A group of Swedish youths, ages 18 to 24, have begun an investigation into the social and environmental impact of Swedish companies doing business in Asia. Joining with their local counterparts, the 10 youths will visit Swedish industrial plants in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Japan, and meet with workers, labor unions, and members of non-governmental organizations.
"We want to create a network of youth groups to keep an eye on the activities of (the Swedish companies)," says Kritina Bjurling, who leads the Swedish youth group.
"Many South Asian countries want to see quick economic development regardless of the social and environmental costs," she says. "This is evident from a growing number of reports on the overuse of land as well as air and water pollution. We want to find out what role Swedish (companies) have in this development, since many of these countries lack strict environmental legislation."
The group, called Action 21, aims to ensure that Earth Summit resolutions limiting pollution and encouraging sustainable development are respected, even in countries where the relevant legislation hasn’t yet been enforced, says group member Isak Svensson.
"If Swedish (companies) like Volvo, Electrolux, Sandviken, Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) and others, take advantage of weak legislation in these counties, they must be held responsible for creating an unsustainable society."
During the six-week tour, the group will visit two plants in Malaysia, a steel manufacturer operated by Sandviken and a turbine producer run by the Swiss-Swedish company, Asea Brown Boveri (ABB). In the Philippines, they will visit Electrolux and IKEA.
They will study the working conditions at the plants and the amount of pollution generated. In the case of IKEA, the group will ensure that only wood from sustainable tree plantations is being used.
In addition, the group will meet with major environmental groups in the region, such as The Third World Network in Penang, Malaysia, and the Haribon environmentalist group in the Philippines.
Youths in the three countries plan to continue the Swedish initiative. A group of Japanese youth, for example, will check the activities of Japanese logging firms in Cambodia.
"We hope to eventually establish a worldwide network of youth organizations to examine the international activities of all (Swedish companies)," says Bjurling.