received my admission ticket to the 2014 Annual Shareholders Meeting of Reynolds American, Inc. (RAI).
Since the doors to the meeting room would not be opened until 8:30, I had a few minutes to observe my surroundings inside RAI headquarters.
Banners touting Camel, Pall Mall, American Spirit, Grizzly Long Cut, and ZONNIC (the company’s nicotine gum).
Another banner with the alliterative slogan “Transforming Tobacco,”
One more banner, entitled “Living Our Core Values,” with four adjectives: principled, creative, dynamic and passionate.”
As I proceeded toward the men’s room, I encountered RAI’s cafeteria, which is named the “Golden Leaf Cafe” and contains black plastic chairs. The back of each of those chairs has a cutout in the shape of a camel. Prominently positioned in the lobby was a large portrait of Richard Joshua Reynolds (whose statue can be found a few blocks south on Main Street — see photo), the company’s founder.
I entered the meeting room just after 8:30 and sat in an aisle seat near one of two microphones. After having been personally greeted by several RAI employees, I got a chance to read a two-sided blue handout entitled “Rules of the Annual Meeting.” The closing part of the tenth of the twelve rules caught my attention: “Failure to observe the rules is cause for expulsion from the meeting. Shareholders and their representatives who refuse to leave the meeting upon request could be arrested and charged with criminal trespassing.” I remembered my experience at the 2013 RAI Annual Shareholders Meeting.
The 2014 meeting started precisely at 9:00 A.M. and featured the return of Susan Cameron as CEO. Tom Wajnert, the Non-Executive Chairman of the Board, began by citing his desire for a “productive and orderly meeting” and his opposition to disruptions under the “guise of points of information.” He then turned to Tom Adams, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, for a report on business. Mr. Adams noted that 2014 marks the tenth anniversary of RAI and that the company had made “much progress since 2004.” Key phrases from his report included: “leading the transformation of the tobacco industry”; “Stronger than ever”; “shareholder return of 27%”; “record profits”; “brand milestones”; and “highest market share for Camel since 1967.” Mr. Adams made no mention of any developments in tobacco litigation over the past decade (see, e.g., http://www.phaionline.org/2010/02/19/all-parties-seek-supreme-court-review-of-racketeering-trial-us-v-philip-morris/ and http://www.phaionline.org/2012/03/26/supreme-court-rejects-key-tobacco-industry-appeal-leaving-massive-liability-with-no-end-in-sight/ ). The premature deaths of millions of the company’s customers and bystanders to the use of the company’s tobacco products were once again excluded from RAI’s business presentation.
The Question and Answer session’s allotted time was increased slightly from the 25 minutes at the 2013 meeting to 30 minutes. As it turned out, Mr. Wajnert twice extended the period for shareholders’ questions and everyone who had lined up at the microphones had the opportunity to ask a question. The Q&A session lasted 45 minutes, from 9:40 to 10:25.
My question, which dealt with the ongoing Engle Progeny litigation in Florida, drew the meeting’s only mention of tobacco litigation from RAI. I called attention to the fact that, in February 2014, the website Law360.com reported that a leading litigation finance company — Law Finance Group — “has decided to throw its weight behind the plaintiffs in what experts say is the latest sign that the scales may be tipping toward eventual settlement.” Law Finance Group is offering appeal funding in Engle Progeny cases and advancing payment to plaintiffs of an appealed award. In October 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider ( http://www.phaionline.org/2013/10/07/us-supreme-court-deals-devastating-blow-to-the-cigarette-industry-and-settlement-value-of-nearly-8000-pending-engle-cases-rises-dramatically/ ) the tobacco companies’ appeal of the Florida Supreme Court’s March 2013 ruling in the Douglas case ( http://www.phaionline.org/2013/03/18/big-victory-at-florida-supreme-court-is-bad-news-for-cigarette-manufacturers/ ). This development was a significant factor in Law Finance Group’s decision to support the Engle Progeny plaintiffs. My question to the RAI Board was: “What, if anything, has management done to inform its shareholders about this important new development regarding the Engle Progeny litigation?”
In response, Mr. Wajnert turned to Martin L. “Mark” Holton III, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Assistant Secretary. Mr. Holton chose not to address whether RAI had ever informed shareholders of the Law Finance Group’s decision. Instead, he declared that he and the company are “comfortable” with RAI’s litigation position, including at the appellate level, with regard to these cases in Florida. [Just a month later, the U.S. Supreme Court gave RAI another major setback when it refused to consider the company’s appeal of several plaintiff verdicts in the Engle Progeny litigation in Florida.
Dr. Sharon Brown, who had been ejected from the 2013 RAI Annual Shareholders Meeting, noted that RAI had resumed cigarette advertising in certain magazines, including Glamour, and expressed additional concern that a Spanish-language version of the company's "Right Decisions, Right Now" program could help introduce Spanish-speaking youth to RAI's tobacco products.
Many of the questions dealt with farm labor issues, especially the working conditions of workers who toil for companies that supply tobacco to RAI. Mr. Wajnert refused to answer a direct question as to whether he believed a farm worker's minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is a fair wage. Many supporters of the Farm Labor Organizing Council, AFL-CIO (FLOC) (see http://www.floc.com/wordpress/ ) attended the meeting while others demonstrated outside company headquarters. (photo courtesy of Dr. Sharon Brown).
Two shareholder resolutions were defeated. The first, calling for more transparent reporting to shareholders of the company's lobbying expenditures, received 47.7 million "Yes" votes compared to 393.9 million "No' votes. The second resolution, calling for an end to virtually all animal testing, received 3.3 million "Yes" votes and 433.8 million "No" votes.
By Edward Sweda
Opening the company’s 2014 Annual Shareholders Meeting at precisely 9:00 A.M., Martin J. Barrington, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Altria Group, Inc., had plenty of good news to report to shareholders who had assembled at the Greater Richmond Convention Center on the morning of Wednesday, May 14. During his report on business, Barrington said that 2013 was a “strong year” for Altria, that dividend growth was positive and that total shareholder return was 28.6%. Marlboro’s share in 2013 was 43.7% — greater than the next ten brands combined. Altria’s Copenhagen and Skoal brands combined for a 50.7% share of the smokeless tobacco market in the United States.
The company also pledged to continue to follow its four “core strategies”:
- Invest in Leadership (“We will invest in excellent people, leading brands and external stakeholders important to our businesses’ success.”)
- Align with Society (We will actively participate in resolving societal concerns that are relevant to our businesses.)
- Satisfy Adult Consumers (“We will convert our deep understanding of adult tobacco and wine consumers into better and more creative products that satisfy their preferences.”)
- Create Substantial Value for Shareholders (“We will execute our business plans to create sustainable growth and generate substantial returns for shareholders.”)
But there was also bad news for Altria and its shareholders. Just fifteen days earlier, a panel of Illinois’ Fifth District Court of Appeals had unanimously reinstated a $10.1 billion bench verdict in a light cigarette class action, the Price case. Barrington did bring up this ruling during his business presentation, but only after claiming that Altria had had “success in managing litigation” during 2013. While acknowledging that “substantial litigation challenges” remain, Barrington expressed satisfaction over two company victories, the rejection of a light cigarette case in California, the Brown case, and a New York Court of Appeals ruling against the plaintiffs in a medical monitoring case, the Caronia case.
During the question and answer session, I cited the recent ruling in Price. “In 2005, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the $10.1 billion bench verdict on what we now know is the false premise that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had authorized the conduct that was the basis for the company’s liability. Subsequently, the FTC itself and the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2008 ruling in the Good case both made that clear. While the company will appeal that April 29th ruling by the Fifth District Court of Appeal, my question is: What steps has the company taken to prepare to pay this multi-billion dollar judgment if the appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court is unsuccessful?”
In response, Barrington did not identify any specific steps that company may have taken. He expressed confidence that the ruling would eventually be overturned. He also told the shareholders that Altria prepares for all possible outcomes but that we are “a long way” from the point where a final judgment in the case would have to be paid.”
Two shareholder resolutions were considered at the meeting. The first, filed by Trinity Health, noted that the World Health Organization has said that tobacco and poverty “have become linked in a vicious circle, through which tobacco exacerbates poverty and poverty is also associated with higher prevalence of tobacco use. Several studies from different parts of the world have shown that smoking and other forms of tobacco use are much higher among the poor.” The resolution called on Altria to initiate efforts “to prepare appropriate materials… informing poor and less formally educated tobacco users of the health consequences of smoking our tobacco products along with market-appropriate cessation materials.” Father Michael Crosby introduced the resolution and stressed that Altria is financially benefitting on the backs of the poor at the front end of production (noting that many tobacco farm workers are undocumented and perform grueling work at the minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour) and at the back end of sales since so many people who are addicted to nicotine are poor and have less formal education. Fr. Crosby also brought up a major concern about child labor on tobacco farms. See http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/14/us-child-workers-danger-tobacco-farms
Management opposed the resolution, alleging that “the matters raised in this proposal currently are being addressed and that the actions requested by the proponents are neither warranted nor in the best interests of shareholders.” The resolution was defeated, having received 3.72% of the votes.
The second shareholder resolution, which was submitted by the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order in Milwaukee, dealt with the issue of disclosure of lobbying policies and practices. This resolution called on Altria to prepare a report, to be updated annually, that would disclose four items: “1. Company policy and procedures governing lobbying, both direct and indirect, and grassroots lobbying communications. 2. Payments by Altria used for (a) direct or indirect lobbying or (b) grassroots lobbying communications, in each case including the amount of payment and the recipient. 3. Altria’s membership in and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation. 4. Description of the decision making process and oversight by management and the Board for making payments described in sections 2 and 3 above.”
Proponents of the resolution noted that, while Altria currently makes some disclosure, there is still incomplete disclosure about lobbying spending at the state level. As proponents noted in the presentation in support of the resolution: “Lobbying is shareholders’ money that is being spent. Does our company stand behind its spending? Why should Altria intentionally keep us in the dark about how they are spending shareholder money? What does Altria have to hide? These are reasonable questions to ask.” Also, Altria serves on the private enterprise board of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. While the company has listed its involvement with ALEC, shareholders have no way of knowing how much Altria is contributing.
Management opposed this resolution as well, claiming that preparing and maintaining the report requested by proponents “would impose additional and unnecessary burdens and costs and would not be in the best interests of Altria and its shareholders.” The resolution was defeated, having received 6.46% of the votes.
Altria’s 2014 Annual Shareholders Meeting was adjourned at 9:55 A.M.
Today, the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law, is releasing the issue brief Copycat Snacks in Schools on the food industry’s recent push to market popular junk food brands in schools. As noted in today’s New York Times story by Michael Moss entitled “The Domino’s Smart Slice Goes To School,” PHAI has called upon the USDA to address branded junk food marketing in schools. Starting July 1, 2014, all foods sold outside of the National School Lunch Program, such as food from vending machines and school stores, will have to meet United States Department of Agriculture “Smart Snacks” nutrition criteria. Not wanting to lose an in-school marketing opportunity, major food companies like PepsiCo are producing reformulated versions of popular junk foods like Cheetos® and Doritos® that meet the Smart Snacks criteria, but use the same brand names, logos and spokescharacters as are used to market traditional junk food.
For example, PepsiCo produces and markets to school food service directors a product called Cheetos® Flamin’ Hot Puffs Reduced Fat. This product meets the USDA Smart Snack guidelines, but it is not widely available for retail purchase outside of schools. Instead, PepsiCo offers Cheetos® Flamin’ Hot Puffs to the broader public. As you can see below, the product packaging is almost identical.
Copycat snacks like reduced fat versions of Cheetos® products are not widely available for purchase outside of schools and are clearly designed to co-market traditional junk food to children in school. The issue brief describes copycat snacks, how they undermine nutrition education efforts, and what can be done to stop the sale and marketing of these products in schools.
On September 19-20, 2014, the Public Health Advocacy Institute, in conjunction with the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium and Northeastern University School of Law will host a conference for advocates, “50 Years After the Surgeon General’s Report: Accelerating Tobacco Endgame Strategies in the United States, This meeting will provide a blueprint to show which will provide a blueprint to identify laws, regulations and policies that can:
- Reduce smoking rates to near-zero
- Give consumers true freedom of choice by eliminating addiction from the equation
- Consign non-smoker exposure to tobacco smoke to the dustbin of history
- Finally complete the process that began with the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health
See the agenda (pdf)
Speakers will include exceptional tobacco control researchers and policy leaders sharing both evidence-based best practices and bold new practices that comprise a true endgame for tobacco products. Confirmed speakers include:
and others (to be announced).
This meeting, the first of its kind in the United States, will highlight federal, state and local actions that will lead to an end to tobacco-caused addiction, death and disease in this country.
Re-imagining tobacco control as a means to truly end a public health problem that still kills more than 400,000 Americans each year is the next chapter in the movement that began 50 years ago when Surgeon General Luther Terry released the first Report on Smoking and Health.
The conference will be held September 19-20 (Fri-Sat) at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, MA. Online registration will be available soon. To be notified when registration opens and how to register, please enter your information into the form below. You will not be placed on any other lists.
Plumbing codes an important factor in availability of school water fountains, finds PHAI’s Wilking in CDC studyMay 7th, 2014
In a study examining availability of water fountains in schools published in the May, 2014 issue of the CDC journal, Preventing Chronic Disease,
PHAI’s senior staff attorney, Cara Wilking, along with CDC researchers, Stephen J. Onufrak and Sohyun Park found that state plumbing codes were a predictor of whether and how many water fountains were available to children.
Because the availability of plain drinking water to schoolchildren is an important strategy to reduce sugary beverage intake of empty calories, understanding the factors that facilitate or frustrate prevalence of water fountains is a key to successful implementation of this strategy.
Citation: Onufrak SJ, Park S, Wilking C. Student-Reported School Drinking Fountain Availability by Youth Characteristics and State Plumbing Codes. Prev Chronic Dis 2014;11:130314. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd11.130314
The Public Health Advocacy Institute has filed an amicus curiae brief in an appeal pending before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The Plaintiff/Appellants are seeking to reverse a decision of the attorney general and get a question certified for inclusion on the 2014 ballot to repeal a law legalizing casino gambling in Massachusetts. The case is Steven P. Abdow et al., v. Attorney General, et al., No. SJC-11641.
Legalized casino gambling causes devastating effects on the public’s health, including not only the gambler but also their families, neighbors, communities and others with whom they interact. Massachusetts voters should not be denied the opportunity to be heard directly on the question of whether to invite a predatory and toxic industry to do business in the Commonwealth.
The harm caused by the tobacco industry’s products has been the archetype of a commercial threat to public health, and in considering the introduction of gambling industry casinos into Massachusetts, much can be learned from the object lesson of considering the tobacco industry as a disease vector. The predatory gambling industry shares much in common with the tobacco industry.
Some examples of the similarities are:
- Casinos employ electronic gambling machines that are designed to addict their customers in a way that is similar to how the tobacco industry formulates its cigarettes to be addictive by manipulating their nicotine levels and other ingredients.
- Mirroring the tobacco industry’s strategy of creating scientific doubt where none truly exists, the casino industry has co-opted and corrupted scholarship on the effects of gambling through the use of front groups that funnel money to beholden scientists who are able to sanitize its origin.
- Borrowing another tobacco industry technique of shaping the debate around its products, by creating a misleading lexicon and using euphemisms, the casino industry has tried to influence debate, deflect criticism and mislead the public about its role as a disease vector.
- By employing personal and corporate responsibility rhetoric honed by the tobacco industry, the casino industry hopes to gain and maintain social acceptability and stave off litigation, regulation and citizen-driven activism.
Both the tobacco and casino industries profit from preying upon society’s most vulnerable members, acting as disease vectors which adversely affect the physical, emotional and social health of the individual users and the communities where use of the products is prevalent.
The brief declares that the voters of the Commonwealth should be allowed to act on their own behalf in expressing an opinion of this type of predatory behavior. The power of the citizen ballot initiative is the ultimate in personal responsibility, agency and self-determination. Therefore, PHAI asks the court to compel the attorney general to certify the Plaintiffs’/Appellants’ petition and allow the repeal measure to be included on the 2014 ballot.
The full brief can be downloaded here.
PHAI’s Gottlieb Calls Out FDA and White House for Failing to Aggressively Implement the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control ActApril 14th, 2014
In an editorial published in the May, 2014 issue of the journal, Tobacco Control, PHAI’s Executive Director, Mark Gottlieb, calls the FDA’s approach to implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, “Overcautious,” and urges the agency and the White House to take a much more aggressive approach to saving lives.
The summary of the editorial, entitled “Overcautious FDA has Lost its Way,” states:
Five years after the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, little progress has been made in the effort to regulate the US tobacco industry and advance the public health goals of tobacco control. Legal challenges by the tobacco industry, and evidence of political interference from the White House have resulted in the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) overcautious approach toward advancing a meaningful regulatory agenda. While the White House bears final responsibility, it is incumbent upon the FDA and its Center for Tobacco Products to become more aggressive and seize the extraordinary opportunity to save lives that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act has created.
Despite the capabilities of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products and its director, Mitchell Zeller, who directed the FDA’s tobacco efforts in the 1990s under commissioner David Kessler, progress in meaningfully regulating tobacco products is moving at a glacial pace. Predictably, the tobacco industry is utilizing its full legal arsenal to challenge and delay FDA’s efforts. It is becoming apparent that the White House is also responsible for the FDA’s inaction through delays caused by its Office of Management and Budget.
Gottlieb believes that the agency should be: (1) eliminating menthol; (2) regulating nicotine levels to reduce dramatically abuse liability and toxic exposure; (3) implementing arresting and effective graphic warnings; (4) facilitating an increase of the national minimum tobacco sales age to 21; and (5) responsibly controlling new tobacco products’ entry into the market. This is simply not happening.
Gottlieb suggests that because litigation by the tobacco industry to challenge regulatory action is inevitable, the best strategy is for the FDA to use the best available evidence now and rollout the regulatory agenda as fast as the law will allow. Delay only serves to benefit the industry and, consequently, increase the morbidity and mortality that the industry’s products cause in the United States.
Another suggestion by Gottlieb is for FDA to consider how Sharon Eubanks, lead attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, handled similar legal and political challenges when litigating the racketeering case, U.S. v. Philip Morris.
The editorial concludes by noting that, “[t]here exists no better public health opportunity of any kind than this one, now in the hands of the FDA. They should run with it, not from it.”
PHAI’s Gottlieb and Wilking Co-author study in JAMA Pediatrics Showing that Fast Food Giants Confuse and Deceive KidsMarch 31st, 2014
After much criticism and prodding, Fast food giants McDonald’s and Burger King agreed to depict healthier food options in advertising directed at children. Researchers at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, along with the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at Northeastern University School of Law, found that attempts to honor these pledges by depicting healthier kids’ meals frequently go unnoticed by children ages 3 to 7 years-old. In research published on March 31, 2014 in JAMA Pediatrics, these researchers found that one-half to one-third of children did not identify milk when shown McDonald’s and Burger King children’s advertising images depicting that product. Sliced apples in Burger King’s ads were identified as apples by only 10 percent of young viewers; instead most believed that the ads were depicting french fries.
Children in the study were confused by the images of food. One typical participant said, “And I see some…are those apples slices?”
The researcher replied, “I can’t tell you…you just have to say what you think they are.”
“I think they’re french fries,” the child responded.
“Burger King’s depiction of apple slices as ‘Fresh Apple Fries’ was misleading to children in the target age range,” said principal investigator James Sargent, MD, co-director Cancer Control Research Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center. “The advertisement would be deceptive by industry standards, yet their self-regulation bodies took no action to address the misleading depiction.”
Mark Gottlieb, Executive Director of PHAI and an author of the study, observed that, “when young children believe they will be getting french fries with their meals because of deceptive or confusing advertising imagery, they may insist that the adult bringing them orders french fries instead of apple slices. Likewise, if advertising leads children to expect a sugary drink rather than milk, they may well end up getting the sugary drink. This has the effect of undermining the self-regulatory pledges that the companies made.”
Study author and PHAI Senior Staff Attorney Cara Wilking said she found it, “troubling that fast food giants would publicly make a self-regulatory pledge, fail to live up to the pledge, and receive no sanction from the relevant self-regulatory body. Such failures suggests that self-regulation is often more about public relations than about fulfilling the role of actual governmental regulation.”
Sargent and his colleagues studied fast food television ads aimed at children from July 2010 through June 2011. In this study researchers extracted “freeze frames” of Kids Meals shown in TV ads that appeared on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and other children’s cable networks. Of the four healthy food depictions studied, only McDonald’s presentation of apple slices was recognized as an apple product by a large majority of the target audience, regardless of age. Researchers found that the other three presentations represented poor communication.
This study follows an earlier investigation conducted by Sargent and his colleagues, which found that McDonald’s and Burger King children’s advertising emphasized giveaways like toys or box office movie tie-ins to develop children’s brand awareness for fast food chains, despite self-imposed guidelines that discourage the practice.
While the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission play important regulatory roles in food labeling and marketing, the Better Business Bureau operates a self-regulatory system for children’s advertising. Two different programs offer guidelines to keep children’s advertising focused on the food, not toys, and, more specifically, on foods with nutritional value.
“The fast food industry spends somewhere between $100 to 200 million dollars a year on advertising to children, ads that aim to develop brand awareness and preferences in children who can’t even read or write, much less think critically about what is being presented.” said Sargent.
Bernhardt AM, Wilking C, Gottlieb M, Emond J, Sargent JD. Children’s Reaction to Depictions of Healthy Foods in Fast-Food Television Advertisements. JAMA Pediatr.2014;():. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.140.
This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research program.
On March 11, 2014, Richard Daynard, University Distinguished Professor of Law at Northeastern University and President of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, Dr. Tim Howard, President of Cambridge Graduate University and PHAI board member, along with former U.S. environmental litigation attorney Stanley Alpert, and James Haggerty filed a class action in US District Court in Brooklyn, NY against the United Nations. The lawsuit, Marie Laventure et al. v. United Nations et al., seeks to force the UN to take responsibility for the massive Haitian cholera contagion which has killed upwards of 9,000 Haitians and sickened hundreds of thousands, compensate victims, and bring critical sanitation to Haiti. The contagion has since spread to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the United States, with at least three cases of cholera confirmed in New York City since 2010, and a sustained outbreak in Mexico.
Marie Laventure is one of 1,500 plaintiffs in the legal action. Laventure resides in Atlanta, is the sister of a Haitian US citizen of New York, and the oldest of 12 siblings: two residing in New York, one residing in Atlanta, and eight in Haiti. Some of her Haitian siblings are as young as ten years old. Marie and her family lost their father and stepmother to the UN Haiti cholera contagion outbreak. She and her US brother and sisters are sending money to help their young siblings survive.
An independent panel, appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to study the epidemic that has killed more than 8,300 people and sickened more than 650,000, issued a report in 2011 that did not determine conclusively how the cholera was introduced to Haiti. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others can prove that U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal were the source after they set up a camp near the Meille River, which was improperly handled by U.N. contractors who dumped infected waste into the water supply. Before this occurred, cholera was wholly absent from Haiti. The disease was endemic in Nepal and Nepalese soldiers were not screened before being sent to Haiti by the U.N.. Attorney Dr. Tim Howard stated, “The United Nations knew that disease, injury and death would result from a cholera contagion outbreak, and that conditions in Haiti were ripe for a cholera contagion outbreak if proper sanitation was not in place.”
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the U.N. does not enjoy legal immunity from liability for the cholera outbreak, despite its humanitarian role in assisting Haiti. Among the documents referenced in the lawsuit is the United Nation s 2004 agreement with Haiti, which explicitly waived sovereign immunity, stating that “[t]hird-party claims for…personal injury, illness or death arising from or directly attributed to [the Stabilization Agreement] shall be settled by the United Nations…and the United Nations shall pay compensation . . .” Another document referenced in the lawsuit shows that the UN General Assembly expressly admits that international law requires the UN to pay compensation for damages caused through its operations. Attorney Stanley Alpert added, “Imagine if the UN had killed 9,000 in the heart of New York City or Paris. Would they cry ‘immunity’ then? The lack of regard for the value of Haitian lives is distressing and indefensible.”
On March 7, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice supported the U.N. in a written court filing asserting that the United Nations’ mission to Haiti was “absolutely immune from legal process” in an earlier class action suit on behalf of the country’s cholera victims brought by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti last year.
The Haitian cholera contagion outbreak still kills approximately 1,000 Haitians each year and sickens many thousands more.
Public Health Advocacy Institute executive director Mark Gottlieb agreed that the United Nations needs to be held accountable for this public health crisis stating, “Cholera, previously unknown in Haiti, is a severe and devastating disease that, in this case, was entirely preventable. It is deeply disappointing and shocking that the United Nations’ actions caused so much suffering, illness and death in Haiti and beyond.
The complaint can be downloaded here.
PHAI Senior Staff Attorney Cara Wilking’s article, State Law Approaches to Curtail Digital Food Marketing Tactics Targeting Young Children, has been published in the January/February, 2014 issue of the Food and Drug Law Institute’s Update Magazine. In the article, Wilking describes why digital marketing, which is inherently deceptive to younger children. She explains the role of packaging, “advergames,” and digital sweepstakes in digital marketing.
Wilking concludes that these practices may trigger specific consumer protection law provisions and case law precedent around unfair and deceptive trade practices and looks to state attorney generals to take steps to stop these practices.