“How can I compete with pictures of fresh and clean cows from Switzerland when people know this factory is here?” Jan Rajter Junior, who farms the land where the Nemak plant will be sited.
Northern Bohemia, one of the most environmentally ravaged regions of Europe, is the proposed site for a new car plant. The plant, run by the Mexican company Nemak (a subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company), will produce aluminium engine heads with the plan of supplying foreign Jaguar and General Motors car completion factories. It will be sited amidst the last remaining agricultural land in the area near the town of Havran in the Czech Republic.
The plant’s operations are expected to release toxic substances such as heavy metals into this fertile farmland, which has been chosen despite the availability of nearby brownfields where the environmental impact would be much lower. “Investors like greenfields. There are brownfields [in the district], but why would we build a factory in the middle of a former coal pit?”a Nemak spokesman told the media. “They would have to pave the roads with gold for us to go there.”
Jan Rajter Senior and his family farm the land where the Nemak plant will be sited. “These corporations are migrant birds,” he complains. “They come here, make their money, ruin the land – and then they’ll move east in ten years looking for cheaper labour. I thought the destruction of the land was over after the communists, but it isn’t.” Czech campaigners are concerned about the number of legal issues connected to environmental and land use proceedings in the preparatory phase of the Nemak proposal. To date, eight legal actions have been brought against the project, and more are under preparation. Two of them have already confirmed that environmentalists are right, and in late June the Czech ombudsman decided that the construction is illegal.
Nonetheless, Nemak is proceeding. “The former East–bloc states are racing to the bottom in their efforts to attract foreign investors,” according to Pavel Pribyl of Friends of the Earth Czech Republic, “and thus the investor dictates the terms”.
Campaigners are urging the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is considering a loan for the project, and the Ford Motor Company, which has stated that it plans to become the world’s most environmentally friendly car manufacturer, not to invest in the facility unless serious problems including the plant’s location and the insufficient risk assessment of toxic releases are addressed.
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