Home Page Campaigns Labor Environment Corporations Ideas Organization Links Bookstore Site Policy Humor Contact Us
DAN'S E-REPORT # 6 September, 2000THE GLOBAL ECONOMY Part 2
The WTO is basically the first constitution based on the rules of
trade and the rules of commerce. Every other constitution has been
based on the sovereignty of people and countries. Every constitution
has protected life above profits. But WTO protects profits above the
right to life of humans and other species.
Mexican workers, including children, have become world class
competitors by sacrificing their health, lives, and futures to subsidize
the profits of investors.
The ravages of NAFTA and U.S.-owned maquilidora factories -- extremely hazardous workplaces, massive toxic pollution, and underage workers -- are endangering the health and well-being of thousands of workers and citizens along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Studies report that the 3200 maquiladora factories are responsible for very high rates of workplace injuries, cancer, neurological disorders, and congenital defects including record numbers of babies being born without brains (anencephaly) (Nader, Greider, "The Case Against Free Trade").
General Motors, Union Carbide, Zenith Electronics, Fisher Price, and other American-owned maquillas all deny responsibility after being sued by neighboring citizens.
The National Toxics Campaign has even described the U.S.-Mexican border as already so polluted with dangerous chemicals that it may become "a two-thousand-mile Love Canal" (Grieder). In spite of millions of dollars spent, pollution along the border is so bad that correction could cost nearly $8 billion over the next ten years according to a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office ("San Francisco Examiner," 8/4/96). The "Arizona Republic's" conservative editorial page even lamented: "Has greed so consumed some businessmen that human lives in Mexico are less valuable than the next saxophone `shipped to the U.S. from Sonora?" (Grieder).
Poor Mexican children are particularly at-risk. Since NAFTA, according to UNICEF, the number of children living and working on the streets of the capital has doubled. UNICEF has also documented that there are 800,000 child laborers age six to 14 living in Mexico and 9 million children living in "extreme poverty" ("Multinational Monitor," 6/96). In the maquiladora zones, water is so scarce that babies and children drink Coca-Cola and Pepsi instead.
Altogether, there are some 850 duty-free export or special processing zones worldwide that collectively employ some 27 million workers in tens of thousands of sweatshops. Companies are lured to these regions by tax breaks, free land or reduced rent, lax environmental enforcement, and substandard labor practices, such as dangerous working conditions and restrictions on the right to organize (French, "Vanishing Borders").
Worldwide opposition to sweatshops and other corporate abuses is growing among many groups, including students. Members of the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), which was founded 3 years ago and now has chapters at more than 200 schools, work closely with one another. Though the largest, most successful -- and before Seattle, the most visible -- thread of the movement has focused on improving work conditions in the $2.5 billion collegiate apparel industry, university licensing policies have not been the only targets of recent anti-corporate agitation on campus.
This year, from UC-Davis to the University of Vermont, students have held globalization teach-ins, planned civil disobedience for the April IMF/ World Bank meetings, protested labor policies at the Gap, and launched vigorous campaigns to drive Starbucks out of university dining services. Students at Johns Hopkins and at Wesleyan held sit-ins demanding better wages for university workers. And at the end of March hundreds of students, many bearing hideously deformed papier-mache puppets to illustrate the potential horrors of biotechnology, joined Bostonís carnivalesque protest against genetic engineering.
Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) members require their apparel licensees to comply with a strict code of conduct -- guaranteeing workers a living wage and the right to organize unions -- and mandate full public disclosure of wages, factory locations and working conditions.
Industry is getting nervous. Top officials of the Fair Labor Association, founded in 1996 by the Clinton Administration along with business representatives and some human rights groups, have been touring campuses, trying to convince students of their organizationís good intentions. Unlike the WRC, the FLA allows industry to choose its own monitors and doesnít include provisions for a living wage (Liza Featherstone, "The New Student Movement," The Nation, 5/15/00).
Around the world large Western energy corporations have been displacing thousands of residents from their homes and land, rendering the land unlivable through continuous pollution. The Human Rights Watch reports flagrant and deadly human rights abuses in many oil producing nations.
*Shell and Chevron in Nigeria.* US supported Nigerian soldiers have assaulted youthful protesters and torched two villages, destroying almost all the houses and sinking the canoes of close to 1000 natives. Ken SaroWiwa, among 9 executed Nigerian activists, said that "what Shell and Chevron have done to Ogoni people, land, streams, creeks and the atmosphere amounts to genocide" (a U.S. court of appeals just ruled on 9/14 that a lawsuit accusing Royal Dutch/Shell of assisting in the torture and murder of Nigerian activists can be heard in the U.S., rather than in England).
*British Petroleum in Colombia.* In 1996, the world learned of British Petroleum's multimillion dollar contracts with the Colombian military, among the most brutal in the world, to provide security for BP's exploitation of the massive Cusiana Cupiagua oil fields, the largest discovered in the Western Hemisphere since the late 1960s.
*Exxon in Africa.* Exxon is under fire due to the murder of 20 citizens living near the oil company's proposed pipeline through Chad and Cameroon. Environmental organizations are calling on the World Bank to cancel funding for the project until Exxon addresses predicted human rights violations, forced relocations, and environmental damage when the construction begins.
*Enron in India.* The Houston based Enron Corporation's Dabhol Power project in the state of Maharashtra is the largest power plant in the world. In 1996, the police criminalized demonstrations against Enron by banning all public opposition. By March 1998, more than 3,000 demonstrators had been jailed and some beaten by the police whom Enron paid, and continues to pay,
*Unocal in Burma.* In 1993, Unocal and the French oil company TOTAL formed an alliance with the brutal Burmese military to provide security for a natural gas field and pipeline project. Press reports have described killings, torture, rape, and the conscription of the labor of villagers along the pipeline's route. Human rights and other groups have filed charges against Unocal in a California federal court (Arvind Ganesan, "Corporation Crackdowns: Business Backs Brutality," "dollars and sense, whatís left in economics," 5/99).
BIOTECHNOLOGY, BODY PARTS, and BIOPIRACY
The Third World's largely poverty-level income will be dramatically reduced by biotechnology behemoths engineering substitutes for an estimated $14 billion worth of Third World commodities now exported to rich countries. Biotech fructose, for example, has lowered prices, captured more than 10% of the world's sugar market, and destroyed the jobs of tens of thousands of subsistence workers. Vanilla produced in a Texas biotech lab ruined 70,000 farmers in Madagascar growing vanilla (Khor, "The Case Against the Global Economy").
What's been called **biopiracy or genetic imperialism** is evidenced by the Eli Lilly company which has produced over $100 million in profits from anti-cancer drugs extracted from the rosy periwinkle of Madagascar, but without benefit to the country itself (Tokar, "The Green Alternative").
As the 21st century dawns, the expanding global marketplace is exploiting the rapidly advancing revolution in genetics. Jeremy Rifkin in "The Biotech Century" sees this as a highly seductive vision of vast medical, physical, and agricultural progress, human perfectibility, "the ultimate technology frontier," and billions of dollars in commercial profits.
The international organ market of blood banks, sperm banks, frozen embryos, and organ transplants already generates tens of billions of dollars in revenues. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that Third World organ selling had reached "alarming proportions" in that poor people peddle irreplaceable kidneys and cornea "to buy food and shelter and to pay off debts" (Kimbrell, "The Case Against the Global Economy").
Activist attorney Andrew Kimbrell also points out in his revealing essay "Biocolonization" that new international treaties such as GATT and the Convention on Biological Diversity have further legally codified the global market in body parts and the right of genetic bounty hunters to plunder and patent the bodies and biological resources of indigenous peoples around the world.
The United States has launched a billion dollar Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP), a major international hunt for new genes which is colonizing skin tissue, blood, and hair samples from over 400 "endangered" and unique human communities throughout the world. Methodist Bishop Kenneth Carder has called this "genetic slavery... Instead of whole persons being marched in shackles to the market block, human cell-lines and gene sequences are labeled, patented, and sold to the highest bidders" (Kimbrell).
Most of the world's rich biological and genetic resources exist in rainforests and other tropical ecosystems of the South. The neo- colonialist invasion of biotechnology corporations through acts of biopiracy has transformed traditional knowledge into commercial products sold at substantial profits on world markets. Native farmers, however, with thousands of years of vast knowledge and skill, are facing the loss of independence and financial ruin.
During the GATT negotiations in 1993, despite the massive protests of a half-million Indian farmers, the United States and other northern countries forced all countries to honor their restrictive interpretation of property rights through the new rules of Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) which gives the Transnational Corporations (TNCs) free and legally protected access to the world's genetic treasures (Shiva, "The Case Against... ").
In India, however, environmental activist Vandana Shiva and the Greens have recently stopped the corporate biopirates. Chemical giant W.R.Grace, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found their patent for a process to extract oil from the neem tree, a tree native to India, pulled in May by the European Patent Office (EPO).
Shiva, who along with Green Party politicians challenged the patent, said that "basmati, neem, pepper, bitter gourd, turmeric,... Every aspect of the innovation embodied in our indigenous food and medicinal systems is now being pirated and patented... The knowledge of the poor is being converted into the property of global corporations, creating a situation where the poor will have to pay for the seeds and medicines they have evolved and have used to meet their own needs for nutrition and health care." Around 70 patents have been taken out on products from the neem tree alone ("Multinational Monitor," 6/00).
Shiva, who condemns World Bank policies as "genocidal," reports a movement of Indian village communities having sovereignty over their biodiversity and biological resources, and an "Agenda 5 for Freedom" based on local economic control and --
1. Freedom to seed and therefore freedom from patenting and genetic engineering;
2. Freedom to water and therefore no privatization of water but rather community control over water;
3. Freedom of food, to have access to food, to be able to be free to grow food according to nature's sustainability and livelihood necessities;
4. Freedom of the forest so that in countries like India where 80% of the people get their fodder and fuel and medicinal needs from the forest, they can continue to meet them; and finally,
5. Freedom to entitlement to land because the World Bank policies are undoing our land reform and moving land out of small peasant holdings into large corporate holdings and we have had again and again in history movements to keep land in the hands of the tiller
("Peace Work," 7/00).
ALTERNATIVES TO GLOBALIZATION -- A RETURN TO LOCALISM
FAVELAS IN BRAZIL
"Favelas," which once were urban wastelands, over the past two decades have transformed their junkyard colonies into desirable neighborhoods, achieving something most illegal settlers can only dream of: permanence. Their new brand of self-help urban development could become a model for the rest of the world. Its two simple steps are: Let the poor build, then work with them to stabilize their self-built communities with properties worth more than $50,000.
Today about 20% of the residents of Brazilian cities are squatters. Out of 5.5 million people, Rio de Janeiro has a million squatters living in more than 500 "favelas." Belo Horizonte, with 2.3 million people, has 450,000 squatters living in 180 "favelas."
The "favelados" also understand the need for coordinated action. The "favelas" are natural collectives. The residents united in "mutiroes" -- cooperative building associations -- and erected their dwellings communally. Thos who couldnít contribute to construction -- the elderly, the sick and the people with full-time jobs -- often provided food or money to the effort.
The best "mutiroes" even built small health clinics and community facilities. Today almost every "favela" has an elected residentsí association-- which sets policies for the community. As in many big cities, crime and violence are a serious problem and some new arrivals are greeted with suspicion.
In contrast to the United States, where property rights are king, Brazilís Constitution explicitly protects squatters. According to the doctrine of "usucapiao," "favelados" may be entitled to the use (and possibly ownership) of a property if they have lived their for a long enough time without being challenged. The Constitution also states that the right to private property is subordinate to the "dictates of social justice," another clause squatters have used in court to protect their neighborhoods.
Over the years, URBEL (the Urbanization Company of Belo Horizonte), with an annual budget of about $11 million, has helped 5,000 families take title to their properties through "usucapiao." And it has completed hundreds of construction projects, paving streets, improving river banks, installing street lighting and sewers ("Letter From Brazil," The Nation, 7/10/00, 29).
COMMUNITY-BASED and GREEN BUSINESSES IN THE U.S.
Employee-owned firms are just one of many new economic models and innovations. There are food, housing, childcare, and other consumer and producer co-operatives; community development corporations which in 30 years have grown from a mere handful to roughly 3,000 across the country; for-profit subsidiaries of nonprofit organizations; municipal enterprises; urban land trusts; barter systems and local currency; and community supported agriculture which number some 700 programs after 15 years.
Cities like San Francisco and Austin (Texas) have municipal programs that turn organic waste into marketable fertilizer and soil supplements. Montgomery County's composting facility, in a Washington, D.C. suburb, sold nearly $500,000 worth of its Leafgro soil supplement to nurseries, retailers, and area residents.
Glasgow, Kentucky, (population 14,000) has a communit-owned telecom company that offers 53 cable TV channels for under $15 a month, saving residents at least $10 million over 10 years, compared to $40 a month charged by the previous commercial provider. Glasgow is also the only U.S. city offering its residents an alternative to the local commercial phone service.
Other cutting-edge local technologies are unlimited Internet access 100 times faster than a telephone modem can provide (for $11.95 a month) and a Glasgow Electric Plant Board (GEPB) that has installed hardware and software capable of measuring and posting on household's private homepage information about hourly energy consumption of their water heaters, air conditioners, and other appliances.
Community-owned enterprises also provide jobs at livable wages to recent immigrants, former drug addicts, and other marginal classes. Starting in 1968, the New Community Corporation (NCC), in the Central Ward of Newark, New Jersey, now employs 1,200 people and has provided low-cost housing for 7,000. After only two years, Central Ward's 55,000 square-foot Pathmark store, which almost never closes, has become the chain's most profitable store. The NCC owns 2/3 of the store's shares, reinvests its $1 million plus annual profits back into the community, and has a strong voice in influencing store hours, pricing, and programs to benefit the community, not just the financial bottom line.
Twenty years ago few workers owned any productive capital at their workplaces. Today, 11,000 companies have employee stock ownership plans. Nearly as many are enrolled in ESOPs, profit sharing, and investment programs as are members of all private and public sector unions (15.7 million versus 16.1 million). **U.S. workers, who now have over $664 billion invested in these ownership arrangements, are the principal owners of about 1,900 companies including American Airlines and other large corporations.**
Economic cooperatives are beginning to change the world. Japan's Seikatsu and other large-scale networks in Mondragon (Spain), Bologna (Italy), and the Coop Atlantic federation in Canada's maritime provinces employ several million worker/owners who provide needed products and services to tens of millions of citizens. In Quebec the FTQ Solidarity Fund controls some $1.7 billion for investments in local and labor-sponsored job creation.
Studies indicate that coops, though some do fail, can be more productive than traditional firms. Employee ownership, profit-sharing, and active participation can and does make a difference. Motivation is stronger. Creativity flows more freely. Job and life satisfaction is more enduring (see "Innovations in Ownership," a Spring, 1999 report from the National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives in Washington, D.C.; also, the 9/98 issue of "dollars & sense" on "democratizing labor").
Altogether, in a little more than three decades, thousands of health-conscious, spiritually-aware, and Earth-friendly ("green") businesses have sprouted up throughout the nation. Over 2000 of these green businesses and organizations are listed in Co-op America's "National Green Pages," which also provides hundreds of everyday tips for sustainable living, and are committed to customers, employees, community, and the Earth.
All of these businesses are members of Co-op America Business Network (CABN), have taken the Green Business Ethics Pledge of social and environmental responsibility, and have been carefully screened on their business practices relative to their customers and the other three stakeholders above. Products and services, however, have not been tested.
In Peace, Justice & Solidarity, Dan Butts
Home Page Campaigns Labor Environment Corporations Ideas Organization Links Bookstore Site Policy Humor Contact Us