Press Review Tuesday 18 May 2010

18th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

De Volkskrant leads with new revelations about Trafigura, the Dutch-based company that allowed toxic waste to be dumped in Ivory Coast in 2006. Nine truck drivers involved in the environmental scandal say the company bribed them to say that the waste they dumped did no damage to their health. Now they claim nothing could be further from the truth.

One driver describes how waste he dumped from the tanker Probo-Koala “took the top layer off my fingernails and left white marks on my hands. During the transport, my eyes were watering, my throat hurt and I had trouble breathing. I had problems for months afterwards.” Reports at the time indicated widespread health problems and even deaths among the local population as a result of the dumping.

The paper reports that these revelations are bad news for Trafigura, which was keen to negotiate a deal in which it would pay compensation in exchange “for a declaration stating that the health of the people of Ivory Coast was not damaged.”

The company is denying the truck drivers’ bribery claims and puts any payments it made down to expenses and an attempt to protect the company’s reputation against blackmail. That attempt may well have backfired now that the truck drivers have handed the documents over to environmentalists Greenpeace, who brought new charges against the company in Rotterdam on Friday.

De Volkskrant points out to the truck drivers that people may not be inclined to believe their revelations considering they have lied before. Their spokesman replies “I respect that. But it’s human to make mistakes and admitting that is not a sign of weakness. Everyone has the right to redress the balance in their life. I never really wanted to live with the lie.” US tomato pickers appeal to Dutch supermarket chain Trouw looks at the relationship between leading Dutch supermarket group Ahold and the poor tomato pickers of the US state of Florida. The pickers are trying to enlist the help of Ahold to obtain higher pay and better working conditions. They sent a delegation to the company’s HQ in Amsterdam last week.

The pickers earn a measly 45 US dollar cents for each 15 kilo basket they fill, which amounts to an annual salary of little more than 10,000 dollars. That’s well below the poverty line in the US, which the paper tells us lies between 14,000 and 16,000 dollars a year.

“The tomato pickers are earning the same as they did in 1978,” says Lucas Benitez of the worker’s coalition representing their interests. He slams the working conditions as “modern-day slavery”. They are campaigning for “one penny per pound extra” and hope the companies who buy from the pickers’ employers will put pressure on them to raise pay and improve conditions.

They already have the backing of major companies such as Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Subway. Ahold doesn’t appear to be committing itself just yet though, but has promised to “look at the situation”. Enough reason for Lucas Benitez to be optimistic: “They listened seriously to our story.” Exam ordeal under way for Dutch pupils Over 200,000 secondary school pupils in the Netherlands started their final exams yesterday. Trouw attempts to sum up their ordeal, next to a front-page photo of a none-too-cheerful lad gazing pensively into space: "So there you are sitting in the school gym, where you've spent many a year working your muscles. But now it's only mental gymnastics on the programme. And you’re going to have to dig very deep for those unbelievably difficult answers."

Worryingly AD reports that exam time "means big bucks for chemists, drug stores, smart shops and dealers" as "nervous final exam candidates reach for sedatives or a little something to pep them up".

While most stick to camomile tea and energy drinks, "heavier stuff such as speed and Ritalin are not unheard of". Not a good idea say the experts. Ritalin might help you through an all-night study session but there's a price to pay once it's worn off "and it's just not smart to go into an exam suffering from that kind of jet lag".

In de Volkskrant, best-selling author Renate Dorrestein admits that she took her own final exams in a state of mortal fear and panic. "I still dream about it on a monthly basis: that I have to sit an exam in a subject I haven't been taught."

She is one of ten celebrities who have agreed to sit this year's exams for the paper. Having completed the exam in Dutch she reckoned it was "definitely do-able" though she complained that the texts she was given presented "a museum-like Netherlands ... with no trace of the multicultural world we live in."

“One hell of an airplane” for Dutch queen The volcanic ash cloud from Iceland closed Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport again yesterday and today's papers are awash with photos of stranded passengers. NRC Handelsblad has its tongue firmly in cheek with an image of two exhausted passengers slumped on the floor below a sign which reads "Enjoy your stay at Schiphol".

Sister paper focuses on the other end of the air-travel spectrum with news that Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has got herself "one hell of an airplane" for a cool 4.3 million euros. It reveals that the extensive renovation of the aircraft took three years and went 800,000 euros over budget - "and that at a time when the royal family will probably fly less than they used to" due to drastic budget cuts.

Officially the plane is for governmental use, but only the monarch’s wishes were taken into account during the refurbishment, and if the PM and the Queen want to use it at the same time, the Queen takes priority. At a time when the government is under pressure to rein in public spending on the royals, the paper raises a quizzical eyebrow at the news that a mock-up of the entire cabin was constructed at the royal stables at a cost of over 103,000 euros to see whether the new design met with Her Majesty’s approval. World Expo 2010: royal smiles and culture clashes What do you give the woman who has everything? A pair of blue “happy pyjamas” apparently. At least that’s what Princess Máxima ended up with as she celebrated her 39th birthday in Shanghai yesterday, as reported in De Telegraaf. She and hubby Prince Willem-Alexander are on a three-day visit to the city for the World Expo 2010. The pyjamas bear the logo of Happy Street, the Dutch pavilion at the Expo.

But while it was all smiles for the Dutch royal couple, Expo representatives from other countries are on the warpath. De Volkskrant reports that some World Expo pavilions are “empty due to Chinese corruption”. The event’s organisers have received a series of angry letters with “those from Germany and the Czech Republic standing out due to their barely concealed fury”.

Customs and other officials are being most uncooperative it seems when it comes to letting Expo-related goods find their way to the exhibition site. A Dutch manager with plenty of experience of Chinese bureaucracy notes sagely “The Expo is very different to the Olympic Games, where everything was in Chinese hands … Now the authorities are having to respond to the wishes of a whole range of countries.”

The soul of diplomacy, he concludes “It’s likely to be an interesting learning process for both sides.”


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