CORPORATE CRIME REPORTER, WASHINGTON, November 1999
INTERVIEW WITH PHILIPP MIMKES, COALITION AGAINST BAYER-DANGERS, GERMANY
Bayer AG, the maker of Bayer aspirin and Alka Seltzer, is one of
three largest chemical companies in Germany. It does $30 billion in
business annually, with $10 billion of that in the United States. After
a series of explosions at Bayer plants in Germany in the late 1970s,
citizens organized a group called Coordination Against Bayer
Dangers. The group now tracks a wide range of wrongdoing
committed by the company. It's executive director, Philipp Mimkes,
is in the United States for a couple of weeks, seeking to drum up
support for his campaign against Bayer. Mimkes is a physicist and
journalist and conducts his campaign out of Dusseldorf, Germany.
We interviewed Mimkes on November 10, 1999.
CCR: When did you get started doing this work?
MIMKES: Our group was formed in 1983 as a citizens initiative in
response to chemical explosions at Bayer plants in Wuppertal and
CCR: What is Bayer's business?
MIMKES: Bayer's business is pharmaceuticals, plastics and rubbers,
dyes, genetic engineering and pesticides. It is about a $30 billion
company in sales. Interestingly, Bayer's largest business is in the
United States. Bayer's sales in the United States are at about $10
billion a year. Bayer is truly an international company, and in the
United States, they are stronger than in Germany. If we track them
and watch their problems they are causing, we also have to visit the
CCR: Your group started with the explosions in Wuppertal and Dormagen, Germany.
MIMKES: Yes. The first explosion was in Wuppertal in 1978. The
Bayer plant in Wuppertal is in the center of the city. They make
pharmaceuticals, pesticides and plastics there. A cloud of chemicals
poured over the city of Wuppertal. And again this year, in June, a big
blast took place at the Bayer facility in Wuppertal. One hundred
people were injured as a result of the blast this year. In 1979 in
Dormagan, a pesticide, 200 kilograms of gusathion was released
from the facility as a result of an explosion. An alarm was sounded
throughout the Rhine region right to the border region of Holland.
Many people were taken to hospitals, but nobody died as a result. So,
as a result of those blasts, the neighbors of these Bayer's facilities
organized and that was the genesis of our group. Our group has
expanded to look more broadly at the dangers posed by Bayer.
CCR: How does Bayer compare to the other similarly sized companies in the same business?
MIMKES: We don't say that Bayer is a specifically bad company. It
is just as influential as these big companies are. Bayer is one of the
big three chemical companies -- Bayer, BASF and Hoechst. Those
three companies were formally together as I.G. Farben. After the
Third Reich, they were split up. Now, they are all about the same
CCR: Do the big three now act as one in the political arena?
MIMKES: In a way, yes. They cooperate well. When they act
together, they are very influential in politics in Germany and on the
European level. They belong to about 200 lobbying groups. And in
most of these lobbying groups, they sit in the front row, because they
are the three largest chemical companies in Germany.
CCR: So, you started out looking at the questions of Bayer's impact on the environment -- whether the plants are going to blow up, dumping into rivers, and so on.
MIMKES: Yes, including the impact of Bayer operations on the
Rhine River, which is heavily polluted. We also look at working
conditions at Bayer facilities in Third World countries. Bayer has
facilities all over. There is hardly any country in the world where
Bayer is not active. And in those countries, they have their own
facilities. So, we are cooperating with many citizen groups that are
monitoring Bayer facilities overseas. Bayer would say they have the
same safety measures all over the world. But if you take a closer
look, they have hundreds of subsidiaries and subcontractors and
facilities with much lower standards.For example, we are
cooperating with a citizens' group in Indonesia. The group is called
Kompak, which targets child labor conditions. They informed us
about Bayer subcontractors in Indonesia which produced the
pesticide baygon and other household pesticides, which contain
pyrethroides. These pesticides in the United States are quite
restricted. In many other countries, they are not. Kompak reported to
us that workers worked in the fumes of these dangerous pesticides,
and very few precautions were being taken. Kompak talked to
workers inside the plant and they published a report. We publicized it
in Germany. We have good contacts with German reporters. We also
report for German magazines. We also go to Bayer's shareholder
meetings and raise these issues. Our group owns one share of Bayer.
And about 200 Bayer shareholders gave us their proxies. This gives
us the opportunity to take people to the shareholder meeting. Two
years ago, we invited a former slave worker from I.G. Farben to
speak at a Bayer shareholder meeting. At the meeting were about
6,000 or 7,000 Bayer shareholders and many reporters. So, that is a
good place to raise these issues and make our concerns public. We
also made our concerns public about Indonesia. The shareholder
meeting takes place every year in Cologne.
CCR: One set of problems are the environmental problems in Germany. The other set of problems are the health and safety standards Bayer applies in facilities overseas.
MIMKES: Yes, and when we speak of double standards, we look not
just at working conditions, but also products. Bayer sells products
overseas that would never be allowed in Europe, including pesticides
and pharmaceuticals banned in Europe. Many of these
pharmaceuticals are not effective and harmful, and that's why they
have been rejected in Europe, but continue to be sold elsewhere
around the world. Last year, a group did a study that showed that
more than 70 percent of pharmaceuticals exported by Bayer were
either useless or even dangerous.
CCR: I have a package Bayer aspirin here in the office. It's made by Bayer in Morristown, New Jersey. Most Americans know Bayer by its aspirin. Are there any other Bayer products that Americans would know by name?
MIMKES: Alka Seltzer, maybe some household pesticides. But
automobiles have many plastics that are mostly made by Bayer. And
the rust proofing is produced by Bayer.
CCR: There are groups here in the United States suing Bayer for using slave labor during the Second World War.
MIMKES: Bayer has an infamous history during the Third Reich.
Bayer was part of the I.G. Farben group. And Farben had close ties
to the German Nazi government. I.G. Farben would cooperate
closely in building up the camps in Auschwitz because I.G. Farben
was interested in the inmates that could be used as slave workers.
I.G. Farben built up their own big facility in Auschwitz, which was
run and built by prisoners. At least 300,000 slave workers had to
work only for Farben. At least 30,000 of these slave workers didn't
survive working for I.G. Farben in Auschwitz alone. Most people
didn't survive for more than a year in this plant. Working conditions
were horrible, they were hardly fed at all. There was terrible
conditions.The other more cruel example was medical experiments.
They tested on human guinea pigs. They infected people with
tuberculosis or typhus and then would test drugs on them. Most of
CCR: How many people were used in medical experiments?
MIMKES: Difficult to say, but in the thousands. There were ties
between the Bayer branch of I.G. Farben at Leverkusen, Germany
and Auschwitz with the infamous Dr. Mengele. Some doctors who
were working for Bayer went to concentration camps at Auschwitz,
Buchenwald and Dachau to do the testing on their drugs there. Bayer
would go to the SS. Bayer would buy workers from the SS. We need
150 people -- how much are you charging. After the war, there was a
Nuremberg trial against I.G. Farben. There was an American
prosecutor who prosecuted the case. But in the United States, this
prosecutor was targeted as being too tough on corporations. The
companies were useful in the cold war. So, there was political
pressure coming from the United States not to prosecute companies.
Farben executives were sent to prison, but none were sent to prison
for more than seven years. One I.G. Farben executive, Fritz Ter
Meer, was sentenced to seven years in prison, and served five years.
After getting out of prison, he returned to Bayer, and became
chairman of the supervisory board until his retirement in 1964. After
the trial, I.G. Farben was split up, because the Allies felt it would be
too powerful. The three companies -Hoechst, Bayer and BASF --
were brought together as I.G. Farben in 1925 and were again split up
CCR: So, the litigation against Bayer is ongoing here in the United States. Is there any litigation in Germany against Bayer for the slave labor cases?
MIMKES: No, the most important litigation is here in the United
States. I'm in contact with the lawyers here -- Mel Weiss' office in
CCR: So far, we have covered three areas -- environment and health and safety in Germany, worker and product standards in Third World countries, and the slave labor cases.
MIMKES: Yes, we also examine Bayer's influence on politics in
Germany. Bayer is in all of those lobby groups.
CCR: How would you describe the company's politics?
MIMKES: They are in favor of deregulation of the economy, and
what they call free trade. They are in favor of a free trade zone with
the United States. That's their next goal. That would strip
governments of consumer and environmental protections. Consumer
loss would then be taken as a hindering of free trade. They work
through the International Chamber of Commerce
(ICC) or the Trans Atlantic Business Dialogue (TABD), which has
close ties with the European Union and with the American
government. It has been shown very often that proposals by these
groups were directly transformed into white papers by the EU
government. We try to make this a little better known. There was a
TABD meeting last week in Berlin with Michael Moore, the general
director of the World Trade Organization. The meeting was attended
by the chief executives of 100 companies and was attended by Mike
Moore, and the meeting was led by a board member of Bayer,
Werner Spinner. So, that shows how interested they are in world
CCR: How is your group funded?
MIMKES: We have 700 members who fund us. We have a
newspaper Stichwort Bayer (Key Code Bayer) which sells 3,000
copies four times a year. We also put out a free English newsletter
also called Key Code Bayer. In Germany, big public interest groups
are sometimes funded by the government, but we are not. Bayer
opposes government funding of our work, and so we get no
government funds. Even the church groups don't dare to fund us,
because the churches are too close to Bayer.
CCR: So, you wouldn't mind getting government or church funding?
MIMKES: We wouldn't mind church funding. Many groups get
some funding from churches. We get money from very small
CCR: What is your staff and budget?
MIMKES: I'm the only full time worker and we have four more half
or part-time workers. Our budget is about $120,000 (U.S.)
CCR: Do you interact with Bayer?
MIMKES: They know us very well. They even sued us. We had to
go to court against them for six years. We took the case to the
Supreme Court of Germany and we eventually won the case. They
sued us claiming that our pamphlets were damaging Bayer's
reputation. We were saying that Bayer was pressuring independent
groups and hurting democracy. The case went on for years. We lost
at the first two lower courts. And so we had to appeal to the Supreme
Court of Germany. In the end we won, which gained us much media
attention, which was good for us. And now, Bayer won't sue us
anymore because they don't want us to get so much media attention.
This court case cost us about more than $50,000 (U.S.)
CCR: Do you do this work full-time?
MIMKES: Yes. But I also work for several German newspapers.
Tageszeitung (Daily Paper). It is close to the Green Party. The Green
Party has now become a member of the German government. It is
based in Berlin and prints about 100,000. I also write for another
newspaper Junge Welt, which means Young World. It is close to the
Socialist Party and they print about 25,000 copies a day.
CCR: What is the level of activism on Germany compared to that in the United States?
MIMKES: I'm no expert in the United States. It might be
comparable. It's not too high. Big business is strong in Germany, as it
is in the United States and other industrialized countries. The ties
between politics and industry is very close. So, there are some
activists working on Siemens, which is the largest electrical company
in Germany. That activist group is in Berlin. There is a group
working on arms trade. They work on DaimlerChrysler. Daimler is a
big arms trader. That group is based in Stuttgart. The name of that
group translates as Critical Shareholders of DaimlerBenz.
CCR: Are there groups in Germany that focus on corporate power?
MIMKES: There is no comparable group like Public Citizen in
CCR: Although the Green Party is stronger in Germany than it is here.
CCR: And aren't the Green Party's politics an anti-corporate politics?
MIMKES: No longer. It used to be when they started in the 1980s.
But they have travelled a long way toward the center. The old
Socialist Party of Eastern Germany is still very strong in Eastern
Germany and getting stronger in Western Germany. They are in the
Bundestag. They are taking the politics that the Greens held in the
1980s. The Socialist Party has an anti-corporate attitude. We don't
have big and very strong institutes that target corporations. We have
the Association of Critical Shareholders, which unites all of the
groups like ours who work on companies. They go to shareholder
CCR: Sam Smith has written a book, tentatively titled Why Bother? Smith writes that Italians who invented the term fascism also called it estato corporativo. Orwell rightly described fascism as being an extension of capitalism. It is an economy in which the government serves the interests of oligopolies, a state in which large corporations have the powers that in a democracy devolve to the citizen. Smith says that it is no exaggeration to call our economy corporatists. It's a system in which the government guides privately owned businesses toward order, unity, nationalism and success. He quotes two British academics as saying that corporatism is fascism with a human face.
MIMKES: It is true that the government leads the corporations
toward their own success. We in Germany are careful about calling
anything fascist. Our history was not comparable to anything else. I
don't call this a fascist regime. But I call it a regime by the
governments for the companies and against the interest of most
people they are supposed to represent.
CCR: Why are you here in the United States?
MIMKES: I'm here to distribute this information about Bayer. Bayer
is bigger in the United States than in Germany. We have to get in
touch with American groups. We have to confront the problems
Bayer is facing here. I was invited by Jewish community groups in
Pittsburgh is the headquarters for the American subsidiary of Bayer.
So, I went to Pittsburgh last week, along with a surviving slave
worker of the I.G. Farben plant in Auschwitz. We held lectures on
the history of Bayer. And the people in Pittsburgh were interested,
because Bayer is one of the largest companies in Pittsburgh.
CCR: Is there anything that Bayer could do that would put you out of business, to make you say -- Bayer has become a responsible finish, I'm going home?
MIMKES: No. We don't think Bayer is a particularly bad company.
We believe that a company that is so large has power. And this
power is illegitimate and this power will be abused.
CCR: Do you favor a limit on corporate size?
MIMKES: Yes, that would be a good idea. I don't know of a
multinational of that size that behaves well. And I don't believe that a
multinational of that size can behave well. If they did behave
responsibly, they would be driven out of business. A company which
does not exploit the environment, which does not exploit workers in
the Third World, which does not sell goods that are not useful or
dangerous, probably would not be profitable enough and probably
would be driven out of business. I'm not sure there is a way of
pushing Bayer to act in a way that we would be happy with. It's a
problem with the system. But still, we occupy ourselves with this
company which represents this system.
CCR: There are two views among activists here on the global economy. One is: It's a global economy and there's nothing you can to make it a national economy. So, you have to raise the standards globally. You build a global government to face down the global economy. The second view says this is impractical. In fact, we have to bust up the global economy and bring the economy back to a more manageable scale, so that we can have an influence our national or state economies, and seek to control the excesses of corporations.
MIMKES: We are not exactly decided on this issue. We are working
on better standards worldwide. But we think that companies should
be supervised locally, so there should be smaller, less powerful
companies. The companies should not be more powerful than
democratically elected institutions. We are not decided between
those two points of view.
CCR: There are citizen movements in Europe opposed to a united Europe. What are the politics of a united Europe? In the United States, there are those on the left and the right who oppose globalization.
MIMKES: It is even more split up in Europe than it is here. In
Europe, there are people who oppose the common market because
they fear corporations will become too large. There are others on the
left who don't want Germany to be alone, because Germany on its
own has caused trouble twice in this century. So, this view holds that
Germany within a European Union will keep Germany in check. So,
even in the left, there is dissent on this issue. On the right, we have
the extreme right who opposed a common market for nationalistic
reasons. On the center right, there are those who are in favor of
market openings, because they are in favor of corporations having
CCR: Your Prime Minister is Gerhard Schroeder. Joschka Fischer is the German Foreign Minister. Fischer is a member of the Green Party.
MIMKES: Yes, but he represents the march of the Green Party
towards the center. He's their symbol. He's not officially their leader,
but he's the strong man of the party. He's gone a long way from his
anarchist roots, all the way to foreign minister. He likes Helmut
Kohl, the old Chancellor. He's representative of the old Green Party,
which was active on peace and environmental movements, to now
his centrist positions. Even free trade ideas are in the German Green
Party. So, we can no longer see the Green Party as a left party. The
Socialist Party has become the left party in Germany.
CCR: What are your politics?
MIMKES: I'm not a member of any party. I would have been a
member of the Green Party in the 1980s. But now, no. I wouldn't be
a member of the Socialist Party, because they are not really strong on
environmental issues. And their history as the state party of Eastern
Germany carries too much baggage.
CCR: Are you asking Americans not to buy Bayer aspirin? Are you calling for a consumer boycott?
MIMKES: No. Bayer products, other than the aspirin and Alka
Seltzer, are not really visible. We are calling on Americans to
directly contact the company. We have launched a postcard
campaign in Pittsburgh asking Americans to send these postcards to
Bayer asking that Bayer compensate the former slave workers.
Contact: Philipp Mimkes, Coordination Against Bayer Dangers, P.O.
Box 150418, 40081 Dusseldorf, Germany.
Phone: 0049-211-333911. Web Site: www.cbgnetwork.de. E-mail: