Toxic Sludge Is Good For You (2002)

While advertising is the visible component of the corporate system, perhaps even more important and pervasive is its invisible partner, the public relations industry. This video illuminates this hidden sphere of our culture and examines the way in which the management of “the public mind” has become central to how our democracy is controlled by political and economic elites. Toxic Sludge Is Good For You illustrates how much of what we think of as independent, unbiased news and information has its origins in the boardrooms of the public relations companies.

PR critics include PR Watch founder John Stauber, cultural scholars Mark Crispin Miller and Stuart Ewen. Toxic Sludge Is Good For You tracks the development of the PR industry from early efforts to win popular American support for World War I to the role of crisis management in controlling the damage to corporate image. The video analyzes the tools public relations professionals use to shift our perceptions including a look at the coordinated PR campaign to slip genetically engineered produce past public scrutiny.

Toxic Sludge Is Good For You urges viewers to question the experts and follow the money back to the public relations industry to challenge its hold on democracy.

How To Start A Revolution (2011)

Half a world away from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, an ageing American intellectual shuffles around his cluttered terrace house in a working-class Boston neighbourhood. His name is Gene Sharp. White-haired and now in his mid-eighties, he grows orchids, he has yet to master the internet and he hardly seems like a dangerous man. But for the world’s dictators his ideas can be the catalyst for the end of their regime.

The Spill (2010)

Over the past decade, BP vaulted from an energy “also-ran” to one of the biggest companies in the world, gobbling up competitors in a series of mergers that delivered handsome profits for shareholders. But an investigation by FRONTLINE and the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica shows that BP’s leadership failed to create a culture of safety in the massive new company. As BP took increasingly big risks to find oil and extract it, the company left behind a trail of mounting problems: deadly accidents, disastrous spills, countless safety violations. Each time, BP acknowledged the wider flaws in its culture and promised to do better. The FRONTLINE/ProPublica investigation shows that the rhetoric was empty. From the refineries to the oil fields to the Gulf of Mexico, BP workers understood that profits came first.

Through interviews with current and former employees and executives, government regulators and safety experts, FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith (The Quake, The Storm) and ProPublica reporter Abrahm Lustgarten examine the trail that led to the disaster in the gulf.

“It was the corporate culture that was at fault,” David Uhlmann, former head of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice, tells FRONTLINE. “It was the company that did not have the necessary commitment to environmental compliance and worker safety.”

The Spill takes viewers from BP’s vast oil fields in Alaska to its refineries in Texas, and to BP’s trading rooms in New York and London, uncovering an unusually high number of safety violations and incidents that should have raised red flags.

The disaster at BP’s Texas City refinery in March 2005 was one of the worst refinery explosions in U.S. history, killing 15 people. Government and independent investigators ultimately determined that cost cutting played a role in the explosion, and BP promised to reform. BP’s chief executive at the time, Lord John Browne, said BP would learn to take safety more seriously. When it comes to safety, he said, “BP gets it.” But the trouble continued.

In 2006, a corroded BP pipeline ruptured in Alaska, spilling more than 200,000 gallons of oil — this despite several internal and external reports, obtained by ProPublica and FRONTLINE, which warned that if BP did not improve maintenance and inspections it could lead to a spill.

“When you start finding the same problems over and over again,” says Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “I think you were pretty safe in saying they’ve got a systemic problem.”

Meanwhile, regulators may not have been doing enough to prevent future accidents. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico further underscores the fact that the government underestimated the possible costs and consequences of lax enforcement.

“We obviously understand now that things can go wrong,” said White House energy adviser Carol Browner.


Hot Politics (2007)

As more and more Americans look for a response to the realities of climate change, FRONTLINE correspondent Deborah Amos investigates the political decisions that have prevented the United States government from confronting one of the most serious problems facing humanity today.

In February 2007, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that the science on global warming is “unequivocal” and asserted with 90 percent confidence that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) from human activities, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, have been the main cause.

Yet, since 1992 — from President George H.W. Bush’s insistence that the first world climate change treaty make CO2 emission targets voluntary, through former President Bill Clinton’s failure to pass a promised energy tax or to push for U.S. Senate ratification of the Kyoto treaty, through President George W. Bush’s 2001 reversal of a campaign pledge to push for mandatory limits on CO2 emissions and his complete withdrawal from Kyoto — the executive branch of the U.S. government has failed to join in climate change agreements adopted by much of the rest of the world.

Hot Politics goes behind the scenes to examine the forces behind the inaction, including a well-financed energy industry campaign that challenged the broad scientific consensus on the human causes of climate change in an effort to stall federal regulation. Fossil fuel companies funneled millions of dollars to the institutes of global warming skeptics, including former President of the National Academy of Sciences Frederick Seitz, who cast doubt about the science in media reports on climate change.

According to some whistleblowers, a parallel campaign has occurred within the Bush administration, which stifled the dissemination of key findings by government scientists about climate change. “In my thirty-some years in the government, I’ve never seen constraints on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public as strong as they are now,” says top NASA climate scientist James Hansen.

In interviews with scientists like Hansen and Seitz and with political insiders including Whitman, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former senator and Kyoto negotiatorTim Wirth, Hot Politics investigates why the U.S. federal government lags so far behind much of the world in responding to global climate change.

And in special reports on FRONTLINE’s Web site and elsewhere, CIR and FRONTLINE go further, with features including closer looks at the manipulation and suppression of science, a timeline of the politics and science of global warming, and a map tracking U.S. CO2 emissions and regulations state-by-state.



Is Wal-Mart Good for America? (2004)

In Circleville, Ohio, population 13,000, the local RCA television-manufacturing plant was once a source of good jobs with good pay and benefits. But in late 2003, RCA’s owner, Thomson Consumer Electronics, lost a sizeable portion of its production orders and six months later shut the plant down, throwing 1,000 people out of work.

Thomson’s jobs have moved to China, where cheap labor manufactures what the American consumer desires — from clothing to electronics — and can buy at “everyday low prices” at the local Wal-Mart.

FRONTLINE explores the relationship between U.S. job losses and the American consumer’s insatiable desire for bargains in “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” Through interviews with retail executives, product manufacturers, economists, and trade experts, correspondent Hedrick Smith examines the growing controversy over the Wal-Mart way of doing business and asks whether a single retail giant has changed the American economy.

“Wal-Mart’s power and influence are awesome,” Smith says. “By figuring out how to exploit two powerful forces that converged in the 1990s — the rise of information technology and the explosion of the global economy — Wal-Mart has dramatically changed the balance of power in the world of business. Retailers are now more powerful than manufacturers, and they are forcing the decision to move production offshore.”

“Wal-Mart has reversed a hundred-year history that had the retailer dependent on the manufacturer,” explains Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara. “Now the retailer is the center, the power, and the manufacturer becomes the serf, the vassal, the underling who has to do the bidding of the retailer. That’s a new thing.”

To understand the secret of Wal-Mart’s success, Smith travels from the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., to their global procurement center in Shenzhen, China, where several hundred employees work to keep the company’s import pipeline running smoothly. Of Wal-Mart’s 6,000 global suppliers, experts estimate that as many as 80 percent are based in China.

“Wal-Mart has a very close relationship with China,” says Duke University Professor Gary Gereffi. “China is the largest exporter to the U.S. economy in virtually all consumer goods categories. Wal-Mart is the leading retailer in the U.S. economy in virtually all consumer goods categories. Wal-Mart and China are a joint venture.”

When trade agreements were signed between the U.S. and China in the 1990s, bringing China into the World Trade Organization, American political and business leaders embraced the idea. China’s 1.2 billion people were viewed as an enormous untapped market for American-made goods. The reality, experts say, is the opposite. China’s exports to the U.S. have skyrocketed.

At a salary of only 50 cents an hour or $100 a month, Chinese labor is an unbeatable bargain for international business. And the Chinese government is doing everything it can to be sure the country’s infrastructure supports the export business. Ten years ago Shenzhen’s main port did not exist. Today it’s on the verge of becoming the third busiest port in the world.

Wal-Mart estimates it imports $15 billion of Chinese goods every year and concedes that the figure could be higher — some estimates range as high as $20 or $30 billion. Company executives are quick to point out they have always scoured the globe for low cost suppliers to benefit the American consumer.

“We do depend on products from around the globe to draw our consumers into the stores,” says Ray Bracy, Wal-Mart’s vice president for federal and international public affairs. “We feel they need to have the best product, the best value, at the best price we can achieve.”

Some experts contend Wal-Mart’s “everyday low prices” are causing a clash between the interests of Americans as workers and the desires of Americans as consumers.

“If people were only consumers, buying things at lower prices would be just good. But people also are workers who need to earn a decent standard of living,” says economist Larry Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute. “The dynamics that create lower prices at Wal-Mart and other places are also undercutting the ability of many, many workers to earn decent wages and benefits and have a stable life.”

Economist Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute sees it another way. “I think Wal-Mart is good for America,” he says. “Wal-Mart is doing what the American economy is all about, which is producing things consumers want to buy … offering consumers a wide range of goods at rock-bottom prices. It is meeting the market test.”

This is little consolation to the unemployed workers back in Circleville, Ohio. Steve Ratcliff, a long-time worker at the Thomson plant puts it simply: “If you want these low prices, then you go buy your products from Wal-Mart. But what does that actually do for this country? It’s putting people out of work. And it’s lowering our standard of living. That’s the bottom line.”

Ironically, for Ratcliff and his former colleagues, there are new jobs coming to town. In a patch of farmland right next to the vacant Thomson plant, Wal-Mart has broken ground on one of its new Supercenters. But the Wal-Mart jobs will represent a steep cut in pay from the $15 to $16 an hour workers made at Thomson, and a far cry from the pension, health care, and job security benefits that have long been the norm in manufacturing.



The Toxins Return (2009)

Barbie, H&M jeans, everyday corn- just some of the products recalled due to controls on the use of dangerous chemicals. Now a wave of toxicity cases is calling to account cheap manufacture in countries without chemical controls. We follow the toxic trail from field worker – to customs official – to high street shopper. How much can we trust the products in our family homes?

In Hamburg, the third largest port in Europe, Professor Bauer addresses the disgruntled members of the Dutch Transport Union. Containers coming in with toxins should be marked he says but nobody enforces this – those who break the regulations are not punished. Suddenly a port worker collapses: he has been exposed to toxins and his brain has suffered serious long-term damage. Its difficult to continue after this event the professor says but it shows more than I could ever tell you. Millions of workers are in danger.

If you were to breath in the air from this container you would seriously harm yourself says the chief safety inspector at Hamburg port. Methal Bromide is outlawed in Europe, but it arrives here regularly. Tracing the container back to Hong Kong, the compulsory fumigation of products before shipping, is revealed as a hazard in itself. All of my colleagues here had the same problem says one fumigator After four years Im so sick that I can barely come to work.

More hazardous still is the manufacture. Once I was unconscious in hospital for two weeks says one Indian field worker but I survived and we have no choice but to spray when the worms come. In Indias cotton belt, more pesticides are used than in any other country in the world and highly toxic and often cancerous chemicals can be bought from the local shop.

It is here that clothing giants like H&M find their suppliers. Julia was a loyal employee of a H&M store until repeated exposure to shipments left her seriously ill. I was in a bad state she remembers if Id stayed any longer, I would have lost my kidneys. Not only is testing of products voluntary but some chemical residues from foreign manufacturers are still legal. The responsibility for testing clothes is handed over to foreign suppliers says one textile importer I assume its taken care of.

I think its scary especially if you think of your children wearing these clothes says one H&M customer. Children may be the most at risk. In January 2009, more than 1,300 toxic toys were found in Europe. Actually, this doll is toxic waste and doesnt even belong on the market says one product tester. With toxins connected to record levels of young men with sperm counts so low they will never father children, this eye-opening documentary reveals that stricter controls are critical in our increasingly toxic world.