The Chamber of Litigation – part 2
Examining the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s involvement in
some of the most notorious civil cases of the last decade.
The Chamber of Litigation – part 1
Despite condemning civil lawsuits, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is
itself a prodigious litigator.
The Gilded Chamber
Bigger, Richer, and (Still) Undisclosed.
Sacrificing the Pawns
How the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Recruits Small
Business Owners to Lobby Against Their Own Self-Interest.
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- Civil Justice
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- Money in Politics
- Workers' Rights
By Emma Stockton, Public Citizen intern
Tobacco continues to be the leading cause of preventable death so it’s good to see some health-related companies are better aligning the products on their shelves to their missions by ending tobacco sales. CVS Health is a recent example of a large, national chain store to end tobacco sales in favor of promoting a family friendly, healthy image. Though some companies, such as Walgreens and Walmart, continue to sell tobacco alongside products and services to improve the health of their customers, Target took the step to end tobacco sales nearly 20 years ago, in 1996.
Target can again be a health leader among companies by cutting its ties to U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
After a recent series of New York Times articles revealed that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is promoting tobacco abroad, CVS Health left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The U.S. Chamber defended its global push to weaken or block tobacco regulations in blatant disregard for public health in a NYT Letter to the Editor, describing its efforts as intellectual property protectionism, but CVS Health saw through the smoke the Chamber was blowing and cut its ties to the trade association and lobbying behemoth.
CVS Health is not the only company to cut ties with the Chamber, though it is the first to vocally do so over the Chamber’s attempts to hinder foreign countries from putting in place health and safety regulations regarding tobacco sales and use. There are a growing number of companies that have parted ways with the trade association over policy schisms and a nascent acknowledgment that, as described by the Times, “[u]nder the leadership of Mr. Donohue [President of U.S. Chamber of Commerce], the chamber’s strategy has become increasingly controversial in recent years.” The Chamber’s holding of policy stances eschewed from its members’ has lost it some big names including Apple, Yahoo!, and Skansa in just the past few years.
Target has already demonstrated it is willing to take principled stances when it stopped selling tobacco products. Target led the way in stepping away from tobacco sales and now it’s time for the company to take the next step and join CVS Health by and withdrawing its membership from the Chamber. Cancelling Target’s membership with the Chamber will help send a message not just to the Chamber but also to its other member companies that the trade association’s positions are out of touch.
Target needs to hear from its customers to encourage the company to continue in its health leadership by reexamining its membership to the Chamber and what that says about the company.
By Emma Stockton
Last week, CVS Health did the right thing and cut ties with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This announcement came in the wake of a series of New York Times articles revealing the Chamber’s role in a global lobbying effort to combat anti-smoking policies. CVS Health’s decision to leave the Chamber follows its 2014 decision to end sales of all tobacco products. CVS senior vice president David Palombi has explained, “CVS Health’s purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with this purpose.”
The NYT series also highlighted a common misconception, that the Chamber of Commerce is part of the U.S. government. This confusion is not unfounded: U.S. government officials often affiliate with international divisions of the Chamber. For example, in Estonia, the U.S. ambassador serves as the honorary president of AmCham Estonia.
The President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, responded to the NYT article and CVS Health’s departure in a NYT Letter to the Editor. Donohue justified the Chamber’s lobbying against anti-smoking laws by hiding behind a veil of intellectual property protectionism. This veneer is easily seen through. It is clear that the Chamber is protecting the interests of prominent tobacco industry representatives with which it is affiliated, such as Philip Morris, without regard to the public health implications of its actions. As pointed out by a follow-up NYT article, such a view of its stance would not explain why the lobbying association has taken stands against policies that have nothing to do with intellectual property: “The chamber has not said why it has opposed public health steps like restricting smoking in public places, which it called an ‘extreme’ measure when it was proposed in Moldova.”
In the past few years, the Chamber has lost a number of significant members due to its unpopular positions on important policy issues. In 2009, Apple left the Chamber over the Chamber’s opposition to climate-change initiatives that the Environmental Protection Agency set forth to lower greenhouse gas emissions. In 2011, Yahoo! left due to the Chamber’s support of the PROTECT IP act, a law that would have restricted internet freedom. In 2013, the environmentally sustainable construction company Skanska, left the Chamber due to their support of a chemical-industry led initiative to ban future government buildings from being ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’ (LEED) certified, which is contrary to Skanska’s business practices .
When asked about its departure, CVS Health’s Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Troyen Brennan, explained, “it was very difficult for us to remain as a member once the revelations about the Chamber’s overseas [opposition to anti-smoking policies] advocacy became clear.”
Hopefully CVS Health’s move will provide an example for other health care companies and inspire them to question their memberships in the Chamber as well.
By Lisa Gilbert and John Stewart
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as the self-described “world’s largest business organization,” has a major influence in public policy both here at home and internationally. A report released today by Tobacco Free Kids, Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch, Corporate Accountability International and several other organizations shows unequivocally how Big Tobacco has mobilized the Chamber’s economic and political power to bully governments into blocking, delaying, and weakening life-saving health policies worldwide.
The Chamber purports to represent the interests of three million businesses of all sizes, including the smallest mom and pop businesses. However, a February 2014 report by Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch project, “The Gilded Chamber,” found that more than half of the money the Chamber raised in 2012 came from just 64 anonymous corporate donors. With corporate cash flooding its coffers, it is unsurprising that the policy positions the Chamber takes are skewed towards helping those corporate interests, and away from protecting the Main Street businesses it uses as a shield for its actions.
The Chamber wields its economic clout aggressively, spending more on lobbying than any other interest group in the country. In addition, it has 116 American Chamber of Commerce affiliates, or AmChams, around the globe in 103 countries, and spends liberally there as well. The magnitude of the Chamber’s spending as well as their active engagement internationally means their positions on public policies, including health issues, are often perceived as carrying the weight of the U.S. business community. As such, disregarding their positions can carry an implied economic threat and countries hesitate to do so.
Our report and a two-part New York Times investigation shows that, while the Chamber throws its weight around in many Global South countries to protect its corporate members’ interests, Big Tobacco has also pushed it to adopt particularly aggressive and radical positions in order to undermine the cascade of public health laws being passed as a result of the success of the global tobacco treaty. In an initial reaction to this reporting, CVS Health has recently resigned from the Chamber, and a group of United States Senators released a public statement critical of them as well as sent letters to the member companies of the U.S. Chamber’s Board of Directors asking about their positions on the Chamber’s efforts to fight tobacco control measures.
For tobacco control advocates familiar with this deadly industry’s tactics, the Chamber’s work in this space comes as no surprise. Internal documents tell us that as the tobacco industry lost its public credibility, it began to use third parties to advocate on its behalf.
Case studies in our report, from Africa to Latin America, make it clear that Big Tobacco is doggedly pursuing this strategy with the U.S. Chamber and its affiliates in Global South countries. In countries the tobacco industry has targeted around the world, the Chamber is delivering threatening letters that cast doubt on the science behind tobacco control, exaggerating the economic impacts of proven measures like tobacco taxation and crying wolf about explosions in illicit trade. In pursuing these actions, the Chamber and its AmCham affiliates are exporting well-documented tobacco industry tactics to block health laws around the globe. And as the New York Times points out in its investigation, (and then advocates that countries resist in their recent editorial: Tarred by Tobacco), these tactics are in some cases drafted by Big Tobacco executives themselves.
Clearly, there is a deep conflict of interest between the Chamber’s aggressiveness on tobacco and the interests of its health-related members. So why is the Chamber so brazenly pursuing the interests of Big Tobacco? The answer lies in the Chamber’s deep financial and political ties with the tobacco industry. A top executive at the tobacco giant Altria Group serves on the chamber’s board as does a representative of the former parent company of Philip Morris International (PMI.) The largest transnational tobacco corporations in the world such as PMI, British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and Imperial Tobacco hold memberships in more than 55 AmCham chapters.
Countries around the world should know that U.S. Chamber does not represent the American people or the U.S. government, nor is it representative of the broad swath of U.S. businesses. They should also continue implementing the global tobacco treaty’s life-saving measures, particularly Article 5.3, which is geared towards protecting public health measures against just these kinds of industry tactics. And finally, the private sector should think twice about the reputational risk posed by remaining a part of a trade group that puts the profits of the world’s deadliest industry before even its own members’ interests.
Lisa Gilbert is the Director of Public Citizen‘s Congress Watch Division and manages their U.S. Chamberwatch project. John Stewart is the Deputy Campaigns Director for Corporate Accountability International.
A series of investigative articles by The New York Times beginning June 30, 2015 exposed how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (U.S. Chamber) has worked systematically in countries around the world to help the tobacco industry fight life-saving measures to reduce tobacco use. The Times articles examined the U.S. Chamber’s multi-pronged approach to fighting measures to reduce tobacco use, including opposing countries’ health policies, pitting countries against each other in international trade disputes, and influencing international trade agreements to benefit tobacco companies.
Our new report examines the U.S. Chamber’s tactics in depth, providing additional information and documentation about more than a dozen instances in which the U.S. Chamber has intervened on behalf of some of the world’s biggest tobacco companies to interfere with countries’ efforts to pass and implement proven, life-saving policies. The U.S. Chamber’s lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry is shown to be a global, systematic pattern of activity.
They represent the interests of the tobacco industry,” said Dr. Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, the head of the Secretariat that oversees the W.H.O treaty, called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. “They are putting their feet everywhere where there are stronger regulations coming up.
The big footprint mentioned by Dr. Luiza da Costa e Silva, in today’s New York Times piece, “U.S. Chamber works Globally to Fight Anti-Smoking Measures“ is that of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their affiliated American Chambers abroad.
The Chamber is a U.S. trade association with an annual revenue of $165 million. It spends more on lobbying than any other interest group in the country and has more than 100 affiliates around the globe. The U.S. Chamber’s positions on public policies around the world, including public health policies, are often perceived as carrying the weight of the U.S. business community. As such, disregarding their positions can carry an implied economic threat.
The influence peddling of the Chamber is evident in many international fights, so it’s unsurprising that pushing back on tobacco control is a top priority for the corporate group. A top executive at the tobacco giant Altria Group serves on the chamber’s board, though the cigarette makers’ payments to the chamber are not disclosed.
A February 2014 report by Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch project, “The Gilded Chamber,” found that more than half of the money the Chamber raised in 2012 came from just 64 anonymous corporate donors — unsurprisingly the policy positions the Chamber takes are skewed towards helping the biggest corporate interests who spend the most money funding them, and away from protecting the Main Street businesses they claim in their mission are their primary interest. On its website, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims to represent “the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions,” but they are clearly skewed towards the biggest donors, and in this case those donors are using the Chamber to push back on public health objectives abroad.
The U.S. Chamber and its AmCham affiliates are fighting hand in hand with the tobacco industry in countries from Ukraine to Cambodia, often without fully disclosing that they are sponsored by the tobacco industry. Countries need to recognize that the U.S. Chamber is not the U.S. government, nor is it representative of the broad swath of U.S. businesses and push back to protect their population’s health.
Silica dust is currently a major concern for construction workers and workers in other industries. Respirable silica dust particles cannot be seen with the human eye, and it only takes a small amount of airborne silica dust to create a major health hazard.
Silica dust is created by cutting, grinding and drilling materials such as asphalt, brick, cement, concrete, drywall, grout, mortar, stone, sand, and tile. In other words, materials which can be found on almost every construction site across the United States.
In 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed to write a rule to lower the permissible exposure limits for silica dust. Public Citizen has called for the proposed rule to be strengthened and for OSHA to move to lower the limits of exposure in order to save lives now.
OSHA estimates thousands of deaths would be prevented by lowering the limits so what’s keeping it from moving forward? It might have to do with the fact that U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its corporate cronies have opposed the rulemaking.
Recently, worker safety advocates delivered a petition to the trade association’s headquarters and challenged the Chamber be up front and tell the public why they want to block a rule that would help keep workers safer on the job. They refused to do so.
In fact, representatives from the Chamber stood outside their building and yelled to the assembled worker advocates comments like, “If we are so wrong on silica then when does the administration agree with us? Why have they not released the rule?”
We all know that the Chamber uses dark money to influence politicians to gain traction on its positions.
Frustrated with the Chambers’ comments to the crowd, Public Citizens’ own Keith Wrightson challenged the Chamber representatives to stop lobbying against the silica rule and obstructing progress on the lifesaving standard. “The Chamber declined to comment when they were put on the spot and were quickly ushered inside by security guards,” said Wrightson.
Nearly two years after the rulemaking was proposed by the agency, there has been no action by OSHA to finalize and implement the rule. Every year that passes without a rule means at least 700 workers die from exposure to silica.
We cannot allow those workers to be treated like nothing but dust in the wind. They cannot be forgotten.
The Chamber should end its unconscionable opposition to OSHA’s proposed rule. Lives are depending on it.