(above) Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez, left, gestures as she sits next to Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Georg Boomgaarden during the closing plenary session of the Fifth Latin America and European Union Summit in Lima, Friday May, 16, 2008. European and Latin American leaders are gathering in Lima to tackle climate change, high food prices and poverty but those issues may be overshadowed by tensions in the region. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Rights activists in Peru condemn corporations
May 17, 2008 - ChicoER (AP)

LIMA, Peru (AP) -- Human rights activists "ethically and morally" condemned 24 European corporations on Friday, accusing them of environmental contamination, labor exploitation and selling dangerous pesticides in Latin America.

The panel, known as the Permanent People's Tribunal, accused 24 companies - including Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Spanish oil company Repsol YPF and German pharmaceutical and chemical company Bayer AG - at a symbolic trial held on the sidelines of a biennial Latin America-European Union summit.

Only one company attended the hearings: Norwegian-controlled agribusiness Camposol SA, accused of labor exploitation in Peru.

Bayer, which activists accused of mislabeling a pesticide, said in an e-mail that it has cooperated in a court case brought by Peruvian activists, but is still waiting for them to present the paperwork to proceed.

Twenty-four school children died in a remote Andean village in 1999 after drinking milk mistakenly mixed with a Bayer agrochemical. Activists say Bayer sold the toxic product to illiterate villagers who were unable to read warning labels.

The Permanent People's Tribunal began in Italy in 1979 as an extension of a 1967 Vietnam war crimes panel convened by philosophers Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre.

The 15-person panel, including ex-senators from Colombia and Italy and human rights activists from Europe and Latin America, heard arguments at the "People's Summit," an alternative gathering to an official EU-Latin America summit held this week in Lima.