What does your job at Boehringer Ingelheim consist of?
I’m responsible for all infrastructure and engineering topics, all buildings that Boehringer Ingelheim has in France (we currently have 8 sites, office buildings, laboratories for research, development and production facilities) fall under my responsibility. I oversee the repair, the construction and the efficient running of those buildings. Another part of my job is securing the safety of our employees, but also of our product shipments. We want to make sure that our employees stay safe when they come to work and that we protect the environment, by constantly evaluating our environmental impact and trying to reduce it as much as possible, so that we can live with the community in a sustainable way.
Could you describe how your company’s work is related to ILYMUN’s theme, Water?
As Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) manufactures pharmaceutical products both for humans and animals, we use large amounts of water in that process. We use steam to disinfect or clean our equipment, and we often have wastewater treatment plants at our production sites because after cleaning the water, we put it back into the water cycle. The other interesting related area is whenever animals or humans take medication, the urine still contains traces of chemical compounds of our product. These usually find their way into the groundwater (if we think of large fields with cows) or into waste treatment plants. We constantly have to, even indirectly, is safe.
What are currently the main challenges related to conserving and managing freshwater sustainably? Within your company, how do you make sure your environmental impact is minimized?
If you think back to the 1970s and 1980s, companies had a lot of liberty in the European countries and globally on discharging polluted water back into rivers and lakes. That lead to severe environmental consequences to the point where entire rivers became dangerous for the population to swim in and the killing of the fish population impacted the nutritional situation, especially in LICs where people often rely on fishing for 50 to 60 percent of their diet.
BI has stopped these activities and we have made great efforts to be sustainable. However there is still a large number of companies that still disregard the issue, especially in less developed countries where legislation is less restrictive and less controlled than in the EU or the US. The correct treatment of polluted water can be very challenging and time-consuming, therefore there is also high illegal activity implicated in dumping waste in lakes and rivers.
At BI we have very restrictive global policies that dictate how we use water and what we are allowed to discharge into the sewer system or the public waters. They go far beyond the global regulations or the local guidelines and have been verified by experts. We also perform inspections of our sites to make sure they adhere to these rules, and should we see any deviation, we take immediate action to correct the issues. In addition, there is always the risk of a potential accident. When this happens, a large amount of hazardous material could be discharged in the water cycle, so we take very thorough preventive measures to avoid that.
In the Environmental Committee, you talked about some fines not being efficient, because it may be cheaper to pay a penalty and continue polluting. What would be the solution to overcome this challenge?
The key challenge is to create balanced fines. To be effective, they should hurt the profits of the company, but they shouldn’t be as high that they put the company out of business. If the amount is too elevated, you risk not collecting the fine because the company would be bankrupt before being able to pay the fine, but it would also create unwanted economic consequences (the loss of jobs, etc.). You also risk hurting only smaller and medium enterprises, whereas larger corporations would be able to easily pay the fine. Moreover, these penalties should be consistent across country borders, because the companies that produce chemical compounds have moved to places where fines are lower or nonexistent. The inspection should be thorough to actually find the people who commit those finable activities.
The UN anti-drugs and crime chief warned the Security Council that “in recent years the freedom of navigation is being exploited by criminal groups.” What are the most significant types of organized crime at sea? Have they evolved in the last decades?
The most commonly mentioned organized crime is piracy or robbery, an activity that has been growing since the approach to piracy has changed. The pirates used to board a ship and steal the cargo; nowadays the intention is to hold the crew, the cargo and the vessel for ransom, which makes piracy much more accessible, as all you need is weapons and a small group of attackers. Piracy is used to finance and fuel terrorist activities or even war bands and conflicts, and the phenomenon is increasing because it is very lucrative. Since a percentage of the bounty is shared with the local community, pirates get support from the communities and the local authorities are less motivated to apprehend the perpetrators, as they help to ‘feed the area’. The problem is increasing in West Africa because of the economic instability, the existing conflicts and the need to fund them.
Overfishing is another type of organized crime, and as a result it’s hard for fishermen to make a living out of their job, thus pushing them into crime. Climate change, due to heat waves, droughts and flooding, has robbed the farmers of their basis of living: the only thing they can turn to is criminal activities.
Furthermore, another form of crime is human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants, especially in the Mediterranean Sea. The economic pressure is rising in African countries, and with the spread of the internet and other media, people are attracted by the living conditions in Europe. Slavery is another growing component of organized crime at sea, in very wealthy regions of the Middle East and Asia, as well as sex trafficking and the smuggling of narcotics and drugs.
Why is it particularly challenging to combat organized crime at sea?
The first challenge in combating organized crime is the fact that the sea is very large and ships are not a fast form of transportation. Even if there are patrol ships in the region, it may take one or two hours for them to arrive where the ship has been attacked and the incident is often already over. It is also very hard to trace and find the stolen money because pirates get paid in cash. Moreover, organized crime is always a multinational affair: piracy can occur in the territory of one country but be committed by pirates from another nation, or it can happen in open waters where legislations are less strict and there is no real police or law enforcement force. Vessels are usually registered in countries with very low taxes (e.g. Gibraltar), the crews often come from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia etc. and there is eventually a European captain, whereas cargos may come from all over the world. The question then becomes: who is responsible for combating piracy? Which nation should intervene? Normally the country of origin of the pirates is supposed to intervene, but it often lacks the funds and the means to do so and may not be motivated to fight piracy as it keeps their people fed. It’s a very tough situation to combat.
Is organized crime at sea affecting your company’s work? If so, in what ways?
It’s a massive issue, as we cannot guarantee that shipment can come on time and if it was done in the correct conditions (some medications need to be kept at a certain temperature and humidity). When a radar is hijacked, we can no longer make sure that these conditions are met, so the pharmaceutical product then becomes unusable by the patient. BI and other pharmaceutical companies are also providing medication free or next-to-free of charge to developing countries, so these intercepted shipments cause delays that put at risk human lives.
What do you think about climate change and the effect it will have on water resources? Will it affect you company’s work?
If we look at freshwater resources, as the polar ice caps melt, it releases more freshwater. However, this will go into oceans and become less accessible to us. Very often we see glaciers on the mountains that are melting: we rely on this type of water storage, but if it decreases, we will not have enough freshwater available in the summer periods. In addition, habitats for animals are disappearing because swamps and lakes are drying out due to climate change.
In relation to organized crime, climate change will affect the traditional sources of income, particularly agricultural and fishing activities in African countries, which will become more and more insufficient to make a living out of. These people will try to find ways to feed their families, and one solution will be piracy.
For Boehringer Ingelheim, we have to find ways to bring the health benefits to ill patients while having significantly less impact on our environment. It’s clear that humans and animals need the medication, we can’t live without these products. Our challenge now is to still provide that value, keeping it accessible and affordable, without plundering our resources at the same time. We have to find the right balance and maintain a sustainable development.
How do think this kind of conference promotes younger generations to take action? What can these students learn about water from this experience?
Why is water so important to talk about? We open our taps and we think water is not scarce because we have so much of it. In reality it is limited, and the situation is much more serious in certain areas than we are not aware of and than what is reported. That’s why I think it’s important to talk about this topic, to create awareness and sensitivity around it, especially in an environment like ILYMUN, so that young people can learn about these issues. Hopefully, you will be able to adapt your behavior better than my generation was, and adopt sustainable behaviors. I also believe it’s essential to prepare your generation to have constructive political debates. If we look at environmental issues, they don’t stop at national borders, they’re always multinational, so we have to get different nations to work together towards the same goal. We can only do that if we have healthy discussions and balance all our different interests. I like the Model United Nations here because you get awareness on the subject of water and learn to debate in challenging situations and tackle key problems of the human race. To convince older people to take action and to be aware of water issues, I think it’s important to ask smart questions in a non judgmental way about certain behaviors that aren’t environmentally friendly, and help them understand their environmental impact. We need to start a constructive dialog.