Reclaiming Our Resources: Imperialism and Environmental Justice

"The word “imperialism” is back on the radar of political discourse, after lying dormant for many years, thanks to the Bush administration’s willingness to throw the weight of the United States around with abandon. Imperialism is a useful word. Just as the concept of “internal colonialism” was helpful to people thinking about power and injustice in the 1960s, imperialism can be brought home to good effect for today’s activists and movement leaders. But as an analytical term, it needs to be deepened beyond sweeping statements like, “U.S. imperialism is ravaging the globe”—which are so broad as to be mere slogans—if we are to apply it to conditions of race, poverty and the environment in California and nationwide." 



About this Issue

Editing this issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment with the analytical framework of imperialism has been a fascinating task. To do the theme justice, we decided to gather a set of introductory articles that define and frame imperialism as a challenge to environmental justice.

In this introductory section, U.C. Berkeley Professor R.A. Walker defines imperialism first as a “geographic term: the power of one place over another.” An author of several articles about Bay Area development, Walker describes how elite “command over space and place” has characterized urban development throughout the United States, and particularly in San Francisco and the East Bay. Tom B. K. Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network provides readers with an historical overview of colonialism’s impact on Indigenous populations and explains how exploitation of Indigenous land and resources continues today. To close this section, a Q&A with Eric Mann, director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, articulates why anti-imperialism has long been a part of the Center’s mission and what organizers can do now to further the global justice movement.

The middle “Impacts, Local and Global” section examines the scope of the problem the environmental justice community faces. It’s divided into subsections: “Environment and Economy,” which delves into issues ranging from economic development policy to global trade rules that harm the poor and threaten our environments; “Food and Agriculture,” with articles about genetic engineering, food dumping and biopiracy; “Water Services,” which reports on water privatization’s impact on poor communities in the United States and in South Africa; and “Health, Labor, Human Rights” with pieces about dwindling health care and labor protections. This section includes a revealing report from labor journalist and photographer David Bacon about developments in Iraq.

In the final section, a variety of articles depict global justice organizing efforts and alternative models. Highlights include dispatches from participants in the most recent World Social Forum in Mumbai, India; a report on Latin American and Caribbean resistance to the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, plus alternative agreements; and a proposal for how global trade can promote gender equity. Though this section could not possibly cover all of the alternatives being proposed worldwide by global justice advocates, it offers refreshing ideas about sustainable energy, agriculture, trade and development. As always, the issue ends with a listing of organizations, Web sites and books to consult for further information.

The bottom line for all of these articles is that they include an analysis of how the issues affect the poor and people of color across the globe. Many of the organizing and coalition-building strategies described herein are lead by people of color who are often among the first and most affected by inequitable local and global policies.

Ziba Kashef
Editor, RPE

Volume 11, 2004

From the Director's Desk

What does the topic of “imperialism” have to do with environmental and social justice?

This historical and political term is again a subject of debate in large part because of the war in Iraq. Anti-war organizers have used it to critique U.S. government administration of Iraq’s territory, and military and political systems. But as an analytical term, imperialism is also useful to examine broader issues, such as corporate-driven globalization. The “free trade” agreements being devised by wealthy nations and investors allow for foreign control of not just trade, but of environmental regulation; farming and agricultural policy; water extraction and delivery systems; health care; education; and other public services in poor and developing nations across the globe.

As University of California-Berkeley Geography Professor R.A. Walker says in his article, the imperialism of centuries past did not just pertain to territorial control, but also to “domination of trade, taxation of people, land takeovers, and extraction of natural resource wealth.” That is what we are witnessing unfold worldwide as corporate-driven globalization continues to spread. Several contributors to this issue of RPE argue that these trends—from lopsided trade agreements to privatization of public services and resources—pose real threats to environmental and social equity.

Low-income people and people of color in the United States and abroad are suffering as a result. Globally, a growing number of people live on less than $2 a day. In the United States, the gap between rich and poor is as great as it has been in a century. The world’s natural resources are being ravaged. Increasingly, decisions that affect us all are made by a privileged few.

In response, environmental justice advocates are working to generate alternative visions for global trade and development policy. Because the poor and people of color are most affected, it’s critical that they provide leadership in the global justice community. EJ and other social justice organizers cannot afford to not be involved in decision-making that affects our communities both here and abroad. That’s one of the goals of this RPE issue—to offer examples of effective global justice organizing and to articulate ideas for creating a more equitable and sustainable global economic system.

Other news:

  • As we mark our 15th year at Urban Habitat (UH), we are proud to announce that we have reached the goal of attaining 501 (c ) (3) status. This development, which makes UH an independent nonprofit, is an exciting milestone.
  • UH’s Leadership Institute (LI) has developed a new innovative tool, a cartoon book, to educate Bay Area community leaders about the history behind inequity in the region. In addition to the LI’s ongoing series of training workshops, the cartoon book helps organizers use a regional framework to challenge inequitable policies.
  • The Social Equity Caucus, a regional coalition convened by UH, is developing a Transportation Justice campaign. The campaign’s goals are: to examine the impact that diesel pollution has on low-income communities in the Bay Area; and to determine how to hold accountable those decision-makers who create transportation policy that affects those communities.
  • RPE recently hosted a focus group to solicit feedback about the journal. Stay tuned for improvements, including the use of processed chlorine-free paper and soy-based ink, in this and future issues.

Finally, we’d like to take this opportunity to thank one of RPE’s co-founders and longtime editors, Luke Cole, for his leadership over the years. Though Luke and the Center for Race, Poverty & Environment will no longer be co-publishing the journal with Urban Habitat, he will continue to serve as an advisor to the journal. At UH, we are honored to continue producing RPE in the spirit in which it was founded by Luke Cole and Carl Anthony nearly 15 years ago. Thanks, Luke!

In solidarity,

Juliet Ellis
Executive Director

Environmental Justice vs. Empire

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Three views on why the construct of imperialism is useful in framing environmental injustices—both past and present, local and global. Authors examine race, poverty and environmental issues from historical, geographical and political perspectives.

Power of Place and Space

Local dimensions of imperial economic and development policy

The word “imperialism” is back on the radar of political discourse, after lying dormant for many years, thanks to the Bush administration’s willingness to throw the weight of the United States around with abandon. Imperialism is a useful word. Just as the concept of “internal colonialism” was helpful to people thinking about power and injustice in the 1960s, imperialism can be brought home to good effect for today’s activists and movement leaders. But as an analytical term, it needs to be deepened beyond sweeping statements like, “U.S. imperialism is ravaging the globe”—which are so broad as to be mere slogans—if we are to apply it to conditions of race, poverty and the environment in California and nationwide.

Imperialism is, above all, a geographic term: the power of one place over another. In the modern world, it came into use to describe the power of the great European countries over far-flung empires in Asia, Africa and the Americas. That power was expressed most clearly through political control of territory, or colonization, but it pertained as well to the domination of trade, taxation of the people, land takeovers and extraction of natural resource wealth. Such exploitation was economic in the broadest sense and not confined to the state and government power. The British Empire was created to advance the cause of capital accumulation, not simply to bring glory to Queens and Admirals.

Internal Conquests
But imperialism can operate at many scales (geographic areas) and need not be thought of only as external domination. The United States was formed as a continental empire by conquest, which devoured large pieces of the land across the center of North America and absorbed them into one nation-state. This still explains much of the misery of Indigenous Peoples, whose land was stolen and cultures nearly decimated in the process of Euro-American expansion [see “Stolen Resources,” p. 9]. It pertains to the tension that underlies Mexican-Anglo relations to this day, due to the historic memory of U.S. conquest of one-third of Mexican territory in the war of 1844-46. That conquest was motivated in large part by the attraction of vast lands for agriculture, mining and timber. California was the great prize of the Mexican war, yielding up its gold to fuel the appetite of the growing American economy for money in circulation.

California and particularly San Francisco then turned around and projected their economic might across a regional empire up and down the Pacific Coast, and stretching across the Pacific. This constituted an urban imperialism that sucked the wealth out of the countryside in many forms: silver from Nevada, wood from the Northwest, beef from Southern California, sugar from Hawaii, and commercial and financial profits from every direction.

Cities are huge consumers of natural resources to this day. The tentacles of cities like Los Angeles and Denver reach out hundreds of miles to gather water, electricity and building materials, and thousands of miles to garner their supplies of oil, gas and food. When we speak of the United States gobbling up a quarter to a third of the world’s natural resources today to feed its vast appetite for materials and energy, we should remember that a state like California or a city like San Francisco has its own geography of extraction. The legacy of this has been the ruin of many distant places—from Nevada’s ghost towns to Chevron-Texaco’s oil wells in Ecuador—by mines, clear cuts or oil spills.

This kind of imperial economic conquest and exploitation operates all the way down to the level of neighborhoods and municipalities within today’s huge metropolitan cities. We hardly notice it, but the urban landscape is littered with sites of resource extraction, like the sulphur mine in the Oakland hills, or New Almaden above San Jose, which still leaches mercury into the estuary and makes offshore tuna and crabs dangerous to public health. We also suffer Silicon Valley’s past leakage of cleaning fluids into the groundwater, a legacy of the conquest of Santa Clara County by the electronics industry. The people of Contra Costa County live with the deadly emissions of several refineries turning distant petroleum into locally-consumed gasoline.

Real estate is a critical dimension of internal imperialism, as well. When San Francisco and other Bay Area cities wanted to expand their business, industry, transportation or housing, they eagerly conquered new space by such devices as filling in the bay, bulldozing hillsides, and even removing the dead outside the city limits to claim the cemeteries. After World War II, the downtown real estate operators looked to the surrounding neighborhoods, potential office and commercial space—that is, if the people and old buildings could just be removed. This development marked the era of “urban renewal” projects that devastated historically working class, poor neighborhoods around downtown San Francisco, such as the Western Addition, South of Market, and North Beach, driving out many of the poor and people of color. That process of internal conquest continues to this day, as in the dot-com explosion that made over South of Market, chipped away at the Tenderloin, and encroached on the Inner Mission, leaving many more homeless. A similar process leveled much of central and west Oakland after the war—with a comparable targeting of black neighborhoods—and continues through Mayor Jerry Brown’s campaign to gentrify the central city.

The People Behind Empire
Of course, these instances of local, internal imperialism are not just about places, but about people. Imperial powers are not just national or local governments, but the people behind them. Powerful people, rich people, and most often, in the American case, white people. The Bush Team is not the exception but the rule in that regard. We may think of California politics as more liberal, and the Bay Area as far more liberal than the nation; but when it comes to those at the top of the local business and political hierarchy, their command over space and place is just as fierce and unrelenting as any Bush incursion into Iraq.

The litany is long of business and political leaders in the Bay Area who have led the conquest of local real estate and urban supply lines for profit and prosperity. Among the most famous of the dynasties over the years are the Phelans, Hearsts, DeYoungs, Knowlands, Pardees, Swigs, Shorensteins and McEnerys. This is not a matter of leading individuals or families, however, but of the leadership of a class. The bankers still need their gleaming skyscrapers, professionals their loft condos, electronics moguls their electricity supply, rich suburbanites their water, business travelers their expanded airport (by bay fill, of course). This class of people is not confined to downtown, by any means, but lives and works throughout the metro area. They guard their geography well, with gated communities like Blackhawk, mansions hidden in the woods in Marin, carefully drawn boundaries like Piedmont. Would that the poor had such privileged access to space and power over their homes and workplaces. They live within the empire but without it at the same time.

R. A. Walker is professor of geography at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of several articles about the San Francisco Bay Area. His latest book, The Conquest of Bread: 150 Years of California Agribusiness (The New Press), will be out in October.

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Stolen Resources

Continuing threats to Indigenous people’s sovereignty and survival

“Imperialism and colonialism are not something that happened decades ago or generations ago, but they are still happening now with the exploitation of people....The kind of thing that took place long ago in which people were dispossessed from their land and forced out of subsistence economies and into market economies—those processes are still happening today." —John Mohawk, Seneca, 1992

The history and struggles of Indigenous peoples within the United States is inseparable from the story of European imperialism. From militarism and policies of genocide, to religious indoctrination and cultural assimilation, the tactics of imperialism were developed from the blood of Indigenous peoples. While Indigenous tribal nations survived the expansionist policies of the British, Spanish, and later the American empires, the majority of the pre-colonial Indigenous populations did not. The legacy of those policies is embodied in the laws and attitudes that still affect modern generations of Indigenous peoples in the United States.

Ever since Pope Alexander VI’s 1493 Papal Bull “Inter Caetera” called for the subjugation of America’s “barbarous nations” and Indigenous lands, first colonial and then successor empires have forcibly and violently oppressed Indigenous peoples—as a “race” of people. But the religious imperatives of conversion and annihilation have only been replaced by contemporary forms of oppression: assimilation, development schemes, privatization of land and water, and now economic globalization. The nation-state economic elites and transnational corporations have replaced the earlier conquistadors and colonists as the beneficiaries of stolen Indigenous lands, knowledge and resources.

Loss of Land, Sovereignty
Through a number of treaties and agreements with the U.S. government in the 18th and 19th centuries, Indigenous tribes relinquished control of territory and agreed to retain much smaller tracts of land. In return, the government promised protection, education, health care and other forms of compensation. The government made many promises, including one major agreement that became known as the “U.S. trust responsibility.” Under this framework, Indigenous lands or reservations were to be held in “trust” for the tribes and protected by the United States. As trust territories, tribal lands are recognized as separate from U.S. domestic lands.

However, during the 1950s the U.S. Congress actively sought to end that special relationship with Indigenous tribes. A massive relocation project seduced many tribal members to move from their economically depressed reservations into cities with the promise of jobs and opportunity. Once in the city, tribal members found themselves without the promised prosperity or the security of tribal life. Some returned home but many stayed in the cities and became known as “urban Indians.” Today, near 55 percent of the total U.S. Indigenous population resides off reservation, with a high percentage living within low-income areas of the cities.

The U.S. “Termination Era” policy of the mid-1940s to mid-1960s presented Indigenous peoples with another challenge to their survival. The policy was meant to assimilate tribes into the mainstream society irrespective of their history, culture and unique political relations with the United States. Some tribes, such as the Menominee in Wisconsin and the Klamath in Oregon, were offered money if they agreed to sell their lands and terminate their treaties and agreements with the government. By selling lands, Indigenous tribal nations gave up the protections insured by the treaties. The tribes would also no longer be sovereign entities. Some tribes did choose to sell their territory, with catastrophic consequences to their peoples. Termination, however, was a failed policy. In 1970, President Nixon heralded the beginning of a new era in which Indian self-determination, without termination, would be the guiding principle for government policy regarding Indians.

Environmental and Economic Exploitation
Shortly after Indigenous reservations were formed, abundant natural resources were found to exist upon these lands: timber, minerals, petroleum, fur bearing habitat, fish and water. Following the treaty-making era, the U.S. government sought to gain direct access and control over the remaining Indigenous natural resources. Oklahoma, where many Indigenous tribes were sent through forced relocation, was abundant in oil. The Black Hills in South Dakota, sacred to the Lakota nation, had gold. Coal reserves were discovered in the homelands of the Dine’ (Navajo) and Hopi nations in Arizona, and the Crow nation in Montana. The last frontier within the United States was Alaska, where the government and its timber and petroleum corporate partners negotiated one of the biggest land grabs in modern history.

Indigenous territories have been used to: locate mega hydroelectric dams, mines for uranium, coal, copper and other metals essential to U.S. industry; conduct nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War; site petroleum wells and pipelines and other energy producing facilities; and dump municipal, industrial, federal and military toxic and radioactive waste.

11-1 Page 11 Image 1 With rare exceptions, these developments have not directly benefited Indigenous peoples. Indeed, Western forms of production and business development have forced Indigenous peoples to depend on the U.S. cash economy and to implement Indigenous-based capitalist initiatives while their traditional economies collapsed. Territories where Indigenous peoples live are resource-rich and serve as the base from which governments and corporations extract wealth; yet they are also areas where the most severe form of poverty exists.


For instance, within the Black Hills region of South Dakota where rich deposits of gold and other minerals were found in the 1800s, none of the Lakota tribal members of Pine Ridge reservation benefited. In the 1868 treaty by the United States and the Lakota Sioux nation, the U.S. government recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, set aside for exclusive use by the Lakota Sioux people. However, after the discovery of gold in 1874, the government confiscated the land. To this day, ownership of Black Hills remains the subject of a legal dispute between the government and the Lakota Sioux. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is home to:

  • the poorest county in the United States
  • an unemployment rate of 80 percent
  • life expectancy of 48 years for men; 52 years for women
  • the highest infant mortality rate in the country.

Current Crises and Pressures
The ecosystems of Mother Earth are in crisis. We are experiencing an accelerating spiral of climate change and global warming. Caused by the excessive buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere—in particular carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of oil, gas and coal—climate change threatens virtually every segment of the biosphere and human society.

Yet climate change doesn’t affect everyone equally. Indigenous peoples, from the Arctic and worldwide, and others who rely on the land and water for food and culture are most threatened by these weather changes. Indigenous peoples, people of color and ethnic groups, small island countries, women, youth, coastal peoples, fisher peoples, poor people, the elderly and the ecosystem are suffering the impacts of the fossil fuel economy at every stage of its life cycle—from exploration, production, refining and distribution, to consumption and disposal of waste. If consumption of fossil fuels, deforestation and other ecological devastation continues at current rates, it is certain that climate change will result in increased temperatures; sea level rise; changes in agricultural patterns; increased frequency and magnitude of “natural” disasters such as floods, droughts and intense storms; epidemics; and loss of biodiversity.

Mainstream society’s lack of environmental concern disrupts the ability of Indigenous peoples to protect their traditional territories. Indigenous communities are finding it difficult to maintain sustainable economic systems, to practice their traditional ceremonies, and to preserve their hunting, gathering and fishing cultures. Indigenous spiritual and cultural practices depend upon access to their traditional lands, including historically and spiritually significant sites. Some Indigenous tribal cultures derive their family clan or kinship identification from particular plants, habitat, fish and food groups. Yet mineral and mining extractions, flooding of lands from mega-hydro dams, and toxic chemical contamination of traditional food systems seriously affect their deeply ingrained spiritual and cultural relationship with the ecosystem.

In the eyes of many Indigenous spiritual leaders, the source of these pressures can be traced to the long historical processes by which humans have become increasingly alienated from the Mother Earth. This results in an alienation from self, community and nature. The alienation has roots in imperialism and colonialism, and is currently being exacerbated by economic globalization, initiatives of free trade, privatization and development policies that have no tie to nature. These trends propel an unsustainable concept of the natural world as “property,” and therefore a commodity to be exploited freely, and bought and sold at will. This paradigm has resulted in disharmony between human beings and the natural world, as well as the current environmental crisis threatening all life. It is totally incompatible with a traditional Indigenous worldview.

Indigenous People Take Action
Indigenous peoples from the United States and throughout the world are expressing their concern about the agenda of economic globalization and imperialism. Indigenous tribes’ inherent rights to sovereignty and self-determination are undermined by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and by most free trade agreements. Whether through environmental degradation; biopiracy and the patenting of Indigenous medicinal plant and seed knowledge; or the militarization and violence that often accompanies development projects, the impact of these agreements is disproportionate and devastating to our communities.

The Indigenous Environmental Network and other U.S.-based Indigenous non-governmental organizations are challenging the WTO by applying Indigenous rights- and human rights-based approaches that redefine principles and practices in regards to trade and development. We envision a “sustainable communities” paradigm, a transparent and democratic process, as well as alternative worldviews and models of development. The Kimberly Declaration and the Indigenous Plan of Implementation, developed at the Indigenous Peoples’ International Summit and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, affirmed the vital role Indigenous people play in defining this new paradigm.

Indigenous peoples of the United States and the world—especially, those that still maintain and practice their land-based cultures—are a threatened people. But Indigenous peoples are fighting for all life put in jeopardy by corporate globalization and its agenda for world domination and control. Indigenous peoples from the United States and global community believe that they can offer viable alternatives to the dominant export-oriented economic growth and development model. Indigenous peoples sustainable lifestyles and cultures, traditional knowledge, cosmologies, spirituality, values of collectivity, reciprocity, respect and reverence for Mother Earth are all crucial in the search for a transformed society where justice, equity and sustainability will prevail.

Tom B.K. Goldtooth (Mato Awayankapi) is director of the Indigenous Environmental Network in Bemidji, Minnesota. He was an Indigenous delegate at the third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan in 2003, at the fifth Ministerial meeting of the WTO in Cancun, Mexico 2003, and at the fourth World Social Forum in Mumbai, India 2004. He is active on many other environmental and social justice organizations, such as Honor The Earth Campaign and Just Transition Alliance.


Article Sources

American Indians, American Justice, Vine Deloria, Jr. and Clifford M. Lytle, 1983.

American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492 (Civilization of the American Indian), Volume 186), Russell Thornton, 1990. Bali Principles of Climate Justice, June 2002.

Ecocide of Native America: Environmental Destruction of Indian Lands and Peoples, Donald A. Grinde and Bruce E. Johansen, 1995.

Five Hundred Years of Injustice: The Legacy of Fifteenth Century Religious Prejudice (1992), Steve Newcomb

From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement, Luke W. Cole and Sheila R. Foster, 2001.

“Greenhouse Gangsters vs. Climate Justice,” a report by CorpWatch, November 1999. Indigenous Peoples’ Seattle Declaration, Third Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization, November - December 1999.

Indigenous Peoples and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education), 2003

International Cancun Declaration of Indigenous Peoples, Fifth Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization, September 2003.

Menominee Termination and Restoration: Indian Country,

Resource Rebels: Native Challenges to Mining and Oil Corporations, Al Gedicks, 2001.

Struggle for the Land: Indigenous Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide, and Expropriation in Contemporary North America, Ward Churchill, 2003

The Corporate Planet: Ecology and Politics in the Age of Globalization, Joshua Karliner, 1997.

The New Resource Wars: Native and Environmental Struggles Against Multinational Corporations, Al Gedicks, 1993.

The Rights of Indians and Tribes, Stephen L. Pevar, (3rd Edition, 2002).

The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance (Race and Resistance), Edited by M. Annette Jaimes, 1992.

The Way It Is, Spiritual Leader Corbin Harney, 1995.

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Indigenous peoples are fighting for all life put in jeopardy by corporate globalization and its agenda for world domination and control.

Grassroots Internationalism

Broadening struggles for self-determination and human rights

11-1 Page 13 Image 1In late February, veteran civil rights, anti-war and labor organizer Eric Mann sat down with Race, Poverty & the Environment to discuss social justice strategies in a global context, and the potential for working class people of color to lead an international movement. Mann is a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality, Students for a Democratic Society, and the United Auto Workers. He is presently the director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles. His latest book is Dispatches from Durban: Firsthand Commentaries on the World Conference Against Racism, and Post-September 11 Movement Strategies (available from

RPE: Transportation justice and environmental justice are some of the primary issues that the Labor/Community Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union have been working on for the past 15 years. What do you see now as the biggest challenges for working class people of color in Los Angeles? Are they the same as 15 years ago or different?

Eric Mann: The political, economic and social conditions have gotten worse. The right-wing control of the country and the courts is a massive challenge. For example, in 2001 the Scalia/Rehnquist court, in a 5-4 decision, overturned 30 years of civil rights law in the Alexander vs. Sandoval decision. Sandoval, a Latina from Alabama, sued the department of motor vehicles, arguing that their “English only” tests discriminated against her based on race, and was prohibited by Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars state and local governments that receive federal funds from discriminating based on race. The federal district court upheld her challenge, and the attorney general of Alabama appealed to the Supreme Court. Instead of dealing with the issue on its merits, the Court used that case to make a radical right-wing argument, i.e. that Congress never intended Title VI to be used by “private parties”—civil rights groups, impacted plaintiffs—but only by the attorney general. The majority ruled that private parties could still bring cases if they could prove “intentional discrimination.” But it prohibited the long accepted grounds of “disparate impact,” a standard by which plaintiffs only needed to document the racially discriminatory impact of a governmental policy regardless of intent. The overturning of the right to bring disparate impact cases challenging environmental racism, and all forms of racism, is a major setback for grassroots groups, low-income people and civil rights law.

The second setback for the EJ movement has been the deterioration of white liberal—and I would even say white radical—anti-racism. I am a product of the Black-led mass anti-racist consciousness of the 1960s. But over the last 20 years, I’ve seen white people turn away from affirmative action, and retreat into the comfort of predominantly or even all-white social structures. In Los Angeles, the Bus Riders Union (BRU) has built a movement of several hundred active members, thousands of on-the-bus supporters—overwhelmingly Black, Latino and Asian/Pacific Islanders—and a few dedicated anti-racist whites. And yet, we have received virtually no support from “the White, Westside liberals” or the white “anti-globalization movement” that challenges corporate abuses all over the world but cannot relate to an actual working class, people of color led movement.

RPE: So how do those two problems that you point out—the right-wing leaning of courts and the decline of white support—affect working class people in Los Angeles?

Mann: Black, Latino and Asian peoples, isolated and under attack, are far more likely to fight back if they feel support from white allies and the federal courts. If you go to court and win, as the BRU did, it reaffirms that the country has a policy to rectify past racism and generates more grassroots activism. But if your case is thrown out of court, and if white liberals turn on you, there’s a negative impact on movement building—not irreparable, but significant nonetheless.

11-1 Page 14 Image 1 Then we have the third, perhaps most controversial challenge [for working-class people of color], which is the growing hostility of significant segments of the Black and Latino middle and upper classes toward the Black and Latino poor. For instance, in 1994 in Los Angeles, the Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union sued the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transporation Authority (MTA) for running a separate and unequal mass transit system. This system consisted of a dilapidated rail system that served the urban working class (94 percent of all MTA passengers), and a pork barrel suburban rail system that served a far smaller, more white ridership.

Given that we won a temporary restraining order to prohibit MTA plans to cut out the monthly bus pass, and eventually won more than $1 billion in new clean fuel buses, you would think that the entire Civil Rights, Democratic Party, and Black and Latino Establishments would have rallied to our cause. Just the opposite. Many of them, such as Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, City Councilman Richard Alatorre, Supervisor Gloria Molina, and then-CEO Franklin White were defendants in the case, charged with the racist policies we were challenging. Why? Because the Black and Latino professional classes saw rail construction as a gold mine for contracts to build rail stations; to get minority set asides with larger white construction companies; and for Black, Latino, and women architects to get long overdue government contracts. They wanted billion dollar rail lines even if it destroyed public transportation for 400,000 low-income bus riders of color. So we’re starting to see a growing class divide inside communities of color.

Now here’s the good news. Working-class-of-color communities are growing, and occupy the most strategic position in the major urban centers of the empire—New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Oakland/San Francisco, Houston and Los Angeles. The problem is one of political consciousness and movement building. Can working-class communities of color transition from an objectively oppressed group to a strategically pivotal group in order to lead a broad united front of the entire working class? And then can they lead a national liberation movement of Blacks, Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders of all classes that attracts progressive and anti-racist whites? In our work at the Strategy Center and BRU we target the hotel, garment and service workers; women and children on welfare; and high school and community college students facing overcrowded classes, limited opportunities and police harassment that begins their entry into the prison industrial complex. Our goal is to build a force led by the working class of color that can then re-approach middle class allies. That’s why our focus within communities of color is on the working class of color. Over time the Bus Riders Union has built a multi-class and multi-racial alliance, with the working class of color at its core.

RPE: Anti-racism and anti-imperialism have always been inherent to the Strategy Center’s mission. And we’re talking about it at Urban Habitat as not just a global challenge, but a challenge at local and regional levels. How do you see imperialism playing out in the lives of the working class communities in Los Angeles?

Mann: We see imperialism as a worldwide system of U.S. monopoly capitalism that begins in the United States and spreads its tentacles all over the world. My reading of U.S. history analyzes the United States as a white settler state based on conquest, genocide against Indigenous people, 300 years of slavery, and the stealing of half of Mexico. This is not “ancient history” but the material, cultural and psychological foundation of the United States today.

So, when organizers are working in East Los Angeles or Richmond or Fruitvale, [predominantly low-income, people-of-color communities in California], we see how Blacks and Latinos continue to suffer from the policies of imperialism that exploit and oppress them. There are more people in maximum security prisons, kids coming home to apartments that are far more over-crowded, and domestic workers working excruciating hours. Children in Los Angeles are exposed to more air toxins and carcinogens in the first two months of their lives than even the toothless Environmental Protection Agency recommends for a lifetime. So many young kids working at barely-above-minimum-wage jobs, with the system offering them a future as a security guard, prison guard, soldier or prisoner. With rents going up by 10 or 15 percent a year in some areas, the question is, how are these Black and Latino and Asian families living? And the best answer, I understand, is not very well.

There are some who see the United States as “capitalist” and what it does outside its borders as “imperialist.” But imperialism is a unified system; it exists inside and outside the U.S. borders. In my view, the dominant white culture is not just more privileged, but is literally an oppressor nation. As such, Black and Latino peoples, who are now being incarcerated at appalling rates, have the right to equality, and to challenge discrimination and racism. They also have the right of self-determination as an independent oppressed people able to shape their own destiny.

So at the Strategy Center, what we’re trying to say is, you know who the best allies of the Black, Latino and Korean communities in Los Angeles are? Brazil, China, India, Argentina, Cuba…

RPE: South Africa?

Mann: Absolutely, South Africa. We think if oppressed nationality working people see their plight and strategic placement in an international context, and see the Third World liberation movements as the main force in the world with which they can ally, those working people can see themselves as part of an international majority movement. This is not “solidarity work” that abandons the struggle for environmental justice and human rights inside the United States but rather, a movement that thinks about re-approaching the struggle within the United States from a more strategic position with greater leverage and stronger allies.

RPE: That brings me to your book, Dispatches from Durban, in which you write about South Africa and internationalism. Talk about why you felt that the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) was so important and what the connections are between that and the work you do at the Strategy Center.

Mann: The World Conference Against Racism was a truly amazing experience. Dispatches tries to rescue that experience from an historical “white-out.” We had no illusions that the WCAR would pass binding resolutions by nation-states against the crimes against humanity of Europe and the United States. But the resolutions of the non-governmental organizations (rejected by the governments) were very militant, called for reparations, and called for self-determination for the Palestinian people. That’s why the United States’ [delegates] walked out.

What I saw was the power of anti-racism as an ideology in the midst of a racist world.

Sometimes people in the movement need to look internationally for sources of inspiration, new ideas, and a world where the United States culture is not the dominant culture. Out of the work at WCAR, the Strategy Center initiated a Reparations discussion group, and out of that we formed our Community Rights Campaign to challenge the racism of the Prison Industrial Complex. A year later we returned to South Africa for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) and, hearing the horror stories of the Organization of Small Island States and the flooding that threatens their civilizations, we formed our Clean Air, Clean Lungs, Clean Buses campaign to dramatically reduce the number of cars on L.A. roads, and protect the lungs of inner city children and the future of the planet from greenhouse gases.

RPE: What is the responsibility of people-of-color justice organizers to fight racism and imperialism? How can they think about their responsibility as U.S. citizens?

Mann: As we speak the U.S. war of aggression in Iraq has led to murders of civilians, the torture of prisoners, the deaths of U.S. GI’s, ecological disaster, and U.S. GI’s returning home mentally and physically ill. The war has diverted more than $150 billion for an occupation of a conquered people while U.S. schools, hospitals, mental health clinics and veteran’s administration facilities are falling apart at the seams. Given this context, how can we separate “international,” “national” and “local” struggles? The Strategy Center believes that you can’t build a movement in oppressed nationality communities without finding programmatic connections between people’s immediate suffering and oppression; a more ideological strategic narrative; a commitment to leadership development and movement building; and an international strategy. Generating on-the-ground campaigns with hard-hitting demands is critical to consciousness-raising, but also to winning real changes in policy.

11-1 Page 16 Image 1 These efforts need to be combined with explicit political education. I have always felt that Black people and Latino immigrants, with whom I work the most, are internationalists at heart. They love talking about Africa. They talk with great emotion about global warming, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, immigrants coming from Mexico to a land that was once theirs, or U.S. interference in the Salvadoran election. When we reported back from our trips to WCAR and WSSD, and when Manuel Criollo and Cynthia Rojas reported back on their recent trip to monitor the elections in El Salvador, our members were thrilled to have the discussions. We find, as organizers, that a more internationalist/anti-racist/anti-imperialist politics allows us to recruit and retain members for the long haul.

RPE: What about the issue of capacity? What are some of the barriers for environmental justice and social justice organizations fighting imperialism?

Mann: One of the greatest contradictions is between the acceleration of right-wing hegemony and the weak state of left movements. On the one hand are the rapid advance of global warming, the rapid pace of deterioration of Antarctica and Samoa, and the massive rise of conspicuous consumption and the SUV culture. On the other hand, there’s no comparable growth of a hard-hitting environmental movement that can radically restrict greenhouse gas production. At the Strategy Center, as just one example, we pride ourselves on the growth of our membership, but this work is arduous and exhausting. We’re picking up the most dedicated people in fives and tens, and general supporters in the thousands, when the need is for hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of people to get involved.

The second challenge, I think, is that with the decline of a world Left and the loss of any belief in a master narrative and comprehensive strategy, “grassroots organizing” has often been restricted to narrow, issue-based specialties. Each group fights a good fight, but doesn’t see itself as part of a broader movement, let alone an international one.

The third dilemma is that even at events like the World Social Forum, it is hard for U.S. organizers to develop concrete alliances with social movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. I wish that there was a more clear international campaign—where we could all meet someplace, plan a set of demands, and say, “you go back to your community to raise these demands against Texaco or Shell or the World Bank, and then we’ll meet next year in Rio or Johannesburg, not just for a conference, but for an organizers’ movement.” I’m dreaming of a new Left international, which doesn’t exist right now, but which our organization, and this interview, is trying to help bring into being.

RPE: So what are the next steps? What are some key things that anti-imperialists must do now?

Mann: I think that every grassroots group should discuss what percentage of its time is spent on political education among its members. For example, you can show films such as the Battle of Algiers, one of the greatest revolutionary films, or Rising Waters, about global warming and the effect on the small island nations, and discuss the implications for your work with your members. Haskell Wexler, an academy-award-winning cinematographer, has produced a beautiful 110-minute, feature-length documentary about our work, Bus Riders Union.You can perhaps pick a book, such as Dispatches from Durban, and see if staff members can read and discuss one book together. (Both Dispatches and Bus Riders Union are available at

At our National School for Strategic Organizing we offer a six-month intensive political education program. We have the Thursday night group in which we bring guest speakers and reports from international trips. Would it be possible for grassroots groups to set aside one evening a month for political education discussions among key members and staff? Otherwise we run the risk of organizing and activism jumping ahead of any social theory guiding the work.

Another next step focuses on demand development. Our Clean Air Campaign is putting forth the demand to reduce L.A.’s 8 million cars to 4 million, which is what I call an agitational demand. Obviously that demand is not winnable in the present, but we’re saying that’s what needs to happen to achieve a 50-percent reduction in emissions to reverse global warming before human consumption destroys the planet. It’s an agitational demand to raise consciousness, and someday it will be turned into an action demand—what we are actually fighting for in terms of social policy. Another next step is to pick certain human rights issues that directly challenge U.S. policy, such as the movement to get the United States out of Iraq, or demanding a full federal investigation and international observers to protest and remedy the recent lynching of Roy Veal, a Vietnam Veteran in Wilkerson County, Mississippi.

At the BRU, the planning committee has been working for a year to update our principles of unity and mission statement. After three monthly general membership meetings at which more than 100 members discussed the statement word by word, our statement included the following language: “We see ourselves as part of an international movement to stop the U.S. government from intervening in the internal affairs of sovereign nations and to support the movements for self-determination inside and outside the United States.” Practicing what we preach, we have built our organization from the beginning with an internationalist perspective.

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Working people can see themselves as part of an international majority movement

Impacts, Local and Global

imperialism back cover
Policies of imperialism have impacts at local, regional, state, national and international levels. This section includes an array of reports about environmental and social justice problems that are exacerbated by corporate globalization and imperialism.

Environment and Economy

11-1 Page 19 Image 1 Analysis of local development and global trade policies that deepen poverty and endanger environments

Subsidizing Sprawl

Economic Development policies that deprive the poor of transit and jobs.

Economic development subsidy programs—such as property tax abatements, corporate income tax credits and low-interest loans—were originally justified in the name of poverty reduction. Initiated as far back as the 1930s and accelerated in the 1950s, many of these programs were targeted to older areas and pockets of poverty that needed revitalization.

But over time, more and more of the 1,500 development subsidy programs nationwide have become part of the problem instead of the solution. Subsidies originally meant to rebuild older urban areas are being perverted into subsidies for suburban sprawl. Wal-Mart and other big box retailers are getting subsidies that allow them to simply pirate sales from existing merchants. Upscale residential and golf course projects are getting subsidies from programs originally designed to serve low-income neighborhoods.

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 The net effect has been to worsen sprawl and all of its disparate harms to communities of color: the out-migration of urban jobs, the growth of jobs in areas that are not accessible by public transportation, and the resulting concentration of unemployment and poverty.
Deconstructing Sprawl Development “Suburban sprawl” usually refers to development characterized by low density, a lack of transportation options, strict separation of residential from non-residential property, and job growth in newer suburbs with job decline in older areas. Sprawl causes increased dependence on automobiles and longer average commuting times, deteriorating air quality, and rapid consumption of open space in outlying areas. It also results in disinvestment of central city infrastructure and services, and strains city budgets at the core (due to a declining tax base) and in some suburbs.

The decentralization of jobs means work becomes scarce for low-skilled workers who are concentrated at the core. Many suburbs lack affordable housing and many suburban jobs are not accessible by public transit—either because a suburb has opposed the entry of transit lines or because jobs are thinly spread out far from transit routes. So sprawl effectively cuts central city residents off from regional labor markets. That means greater poverty for residents of core areas, who are disproportionately people of color.

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What causes sprawl? Urban experts cite many factors, including: some people’s preference for low-density housing; white flight; lack of effective regional planning; competition between cities for jobs and tax base; “redlining” or geographic and racial discrimination against older areas by banks and insurance companies; crime and perceptions of crime; declining quality of central city schools; contaminated land or “brownfields;” exclusionary suburban zoning that blocks apartment construction; federal capital gains rules that encourage people to buy ever-larger homes; the historically low price of gasoline; and federal highway spending that far exceeds public transportation spending.


But another important factor is economic development subsidies like tax increment financing (TIF) and enterprise zones that have gone awry and are being abused in ways their creators never intended.

Sprawl Subsidy #1: TIF
Originally conceived to help revitalize depressed inner-city areas, tax increment financing, or TIF, allows a city to designate a small TIF district and say that the area will get redeveloped so property values will go up and property taxes will rise. When that happens, the tax revenue gets split into two streams. The first stream, set at the “base value” before redevelopment, continues to go where it always has: to schools, police, fire departments and other public services.  The second stream is diverted back into the TIF district to subsidize the redevelopment. This diversion can last 15, 23, even 40 years—i.e., a lot of money for a long time.

Many states originally restricted TIF to truly needy areas with high rates of distress such as property abandonment, building code violations or poverty. Today TIF is allowed in 47 states and Washington, D.C. Over the years, about a third of the states have loosened their TIF rules so that even affluent areas qualify.  The wealthy Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, for example, has a TIF district—and a Ferrari dealership. Pennsylvania’s TIF statute allows a trout stream near Pittsburgh called Deer Creek to be TIFed because the land has “economically or socially undesirable land uses.” 

Worse still, a few states allow the sales tax increment to be “TIFed” on top of the property tax increment. That results in a perverse incentive to overbuild sprawling retail. A study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers about “greyfields”—the euphemism for dead malls—found that 7 percent of regional malls were already greyfields, and another 12 percent are “potentially moving towards greyfield status in the next five years.” That would mean 389 dead malls by 2009.

Missouri, which allows sales tax TIF, is learning this lesson the hard way. The state has had a raging four-year debate about how to reform its TIF program before it subsidizes any more unnecessary new stores.  State Senator Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, is the primary sponsor of a reform bill. “Putting public money into retail in a big metropolitan area doesn’t make any sense at all,” Goode says. “It just moves retail sales around.” About one-third of the 90-odd municipalities in St. Louis County collect “point of sale” sales tax, he explains. In other words, cities get to keep a portion of the sales tax if a purchase happens within their borders. The other two thirds of cities in the county pool their revenue. So the one- third fight each other for sales—and pirate sales from the two-thirds—often using TIF. Area developers go to great lengths to block reforms because the TIF is so lucrative.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized: “With towns handing out TIF like bubble gum, St. Louis may be getting over-stored, while developments are under-taxed. Projects that make no sense get built because of tax breaks.”

Subsidizing new retail is almost always bad economics, and terrible public policy. Retail packs a lousy bang for the buck compared to manufacturing or almost any other activity. The “upstream” inputs do little for the local economy (think of all those goods from China at Wal-Mart), and the “downstream” ripple effects are terrible because retail jobs are overwhelmingly part-time and poverty-wage, with no health care.

Suburban areas with the greatest numbers of high-income households will always have plenty of shopping opportunities. Supply chases demand. The only situation where retail can be legitimately called economic development—and therefore deserving of a subsidy—is in an older, disinvested neighborhood that is demonstrably underserved, and lacking basic retail amenities such a groceries, drugs and clothing.

Sprawl Subsidy #2: Enterprise Zones
Enterprise zones, another geographically targeted program intended to help poor inner-city areas, have also been weakened in many states so that affluent areas get multiple zone subsidies.

New York, for example, allows zones to be gerrymandered non-contiguously. So Buffalo’s two original enterprise zones have morphed into more than 130 non-contiguous areas, raising questions about political favoritism. A scathing Buffalo News investigative series found that “[t]he program, crafted to create business in distressed areas and jobs for the down-and-out, has transmuted here into a subsidy program for the up-and-in”—including even downtown law firms.

In an episode that gives new meaning to the term “Philadelphia lawyer,” law firms there are moving a few blocks into a “Keystone Opportunity Zone,” which will make the law firm partners exempt from state income tax! Meanwhile, the city’s African-American and Latino neighborhoods continue to suffer catastrophic rates of abandonment and unemployment.

Ohio has a large number of enterprise zones and they have a controversial history. A study from Policy Matters Ohio found that “[t]he very areas [that zones were] initially designed to help are now disadvantaged by the program. An aging infrastructure, a low tax base, weak education systems, and numerous costly social challenges place poor urban areas in a weak position relative to their wealthier suburban neighbors. Ohio's [zone program] has succeeded in making the playing field even more tilted against urban areas by extending to wealthier suburbs an additional fiscal tool with which to compete for firms.”

Discriminatory Development
TIF and enterprise zones are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to explaining how pro-sprawl development subsidies undermine jobs for the truly needy. A recent study by Good Jobs First, Missing the Bus, finds that not one of the 1,500 total state development programs nationwide requires—or even encourages—a company getting a subsidy in a metro area to locate the jobs at a site served by public transportation.

In other words, despite all the anti-poverty rhetoric that most programs come draped in, states are typically indifferent to whether they create jobs that low-income people can get to. Research has shown that African-American households are about three and a half times more likely than white families to not own a car, and Latino households are about two and a half times more likely. Given those facts, the discriminatory bias of economic development in the United States today could not be clearer.

Greg LeRoy directs Good Jobs First, a national resource center for corporate and government accountability in economic development (

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Beyond Trade: The WTO’s expansive agenda and impact (2004)

In the late 1980s, corporate leaders and their backers in the U.S. and British governments launched a campaign to transform the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a narrowly-cast, 20-page trade pact, into a powerful new system of global governance. The GATT, which cut tariffs and quotas on trade in goods, and the overall notion of trade both enjoyed broad support, making these obscure negotiations an ideal Trojan horse within which to conceal an expansive non-trade policy agenda.

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What emerged from the GATT talks, completed in 1994, was a powerful new global commerce agency called the World Trade Organization (WTO), which now operates as the only binding system of global governance.

The WTO enforces 900 pages of one-size-fits-all rules pertaining to global policies on food, health, safety, the environment, social services and service sector regulation, investment, intellectual property, and government procurement. The agency’s expansive powers over the regulatory authority of WTO member nations are enforced by a binding dispute resolution system unlike any system existing in environmental, human rights or other treaties. A key WTO provision requires all signatory nations to “conform their laws, regulations and administrative procedures” to the WTO’s terms.

Any national or local policy of a WTO member nation that falls outside the WTO’s terms is challengeable as an “illegal trade barrier” before a WTO tribunal comprised of three trade officials who meet behind closed doors. Unlike domestic courts, the WTO tribunals have no basic due process protections: all documents and proceedings are secret and there is no appeal outside of the WTO system. The three officials deciding the cases are not judges, but rather private trade attorneys and government officials who have represented countries at GATT or WTO hearings. These tribunalists are not subject to conflict-of-interest disqualification. Nations whose policies are judged by the kangaroo court not to conform to WTO rules are ordered to eliminate the policy—or face permanent trade sanctions. Under WTO operations, it is irrelevant if the policy in question was passed by democratically elected parliaments, supported by domestic Supreme Courts, or established by public referendum. It is irrelevant if the law in question is unrelated to trade or if it treats domestic and foreign goods and companies the same. If the policy is ruled to be outside the constraints set by the WTO, it must go.

Because the WTO’s substantive rules are extremely biased against governments’ power to regulate markets, WTO enforcement tribunals have ruled in nearly every case to eliminate the policy in question. After nine years and nearly 90 cases decided, there is only one instance of a member refusing to comply with WTO rules: the European Union (E.U.), which banned meat containing artificial growth hormones, faces over $100 million in trade sanctions annually for the privilege of maintaining its ban. Most members cannot afford to take such a course of action. Indeed, now the mere threat of a WTO challenge often causes countries to change their laws to conform to WTO rules.

False Promises of Free Trade
WTO proponents and defenders continue to posit that governments and populations benefit because, according to them, reorganizing countries’ laws and economies to conform with the one-size-fits all model will ensure economic growth. However, the economic data—including data provided by the World Bank and other supporters of this model—prove the opposite: countries that have most strictly complied have suffered from dramatically slowed growth in per capita income, while countries remaining outside the rules have enjoyed the highest rates of poverty reduction. Nations such as Argentina and Thailand were touted as the poster children of the WTO model for other countries to emulate—until their economies crashed and burned. As the economies of country after compliant country in Asia, Latin America and Africa tanked and millions of their inhabitants suffered from the consequences of this failed social experiment, the high priests of the WTO suddenly claimed that the countries—not the model they had all followed—were themselves to blame for their economic problems.

Countries such as China and Vietnam—who were originally outside of the WTO system—implemented many of the investment, capital and import-control policies that the WTO forbids, yet have had stunning growth rates that lifted millions from poverty. If one excludes these countries and only considers those complying with WTO rules, the number—as well as the percentage—of people living in abject poverty (defined as $1 per day) has increased during the WTO era. Moreover, in the era of the WTO—and following the imposition of the same package of policies by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)*—income inequality between nations and within nations has increased dramatically. For instance, income inequality in the United States is at its highest since the age of the robber barons at the turn of the century.

But despite this track record, some interests—including the U.S. and E.U. trade agencies and the corporations they serve—have been pushing for negotiations to broaden the WTO’s scope and power even further. They seek to add to WTO rules certain outrageous terms now found in the IMF’s bilateral Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) with poor countries and in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Through NAFTA, for example, foreign corporations and investors are empowered to privately enforce new privileges and rights by suing governments for cash compensation based on allegations that government policy undermines expected profits. A string of these cases have already been decided. For instance, Mexico has paid a U.S. toxic waste company $18 million in damages after a NAFTA tribunal ruled that Mexico’s zoning laws barring toxic waste treatment in an environmental preserve violated the company’s investor rights. Not even international environmental and human rights treaties are free from these attacks: in another case, a corporation received compensation because Canada’s implementation of the Basel Convention (governing trade in hazardous waste) had limited its business opportunities in PCB trade.

Neoliberalism’s Next Phase
The world is living with the threat of WTO and NAFTA in part because the voices of those who would be most affected were locked out of the discussions. This dichotomy, combined with nearly ten years of dismal results, led to the collapse of talks at the WTO’s Cancun Ministerial in September 2003. Social movements, labor unions and a diverse array of other civil society forces from around the world have run effective campaigns in scores of countries to inform citizens and demand a more equitable trade system. The result was a setback to the corporate globalization agenda pushed by the Bush administration, some European countries, and WTO promoters in Geneva and in corporate boardrooms.

The Bush administration and its corporate funders suffered yet another blow two months later in Miami when a strong bloc of Caribbean and South American countries resisted plans to expand the NAFTA model to 31 more countries through a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The United States demanded an all-encompassing treaty with NAFTA’s extreme corporate investor protections; patent rules that limit access to seeds and essential medicines; and procurement rules that trump any local, state or federal government’s ability to use its tax dollars to employ local workers, or for “green” policies. In Miami, the United States was faced with a stark choice: no FTAA or a limited agreement that would not pass muster with its corporate backers. The United States settled for a basic framework that does not go beyond the WTO rules and to which all countries would be bound, and an “a la carte” system on other issues. However, the United States did succeed in keeping the more controversial issues on the table—i.e., FTAA rules that countries can opt into or out of are included in the framework.

Since the NAFTA model was implemented, and similar Wall Street-promoted IMF deals have caused social and economic chaos in developing countries, various governments in the hemisphere have changed from neoliberal cheerleaders to skeptics. This includes Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Paraguay and, most recently, Bolivia. Mass demonstrations in Peru and Bolivia have reversed plans to privatize basic public services. The same month as the Miami FTAA meeting, six people were killed in demonstrations in the Dominican Republic over new demands being made by the IMF. Public opinion polls throughout the region indicate a complete loss of faith in the “free trade” model.

This sentiment is also shared in the United States as public concern over trade policy and corporate globalization’s winners and losers has already made trade a central issue in the upcoming general election in November.

Lori Wallach is executive director of Public Citizen, a national non-profit consumer advocacy organization. Wallach is also the author, with Patrick Woodall, of Whose Trade Organization? A Comprehensive Guide to the WTO (The New Press). For more information, visit

* The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is the international organization originally established to help nations with short-term cash crunches relating to trade financing and to manage the gold-standard currency valuation system. In recent decades, the IMF has morphed into providing long-term loans to developing countries on the condition that these countries reorganize their laws and economies to prioritize servicing debt, for instance, by cutting government budgets, such as health and education spending, liberalizing trade and investment policies, and providing new intellectual property and investor protections.

Originally uploaded on: 2005-10-10 14:41:12 -0700

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From the Archives RP&E Vol.11 in 2004 — Under WTO operations, it is irrelevant if the policy in question was passed by democratically elected parliaments...

Trading Human Rights for Corporate Profits

Global trade policy weakens protections for health, the environment

In 1995, a small town in central Mexico refused to allow the California-based Metalclad Corporation to build a hazardous waste landfill that studies showed could have contaminated local groundwater and jeopardized a fragile ecosystem. The following year, the company sued Mexico, claiming that special rules under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entitled it to millions of dollars in compensation for its lost business opportunity. Although the Mexican government had approved the project, it also acknowledged in the NAFTA proceedings that local communities have the right under Mexican law to oppose hazardous waste facilities. A NAFTA tribunal disagreed, holding that Mexico had violated Metalclad’s rights and owed the company almost $17 million.

This ruling made clear that international trade rules have become a weapon to undermine the health and environmental sovereignty of nations and local governments. How did such an injustice come to be?

Enshrined in international human rights law is the notion that people everywhere have intrinsic rights to life and health, and to a healthy environment. It is the responsibility of governments at all levels to protect these fundamental human rights. Recently, however, the United States and other nations have relinquished much of their power to protect such rights when doing so would interfere with corporate profits.

This abdication of responsibility is occurring in international trade agreements that give foreign corporations the right to compensation for profits lost as a result of government regulations. Companies have already used rules to challenge protections for drinking water, health and the sacred sites of Native Americans. Multimillion dollar awards in several cases create a strong disincentive to new government regulations, substantially reducing human rights protections around the world.

Trade Rules Trump Rights
Most of the late–twentieth-century wave of trade liberalization focused on facilitating the movement of goods—from plastic toys to commercial aircraft—around the world. With the success of this effort, multinational corporations sought to expand their geographic and economic reach by moving operations overseas to exploit cheap labor and materials. To strengthen their position, corporations began to demand special rules guaranteeing the profitability of their investments in foreign countries. Their first major success was NAFTA, which devotes an entire chapter to guaranteeing foreign profits irrespective of government regulations. Subsequent trade agreements have applied the same rules to more nations, and efforts are underway to make them apply throughout the Americas and around the world.

Under the provisions of NAFTA’s Chapter 11 and its progeny in other international agreements, foreign investors can sue governments in special international tribunals when they believe a government action has treated their investment unfairly or otherwise interfered with their investment. The judges are private lawyers, and the proceedings are frequently closed to the public. The tribunals’ decisions are automatically binding on the governments and generally cannot be appealed. Because each tribunal’s interpretation of the investment rules influences subsequent tribunals, each decision sets a precedent that may apply worldwide.

Corporations’ interpretation of these investment rules establishes a system akin to legalized extortion: governments can only protect against an environmental or health threat posed by the activities of a foreign investor if they are willing to pay the investor to remove the threat. Even defending the most frivolous claim—which usually requires hiring private U.S. or European lawyers—can be beyond the means of many developing countries, dooming many regulations before they are even implemented.

Threats to Water, Sacred Sites
The growing influence of international investment rules presents a particular threat to the human right to water. United Nations agencies have recognized that access to clean water is fundamental to the fulfillment of all human rights, including the right to life. Yet as worldwide demand for fresh water rises, more and more governments are succumbing to pressure to grant water privatization contracts to multinational corporations. The international investment rules are already working to undermine the ability of governments to protect freshwater resources.

For example, in the late 1990s, the World Bank pressured the government of Bolivia to privatize the water system in the nation’s second-largest city, Cochabamba. A subsidiary of U.S.-based Bechtel Corporation signed a contract to provide the water, and immediately raised rates until some residents were paying 20 percent of their average monthly income just for water. Widespread protest ensued, resulting in one death, numerous injuries, and the eventual termination of the water services contract. The company is now using international investment rules to demand that Bolivia pay the $25 million (more than one percent of Bolivia’s gross domestic product) that the company claims to have invested in its failed enterprise.


A second case directly challenges governments’ ability to protect the quality of drinking water. In 1999, California ordered a phase-out of MTBE, a toxic gasoline additive that has contaminated groundwater in hundreds of locations throughout the state. Methanex Corporation, a Canadian manufacturer of one of the chemicals in MTBE, has brought a claim against the United States for nearly $1 billion in compensation for the impacts of California’s measure on the company’s future profits. The outcome of this case will set a powerful precedent by determining whether state (or local or national) governments have the right to protect drinking water, and other public interests, without the fear of investor challenges.

These international investment rules do not only interfere with government action to protect health and the environment, but also with efforts to protect the right of Indigenous communities to their cultural heritage. Another NAFTA case demonstrates this threat. A Canadian gold-mining company, Glamis Gold Ltd., holds a mining claim in a pristine desert ecosystem in Southern California’s Imperial County. The company planned to exploit its claim with an open-pit gold mine less than a mile from several sites sacred to the Quechan Indians. During the Clinton administration, the U.S. Department of Interior denied a permit for the mine based on a federal historic preservation agency’s finding that the project would irreparably damage the tribe’s sacred sites. In 2001, President Bush’s Interior Secretary, Gale Norton, rescinded the decision based on her agency’s determination that U.S. law does not allow the government to deny a mining permit on the basis of cultural concerns.

In the meantime, however, California passed two measures requiring mine operators to refill open pit mines when they complete operations, particularly if the mines are near Native American cultural sites. Such backfilling is one of the best-known methods of preventing the massive toxic contamination that can accompany open-pit mines. Glamis argues that the actions of the United States (in delaying the permit) and California (in requiring backfilling) violate its rights under NAFTA and is using the investment rules to demand $50 million in compensation. If Glamis’s claim is successful, it would set a dangerous precedent that corporate profits take precedence over the rights of Indigenous communities.

Undemocratic Decisions
The threat posed by international investment rules is not limited to the special protections they give multinational corporations. The processes by which the cases are resolved also undermine many traditional safeguards against abuse.

Before the new investment rules came into effect, investors could not sue governments directly for violations of international agreements; an investor would have to convince its government to bring a challenge on its behalf. This practice allowed governments to filter out challenges that could undermine rights considered important to protecting the public interest. Thus Glamis’s claim might have been prevented because Canada, Glamis’s home nation, might have been unwilling to support a challenge establishing a precedent that would undermine its ability to protect the rights of its large Indigenous population.

International law also generally requires claimants to take their claims to national courts before using international ones. As in the Glamis and Metalclad cases, disputes about domestic law often underlie investment challenges. National courts are much better qualified to resolve such questions than international tribunals made up of foreign lawyers.

Domestic courts also provide an important element of democratic legitimacy to disputes. Domestic judges have a much better understanding than international tribunals of the public policy concerns underlying government actions. Because their processes are generally open to public scrutiny and participation, concerned individuals and organizations can ensure that the courts do not ignore important points. However, the protections provided by public participation are unavailable in international investment disputes, which are often resolved in secrecy and have only permitted minimal public participation.

Future of Free Trade
Decisions ordering governments to pay millions of dollars to foreign corporations have not stemmed the tide of nations adopting these investment rules. To the contrary, the United States and other governments are pressing for the inclusion of the rules in numerous new free trade agreements, including the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, which would apply to every nation of the Western Hemisphere but Cuba.

Foreign investment can play a valuable role in the sustainable development of nations around the globe. According to World Bank economists, developing nations can attract foreign investment without accepting the rules presently being advocated by multinational corporations. Nations must adopt investment rules that explicitly guarantee their ability to protect the environment and other fundamental public values. Human rights should always take precedence over corporate profit.

Martin Wagner is managing attorney for the International Program at Earthjustice (, a public-interest environmental law firm. Alyssa Johl is the Program’s research associate. The International Program has been instrumental in opening international investment disputes to participation by environmentalists and other advocates of the public interest.

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Food and Agriculture

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Reports on food dumping, genetically engineered foods and biopiracy

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Corn Crisis

The impact of U.S. food policy on Mexican farmers

By Oxfam International

Corn is the basis of our culture, our identity, adaptability and diversity. Corn created us, and we created corn.”
Exhibition Sin maí­z, no hay paí­s, or Without corn, there is no country

Mexico City, 2003

“We are only able to subsidize Mexican corn with the lives of the people that produce it. The only way we can compete with North American prices is to give up the basic necessities.”
 Ví­ctor Suí¡rez, executive director of the National Association of Rural Producers’ Enterprises (ANEC)

José Guadalupe Rodríguez is a corn producer in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Until recently, his corn crop guaranteed his family a minimum income and allowed them to store part of the harvest for the family’s consumption throughout the year. They could pay for food and education, and for treatments when the children fell ill. However, in the last few years the situation has changed: “While the price of corn has fallen, the cost of producing it has hit the roof,” says José. “We no longer have enough for our family.”

José is just one of nearly three million corn producers in Mexico for whom the drop in prices since 1994 has had a devastating impact on their livelihoods, and that of their families. Corn also has huge symbolic significance in Mexico: the country was the birthplace of corn, and hundreds of varieties have been grown in Mexico for 10,000 years. The impoverishment of the Mexican countryside, and the corn crisis, have mobilized large elements of Mexican civil society. In January 2003, the protest movement “El Campo No Aguanta Más” (“The Countryside Can’t Take It Any More”) organized a march of more than 100,000 rural workers in Mexico City.

At the heart of the corn crisis is an influx of corn imports from the United States at artificially low prices. The trigger for this was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994, which opened up Mexican markets for U.S. goods. Yet a suggestion by the Mexican government that it might re-impose tariffs on products such as corn has provoked some heavy-handed language from the United States. Various members of the U.S. Congress have warned Mexico that any attempt to renegotiate NAFTA would be unacceptable. A complaint has been brought against Mexico in the World Trade Organization for bringing anti-dumping measures in the rice and beef sectors. Such bullying makes it all the more imperative that the WTO agrees to multilateral trade rules which work for poor rural producers across the world. It should eliminate agricultural dumping and guarantee developing countries a right to protect key sectors of their economy such as agriculture.

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Dumping on Farmers
The village of Comalapas, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, is one of the poorest in the country. Over the last few years, travel agencies have sprung up on its main street, offering just one destination: northern states such as Tijuana, which borders the United States. Such “agencies” offer a range of services, from a bus ticket to the border to a plane ticket with a job in the United States thrown in.


Comalapas exemplifies a shocking national reality: at least 300,000 Mexican workers are forced to immigrate to the United States every year.  Many of them come from the rural sector, where recent trade policies have devastated rural livelihoods. One in two Mexicans in rural areas lives in extreme poverty. In the southern states—Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero, where many families depend on corn—70 percent live in extreme poverty (Wodon, López-Acevedo, and Siaens, 2003).


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The falling income of Mexican corn producers in the 1990s has undermined the food security of the rural population and their access to basic social services such as health care and education. Despite the fact that most rural families eat mainly corn and black beans, the fall in prices is forcing them to sell all their corn harvest, whereas they would usually keep some back for their own consumption. Eating meat and fish is exceptional. Occasionally some families supplement their diet with chicken and vegetables that they grow themselves.



The collapse in prices has affected the diet of poor communities in another way: women now have to work outside the home to top up their family’s income, which means that they cannot grind home-grown corn to make tortillas (the staple element of the local diet) in the way they used to. As a result, many families eat tortillas made from corn flour sold by large companies, which is often made from imported grain. The flour is widely available, but of poor quality. A typical complaint is that “this corn…doesn’t fill me up. Even a kilo of tortillas for lunch isn’t enough” (Alfonso, a laborer from Guadalupe Victoria (Puebla)).

The crisis in the corn sector has pushed health care further out of reach for many poor families. Simply treating a child with bronchitis can cost one third of a family’s annual earnings from the sale of corn. As public health centers are scarce and badly equipped, many producers turn to private treatment, even though it is more expensive.

Although education is free, most families cannot meet the cost of basic equipment such as stationery and uniforms, and children, especially girls, leave after completing primary school to work.

As a result of these social pressures, many choose to leave their villages, and often their families, in search of work in other parts of Mexico, or in the United States. One of the effects in the communities they leave behind is that land is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few owners. The municipality of Nueva Linda, in Chiapas, divided up its 300 hectares among its members, following land reform in 1992. Today, 90 percent of its members, many forced to immigrate, have sold their lands to the local political bosses.

The pressure on producers to compete with subsidized corn imports, and the increased penetration of large companies in the Mexican corn sector, has also had serious environmental consequences. Farmers have traditionally used locally adapted strains of corn seed, or “criolla” seeds, bred over generations, to ensure that the plant is well suited to native growing conditions. However, the Mexican government has supported companies such as Monsanto to distribute “hybrid” seeds, which they claim give higher yields. The government-sponsored “kilo for kilo” program encouraged corn producers to trade in a kilo of their criolla seeds for a kilo of hybrid seeds. But the benefits are largely illusory: farmers must purchase hybrid seeds every planting season, as the seeds are much less productive after the first year, unlike criolla seeds, which can be saved and used from year to year.

In addition, hybrid seeds require more fertilizers and other chemicals. In Chiapas, the intensive use of insecticides without training, instructions, or protective clothing has led to severe health problems. According to Nino, a member of the Carranza group of producers in southern Chiapas, “before, there weren’t even any pests. Now people are ill the whole time due to these liquids.” Often the seeds are provided mixed in with a powdered insecticide which it is difficult to wash off, and which then contaminates the farmer’s food.

Distorting the Competition
The United States is the largest exporter of corn both globally and to Mexico. For most Mexican producers, it is an uphill battle to compete with the influx of cheap corn from their powerful neighbor. Such producers are pitted against a sector, which receives huge payments from the U.S. government, and is controlled by just a handful of agribusiness companies.

Corn is the United States’ leading crop, both in terms of the area that is planted and the value of production. Production has risen steadily over the past 30 years, aided by an array of factors including scientific and technological innovations. However, the sector is distinctive in that it is the largest single recipient of U.S. government payments,  and is heavily dominated by a few agribusiness giants, such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). While government support measures are not the only influence on corn production and prices, this issue is most pertinent in the international arena, where reductions in government payments to agriculture are up for discussion at the WTO.

U.S. agricultural policy has been deliberately tailored over the last twenty years to generate a surplus for export, and to provide adequate incomes for U.S. farmers. However, the export of corn at artificially low prices is destroying the livelihoods of small farmers in developing countries. Meanwhile, the benefits of the U.S. subsidies system go disproportionately to very large farmers, while small U.S. farmers lose out.

Excerpted with permission from “Dumping Without Borders: How US agricultural policies are destroying the livelihoods of Mexican corn farmers,” Oxfam International, 2003.  

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Corporate Crops

Planting the seeds of health, environmental and economic hazards

By Don Fitz

As drought plagued southern Africa in summer 2002, biotech companies lost no time in exploiting hunger for profit. The United States offered to “help” by donating food from crops containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms). But African scientists knew there was a catch. They had seen demonstrations showing that Europe wanted no part of the technology. They knew that GMOs were associated with health and environmental dangers. Worst of all, they were aware that if genetically modified (GM) seed was planted in Africa, the next generation of GM plants could result in farmers owing “technology fees” to biomaster Monsanto.

 Countries throughout Africa denounced the food-for-control ploy. But U.S. spokespersons brayed that African leaders were letting their people starve. After massive U.S. bullying, most African countries agreed to accept GM corn if it was milled (ground so that seeds could not be planted). But Zambia refused GM food of any kind. The conflict scored a tremendous moral victory in exposing the cynical complicity of the U.S. government in fronting for corporate greed.

Opposing GMOs
For decades, biologists have known that a gene can be removed from a cell, modified, and reinserted into the same cell or into a different cell from another species. As the technology developed rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s, scientists warned that the process was inherently risky. Critics spelled out in detail the range of health, environmental and social problems that genetic “engineering” could bring.

In 1998, many of those critics came together for “The First Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation: Genetic Engineering.” The gathering was in St. Louis, the hometown of Monsanto. Monsanto is the world’s most aggressive proponent of GMOs. The company’s spokespeople claim that genetic engineering is necessary to feed the world’s growing population.

At the 1998 meeting, researchers explained how shooting a gene into an inexact location in a foreign species produces unpredictable results. Farm advocates spoke of how genetic engineering produces lower yield, not the higher yield promised by Monsanto. Health experts warned that genetic engineering is used to allow greater quantities of herbicides, which affects the health of farm workers. Genetically engineered foods produce toxic reactions as well as food allergies, which are most serious in children.

Those at the event learned how genes can escape from domestic crops to their wild relatives, giving weeds immunity to herbicides. Genetically engineered microorganisms can unpredictably kill crops and genetically engineered plants can harm wildlife.

Vandana Shiva [of the Foundation for Science, Technology & Ecology] pulled the diverse knowledge together, explaining the way genetic engineering is used by corporations to monopolize the seed supply and raise the cost of farming so that agribusiness can consolidate its control worldwide.

Biotech Backlash
Biotech proponents have frenetically sought to silence criticism as they shriek that corporate-funded research is the only road to scientific truth. When he began his investigations, Arpad Pusztai of the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland was neither for nor against genetic engineering. But when results of his own studies showed that rats fed genetically engineered potatoes had damaged internal organs, he felt compelled in 1998 to warn the public. He was involuntarily retired from his position and condemned in a report by the British Royal Society.

In 2001, the journal Nature published findings of University of California researcher Ignacio Chapela showing that genetically contaminated corn cross-pollinated with native Mexican species hundreds of miles away. For the first time in its distinguished history, Nature bowed so low to corporate greed that it printed a retraction of Chapela’s article (based on methodological disagreements which did not challenge the finding of cross-pollination).

About the same time, the world became aware of the plight of Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser. Monsanto’s corporate police had trespassed on Schmeiser’s fields to steal canola plants for testing. Monsanto sued Schmeiser for patent violations when genetic testing showed the presence of Roundup Ready Canola DNA. The court ruled in Monsanto’s favor, declaring irrelevant Schmeiser’s testimony that he never used the Monsanto product and that wind-blown pollen had contaminated his fields. [That decision was recently upheld by Canada’s Supreme Court.]

Fostering Food Dependency 
These events set the stage for countries of southern Africa saying “No GMOs” in the summer of 2002. One of the most eloquent spokespersons on the dangers of GMOs to Africa has been Ethiopia’s Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, a winner of a Right Livelihood Award in 2000. Egziabher believes that, even though global warming is making droughts more frequent, Ethiopia is able to feed itself by storing surplus food during bumper harvests. Hunger is due to the country’s being too poor to ship stored food from one location to another. International food aid agencies could assist impoverished African countries with cash donations that would help develop their transportation systems as well as strengthen local farms.

Egziabher fears that economic dependency on GM food from the United States is fraught with health, environmental and patent dangers. One of the main GM crops is corn. Donated GM food could become the entire diet of starving people, as opposed to only a portion of food eaten by those in other parts of the world. This means that any long-term effects of allergenicity, cancer, or birth defects (which have not been adequately studied), could be multiplied for victims of famine.

What would happen if African farmers saved GM seed and replanted it? GM pollen is known to kill butterflies, which are important pollinators for African crops. GM crops have lower yield, since they are designed for farmers who can afford large amounts of pesticides. Many animals refuse to eat stems and leaves of GM corn. If pigs eat GM food, their reproductive capacity can be reduced.

Despite the treatment of Chapela by Nature, African scientists know that wind can spread GM pollen across the continent. If that contaminates enough African crops, Europe would not buy them, leaving desperate farmers crushed.

African governments also know of the Percy Schmeiser case. If fields are contaminated by GM pollen and the next generation of corn tests positive for GMOs, farmers would become patent violators and owe technology fees to Monsanto and other biomasters. Massive impoverishment could cause the transfer of land throughout Africa.

A Growing Movement
The 1998 Biodevastation Gathering sparked subsequent events in Seattle, New Delhi, Boston, San Diego and Toronto. The anti-genetic-engineering  (GE) movement has won the hearts and minds of Europe and India, and support from governments in southern Africa. In the United States, there’s a strong alliance between anti-GE activists, farm organizations, and the anti-globalization movement. Now is the time for the anti-GE movement to reach out to social justice, peace and environmental movements. 

Don Fitz is editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought. This article is excerpted, with permission from the author, from the article, “Genetic Engineering and Environmental Racism,” Synthesis/Regeneration, No. 31, Spring 2003.

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Predatory Patents

Biopiracy and the privatization of global resources

By Hope Shand

The primary stewards of the world’s biodiversity are the farmers, Indigenous peoples and local communities, primarily in the global South, who developed, nurtured and continue to use these resources today. Rural poor people in the global South rely on biological products (i.e., derived from plants, animals and microorganism) for an estimated 85 to 90 percent of their livelihood needs. More than 1.4 billion rural people depend on farm-saved seeds and local plant breeding as their primary seed source. More than three-quarters of the world’s population rely on traditional medicines for their primary health needs.

Given that the majority of livelihoods in the global South are dependent on biodiversity, losing control over these resources is one of the biggest threats to Indigenous peoples and traditional communities. This loss is occurring through a phenomenon known as biopiracy.

What is Biopiracy? 
Biopiracy refers to the privatization of genetic resources—whether derived from plants, animals, microorganisms or humans—or related knowledge. Individuals and corporations are using intellectual property laws, which include trademarks, patents and Plant Breeders’ Rights, to gain monopoly control over such resources. The privatization of biological resources and related knowledge constitutes biopiracy, even though this process may be legal under national law, and even if it includes a so-called “benefit sharing” agreement. (Benefit-sharing typically means that providers of genetic resources get a portion of the benefits, monetary and non-monetary, resulting from the use of their resources.)

The rights of farmers and Indigenous peoples are eroding as biological products and processes become subject to exclusive monopoly control under intellectual property systems. Both industrial patents and Plant Breeders’ Rights, for example, increasingly criminalize seed saving; prohibit research using proprietary seeds; and restrict access to and exchange of seeds, plants or breeding materials. Worse still, once a resource is privatized, it is likely that a community will no longer have the legal right to use it, may no longer be able to afford to buy it, and may lose the power to decide how it is used.

Case in Point: Mexican Yellow Bean
In 1994, Larry Proctor, the owner of a U.S.-based seed company, purchased a bag of commercial bean seeds in Sonora, Mexico.  He carried the beans back to the United States, where he picked out the yellow-colored beans, planted them and allowed them to self-pollinate. Two years later, Proctor applied for and won a U.S. patent on any dry bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) having a seed color of a particular shade of yellow.  He also obtained a plant variety protection certificate on the yellow bean variety he called “Enola.” In late 1999, armed with the patent and breeders’ right certificate, Proctor sued two companies that sell Mexican beans in the United States, charging that they were infringing upon his patent monopoly. As a result, shipments of Mexican yellow beans have been routinely stopped at the U.S. border, forcing Mexican bean farmers to forfeit valuable export income. In November 2001, Proctor also filed a suit against 16 small bean seed companies and farmers in Colorado.

Proctor’s yellow bean patent has not gone unchallenged, however. In December 2000 the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) filed a formal request for re-examination of U.S. patent no. 5,894,079—also known as the yellow bean or “Enola bean” patent—with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) in Washington, D.C. CIAT is an international plant breeding institute that maintains a gene bank containing more than 27,000 samples of Phaseolus seeds collected from farmers’ fields, including beans that are identical to Proctor’s patented yellow bean. CIAT legally challenged the patent to keep these beans in the public domain.

Furthermore, plant geneticists recently performed genetic fingerprinting of Proctor’s patented yellow bean and found that it is identical to a bean variety of Mexican origin.  Nevertheless, more than three years since the patent was challenged, the PTO has not issued a final ruling. And even if the PTO decides to overturn the patent, the Patent Office makes no provision to compensate Mexican or U.S. farmers who suffered damages as a result of the unjust monopoly.

Patents and Monopoly Power
The yellow bean controversy starkly illustrates the power of exclusive monopoly patents to block agricultural imports, to disrupt or destroy export markets for Third World farmers, and to legally appropriate staple food crops or sacred medicinal plants. But it’s only one example: South Asian basmati, Bolivian quinoa, Amazonian ayahuasca, Peruvian maca and Indian chickpeas have all been subject to intellectual property claims that are predatory on the knowledge and genetic resources of Indigenous peoples and farming communities.

The 10-year-old United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)—a treaty created to conserve biodiversity and promote fair and equitable benefit sharing—has failed to adopt meaningful regulations to stop biopiracy. By encouraging bilateral deals and contracts (often called “bioprospecting” agreements) that are linked to intellectual property and the concept of benefit sharing, the CBD has essentially facilitated the monopolization of biological resources. According to Alejandro Argumedo of the Indigenous Peoples Biodiversity Network, “Equitable benefit sharing is not achievable in the context of predatory patent regimes and in the absence of regulatory mechanisms that safeguard the rights and interests of farmers, Indigenous peoples and local communities.”

Battling Biopiracy
Fortunately, there is a global movement of resistance to biopiracy. A growing number of people’s organizations, institutions and governments have condemned biopiracy, defeated predatory patents, and defended the intellectual integrity of farmers and Indigenous peoples. At the last three meetings of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, civil society and Indigenous people’s organizations hosted the “Captain Hook Awards” ceremony ( to highlight the most egregious cases of biopiracy, and to demonstrate that the CBD has done nothing to stop it.

The ceremony has also celebrated peoples’ organizations and others who have resisted biopiracy. For example, Indigenous peoples in Mexico were recognized in 2002 for defeating the U.S. government's $2.5 million bioprospecting project in Chiapas. And a coalition of Peruvian farmer and Indigenous people’s organizations were honored this year for opposing patent claims by U.S.-based PureWorld, Inc., on maca, a traditional Andean food and medicinal crop.

At the international level there is also growing recognition that patent regimes require urgent societal review, and that property “rights” must not be allowed to trample human rights. The U.N. Human Rights Commission has identified intellectual property as an obstacle to the rights of poor people in the global South. In 2002, an independent commission in the United Kingdom concluded that intellectual property rights impose costs on most developing countries—and do not reduce poverty.

Ultimately, the most important way to stop biopiracy is to strengthen and protect the control of local communities over the biodiversity they nurture, and to resist legal systems, international treaties or contract agreements that seek to privatize our rich biodiversity. 

Hope Shand is research director of the ETC Group (formerly known as RAFI) , an international civil society organization that is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights (

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Water Services

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How the false promises of water privatization harm the poor in the United States and in South Africa

Blue Gold Rush

Water privatization imperils low-income communities in the United States

When most people think of families without water, they picture people in impoverished countries in Africa or Latin America. But right here in the United States, dozens of communities are struggling for access to clean, affordable water. In 2001, the city of Detroit introduced an aggressive debt collection plan that threatened to suspend water services if residents could not pay the quarterly charges. Within a year after the plan was introduced, more than 40,000 residents of Detroit had their water cut off. Today, many of these families—mostly low-income and black—are still without water, relying on the kindness of neighbors willing to share their hoses.

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 Also in 2001, the city council in Laredo, Texas, hired a private water company to run their water system. United Water, a subsidiary of the French multinational corporation, Suez, promised the city that under the five-year contract, the company would save money, expand services and improve efficiency.  But their services have not been extended to the informal settlements on the edge of town—known as colonias—where Rosalia Guerrero works with a community development agency called Centro Aztlán. “There is no running water or paved road in these communities,” says Guerrero. “The nearest spigot is seven to ten miles away. The county has been promising us water for over ten years, but the end of the year always comes and there’s no water.”   In response, Guerrero and her neighbors organized a water cooperative that delivers 300 gallons of water trucked in from prepaid meters to 125 families each week. That’s approximately the same amount of water the average American family uses every day.

The struggle for clean and accessible water in these communities illustrates the growing economic value of water in today’s economy. Sometimes referred to as “blue gold,” water will likely define the next century in many of the same ways that oil, and the conflicts over it, have defined recent times.  Corporations, teamed up with pro-privatization government officials, are already making plans to bottle, export, deplete, pollute and otherwise consolidate control over this essential resource. 

In contrast, the environmental justice movement has been working for decades to ensure that local and state governments provide universal access to clean, affordable water while also addressing historic inequities in service, water quality and access that often afflict poor communities. Now many of these communities are faced with the threat of privatization, making the struggle for accountability and affordability even more difficult.

Global Water Barons
Historically, cities created municipal water and sewage utilities to prevent the spread of communicable diseases such as cholera. After more than a century of massive public investment, approximately 85 percent of the people in the United States receive their water from a publicly owned water utility. However, as old water infrastructure crumbles and the federal government cuts funding, cash-strapped local governments are turning to private companies to remedy their water problems. 

Masquerading as knights in shining armor coming to solve cities’ water woes, the same multinational corporations that have taken over the management of public water services around the world are now targeting the lucrative U.S. “market”—one of the world’s largest with potential annual revenues estimated at $90 billion. Three giant European-based multinationals—Suez, Veolia (formerly Vivendi), and RWE Thames Water—currently monopolize the private water sector. In the United States, Vivendi now owns USFilter; Suez operates through its subsidiary United Water; and RWE Thames bought up American Water Works, the largest investor-owned water company in the United States.

Private companies often promise to increase access and improve service to impoverished communities. But the real-life experience of privatization is often disastrous for consumers and adds new hurdles for low-income families. According to research conducted by Public Citizen and other public interest organizations, privatization often leads to a weakening of democratic institutions and increased corruption; layoffs of public sector jobs; higher rates and cutoffs; and lower water quality standards.

Municipalities that hoped to save money are finding that privatization can be a costly experiment that drains money out of the community and can leave cities heavily in debt. Suez’s first major contract in the United States was recently terminated by the city of Atlanta after the company fired half the workers, created a backlog of service and debt collection problems, and billed the city for work it didn’t perform. In 2002, Suez delivered brown water to residents, forcing the state Environmental Protection Agency to issue boiled-water alerts. Atlanta officials estimate that the cost of transitioning the water system back to public control will top $10 million.

The Price of Privatization
A number of cities, including New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Stockton and Richmond, California, have also contracted the management of their water and/or sewage utilities to private corporations; many more cities are flirting with the idea. However, municipal governments should not be duped into thinking the only way to save money is through privatization, because private companies incur a number of costs that cities don’t, including shareholder dividends, high executive pay and corporate taxes.

Furthermore, corporations that exist to make a profit are less likely to consider the needs of low-income communities. In Detroit, the “debt collection” program was the idea of Victor Mercado, the new director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). Mercado, who worked for two private water companies (British-based Thames Water, and United Water) before heading up DWSD, has a hard-line, pro-business approach. He runs the DWSD like a profit-making corporation, cutting costs by eliminating services to the poor, and even going so far as to cement areas around the valves to prevent desperate residents from turning the water back on. In 2003, Detroit water rates rose 9 percent and they are scheduled to increase 16.9 percent this year. Some residents suspect that after years of starving city services, Mercado is setting up Detroit for privatization.

“When you have 40,752 people with no water and over 100,000 with no health care, you have a human rights crisis of epic proportions,” said Maureen Taylor, director of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, a group that is mobilizing against privatization. “But because it is affecting low-income and poor people, most folks can simply choose to ignore it.” 

Ironically, in November 2002, the same month that DWSD decided to cement shut the water valves, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted a new amendment on water, stating that: "The human right to drinking water is fundamental for life and health. Sufficient and safe drinking water is a precondition for the realization of all human rights." The debt collection policies of DWSD defied even United Nations’ standards.

Water Justice
The solutions to the world’s water scarcity crisis are multiple. They include expanding public and community controlled water utilities; repairing dilapidated water systems through public funding; saving water by installing drip irrigation systems; enhancing water reclamation and conservation programs by installing low-flow toilets and showers; and improving watershed management, to name a few. But the push for increased corporate control of the global water commons undermines these community-based, commonsense solutions. 

If the threat of privatization to low-income communities of color is to be stopped, people of color in particular need to be included in water governance decisions. A recent study of water issues facing Latinos in California found “a chronic and pervasive lack of representation of Latinos and other people of color at every level of water policy planning and decision making.” The report, written by Paola Ramos of the Latino Issues Forum, concluded that “[i]t is important for the regional water quality control boards, local water agencies and other bodies to be representative of the populations they serve, in order to understand constituents’ needs and be better prepared to respond to their concerns.”

To fight privatization, grassroots water justice activists are also reaching out across borders to learn from communities in the global South that have been battling privatization for years. Participants in the People’s World Water Forum, held in January 2004, called for solidarity in the fight against privatization by Suez and Coca-Cola’s bottled water operations (see for more information).

In the United States, Public Citizen, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Centro Aztlán, the Alliance for Democracy, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and other organizations committed to environmental justice have created the Water Allies Network. To find out about their activities, help build a movement to safeguard our water heritage, and spawn a new legacy of responsible, ecologically and socially sustainable stewardship of our precious watersheds, go to The network is also sponsoring many events at the Boston Social Forum (July 23-25), a regional forum within the World Social Forum process and a first in North America. Join with them in repeating the call, “Water for Life, Not for Profit!” 

Juliette Beck is the California coordinator of Public Citizen’s Water for All campaign, based in Oakland (

Article Sources

Currents newsletter, Public Citizen's Water for All Campaign, January, 2003, Water/new/currents/articles.cfm?ID=8850.

Rosalia Guerrero, personal interview, March 23, 2004.

Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, Blue Gold: the Fight to Stop the Theft of the World’s Water, April, 2003.

Maude Barlow, Blue Gold: The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of the World’s Water Supply, a special report issued by the International Forum on Globalization, Spring 2001.

Water Privatization: A Broken Promise, Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, October, 2001, Washington, D.C.

Maureen Taylor, personal interview, March 23, 2004.

Paola Ramos, Promoting Quality, Equity, and Latino Leadership in California Water Policy, Latino Issues Forum, June, 2003.


Running Dry

South Africa’s water policy results in cutoffs, evictions and disease

In 1955, the African National Congress (ANC) adopted the Freedom Charter as a popular expression of the desires of the majority of South Africans. One of the most important clauses in the Charter—which the present-day ANC government still claims as their guiding manifesto—states that “the national wealth of our country, the heritage of all South Africans, shall be restored to the people.”

When the vast majority of South Africans, made up of the poor and working class, gave political victory to the ANC in 1994, they were also giving the new government the power to fulfill the Charter and ensure that natural resources like water would be accessible to all citizens, irrespective of race or class. Despite this popular mandate, the ANC unilaterally decided to pursue a water policy that has produced the opposite result.

In 1996, the ANC adopted the “Growth, Employment and Redistribution Programme” (GEAR), the government’s macro-economic policy framework. GEAR effectively turned water—a resource essential to all life—into a market commodity to be bought and sold for profit. Since then, South Africans have witnessed the gradual commercialization and privatization of water, a development that has increasingly been met with mass, organized resistance.

Cutoffs and Cholera
The privatization of water in South Africa began in earnest when the ANC—under pressure by multinational water companies and the World Bank—halted subsidies and other financial support to local governing councils. Previously, governing councils had received the vast majority of their revenue from the central government. When the ANC took over in 1994, their challenge was to redistribute these subsidies to benefit the black majority. Suspension of the subsidies, however, forced the councils, with Johannesburg at the forefront, to turn toward commercialization and privatization of basic services to generate the revenue that was no longer provided by the state.

The immediate result was massive increases in the price of water that hit poor communities hardest. The price increases were exacerbated by the government’s goal to “recover” additional costs associated with the World Bank-funded Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which included dams built to provide water to the Greater Johannesburg area. The first price hike instituted by the newly privatized water service in Johannesburg was an astronomical 55 percent. 

Following the World Bank’s advice to introduce a "credible threat of cutting service," the Johannesburg council began cutting water supplies to tens of thousands of people who couldn't afford the increased prices. The “full cost recovery” model—including an International Monetary Fund-promoted legal process to recover debt from “customers”—has also resulted in the forced evictions of tens of thousands of poor people across South Africa. In Johannesburg alone, nearly 100,000 people suffered from water and electricity cutoffs during the first half of 2002. Nationally, the privatization program has imposed water cutoffs on more than 10 million South Africans as well as evictions on more than 2 million. Both the urban and rural poor have suffered tremendously as a result.

In addition to the cutoffs and evictions, privatization has triggered several outbreaks of cholera. Not long after Suez, a French multinational corporation, took over Johannesburg’s water supply in 2001, a cholera outbreak sickened thousands of poor families who had resorted to drinking from polluted streams in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra. The same year, more than 200 people from the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal died of cholera. The epidemic was brought under control only after community mobilization forced the national government to step in. 

Despite these problems, the latest weapon in the arsenal of water privatizers has been the widespread introduction of pre-paid water meters, devices that are installed on an individual’s property. To access water, residents must buy tokens, of varying values, to insert in the meters. The amount of water they get depends on the value of the token inserted. As soon as the value is spent, the meter automatically shuts off. Most recently, the privatized Johannesburg Water Company embarked on the installation of pre-paid water meters in the sprawling settlement of Orange Farm (south of Johannesburg), as well as in the Phiri section of Soweto.

Water as a Human Right
In response to these water privatization measures, poor communities in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and other smaller towns and peri-urban areas across South Africa have responded with active resistance. One of the new social movements that has emerged is the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), an umbrella organization for grassroots community groups in the Gauteng Province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria. Formed in 2000, the APF’s guiding principle has been that basic needs, such as water, are fundamental human rights, not privileges to be enjoyed only by those who can afford them.

With the assistance of the APF and other progressive organizations, township residents have launched a campaign called Operation Vulamanzi (Water for All). The campaign has helped residents defy certain privatized water “control” measures, such as trickler systems, or devices that severely limit the amount of water flowing from a tap, and rerouted piping. Residents bypass these controls by tampering with the trickler systems or by laying pipes to access water from central mains. Led by the APF, residents in Orange Farm and Phiri communities have destroyed the pre-paid meters.

Yet, ANC politicians and government bureaucrats have publicly labeled community residents who resist privatization as “criminals” and “anarchists” trying to institutionalize a “culture of non-payment.” These attacks have been accompanied by a large-scale crackdown on dissent. Over the last three years, hundreds of activists and community members have been arrested and imprisoned. While repression has not prevented continued resistance in poor communities, the resistance has also not stopped the ANC government, along with the privatized water entities, from continuing their onslaught.

While anti-privatization struggles have not yet succeeded in reversing the privatization process, popular pressure forced the ANC to announce, in late 2002, a partial free water policy plan. However, the plan to allocate 6,000 liters of free water per household, per month, comes nowhere close to meeting even the basic sanitation requirements of the average poor household in South Africa. The World Health Organization has set a minimum standard of 100 liters of water per person, per day. That means that for the average South African household (black urban or rural), which includes eight people, the minimum would be at least 24,000 liters per month. 

For these reason, the APF continues to intensify the campaign against privatization in all its forms. Through the APF and other groups, the poor majority in South Africa has once again moved to the forefront of the struggle to reclaim basic human rights and dignity. Water is life and life can never be a privilege. 

Dale T. McKinley is media/information officer and spokesperson for the Anti-Privatisation Forum in South Africa.

Health, Labor, Human Rights

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The struggle for good jobs and health care in the United States, and a report on the lack of labor and human rights in Iraq.

Health Care Hazard

What the California grocery war means for the future of labor and health insurance

The end of February 2004 also saw the end of the 141-day Southern California grocery war. It started on October 11, 2003, when members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union at Vons and Pavilions—both supermarket chains owned by the Safeway Corporation—went on strike. In an act of business-class solidarity, two other grocery chains, Ralphs (owned by Kroger) and Albertsons, locked out their union employees.

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The central issue during the dispute was the rising cost of health care and the question of who should bear the burden—grocery chain owners or employees. This battle over health care drew national attention to the larger struggle over spiraling health care costs; the erosion of employer-based health insurance; and the specter of large-scale retail business based on low-wage employment and low-cost manufacturing.

The Strike
At the time of the strike/lockout, the UFCW in Southern California represented 59,000 workers at the major grocery chains. Their existing contract with the grocers guaranteed a single-tier workforce and company contributions to a health care fund that would maintain an adequate level of health benefits.

In 2003, the grocers entered into negotiations with the goal of reducing their labor costs in two ways: by instituting a two-tier workforce; and shifting part of the burden of the health care fund to workers. The two-tier workforce would create a system that pays new employees substantially less than existing employees for doing the same work. The shift in the health care costs would force employees to pay a weekly premium for their health insurance, while allowing the companies to cap their contributions to the health care fund—with no guarantee that existing benefits would be maintained. 

Despite the solidarity among UFCW members, assistance from other unions (notably the Teamsters), and community support and boycotts (the grocers lost approximately $1 billion in sales), the final settlement favored the companies’ demands.  While not as onerous as the original offer, the settlement established a two-tier system with no guarantee of health benefits.  In the prior contract, wages ranged from $9.80 to $17.90 per hour; in the new contract, the lower tier will be paid as little as $8.90 to $15.10 per hour.  In addition, while the union was able to protect the existing health care coverage for two years, it is expected that in the third year, that will change. Upper-tier workers may be forced to choose between a substantial increase in premiums or a radical reduction in coverage; lower-tier workers will likely be able to afford only a bare-boned insurance plan, or no plan at all.

Labor, Health Care and Globalization
The Southern California grocery war symbolized key features characterizing labor strife throughout the United States today. Prior to the new contract, unionized supermarkets offered decent salaries and good health benefits.  It was one of the few industries where working people from communities of color could make a living.  Now, the supermarket chains are taking steps to transform these good jobs into bad jobs. Newly hired workers will find themselves with lower wages and virtually no health benefits; existing employees will face lower living standards because of less health insurance coverage or higher premiums (and therefore, less income to spend on other necessities).

These trends toward low-wage employment and few benefits are spreading, and labor battles are predicted in industries ranging from hotel chains to hospitals. During 2003, health care was the dominant issue in half of the major labor negotiations in California. For a variety of reasons, the old health insurance system, which was a patch quilt of employer-based coverage and government-provided coverage, has broken down.  Any attempt to reconstruct the system based principally on individual coverage tied to individual jobs fails because, today, most jobs do not provide health insurance and few workers have long-term relationships with a single firm. With no viable single-payer alternative, attempts by businesses to further privatize health care provisions dominate.  This forces unions, who have won excellent coverage for their members, into defensive battles with aggressive employers.

Throughout contract negotiations, grocers in Southern California evoked the shadowy image of Wal-Mart as the rationale for their actions—despite the fact that Wal-Mart does not operate a supercenter in the region. Wal-Mart is both a symbol for the low-road economic path—low wages, few benefits, no career ladder—and a model of retail organization in the era of corporate globalization.  As a symbol, Wal-Mart represents large-scale retail development that eliminates small businesses domestically and is based upon low-cost manufacturing internationally. 

However, Wal-Mart is not the only retail company that uses this business model. Target and K-Mart also have supercenters. Many of the factors that turned Wal-Mart into the world’s largest corporation are available to its competitors. These factors include the technology that allowed Wal-Mart to grow rapidly in low-density areas (the South, rural America); low-cost manufacturing that Wal-Mart uses to supply cheap products to its stores; and a low-wage labor force.
Challenges Ahead
The Southern California grocery strike was not the first battle against the low-road economic path and corporate globalization, nor will it be the last.  Contracts for UFCW members in Northern California expire this summer (Sacramento Valley) and fall (the Bay Area). These negotiations will cover approximately 55,000 workers. It is likely that grocers will attempt to bring the elements contained in the Southern California contracts to these bargaining sessions. 

To fight these trends, progressives need to mount campaigns that provide an alternative vision of economic development. Union and community activists need to join together to wage an effective defensive battle to preserve the real buying power of workers, and to fight the attempt to either reduce health care coverage or shift a disproportionate share of the cost to employees. At the same time, this labor-community alliance needs to wage a proactive campaign to transform the nation’s health care delivery system as well as the economic development systems. 

A better health care system would be patient-centered (instead of profit-centered) and grant full access to health care. A better path to economic development would establish basic labor standards; facilitate unionization; provide social insurance to workers during periods of economic change; link education and job training to existing good jobs; encourage high-density economic development; and promote community-based ownership of economic assets. 

Steven Pitts is an economist at the University of Calfornia-Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

Privatized Iraq

Imposed economic and social policies raise human rights questions

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The disaster that is the ongoing occupation of Iraq is much more than the war that plays nightly across U.S. television screens. The violence of grinding poverty, exacerbated by economic sanctions after the first Gulf War, has been deepened by the U.S. invasion. Every day the economic policies of the occupying authorities—which remain in effect despite the appointment of an interim goverment—create more hunger among Iraq's working people, transforming them into a pool of low-wage, semi-employed labor, desperate for jobs at almost any price.

While the effects of U.S. policy on daily life go largely unseen in the U.S. media, anyone walking the streets of Baghdad can witness them. Children sleep on sidewalks. Buildings that once housed many of the city's four million residents remain burned-out ruins.  Rubble fills the broad boulevards, while the air turns gritty and brown as thousands of vehicles kick up the resulting dust. Sewage still pours into the Tigris River, and those who must depend on it for drinking or cooking continue to get sick.

These conditions are the symptoms of an occupation policy with an economic purpose: the free-market transformation of Iraq. While most Iraqis view this as a basic violation of human rights, the United States does not even recognize that human rights include these economic and social conditions.

Occupation and Privatization
Iraqis have lost control of their own economy and country. This is far more than a symbolic loss. Yet symbols are an important element in understanding this reality, and nothing could have been more symbolic than how the occupation authorities treated the legacy of Iraq's nationalist, progressive and anti-colonial past.

Since 1958, July 14 has been Iraq's National Day.  Last year, under the occupation, it was declared a "Saddam-era holiday" and banned. Occupation authorities stated that the people of Iraq should instead celebrate the day of the fall of the Hussein regime, which is also the day the occupation began. While most Iraqis were glad to see Saddam go, many view the banning of National Day as not just an insult but a sign of the occupier's true intentions.

For progressive Iraqis, June 14 recalls their anti-colonial history. Nineteen fifty-eight was the year nationalists and radicals threw out the monarchy imposed by the British after World War One. Over the next five years of relative freedom and democracy, Iraqis began building a nationalized, planned economy, based on its oil wealth. Hundreds of factories were built, making it the most industrialized country in the Middle East. The Iraqi government organized a national health care system and treated education as a right. Women were represented in professions in percentages larger than in any other Middle Eastern country. Even after that government was overthrown in 1963 (by a coup in which the Central Intelligence Agency played a role), those popular reforms were continued under the Baathist regimes that followed.

A lynchpin in that reform plan was a new deepwater port, Umm Qasr, constructed on the Persian Gulf. From the piers of Umm Qasr, Iraq began to ship the goods from factories to buyers throughout the region. The port became a symbol of progress and independence.

Today Umm Qasr is war booty. It was the first Iraqi enterprise to be turned over, not just to a private owner but to a foreign one. Even before U.S. troops reached Baghdad, the Bush administration gave a $4.8 million contract for operating the port to Stevedoring Services of America (now known as SSA Marine), a politically connected firm handling cargo around the world.  Privatizing Umm Qasr was a step in the transformation of the Iraqi economy, from one based on nationalization and production for an internal domestic market to one based on ownership by transnational corporations. To Iraqis, instead of a symbol of national pride, Umm Qasr now represents a new era of foreign domination.

Following the revolution of 1958, a thousand long-shore workers labored on Umm Qasr's docks. Even in the heady days of Arab nationalism, however, they still had no guarantees for their rights and jobs.  At first, subcontracting companies were allowed to hire dockers out of a crowd in a daily shapeup. But workers rebelled. After winning recognition for their union, they demanded and won a hiring system under their control, and a daily guaranteed wage.

Today, those achievements seem like a distant dream. Umm Qasr is an object lesson in the privatization of Iraq.  Its fate will have a profound effect on the degree to which any future Iraqi government will be able to control the country’s economy.  It is a bellwether for the destiny of hundreds of thousands of other workers in formerly state-owned enterprises throughout Iraq’s economy.

The free trade ideology of the Bush administration sees the occupation of Iraq as a beachhead into the Middle East and south Asia.  Its first objective is the transformation of the state-dominated economy of what was once one of the region’s wealthiest countries. A free-market Iraq will then set new ground rules for the rest of the region.

On September 19, 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) published Order No. 39, which permits 100 percent foreign ownership of businesses (except for the oil industry) and repatriation of profits. Iraqi workers look at the prospect of such privatization with dread. "A worker starting here today has a job for life, under the old system," says Dathar Al-Kashab, manager of Baghdad's Al Daura oil refinery, "and there's no law which permits me to lay him off. But if I put on the hat of privatization, I'll have to fire 1,500 [of the refinery's 3,000] workers.  In America when a company lays people off, there's unemployment insurance, and they won't die from hunger. If I dismiss employees now, I'm killing them and their families."

Loss of Jobs, Worker Rights
Unemployment in Iraq hovers around 70 percent, according to the country's new unions. There is no unemployment benefit or welfare system. There is a Union of the Unemployed, which has held marches and demonstrations demanding jobs and benefits. Its leader, Qasim Hadi, has been repeatedly arrested by the occupation troops. Meanwhile, the CPA set a new salary schedule for Iraqi workers. Order No. 30 on Reform of Salaries and Employment Conditions of State Employees lowered the bottom wage rate from $60 a month to $40, and eliminated all previous housing, food, family, risk and location subsidies.

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The U.S. occupation authority also maintained a 1987 law declaring that workers in state-owned enterprises (which included most Iraqi workers) had no right to organize unions or bargain. This is another gift to prospective new private owners of Iraqi enterprises. If workers there have no legal union, no right to bargain, and no contracts, then privatization and the huge job losses coming with it will face much less organized resistance.

On June 5, 2003, CPA head Paul Bremer put another weapon into the anti-union arsenal—Public Notice Number One, which prohibits "pronouncements and material that incite civil disorder, rioting or damage to property." The phrase can easily be interpreted to mean strikes or other organized labor protests. Anyone who violates the decree "will be subject to immediate detention by Coalition security forces and held as a security internee under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949"—in other words, as a prisoner of war.

On December 6, U.S. occupation forces arrested eight members of the executive committee of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), and took them into detention. Although they were released the following day, the organization was expelled from the building where they had their offices.

Jassim Mashkoul, director for internal communications for the IFTU, says that, "at the beginning, we thought our situation might be better after we got rid of Saddam Hussein. But it hasn't been." Many factory workers are less diplomatic. One worker at the state leather goods factory in Baghdad explained that, "we must change this law that says we don't have to right to a union. If the law doesn't change, we'll change it anyway, like it or not. We are the people."
Human Rights Violations
Many of these CPA decrees violate international human rights standards.  Conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labor Organization, guaranteeing freedom of association, makes the continued enforcement of the 1987 ban on unions illegal.  Convention 135, preventing retaliation against workers for union activity, makes the arrests of union leaders, and their expulsion from their offices, illegal as well.  The CPA refuses to comment on these violations. Yet in an especially Orwellian moment, George Bush declared in his January 2004 State of the Union speech that U.S. intervention in Iraq would promote the formation of “free trade unions” in the Middle East.

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Denying union rights are not the only way in which the economic rights of Iraqi people have come into question.  Protecting free universal health care and education, even if they were guaranteed only on paper for the last 20 years, is a critical human rights question to many workers. By pulling apart this system, and installing a free market system in its place, the occupation is demonstrating clearly that these collective rights, held by Iraqis as a people, are not human rights as it defines them.

But beyond the question of social benefits looms the even larger one about the nature of the Iraqi economy itself—who controls it and who will benefit from it.  When the port of Umm Qasr was turned over to Stevedoring Services of America, it was not viewed as a human rights question by many in the United States. Contracting out public services for the enrichment of private businesses, while bitterly opposed by U.S. public workers and those dependent on them, has only recently been defined by U.S. labor and anti-poverty activists in human rights terms.

In Iraq, where Umm Qasr was the nation's pride and a source of its wealth for decades, its conversion into a business for the benefit of a Seattle firm and its stockholders was a fundamental human rights violation.  By extension, so was the occupation itself, which has enforced privatization at gunpoint.

The United States does not recognize that human rights include economic and social rights, in part, because they are collective rights of groups, social classes and even nations. U.S. accusations against the regime of Saddam Hussein focus on his violation of the human rights of individuals—the assassination of the regime’s enemies, and the prohibition on political activity by individuals who dissented from its policies.  Most popular organizations in Iraq, whether on the Left or the Right, religious or secular, make the same accusations.  But they don’t confine the discussion of human rights within those limits.  For them, the occupation and the social conditions it imposes are human rights abuses as well.

For the Bush administration, limiting the discussion of human rights to the rights of individuals allows it to enforce in Iraq an economic model of its choosing, without acknowledging the consequences as potential violations of human rights. While U.S. contractors get rich from the billions of taxpayer dollars appropriated supposedly for Iraq’s reconstruction, the country’s national wealth—factories, refineries, mines, docks and other industrial facilities—has been readied for sale by the occupation bureaucracy, which has treated democracy and the unrestrained free market as one in the same. 

David Bacon is a writer and photographer specializing in labor and globalization issues. His book, The Children of NAFTA, was recently published by the University of California Press. He’s also completed a photodocumentary project on migration for the Rockefeller Foundation.

Alternatives and Action

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Models of grassroots resistance and organizing, cross-border coalitions, and regional alliances. Articles also offer visions for alternative agriculture, energy and trade systems.

Thinking Globally

How community-based organizers are connecting the global-local dots

During the 1980s, policy wonks and suit-and-tie progressives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were typically the ones to fly halfway around the world to influence meetings where the global economic agenda was being hashed out by corporate executives, trade negotiators and international financiers.  In recent years, however, community organizers from the United States have begun to appear on the international circuit, sometimes to join the protests at ministerials, such as the World Trade Organization’s meeting in Canc?É?í?Ǭ?n last September, and often as participants in alternative conferences such as the World Social Forum and the World Conference Against Racism.

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Increasingly aware of the devastating impacts that global trade policies have on their constituencies at home, these U.S.-based organizers have been eager to mount a global counterattack. They’ve also sought to catch up with community leaders in the developing world who have long known that the seemingly distant issues of global trade and investment are determining local destinies.

The global justice movement that made a name for itself in the massive mobilizations that began in Seattle in 1999 has provided a context for these organizers. While community groups sympathize with the protests and marches that whirl around global trade summits, they often lack the resources to send members to protests. They have also been frustrated by the lack of diversity in U.S.-based global justice efforts (a problem captured by activist Bettita Martinez’s provocative question, “Where was the color in Seattle?”).  In response, community-based organizations (CBOs), led by or representing low-income people of color, are patiently building a grassroots base for the global justice movement. 

Making the Global Connection
One of the main groups pushing the new community-based interest in globalization is Jobs with Justice (JwJ), a national organization with more than 40 local chapters charged with building bridges between labor, faith and community. In 2001, JwJ representatives went to Porto Alegre, Brazil to attend the first World Social Forum (WSF), a gathering of progressives originally conceived as an alternative to the corporate-dominated World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland. While they were impressed by the wide range of voices from the developing world, they also recognized a glaring absence of grassroots participation from the United States. In response, JwJ raised funds to send large delegations to the following three WSFs as part of a “Grassroots Global Justice” (GGJ) project. 

Accustomed to operating on a limited budget that requires a laser-sharp community focus, community-based organizers are cautiously inspired by the potential for working with like-minded groups they meet at the WSF.  Fortunately, these organizers are discovering that taking on a global struggle doesn’t necessarily mean taking on new issues, but rather re-thinking how their local work is framed. 

Julia Sudbury, with INCITE, a volunteer-based organization working on violence against women of color and the prison industrial complex, was part of the GGJ delegation attending the WSF this January in Mumbai, India. “We started thinking about welfare reform, which has a disproportionate impact on women of color, and puts them at a higher risk of violence, as part of a global neoliberal agenda,” she notes. Then we heard that the women in India were talking about their struggle against the ways subsidized rice is being cut back. Welfare reform and cutbacks on subsidized rice might look different, but fundamentally, they’re based on the same principle. I think that [understanding] was important so that we could think about those impacts as global, and the mobilization against [them as] global, too.”

Community-Based Anti-Globalization
The community-based global approach is often grounded in cross-border, grassroots relationships that are formed over time. The Tennessee Industrial Renewal Network (TIRN), one of the first U.S. community-based groups to integrate global justice into their work, was formed in 1989 to provide support for communities that were quickly losing manufacturing jobs as factories moved south of the border. As protectionist, anti-immigrant sentiment flared in their communities, TIRN started a worker exchange program that sent factory workers to Mexico to witness the poor working conditions and, in turn, hosted delegations of Mexican workers in Tennessee. Forming this cross-border relationship helped create a bi-national alliance that later became a tri-national alliance with Canadian organizations after the NAFTA fight in the early 90s. 

“People who go on these exchanges come back as much stronger and vocal advocates for immigrants in their own communities,” says Kristi Disney, an organizer with TIRN. “Union members in particular come back with a profound respect for the kind of organizing that’s going on in Latin America, and how much people have to sacrifice on a daily basis to do the kind of work that they’re doing, especially women workers. Bringing back that testimony inspires their peers.”

It’s this testimony of lived experience that feeds the popular education activities that are at the core of an emerging community-based global justice movement in the United States. Popular educators and activists understand that while dexterity with the alphabet soup of acronyms—WTO, IMF, FTAA, GATS, TRIPS, MAI—may be a must for advocates working on policy, it’s not a vernacular that catches on with the masses. Instead, community members need to see how their livelihoods are threatened at a local level, and how their fights are not with other workers and other communities but rather with the corporate giants driving a race to the bottom. 

Many global justice advocates ensconced in think tanks and advocacy groups wonder why the global-local link takes so much time to forge. But progressive CBOs are constituency-driven. Their grassroots membership is less impressed by thousands of angry protesters waving signs at phalanxes of riot police, and more moved by the sort of patient work that connects the global-local dots.

Cross-Border Base Building
While some community-based organizations take part in long-distance exchanges, or implement creative popular education programs (see “Galvanizing the Grassroots,” page 54) to communicate the global-local connection to membership, others position themselves where globalization has long been a daily reality. 

The Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), an environmental justice group located in San Diego, started a border campaign to do extensive popular education in the maquila zone, an export-processing swath along the U.S.-Mexico border that bears some of the harshest evidence of the ill effects of globalization. One of the key objectives of this campaign is to generate solidarity between low-income immigrant communities in San Diego, EHC’s traditional constituency, and the colonias (squatter townships with little or no infrastructure) in Tijuana. According to Connie Garcia, an organizer with EHC who has participated in the Grassroots Global Justice delegations to the WSF, most of the members in San Diego that attend meetings and trainings have a personal connection, through family or their own experience, to the working conditions in Tijuana, and are quick to show support. Many of the environmental hazards are the same, and EHC can use legislative victories in the United States, such as the passing of the Right to Know Act (legislation that requires facilities to disclose hazardous chemical use), to help inform and inspire campaigns south of the border. 

Other cross-border efforts have concentrated on sharing new organizing techniques such as community-based monitoring of oil refinery emissions—known as the “bucket brigades”—that is now being used in California, Louisiana, South Africa, and the Philippines. But these and other efforts represent just the tip of an iceberg of cross-border community resistance that will be enriched by:

  • connecting grassroots groups on an international level
  • creating new opportunities for worker-to-worker and community-to-community exchanges
  • generating the popular education models that resonate with the local leaders striving to make the global connection.

Looking Forward
The advantages of integrating a global perspective may be especially important for environmental justice groups. As Robert Bullard, Ph.D., of the Environmental Justice Resource Center argued in a paper prepared for the World Conference Against Racism in South Africa, the same corporations using communities of color as “sacrifice zones” in the United States are targeting low-income areas in the developing world. Such communities are finding common ground in their counterresponses. As a result, environmental justice organizations are learning the value of linking community resistance along the global toxic trails of the industries that they have been fighting at home.

Global justice organizing is often portrayed as a sort of “field of dreams”—build it and they will come.  Foundations, mainline advocacy groups, unions, and others think that pointing out the negative impacts of corporate globalization will be enough to galvanize those most affected by the downside of the new global economy.

However, making the global-local link is a resource-intensive task, one that requires a larger slice of the philanthropic pie to allow community-based organizations to dedicate staff to long-term global work. The context is ripe for such investment of time, energy and foundation dollars. With the help of efforts such as Grassroots Global Justice and numerous local organizers, grassroots leaders have begun to recognize that they are already situated on the frontlines of the battle for global justice. They can engage—in fact, lead—in the debate about globalization even as they continue to build local power. 

Tony LoPresti and Manuel Pastor are research associate and co-director, respectively, at the Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  The Center has been working for the last two years with the InterAmerican Forum of Miami on a project entitled, “Globalizing Civil Society,” which seeks to bring new voices to the debate about globalization and its impacts in the United States.

Galvanizing the Grassroots

People of color communities build capacity for a global campaign

In November 2003, locally based community organizations came together in Miami to confront the ministerial meeting of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Autonomous from the usual list of anti-globalization warriors—labor organizers, environmentalists, direct-action activists, anarchists—the community groups created something different and historic: RootCause, Global Justice from the Grassroots.

As one of the convening organizations of RootCause—along with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and POWER U for Social Change—the Miami Workers Center (MWC) took on the task of preparing our base for the anti-FTAA campaign. The MWC is a strategy and resource center that helps build and empower grassroots organizations and leadership. One such organization is LIFFT, or Low-Income Families Fighting Together. LIFFT is comprised of the urban poor: current and former welfare recipients, low-wage workers, retirees, and public housing residents—the vast majority of whom are women and Black. Throughout the United States, this sector is economically depressed and under an ideological attack that blames the victims of historic racism and structural inequality for their condition. In Miami, the poorest city in the United States, they teeter on the edge of homelessness, and are harmed by police brutality and government policies that lead to evictions and forced displacement.

To LIFFT members, abstract theories of global neoliberalism are not the best way to crystallize the connections between trade and oppression. Macro-economic policy arguments are disconnected from the pain and suffering they experience on a daily basis. Consequently, the poor and people of color often endure conditions without a systematic understanding of the processes that oppress and exploit them so harshly. The challenge for the MWC has been to make real and tangible the concept of corporate globalization, and its connection to those most affected in low-income communities.

Goals and Groundwork
There were three core objectives driving MWC’s decision to join RootCause and take on the FTAA campaign: 1) to make concrete the connections between the concepts of imperialism, corporate globalization, and the everyday lives of poor people of color; 2) to deepen connections and identification among oppressed people of color, thereby transforming individual and local struggles into collective global struggles; and 3) to assert people of color as leaders in the growing global justice movement.

As part of the ongoing process of consciousness-raising, the MWC offers weekly political education sessions, based on the popular education model of active participation and learning from one’s own experiences rather than from textbooks and monologues. The sessions are known as the Circle of Consciousness. The first Circle of Consciousness in preparation for the FTAA, held one year prior to the ministerial, was a ten-part series on imperialism. Participants utilized a world map to identify Third World countries, the subjugating colonial power, the desired natural resources, and the resistance movements that grew in each historic and contemporary colony. The exercises were a hands-on way of illustrating the history of conquest and resource extraction in the Third World, and the historical progression from the slave trade and colonialism to present day neocolonialism and neoliberalism. That map remains on our walls to this day.

The purpose of the series—and the ones that followed on the topics of white supremacy and patriarchy—was to help LIFFT members place their economic and social conditions in an historical and global context. We believe the significance of the FTAA, as the latest version of imperialist public policy, can only be understood in this context. Three months prior to the ministerial, the MWC’s series delved into the FTAA itself. In addition to focusing the Circle of Consciousness on the FTAA, we added a few daytime sessions for deeper study, and organized community meetings, which featured a combination of guest speakers, local allies and grassroots leaders with a developed understanding of the local-global connections.

Sharing Our Stories
LIFFT, POWER U and Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)—in addition to participants from  Haitian Women of Miami and others—gathered weekly for two months. That feat required a four-hour round-trip drive to include the farm workers from Immokalee. We talked about globalization, corporate power and the FTAA. We talked about ideas, facts and dates. Most important, we connected with each other through the telling of heart-wrenching stories of abuse of immigrant farm workers, fear and violence experienced by Haitian refugees, and poverty and a sense of powerlessness expressed by members of POWER U and LIFFT.

It was an incredible progression of exchanges made possible by the help of multiple interpreters and a growing sense of respect for people we could barely communicate with, but were identifying with more and more. Those beautiful exchanges made our worlds seem simultaneously larger and smaller, as people traveled from their own communities to the homes of others and back.

While the background political education was important, people learned and retained more, and were far more emotionally moved because of the shared real-life stories. Together, community members were able to place those stories in the context of global imperialism and its effects on people who may have looked different and spoken differently, but felt the same as they did about inequality and oppression.

Model for a Movement
There’s no magic formula for mobilizing, inspiring, and organizing grassroots people of color into broader social movements. It’s all about time, dedication and utter respect. Building LIFFT to this level has been a five-year project, accomplished with intense amounts of time and energy. Both POWER U and the MWC began work in 1999 and CIW has a 15-year history of organizing and popular education. Collectively, we have invested literally hundreds of thousands of hours of door knocking, phone banking, meeting, planning, research, and listening to people’s stories—not hearing them like you would hear traffic or background noise, but listening to them like you listen to your favorite song or public speaker, looking to make the connections to broader systemic processes and taking every opportunity as a teachable moment.

All the advanced preparation produced incredible results at the FTAA protests. The RootCause March, a 34-mile march from Hollywood, Florida to the heart of Miami; and the People’s Tribunal, where social movements throughout the hemisphere put neoliberalism on trial, were among the most powerful expressions of grassroots people of color in the U.S.-based global justice movement.

The RootCause campaign activities were small compared to other mass mobilizations, and its militancy was not expressed through direct confrontation with the police or “the fence” around the ministerial. Rather, we confronted the unprecedented militarization of Miami on our own terms. Our campaign caught the imagination of its participants and the broader mobilization through commitment, culture, flavor, unity and dedication of our grassroots leadership. RootCause members continue to speak of the March in religious and life-altering terms. The experience has galvanized our leadership, built our base, and provided a model for the global justice movement.

Max Rameau is the director of Leadership Development for the Miami Workers Center in the Liberty City section of Miami.

Dispatches From the World Social Forum


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Since 2001, the World Social Forum (WSF) has provided civil society organizations and people’s movements around the globe with an opportunity to gather, share ideas and formulate alternatives to the dominant economic and development policies advanced at the annual World Economic Forum. To get a sense of what grassroots groups have gained from the WSF and what it means for the global justice cause, RPE asked delegates who attended the most recent 2004 Forum in Mumbai, India to share their reflections.


Jose T. Bravo is lead organizer and site coordinator for Just Transition Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of five environmental justice networks that advocates for environmental justice and labor issues nationally and internationally (

On January 14, my first day in Mumbai, India, I attended an orientation by Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ), a U.S.-based network of groups opposed to corporate globalization. During this orientation we heard from several speakers, including a journalist and editor from a main Mumbai newspaper. Then we heard from two gentlemen who represented a construction union, the second largest union in India. We ended the session with presentations from two dynamic leaders who spoke about the reality for women in India. As I listened to these women speak, I noted many similarities in how women organize for justice in the United States and in Mexico.

Later that afternoon, the GGJ delegates were divided into five groups and sent on site visits. My group boarded a minibus and went to a slum on the outskirts of Mumbai where we met with people who were running a center for community support and job training. At this center we learned that people could only live in their respective slums for 11 months out of the year; after 11 months they had to move to a different location. So, hundreds of thousands of people are literally displaced every 11 months. We were told that the government requires this of all people who live in slums so that they do not take control of the land they live on. The only exceptions were the few people that have been living in slums for 30 years or longer and who were allowed to make their homes a permanent residence. The center was also used as a drug rehab for residents that needed treatment.

On the way over to the next site, our hosts explained that we were about to go to the municipal dump, which is 300 hectares square (about 741 acres). As we arrived I felt overwhelmed by the 50,000 people who called the dump their home. As we walked along with the crowd, including children anxious to talk to us, each community leader explained their job. Some of the people only pick bottles and others pick up plastic for recycling; still others are in charge of burning the giant mounds to recycle the metals that are left behind. The smell of plastic and paper being burnt was sometimes too much to withstand. I felt very sad at the fact that the children did not look very different from my own.

On the second day GGJ delegates boarded three buses that took us to an activist camp at a nature preserve. The trip, which included three hours in traffic, took us 30 to 40 miles away to the outskirts of the city. When we reached the activist camp, we participated in a welcome ceremony that included chants and songs as well as the Indigenous Environmental Network delegations' ceremonial activities. After the ceremony, we broke out into 10 workgroups and discussed issues such as the World Bank, community organizing, labor organizing, the environment, youth participation, free trade/global trade, Indigenous rights, women's self determination, criminal justice, and legal advocacy. The workgroup that I volunteered for (because of the need for Spanish translation) was on free trade/global trade. We discussed the impacts that trade is having on India, the United States and Mexico.


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[The following morning, January 16, we went to the] site where the WSF was to start later that afternoon. At 3:30 p.m., we made our way to the main stage area where there were people as far as the eye could see. The opening ceremony was spectacular. It included cultural performances by dancers from all over the world. After the organizing committee gave the welcome, we heard author and activist Arundhati Roy speak. She posed several challenges, including a demand for “regime change” from corporate domination, empowerment of the grassroots, and focusing on two corporations that are making money from the war in Iraq. I was shouting, “Halliburton and Bechtel, they can go to hell!” We all left the ceremony energized and ready for the task ahead.


The next day, we went to the first panel that included GGJ delegates. The panel, entitled "In the heart of the empire," included people from the United States, Mexico and Colombia. It focused on creating solidarity with other social justice movements worldwide. Many people were very surprised that people in the United States faced issues of government and corporate abuse that approximated their own. This was the case throughout the WSF.

Later, I went to a panel on labor issues faced by unorganized workers. It was a session with about 25 people, including delegates from Iran, Egypt, Latin America, India and Asia. I represented the perspective of the United States, specifically, the U.S.-Mexico border region. I also attended a workshop on popular education where participants shared methodology and retention advice. I was especially interested in educating people who cannot read or write. In India, art and street theater are used extensively. For example, we role-played a scenario in which a community fought against a dam project—an issue that people at this session had faced.

On the 18th, Chavel Lopez of the Southwest Workers Union, Torm Nomprassuert of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and I attended a workshop called "Actual Effects of WMD: The Case of U.S. Toxic Agent Orange in Vietnam." Chavel, a Vietnam veteran, was a victim of Agent Orange defoliant spraying while a soldier. We reported to the panel that the chemicals are still being destroyed by incineration in communities of color in the United States. We mentioned the fact that children are still exposed to Agent Orange and other defoliants in the United States and in other countries like Colombia under the auspices of the war on drugs, and that there were organizations—even a network—working on military toxics issues. We were asked to put together a delegation to visit Vietnam by Madam Nguyen Binh, the former vice president of Vietnam and the key negotiator in France during the withdrawal of the U.S. occupation of Vietnam.

That afternoon I went to "The Peoples Forum Against Coca-Cola" panel with some of the labor delegates of the GGJ. Luis Javier Correa Su?É?í?Ǭ°rez, national president of the National Union of Food and Commercial Workers of Colombia, asked me to translate for him during his portion of the forum. One of his issues with Coca-Cola is that six of his union's leaders have been assassinated for protesting unfair labor practices and unhealthy conditions in many of the Coca-Cola plants. This was a very enriching experience and I was glad that I could assist in translation.

On the 19th, I participated in an anti-Coca-Cola march at the WSF grounds, where several hundred people rallied. When the workshop started, there were only three people, but as the time went on more and more people came in. We discussed Just Transition Alliance (JTA) and the links that JTA makes with workers and communities struggling with environmental and economic justice issues. As I started to describe some of the sites where we are doing work the participants started sharing their own experiences. We explored different ideas and scenarios together.

On January 20, I met with people who were representing the victims of the toxic gas release in Bhopal, India. They were parents, children and other family members of people who had lost their lives or were left maimed by the accident. I was especially interested in meeting with them because JTA is starting a new campaign around Dow Chemical Company and Dupont in Louisville, Kentucky. Dow now owns Union Carbide and is reneging on the settlement with the people in Bhopal. Likewise, Dow and Dupont are leaving a community in Louisville severely contaminated and trying to abandon workers with an unjust retirement plan. Dow and Dupont are planning to move the Louisville plant to La Place, Louisiana, right in the middle of “Cancer Alley”.

That afternoon I met with the GGJ Indigenous delegation and helped to set up a ceremony with an Indigenous elder that I had met on the second day of the WSF. This elder was from Mexico and he had brought a bundle of charcoal from the great fire of the Condor—the Indigenous peoples of Latin America—in Teotihuacan. I had spread the word that we wanted Indigenous peoples to meet at the ceremonial fire and be part of the ceremony. Sixty Indigenous people, including several from different parts of India, came and we participated in a wonderful ceremony. We ended with prayers for the safe return of all WSF attendees to their places of origin, and for the success of people’s movements throughout the world and for world peace.

Why We Went to the Forum

AGENDA (Action for Grassroots Empowerment and Neighborhood Development Alternatives) is a grassroots organization based in South Los Angeles that organizes poor and working class communities and communities of color around social and economic justice issues. This year AGENDA/SCOPE (Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education) was fortunate enough to send three of our community leaders and one staff member to the World Social Forum in India as part of the Grassroots Global Justice delegation.

Being a part of the GGJ delegation gives us an opportunity to “represent a different face from the ‘belly of the beast’ and to show solidarity with global movements against corporate globalization,” said Jennifer Ito, director of CIPHER (Community Institute for Policy Heuristics, Education and Research), the research arm of AGENDA/SCOPE. We see the World Social Forum as an important vehicle for our members and staff alike to explore firsthand the connections between our struggle and those of peoples and organizations throughout the world. 

Members and staff who have attended the World Social Forum for the past four years have brought lessons back home to deepen our understanding and critique of the global corporate agenda and its impacts beyond Los Angeles. Learning about alternative economic policies and health-care systems has also expanded the boundaries of what is possible in our current Jobs and Health-care campaign. Gloria Bradshaw, a community leader with AGENDA said, “I was surprised and saddened to see such extreme poverty and poor living conditions of people (young and old) in India, but left inspired by the people and organizations fighting for the same thing we’re fighting for here in Los Angeles. Justice!”


Southwest Organizing Project is a multi-racial, multi-issue community-based organization based in Albuquerque, New Mexico that works for racial and gender equality, and social and economic justice. This report came from SWOP delegates to the WSF, including Marco Romero, Victoria Rodriguez, Marjorie Childress, Eileen Garcia and Michael Montoya, while they were attending the Forum.

Hola Friends and Family:

The World Social Forum has been inspiring, chaotic, educational, massive, and challenging both spiritually and intellectually. Large numbers of people have attended from all over the country. Represented here are tribal groups, organizations working with poor people who live in slums, women and Dalit groups, trade union federations, international intellectuals, youth, grassroots groups from throughout the world, media, and international non-governmental organizations, just to name a few. The Forum has been full of dialogue, art, cultural expression and great food. We have all gone to many different workshops and panel discussions. Every imaginable discussion has been taken up here, [including dialogues about] gender, labor and youth issues, immigrant and migrant rights, the right to food, human rights, popular education, economic and social security, and tribal issues.

For those of you who have been to one of the previous WSF events, we should explain that this year's event is held on a campus, [much] like a state fair. We walk through a sea of banners and posters at all times, surrounded by hundreds of different organized groups parading throughout the venue. Social movements seem very real to us here. The energy that is evident at all times on the grounds of the site is truly breathtaking.

Our trip has provided us with the opportunity to be in different venues. For example, the Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) delegation has taken several field trips: one, to a tribal organization outside the city, and another to what the locals call slum dwellers’ organizations. People who live in India's slums are fighting for basic services like water and electricity, and also for the simple right to have a roof over their heads. Many of these structures are considered illegal and the residents often have their homes torn down. It should be noted that half of the population in Mumbai lives in slums—that’s about 8 million people. These structures are scattered throughout the city, some are large areas and others are simply a row along a road. We noticed several instances of ostentatious skyscrapers looming over the slums. These skyscrapers are topped by no-holds-barred homes that look like mini Greek palaces, pillars and all.

We also took a trip to a tribal organization outside the city. This was a great exchange. We felt privileged to witness the interchange between the tribal group and Indigenous delegates from North America. We broke into groups that discussed a variety of issues. It was interesting for us to see how people who live on the other side of the world [face issues similar] to our own and use similar language to discuss their circumstances.

We have been pleased to see a very strong women's movement here, as well as an overt acknowledgement of the role that class plays in economic and social structures. We have also learned a lot about the caste system and the plight of Dalits (formerly referred to as “untouchables”). Although Indian law has changed the formal discrimination against Dalits, in practice it is very much part of the day-to-day reality. We have all been overwhelmed by the sheer size of the population in Mumbai and by the degree of poverty that exists here. It is one thing to intellectually know about the poverty, [and] quite another to witness it. It is humbling and makes us very aware of our own privilege.

On a critical note, we have observed that the less-than-perfect models of how we communicate in large groups have been replicated on a large scale here at the WSF.  Overcoming our outmoded, hierarchical norms of running meetings is an ongoing struggle. Another all-too-familiar sight is the preponderance of men and intellectuals on all the panels. While we acknowledge that academics and intellectuals are a great resource for our movement, we feel that these norms reinforce the class and gender divisions in the movement. These divisions are so completely evident that the [makeup] of the panels is almost obscene. Also, there is a great separation between youth and the larger WSF. The youth have to travel a long distance from the youth camp to the main venue, and they have their own parallel conference that is not integrated into the WSF.

Across the street from the WSF is another parallel conference called the Mumbai Resistance 2004. This conference opposes the WSF on the grounds that it is reformist and in dialogue with the imperialists. They take issue with Western foundation funding of the WSF. They also point out that the WSF charges delegates money to attend and it excludes particular groups. From our perspective, we do not believe that the WSF can truly be considered representative of the international community as long as it excludes groups such as the Zapatistas, who have so much to teach us all about resistance to capitalism and survival in the face of overwhelming forces.

We find that the critique of the WSF posed by the MR 2004 to be quite valid. At the same time, we have all gotten much out of our experiences at the WSF, and don't see that the MR 2004 has a concrete proposal of its own for how the movement for justice can proceed in a manner that is inclusive of all the diverse social movements that exist throughout the world. 

Solidarity Without Borders

Keys to effective cross-border campaigns

Organizing globally is the challenge of our time. Whether you're trying to reform capitalism or abolish it, to organize labor or community, you're struggling against the power of concentrated, politically connected capital. The justice organizer’s task is to connect and collaborate across borders with others who are also rooted in local struggle—that is, to organize locally and globally, just as social movements organized locally, nationally and internationally a century ago. 

Such cross-border organizing is going especially well in Latin America. The region’s nation-states share a 200-year history of U.S. imperialism and national resistance, and that shared history supports a strong critique of neoliberal economic policy. Twenty years of structural adjustment has shown Latin America that neoliberalism doesn't work. For that reason, further negotiations to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), has generated effective counter-coordination across borders.

But analysis of these trends is only the beginning. Next, anti-corporate globalization activists have to identify the constituencies that those trends affect, then reach and mobilize them. In this year's fight to stop the Central American Free Trade Agreement or CAFTA (which, as of this writing, had been signed by Bush, but not yet sent to Congress), three of those key constituencies are civil society networks in Central America, Central American immigrants, and solidarity activists in the United States.

Popular Education Leads to Action
Across Central America, civil society groups have come together in fights against structural adjustment, the agricultural crisis and privatization. Central America’s struggles against neoliberalism and war spawned a type of a hybrid organizer in the United States—the solidarity activist—who melds North American resources with Central American perspectives and organizing. Meanwhile Washington's military and economic policies have pushed the third constituency, millions of Central American immigrants, into the United States.

The potential power of these three sectors is tremendous. How can that power be actualized? By organizing politically. We help foster that organizing at United for a Fair Economy (UFE) through popular education workshops in Spanish ( and English ( Popular education is only a first step in organizing, but a crucial one because it allows the people who are most affected to articulate an analysis and organize on their own terms.

One example comes from an anti-FTAA workshop we led in Miami (which drew Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans, among others) as the 2003 FTAA summit meeting was approaching. A Mexican woman who is now living and working in Florida asked whether the FTAA and other agreements were similar to NAFTA. Another woman answered yes, and told her story. She had owned a small business with six employees that sold tortillas. In 1992 in Mexico, she explained, there was a lot of publicity about the importance of NAFTA for farmers and small business owners. Yet, she said, “nobody imagined the disaster that was coming. As soon as NAFTA took effect, Mexican white corn was exported to the United States and we got the yellow corn produced in the United States. Our tortillas were not white anymore, but yellow, and nobody wanted to buy them. My business failed. The six people that worked with me lost their jobs. I had to sell my little house to survive and in the end I had no choice but to come to the United States. Here we continue to suffer and have needs. I hope that people in Latin America take notice in time to stop these free trade agreements that only benefit rich people and corporations.”

That same year, a Mexican organization was making sure that Latin Americans did take notice. The Mexican Network for Action Against Free Trade, which is the Mexican affiliate of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, traveled repeatedly to Central America to talk about NAFTA’s disastrous impact. Then a network of Central American non-governmental organizations and grassroots groups that work against structural adjustment soon came together to oppose CAFTA. On Columbus Day, 2002, they coordinated anti-CAFTA actions in every Central American country. The protests and actions raised awareness about CAFTA, connecting it to national fights like El Salvador’s yearlong health care strike.

In the United States, Central American solidarity organizations played the same role. Their protest on March 24, 2002 in Washington, D.C. pulled together an anti-CAFTA coalition, which placed ads in Salvadoran newspapers while President Bush was campaigning for CAFTA there. That fall the coalition created a Latin American anti-CAFTA statement and turned it into a hemispheric “People’s Declaration on Trade,” which over 200 organizations in Central America and the United States have signed.

Meanwhile, Central American immigrant organizations in Boston asked UFE to start educating their members about CAFTA. A temporary coalition was formed among worker, religious and global justice groups. Having the shared goal of stopping CAFTA helped us set specific tasks and a common agenda.

In mobilizing against CAFTA, Central American immigrants discovered their unique binational power. It didn’t take them long to break through feelings of isolation and take new steps. Salvadorans organized weekly call-ins that jammed the local consulate's phone lines. Hondurans called radio stations back home and told their compatriots the truth about free trade. Guatemalans swarmed a "mobile consulate" that was conducting a blood drive and asked, “What about CAFTA?” Organizing joint lobbying visits to Congress with other coalition members helped them build a sense of power.

Cycle of Solidarity
How did an issue as specialized as CAFTA rise to the top of social movements’ agendas in the United States and Central America? Coordination is a big part of the story—coordinated protests across borders, as well as networks coordinating both Central American and U.S. groups.  The public demonstrations, lobbying and educational events of 2002 and 2003 were synchronized, making them more powerful and visible.

Who created the coordination? Three constituencies that, because of their histories, have internationalist perspectives and ongoing cross-border relationships. Hemispheric strategy meetings, like the one in Havana, Cuba this January, and popular education help renew their commitment. In creating UFE's Free Trade workshops, we borrowed heavily from popular materials developed in Central America. Now the workshop materials are being downloaded and used throughout Central America as well as by all three key constituencies in the United States. The cycle continues.

By working with people directly affected by free trade agreements and their allies, we have learned that social justice groups in the United States and grassroots organizations in other parts of the world have no choice but to coordinate their work. All of us exercise influence nationally, but groups in the United States have considerable freedom of expression and power in the main country that's driving corporate globalization.

Mike Prokosch coordinates the global economy program at United for a Fair Economy, where he designs workshops and leads trainings for unions, congregations and community organizations. He co-edited The Global Activist’s Handbook (Nations Books).

Jeannette Huezo is education coordinator and lead trainer at United for a Fair Economy. Originally from El Salvador, Jeannette has more than 20 years of experience as a community organizer and popular educator working for justice and social change.

Strategies From the Global South

The alliances and alternatives that aim to defeat corporate-driven trade

By Deborah James

In September 2003, the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Cancun, Mexico came to a screeching halt after a large bloc of the world’s developing countries refused to expand the WTO unless the wealthier nations made existing trade rules fairer. The “Group of 21” developing nations emerged as a powerful South-South alliance.  Led by India, South Africa and Brazil, the Group includes 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries.

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That November, government trade ministers meeting in Miami to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)—an expansion of the failed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) model—barely reached consensus for moving ahead with talks. Another developing country bloc began to emerge in opposition to the FTAA. This stalemate revealed a clear divide between the pro-FTAA “Group of 13” (the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and the Central American countries) and the other primary regional alliances: Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay); Caricom (the 14 members of the Caribbean Community); and the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia.

In response to Latin American and Caribbean regionalism, the United States has mounted a political counterassault. It has employed divide-and-conquer strategies on several fronts, and used aid and diplomatic pressure with a number of FTAA countries as levers to pry apart the coalition of countries. For example, the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)—including Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic—would bind these nations even more closely to U.S. economic domination, surpassing even NAFTA in its enshrinement of corporate rights over the rights of communities, workers and the sovereign citizenry. CAFTA could be sent to the U.S. Congress for ratification soon. The United States has also launched a series of bilateral trade negotiations with Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru, in an attempt to isolate Venezuela from the rest of the Andean Community.

Post-Miami, the FTAA has been divided into two distinct tiers, the contents of which are still undergoing highly charged negotiations. Tier 1 requires a minimum level of commitment that would be acceptable to all of the countries; Tier 2 aims for full, comprehensive trade liberalization. This two-tiered system acknowledges that the United States is not going to get its prize—a full comprehensive agreement for the hemisphere—and is a victory for the social movements working against the FTAA. But it also contains a dangerous trap that could still be damaging for many countries.

Turning the Tide on Free Trade
The stalling of the FTAA, originally scheduled for completion by the beginning of 2005, is due to various factors. The political scenario in Latin America has changed significantly in the last 10 years. Social movements in some countries have recently elected governments that represent, or are at least sympathetic to, the perspective of the poor majority. In addition to progressive governments, the strength of the social movements in the hemisphere have brought within reach the opportunity to defeat the FTAA. Campesino groups, labor unions, Indigenous networks, youth and women’s organizations, and advocacy groups across the hemisphere have built strength through international coordination, mounting the Continental Campaign Against the FTAA. This campaign includes regional networks such as the Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA); the Jubilee campaigns against the illegitimate foreign debt; the Convergence of People’s Movements of the Americas (COMPA); Grito de los Excluidos (Cry of the Excluded); Friends of the Earth Latin America; as well as country-based campaigns.

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A striking aspect of these efforts has been the relative unity of the social movements across geographic, ethnic, age and occupational differences. For example, the Peruvian No!! FTAA campaign is composed of the national trade union, four national family farm organizations, small and medium artisans’ groups, human rights organizations, fair trade groups, feminist alliances, anti-debt campaigners and consumer organizations. In Uruguay, the Anti-FTAA Campaign Secretariat includes the central workers’ federation, the university students’ federation, the national federation of housing cooperatives, small business owners, and environmental groups, among others. An Assembly of Caribbean People in August 2003 brought together more than 1,000 people from 100 organizations in 11 different Caribbean nations and several different languages against militarism and the FTAA.

Oftentimes the Indigenous and farmers’ organizations form the backbone of the popular mobilization capacity of these alliances because corporate globalization threatens not only their wages or their health care but their entire way of life. For that reason, regional farmers and Indigenous coalitions like Via Campesina and the Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo (CLOC), and the various national farmers federations, have played key roles in educating their populations and mobilizing in the streets.

Holding Leaders Accountable
But the relative success of the social movements in changing the negotiating position of their governments has depended on their ability to move from “resistance” to “taking power”—and then holding those governments accountable to the people’s demands. For example, the social movements in Ecuador, particularly Indigenous groups and family farmers, have mobilized strong popular resistance to the FTAA, including a massive rally and march of more than 10,000 peasants during a previous FTAA Ministerial meeting in the fall of 2002. Citizens there recently elected Indigenous rights leader Lucio Gutierrez to the presidency, but have not been successful in holding him accountable to the social movement’s demands. Active social movements in El Salvador fought very hard last year against privatization of the national health care system—an issue intrinsically linked with the FTAA agenda of privatization of basic services—and yet their government’s position is still aligned with U.S. interests.

On the other hand, Argentine President Néstor Kirchner rode into office on a wave of sentiment against the International Monetary Fund’s enforcement of privatization and structural adjustment policies. Social movements have formed thousands of cooperatives there to meet the basic needs of people who have been plunged from relative prosperity to abysmal poverty. Groups allied with the AutoConvocatoria en Contra el ALCA (Call to Action Against the FTAA), for instance, continue to pressure Kirchner to side with the poor instead of the United States by linking their campaigns against militarization, debt and free trade. In Bolivia, strong and strategic social movements have linked massive resistance to natural gas and water privatization to the struggle against the FTAA and bilateral agreements. After successfully unseating a pro-business president last year, they have achieved positive changes in their country’s negotiating position in recent months.

Similar sentiments are roiling Brazil, where President Lula da Silva heads the first Workers Party government in the country’s history. Brazilian social movements including the CUT (the national labor federation), the Landless Peasant’s Movement and religious groups organized a people’s plebiscite on the FTAA in which over 10 million citizens voted; more than 98 percent rejected the FTAA. Though many business interests in Brazil advocate for a comprehensive FTAA, and some sectors want the minimum FTAA to earn enough money through exports to pay back their foreign debt, the anti-FTAA forces have so far managed to keep Brazil from giving in to U.S. demands.


View From Venezuela
The staunchest opposition to the FTAA at the negotiating table comes from Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez has become a hero among the country’s poor majority.  In 1998, Venezuelans elected this Afro-Indian son of schoolteachers who has resisted U.S. economic domination and strives to redistribute oil wealth. They then voted to elect a Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution, which was approved in 1999 by more than 71 percent of the vote.

Venezuela’s negotiating position in the FTAA, based on this Constitution, most closely resembles the priorities of the hemisphere’s social movements. It mirrors several key aspects of civil society critiques, which assert that the negotiating process is undemocratic and non-transparent; that the agreement would give rights to corporations at the expense of sovereignty and democracy; and that the privatization of services is a death knell for poor people across the region.

Because of its anti-FTAA position, Venezuela has called for an extension of the January 1, 2005 deadline. According to article 73 of the Constitution, the government would have to hold a popular referendum on the FTAA so that citizens could decide whether to approve it or not. This commitment to citizens directly voting on the FTAA is the primary strategy of the social movements in the hemisphere.

In addition, Venezuela has argued that the proposed FTAA cannot truly be fair until the member countries are more equal economically. Its leaders have put forward a detailed proposal for the creation of Funds for Structural Convergence. This fund, which has now gained the support of 24 nations, would involve a massive shifting of wealth from the rich countries to the smaller, more vulnerable nations, to ensure that inequalities among countries are reduced.

These policies have raised the ire of the U.S. government, which has been supporting opposition elements that were responsible for the failed military-business coup of April 2002 against the democratically elected government. That failed coup, which was outright praised by Washington, was reversed by a massive outpouring of hundreds of thousands of citizens in the streets. [As of this writing, a recall election is pending.] As achieving a comprehensive FTAA remains the Bush administration’s number one goal in Latin America, the lack of cooperation from Venezuela in pursuing the FTAA has ruffled many feathers—from the Trade Ministry, to the State Department, and all the way to the White House.

Envisioning the Alternatives
Social movements in the hemisphere have learned that we must promote our own vision of an alternative to the proposed FTAA. To that end, anti-FTAA organizations, working together through the Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA), have developed the Alternative Agreement for the Americas. It starts with the premise that the people should have a voice in determining the future of regional integration. It also asserts that the first step toward more equality in the hemisphere would be debt reduction. Enforcement of core labor and environmental rights and standards should also be at the center of any new agreements. Governments should be encouraged to adopt new local, national and global rules to discourage harmful speculative activity, and to encourage lasting investments in productive and sustainable local economic activities. Access for foreign products and investments should be negotiated with adequate concern for national development plans and priorities. Protection of critical sectors, such as food production, must be the right of each country so as to ensure the rights and well-being of all people. This document, collectively endorsed and produced by hundreds of social movements and organizations in the Hemispheric Social Alliance, is available in its entirety at

Venezuela has also produced a model vision of how nations in the region could work towards regional integration, based on shared concern for the environment, health, education, food security and human rights. The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas—ALBA, in Spanish—was drafted as a counterweight to the argument that the only path towards regional integration is economic subservience to the corporate elite in the North. ALBA is the only national proposal that closely mirrors the vision of the social movements in the hemisphere. It includes counter-proposals to every negotiating area of the FTAA, including market access, investment, services, government procurement, agriculture, intellectual property, competition policy, subsidies, dispute settlement, and special and differential treatment. But it also includes sections to ensure that any agreement addressing regional integration is also compatible with previous commitments and social justice goals relating to the environment, human rights and women’s rights. The ALBA proposal is available in Spanish through the Venezuela Information Office, at (202) 737-6637, x27.

If global justice advocates are to achieve our goal of stopping the FTAA, we must strengthen our alliances across the continent. We must work together with our partners in Latin America, and share information and organizing strategies. We must integrate the movements against corporate globalization with domestic struggles for economic justice and community empowerment. We must envision, develop, and promote alternatives with the same fervor that we oppose the current model. And as U.S. citizens, we must defend democracy in those countries, such as Venezuela, where our own government seeks to destabilize it—precisely because of the government’s social and economic justice policies. 

Deborah James is the global economy director at Global Exchange, where she has been promoting fair trade, demanding corporate accountability, and organizing against corporate globalization for ten years. She is currently on sabbatical to direct the Venezuela Information Office.

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Oftentimes the Indigenous and farmers’ organizations form the backbone of the popular mobilization capacity of these alliances because corporate globalization threatens not only their wages or their health care but their entire way of life.

Engendering Global Justice: Women First

A tool for prioritizing women in trade deals

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In the village of San Ignacio, Mexico, Felicitas Villalobos weaves baskets. For Felicitas and many of the Tarahumara Indians living in a poverty-stricken region, creating baskets is one of the only ways to earn an income.  At 28, she is a mother of two small children and the sole wage earner for her family.  Her baskets can sell for nearly $100 a week on the export market where she can earn up to three times as much as a factory worker.  Still, because of taxes imposed on exports since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), her earnings do not meet Mexico’s official living wage of $445 per month, which includes the average cost of food, clothing and housing for a family of four.  However, if the taxes were removed, Felicitas's earnings would increase by $66 per month, bringing her income to just above the living wage and providing a more stable life for her family.

A recent Women’s Edge Coalition study shows that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has had negative social impacts on poor women—like Felicitas Villalobos—and their families, and communities in Mexico (the only developing country in the trade pact). According to the study, “NAFTA and the FTAA: Impact on Mexico’s Agriculture Sector,” NAFTA caused poverty to increase by 50 percent for women-headed households, while poverty decreased by five percent for male-headed households. Additionally, the amount of basic goods (food, clothing, health, education and housing) that Mexicans could afford to buy dropped by 50 percent between 1990 and 2000, further exacerbating women’s poverty. 

How Trade Affects Women
Of the 1.13 billion people living in poverty globally, the vast majority are women. Although international trade has the ability to lift these women —as well as their families and their communities— out of poverty, it is currently leaving many behind. 

Though trade is considered to be gender-neutral, several factors limit women’s capacity to engage in trade activity. For example, social and cultural discrimination may reduce women’s access to the type of education and technological training needed for them to get some of the better-paying jobs created by trade agreements. Since women face a sex-segregated labor market in many countries, they are often not hired for jobs for which they qualify. Considered “secondary” wage earners, women tend to be the last hired and first fired. Women of child-bearing age may also be discouraged from seeking jobs in certain sectors which are considered physically taxing.

Fast Facts

  • Women in Latin America comprise 70 to 90 percent of the labor force in the Export-Processing Zones (EPZs), assembling garments, textiles and electronics for export.
  • Women handicraft producers in Latin America comprise 70 percent of craft workers who make  textiles, jewelry and ceramics sold locally and globally.
  • In Africa, women farmers are responsible for 80 to 90 percent of domestic food crops.
  • In India and Bangladesh, 90 percent of working women are in the informal sector—unregulated work, such as domestic servants and street vendors.
  • Women own between one-fourth and one-third of businesses worldwide.
  • Women’s unpaid labor (i.e. caring for their children) is the voluntary “social capital” that provides the foundation for the next generation.
  • As consumers, women typically decide what to buy (or obtain) to provide their families with food, water, clothes and shelter. 


The Trade Impact Review
The Women’s Edge Coalition believes that trade can work for women. But trade agreements are currently negotiated and implemented with no systematic effort to examine the potential impacts on the poor—the purported target population to benefit from trade and economic growth. If the goal of trade is to reduce poverty, it is essential to conduct proper analyses to forecast how trade will affect the poor, especially poor women.

To shed light on the links between trade, women and poverty, the Women's Edge Coalition developed the Trade Impact Review (TIR), a tool to assess potential positive and negative impacts caused by trade agreements.  By conducting the TIR, trade negotiators, policy makers and development professionals can accurately gage how trade will affect women and make educated decisions that benefit everyone. 

The TIR is a framework which encourages interested parties to: gather gender-related data from a variety of sources; use computer models to look specifically at the roles of women and men, and forecast trade’s possible effects; and consider in-depth social analyses. The process of conducting the TIR involves a wide array of stakeholders, including citizens’ groups, in an open and transparent process. The tool examines agriculture, manufacturing, services, informal and home-based sectors, foreign investment, intellectual property rights, domestic laws and regulations, labor standards, human rights, and social protections for the poor. 

The TIR is the centerpiece of the Women’s Edge Coalition’s Look FIRST (Full Impact Review and Screening of Trade) Campaign, the goal of which is to pass legislation requiring the U.S. government to conduct a Trade Impact Review. In a victory for the women of Central America, the Women’s Edge Coalition successfully worked with U.S. Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA), Hilda Solis (D-CA), and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to ensure that the U.S. Trade Representative looks at how Central American workers may be affected by the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). This success will enable U.S. and Central American trade negotiators to examine employment options, as well as wages and working conditions for women in the region, in order to craft policies that help the poorest women. The Women’s Edge Coalition is also working to ensure that such comprehensive assessments are required for every trade agreement that the United States signs.

Write a Letter

To support the Look FIRST campaign and urge the United States to conduct Trade Impact Reviews, send a postcard or letter to the U.S. Trade Representative:


Ambassador Robert Zoellick
U.S. Trade Representative
600 F Street, NW
Washington, D.C.  20004

Dear Ambassador Zoellick:

As the United States continues to work with developing countries to expand free trade in regions throughout the world, it is important to ensure that trade liberalization will bring new economic opportunities to the poor. Women are the vast majority of the world’s poorest citizens. For trade to lift the poor out of poverty, trade negotiators must examine how trade benefits and hinders the poorest of the poor—women and their children.

To ensure equal progress for everyone, I/we urge you to include in all U.S. trade agreements an assessment, such as the Women’s Edge Coalition’s Trade Impact Review, of how trade will affect women.

We appreciate your attention to this important matter.



Marceline A. White, is the global trade director at the Women’s Edge Coalition ( She has written about many aspects of women and trade. Her most recent article, “Women and Global Trade: ‘Engendering’ a New Development-Centered, Rights-Based Trade Policy,” will appear in the forthcoming anthology, Gender and Justice.  


  1. Gereffi, Gary & Lynn Hempel, “Latin America and the Global Economy: Running Faster to Stay in Place,” NACLA Vol XXIX, No. 4, 1996, page 22.
  2. “News Advisory: Women Entrepreneurs are a Growing International Trend,” National Foundation of Women Business Owners (NFBWO); February 28, 1997.
  3. “News Advisory: Women Entrepreneurs Worldwide Voice Optimism,” NFBWO; March 3, 1998.
  4. Mehra, Rekha & Sarah Gammage “Trends, Countertrends, and Gaps in Women’s Employment,” World Development Vol. 27, No. 3, 1999, page 538.
  5. “The Craft of Sustainable Development,” Americas, Washington: Organization of the American States, 1999.
  6. UNDP, Human Development Report, 1999, United Nations.
  7. The Global Labour Institute, Notes on Trade Unions and the Informal Sector,
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Engendering Global Justice: A Different Vision

What can ensure that globalization is a truly progressive force that allows us all to live in a world where, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, the winds of the world blow freely all about us, but we are not blown off our feet?

My answer is simple: women.

In my years of working at the Global Fund for Women, the largest grantmaking foundation in the world that focuses exclusively on advancing women’s rights internationally, I have had the privilege of hearing from thousands of women’s groups.   These groups work on such issues as the environment, health, education, water rights, inheritance rights, trafficking and early marriage. In their work they are fired by a very different imagination—a vision of a world that is not defined by brute force or military power. They are able to envision a world where conflicts are resolved using words instead of weapons. They are able to conceive of a world where a truly “free market” will decide that the value of a teacher or child care worker is reflected in a salary that shows how much society truly values children, education and community over profit margins. 

What enables women to imagine such a world? I don’t believe that it’s some genetic gift of superior insight. Rather, because women have been excluded from power for so long and marginalized in so many cultures across the globe, they are able to rethink the paradigm that appears self-evident to others. No matter where they live or what religion they practice, women are “global” in a way that men have never been: the experience of bearing and raising children, of nurturing and caring for the sick and the old, and of preserving life, is true for women everywhere.

As we look for ways to re-imagine our economies and our governance structures, women may be able to help us shape priorities and values that will in turn be reflected in the marketplace. Women are able to offer a new vision of how such a world might be organized, where collaborative and cooperative systems would replace “old-fashioned” industrial-age models of competition and ruthless exploitation.  Human security—of person, of food, and of shelter—would replace narrow militaristic definitions of national security. 

The Global Fund’s own experience provides some evidence of this possibility. Our mission is to advance women’s human rights and to amplify the voices giving birth to this alternative vision—namely, women’s groups around the world. Theirs is a truly twenty-first-century imagination of globalization, one that is in harmony with the word “global”—that values mother earth, and is round, warm, all-encompassing, inclusive, borderless. At another level we seek to model this alternative vision as an organization, inverting the traditional hierarchical model of philanthropy by opening it up to participation by all who seek to create social change, and transforming relations between North-South and Grantee-Donor to a network of equal partners who respect and trust one another.

It is often said that our greatest weakness is also our greatest strength. In the case of women, perhaps their long-term and systemic exclusion from the broader economy and from roles of public leadership is exactly what offers them the ability to imagine a future where, in the words of environmental activist and scientist, Vandana Shiva, “they can refuse the choice between centralized controlling states and centralized controlling markets and demand decentralized democracy for local communities, vibrant lived democracies that are possible for humanity across the world.”

Gandhi once said, “It may be long before the law of love is recognized in international affairs.” For his dream to be realized we will need women’s vision, imagination and participation to transform the global economy. Only then can their ripples of change bring about a tidal wave of lasting transformation and a truly ethical globalization for all. 

Kavita N. Ramdas, president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women since 1996, is a recognized leader in the fields of women's rights and philanthropy. Before joining the Global Fund, Kavita supported both domestic and international programs in economic development and population issues as a program officer at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago.

The New Face of Agriculture

Alternative models to corporate agribusiness

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For thousands of years, small family farmers across the globe have grown food for their local communities, planting diverse crops in healthy soil, recycling organic matter, following nature’s rainfall patterns, and maintaining our rich biodiversity. Today, this agricultural system—which was built on knowledge accumulated and passed on from one farming generation to the next—faces both an environmental and moral crisis.

What’s called “modern industrial agriculture” is replacing family farms with corporate farms, and biodiversity with monocultures. This agricultural model is trading local food security for global commerce.

America is no different. U.S. farmers have been sold out to corporate agribusiness. Ever-increasing numbers of farm bankruptcies and foreclosures reap a grim harvest of alcoholism, suicides, and loss of community. In the 1930s, 25 percent of the U.S. population lived on the nation’s 6 million farms; today 2 million farms are home to less than 2 percent of the population. Small family farms have been substituted by large commercial farms, and 8 percent of farms now account for 72 percent of sales. Between 1994 and 1996, about 25 percent of all U.S. hog farmers, 10 percent of all grain farmers, and 10 percent of dairy farmers went out of business.

Federal agricultural policies have contributed to the decline of the American countryside. Recent farm bills, like the 2002 farm bill, ensure that crop subsidies don’t go to the mythic American family farmer but to wealthy corporations like MeadWestvaco, Chevron, John Hancock insurance company, and rich individuals like Ted Turner and David Rockefeller. Such policies, while subsidizing agribusiness interests, leave family farms with nothing but a tax bill.

Corporate agribusiness also robs the world’s poor. Wielding the power of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and international trade agreements, the United States has opened up foreign markets for its agribusiness corporations, forcing poor countries to remove subsidies and lower tariffs. United States exports corn at prices 20 percent below the cost of production, and wheat at 46 percent below cost. The result is a reverse Robin Hood effect: U.S. farm subsidies cost poor countries about $50 billion a year in lost agricultural exports, while profits for agribusinesses like Archer Daniels Midland have nearly tripled since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

What is Food Sovereignty?

Following are principles, culled from people’s movements such as Via Campesina (, of a just global food system. Food sovereignty includes:

1. Prioritizing local, regional, and national needs, based on agriculture that consists of small farmers, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, and other local communities;
2. Protecting local and national markets of basic food stuffs to give priority to the products of local farmers;
3. Promoting and enforcing farmers’ rights, including access to land, water and seed;
4. Promoting sustainable peasant agriculture, which is more productive and protects our biodiversity;
5. Genuine land reform to ensure redistribution of land;
6. A new farm economy which should be at the centerpiece of economic development.


Farmers Fight Back
But any system built on structural inequities is ultimately unsustainable because it fuels conflict and struggle along the lines of class, gender and ethnicity.

Last year, Mexican farm leaders, under a united front that proclaimed, “The Countryside Can’t Take it Any More,” started a hunger strike to protest the agriculture chapters of NAFTA. Mexico was once self-sufficient in basic grains, but largely as result of NAFTA, now imports 95 percent of its soy, 58 percent of its rice, 49 percent of its wheat, and 40 percent of its meat. An estimated 600 peasant farmers are forced off their land each day because they are unable to compete with the cheap agricultural commodities dumped in their country by the United States. The hunger strike—accompanied by demonstrations along the U.S.-Mexico border, on highways, at airports, and at the offices of transnational agribusiness corporations—saw an outpouring of support, both nationally and internationally.

This cross-border organizing is an example of the new face of agriculture. It was also evident at the Fifth Ministerial of the World Trade Organization in Cancún, September 2004. Lee Kyung Hae, leader of the Korean Federation of Advanced Farmers Association, climbed the barricades that were blocking over 15,000 protesting farmers, Indigenous people, and youth from the trade talks. Wearing a sandwich board that read, “The WTO Kills Farmers,” Lee Kyung Hae took his life with a knife to the heart. Lee, whose own farm had foreclosed four years earlier, had watched hundreds of his comrades driven off their lands over the years. His suicide symbolized the sacrifice of the global countryside.

But this new face of agriculture is not without hope. Farmers around the world, the stewards of our land and keepers of nature’s inheritance, have not quit. Their resilience is testimony to a growing global resistance to corporate-controlled food:

  • Rural communities in Pennsylvania and South Dakota are responding to the corporate takeover of our food system by advocating anti-corporate farming laws and preventing factory farms from being located in their communities.
  • The organic food movement is the fastest growing sector in U.S. agriculture. Because of the efforts of family farm groups, farm workers, community gardeners, nutritionists, and environmentalists, farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) have doubled in the past decade. Organically grown food from Boston’s inner city Food Project is feeding the homeless in soup kitchens. Sold at reasonable prices at inner city farmers’ markets, this food feeds 225 CSA family shareholders. For instance, Oakland is home to the People’s Grocery, a community garden and mobile market in the heart of West Oakland. And nationwide, farm-to-school programs are helping local farmers supply schools with nutritious meals for students.
  • Resistance to the biotech industry is growing internationally, from Mendocino to Australia to Sudan. In May of this year, pressure from farmers and environmental groups forced biotech giant Monsanto to abandon its plans to commercialize its genetically modified (GM) wheat crops. Two months earlier, Mendocino County voters approved the nation's first ban on the raising and keeping of GM crops or animals. Also that month, Vermont senators voted 28-0 to support the Farmer Protection Act, a bill to hold biotech corporations liable for unintended contamination of conventional or organic crops by GM plant materials. Sudan recently joined Zambia and India in rejecting GM food aid from the United States, and the Angolan Government, too, declared that it opposes GM crops. Western Australia became the first Australian state to ban the commercial growing of GM crops. Meanwhile, 300 small farmers celebrated an annual corn festival in Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, to promote the use and exchange of native corn seeds.
  • The Movement of Landless Workers (MST) in Brazil has forced the Brazilian government to award more than 20 million acres of agricultural land to over 350,000 MST families since the movement's founding in 1984.
  • The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)—joined by hundreds of university and high-school students, faith-based groups and other farm workers’ advocates—set off this spring on a 45-mile-long Taco Bell Truth Tour from east Los Angeles to Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, California. Immokalee farm workers, who have not seen a wage increase since 1978, are demanding an additional one cent per pound of tomatoes.

Each of these examples is more than a model of an alternative food system. They are case studies of real change taking place on the ground—slowly, organically, steadily. They signify a new consciousness that acknowledges that food is both personal and political. This new face of agriculture is the pathway to a new future that embraces a life-affirming and just food system. What is the battle cry of this movement?  Food sovereignty is a fundamental human right. 

Article Sources

  1. A. Mittal, “Freedom to Trade? Trading Away American Family Farms.” Food First Backgrounder, Fall 2001.
  2. A. Mittal, “Giving Away the Farm: The 2002 Farm Bill.” Food First Backgrounder, Summer 2002.
  3. Douglass Cassel Jr., “The Great Trade Robbery,” Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, May 16, 2002.

Anuradha Mittal, a native of India, is an internationally renowned expert on trade, development, human rights and agriculture issues. She is the founder and director of a new policy think tank, The Oakland Institute. Previously, she spent nearly a decade at Food First/ Institute for Food and Development Policy and was its co-director. She lives in Oakland (

Alternative Energy

Innovative ideas and steps toward a more sustainable global system

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There is no longer any reason for this unsustainable [global energy] situation to persist. Considering the social, environmental, and security problems intrinsic to fossil fuel-based economies, it is a wonder that this form of energy production has survived to the present at all.

A number of countries have already shown that it is possible to eliminate dependency on electricity generated from nuclear power, which also poses an unnecessary threat to the health and security of millions of people around the world.

  • Italy shut down all five of its nuclear reactors between 1987 and 1990, after the accident at Chernobyl and a vote by the Italian people in a referendum against nuclear power.
  • Following a referendum in 1980, Sweden announced that it would phase out its twelve nuclear reactors, which generated half of the country’s electricity.
  • Belgium announced in 1999 that it would phase out its seven nuclear reactors, which generate nearly 60 percent of the country’s electricity between 2015 and 2025.
  • The Netherlands has closed down its two nuclear reactors.
  • Germany pledged in 2000 to close down all of its nineteen nuclear reactors, which generate 30 percent of its electricity, by 2021. Wind power will replace them.

Most of the technology needed for a complete transformation of our energy infrastructure is already available. We can increase energy efficiency many times over and meet all our remaining needs with a mix of renewable resources: solar, biomass, geothermal, minihydro, micropower turbines, and most imminent and important, wind energy and hydrogen fuel systems; the latter is directly applicable to cars, trucks, airplanes, ships, and all other modes of transit.

None of these alternative technologies are esoteric or difficult to develop; in fact, all are already in use in many places. For example, Denmark gets 15 percent of its total electricity from wind turbines. Hydrogen and solar energy systems are powering the U.S. space program and many other military programs. In Germany, BMW is operating and selling hydrogen-powered cars with conventional engines that are far more efficient than gasoline-powered cars. In Japan, Mazda is converting its rotary engine to hydrogen. DaimlerChrysler, Ford, Honda, Toyota and GM are also developing hydrogen fuel cell cars. And the Rocky Mountain Institute—an important technology think tank and research institute directed by Amory Lovins—has completed design and construction of a prototype hydrogen fuel cell “hypercar” that will be inexpensive, has most of the safety and performance features of standard cars, and is claimed to achieve the equivalent of 99 miles per gallon using hydrogen. (See Lovin’s book Hypercars: Materials, Manufacturing, and Policy Implications)

Hydrogen has none of the geopolitical problems of oil, and it is not scarce. It is, in fact, the most plentiful element in the universe and can be converted directly from water. It can be unlocked from water by electrolysis, using electrical energy from wind turbines, or it can be reformed from natural gas. The process is relatively simple; it does not pollute—its only tailpipe emission is water—and no global cartel can control it.

Iceland has begun work to achieve its goal of becoming the first country in the world to use hydrogen-fuel cell technology to displace all of its remaining fossil fuel use by 2030. And the state of North Dakota is gearing toward the introduction of 10,000 megawatts from wind generation on farmlands there.  Denmark plans to build a new series of large-scale offshore wind farms in the North Sea and the Baltic that will generate half of the country’s power by 2030.

Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, predicts that in many countries wind turbines will supply both electricity and, through electrolysis of water, hydrogen. Together, says Brown, “electricity and hydrogen can meet all the energy needs of a modern society.”

In another report from Worldwatch, “Hydrogen Futures,” Seth Dunn predicts a nearly complete transition from fossil fuels to hydrogen within a century, although it could be argued that we should move much faster than that if we are to save the global climate. Dr. Ty Cashman, former secretary of energy of California, says “an informed global public may be all that is required to bring an end to the climate-destabilizing fossil fuel era.” And U.S. Windpower Corporation founder Alvin Duskin, now head of the new Committee for the Conversion of the Oil-Based Economy, an NGO in San Francisco, says, “The only thing limiting the immediate conversion is the assumption that hydrogen is more expensive to produce than oil, but only if you ignore the repeating military costs from protecting oil suppliers and fighting wars, and the environmental costs from cleanups of oil spills and the like. If you delivered those costs to the pumping station, hydrogen would already be far cheaper. In any case, within a few years the unit price will be lower than gasoline, no matter how the costs are calculated.”

Transitioning from Fossil Fuels
In a recent comprehensive report, “Energy Innovations: A Prosperous Path to a Clean Environment,” the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), founded by the late Nobel laureate Dr. Henry Kendall, undertook a thorough analysis of steps needed to make a transition from fossil fuels to an energy future without the myriad political, economic, environmental, and social harms that are inherent in the present model. In addition to endorsing most of the alternative systems already mentioned, UCS cites recent advances in membrane technologies, advanced gas turbines, and integrated green building designs that would further reduce dependency on either fossil fuels or nuclear sources. UCS also suggests a highly innovative set of new tax strategies they could reallocate costs to motivate higher energy efficiency and lower emissions while avoiding any overall increase of taxes and fees.

Other well-circulated tax ideas include a so-called carbon tax on fossil fuels and a Tobin tax on all international financial transactions. This latter tax could be earmarked directly for the conversion away from a fossil fuels economy. It should be remembered that 30 years ago, production tax credits helped kick-start a vital new turn to solar and wind. But when oil prices plummeted and Ronald Reagan took office, that changed. It must now be revived again.

All of the above is aside from the great contribution that could be made from even minimal efforts at direct energy conservation. The New Economics Foundation points out that energy has been conserved on a mass scale with enormous success in many countries in periods of crisis. During World War II, for example, the United Kingdom reduced its fossil fuel use by 80 percent yet still mounted a major military effort. The United States had similar results on the occasions in its history when energy conservation became a national priority—unlike the present, when additional consumption is the national goal. In recent years, countries such as Germany, Japan, and Sweden have drastically reduced their energy use without notable diminishment in lifestyle. Indeed, such changes would likely bring a far more peaceful, healthful existence within newly stabilized and localized democratic systems.

If we converted now to this kind of combination of new energy sources for all electricity and transportation, we would immediately achieve the following positive outcomes:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions (global warming) would be reduced by at least 30 percent in two decades, and much more after that.
  • Dependency on expensive, environmentally disastrous long-distance shipment of petroleum would be eliminated.
  • The powers of corrupt, undemocratic governments and gigantic industry cartels would be undermined.
  • Vulnerability to oil price and supply shocks that bring global economic crises would be reduced.
  • Military expenditures for the protection of oil-producing nations and the supply lines that connect them to their customers would be reduced.
  • New jobs in more labor-intensive, localized alternative energy fields would be created.
  • The primary contributor to air and land pollution as well as acid rain would be eliminated.
  • The impact on Indigenous people of the world, whose lands are often targeted for exploitation and invasion for their oil reserves, would be lessened.
  • Vulnerability to accidents or terrorist attacks would be reduced. (Most experts believe that a hydrogen-powered jetliner striking a skyscraper would have produced no explosion at all.)

Government and Grassroots Action
To increase the political viability of this transformation from fossil fuels, many NGOs and some government agencies are circulating draft domestic sustainable energy statutes, as well as draft international treaties, to establish independent international agencies to work with and lead governments in making these changes. Among the more comprehensive and widely circulated is an international sustainable energy fund statute prepared by the New York-based Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE). A full draft was released at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002 (see
). The fund would support sustainable energy programs for the world’s two billion poor and would finance the programs with the savings from the phase-out of government subsidies to fossil fuels. Imagine the impact if such a fund were established and fossil fuels lending by the international financial institutions and government export credit agencies were eliminated.

Michael Northrup of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a foundation in New York, argues that people of most countries are way ahead of politicians, especially in the United States. On climate change issues, for example, he says, “Growing evidence suggests that a real movement has begun at the subfederal level to lower greenhouse gas emissions, often at rates equal to or better than those proposed in any international accord.” He offers the following inspiring list of grassroots actions in the United States:

  • Six New England states, together with five eastern Canadian provinces, agreed this past spring to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 to 80 percent to help stabilize the globe’s climate system.
  • New York State is now in the process of formulating a climate action plan.
  • Massachusetts became the first state in the nation [in 2002] to mandate reductions in carbon emissions from power plants.
  • California legislators recently passed new state automobile efficiency rules to meet the Kyoto auto emissions reduction target.
  • Fifteen states have developed clean energy funds with $3.5 billion in expected assets to underwrite the development of clean energy generation in their states.
  • Thirteen states have adopted policies that require some portion of the power generated to come from renewable sources.
  • Nearly 40 states have put in place net metering rules that allow utility customers to generate energy at home, using solar arrays, wind power, and eventually fuel cells, and to sell the excess energy back into the electric power grid. (This reduces the cost for households wishing to install renewable energy systems by allowing them to pay down purchase costs more quickly.)
  • More than one hundred municipalities across the country have developed plans for greenhouse gas reductions of up to 20 percent.
  • Seattle’s city council formally passed a measure adopting the Kyoto protocol.
  • Chicago announced that it would demand that 20 percent of all its energy come from renewable sources.
  • San Francisco voters passed a referendum that will turn city rooftops into solar collectors to generate clean power.
  • Six hundred hospitals announced that they want to purchase renewable power.
  • Faith communities are also getting involved, with scores of churches, mosques, and synagogues around the country promising to reduce their emissions.
  • Several universities, including Tufts, have adopted the Kyoto protocol, and are analyzing their emissions footprints and adopting reduction strategies.
  • Wesleyan University announced that it would seek to buy 10 percent of its power from renewable sources.
  • Anecdotal evidence is emerging of increasing numbers of individual households adopting their own emissions reduction strategies.

Although these examples of grassroots action are insignificant on the larger plane, they do signify an awakening public. And getting the United States to take real action is critical. Although the world community is willing to act without the United States, a strengthened subfederal reductions movement connected to federal policymaking could help the transition happen faster. 

Excerpted, with permission from the publisher, from Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World Is Possible, A Report of the International Forum on Globalization (2002) by IFG, drafting committee, John Cavanaugh, et al. (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.), San Francisco, CA. All rights reserved (

Related Stories: 

Resources for Reclaiming our Resources

Organizations and Projects

Alliance for Democracy
P.O. Box 540115
760 Main Street
Waltham, MA 02451

Citizens Trade Campaign
P.O. Box 77077
Washington, D.C. 20013

1611 Telegraph Avenue, #702
Oakland, CA 94612

Development Group for Alternative Policies
927 Fifteenth Street, NW – 4th Fl.
Three McPherson Square
Washington, D.C. 20005

Economic Policy Institute
1660 L Street, NW Suite 1200
Washington, D.C. 20036

Fair Trade Federation
1612 K Street NW, Suite 600
Washington, D.C. 20006

Focus on the Global South
c/o CUSRI, Chulalongkorn University
Bangkok, Thailand

Food First
398 60th Street
Oakland, CA 94618

Friends of the Earth International
P.O. Box 19199
1000 gd Amsterdam,
The Netherlands

Global Exchange
2017 Mission Street, #303
San Francisco, CA 94110

Institute for Policy Studies
733 15th Street NW, Suite 1020
Washington, D.C. 20005

International Forum on Globalization
1009 General Kennedy Avenue, #2
San Francisco, CA 94129

International Rivers Network
1847 Berkeley Way
Berkeley, CA 94703

Jobs With Justice
501 Third St.
NW Washington, D.C. 20001

Oxfam International
355 Lexington Avenue, 3rd Fl.
New York, NY 10017

Polaris Institute
312 Cooper Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 0G7, Canada

Public Citizen
California Office
1615 Broadway, 9th Fl.
Oakland, CA 94612

Third World Majority
369 15th Street
Oakland, CA 94612

Third World Network
121-S Jalan Utama, 10450
Penang, Malaysia

United for a Fair Economy
37 Temple Place, 2nd Fl.
Boston, MA 02111

Via Campesina
Operative Secretariat Tegucigalpa
Apdo. Postal 3628MDC
Honduras, Central America

World Development Movement
25 Beehive Place
London, SW9 7QR, UK


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Bello, Waldo, Deglobalization: Ideas for a New Economy (Zed Books, 2002).

Cavanagh, John, et al., Alternatives to Economic Globalization (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2002).

Harvey, David, Imperialism (Oxford, 2004).

Jawara, Fatoumata, et al, Behind the Scenes at the WTO : The Real World of International Trade Negotiations (Zed Books).

Mann, Eric, Dispatches from Durban: Firsthand Commentaries on the World Conference Against Racism and Post-September 11 Movement Strategies (Frontlines Press, 2004).

Mele, Christopher, Selling the Lower East Side: Culture, Real Estate and Resistance in New York City (University of Minnesota Press).

Pinderhughes, Raquel, Alternative Urban Futures: Planning for Sustainable Development in Cities Throughout the World (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).

Prokosch, Michael, ed., The Global Activist’s Handbook (Nation Books, 2002).

Self, Robert, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton University Press, 2003).

Smith, Neil, American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization (University of California Press, 2003).

Solnit, Rebecca, Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism (Verso Press, 2002).

Wallach, Lori, and Patrick Woodall, Whose Trade Organization? A Comprehensive Guide to the WTO (The New Press, 2004).

Wright, Angus, et al, To Inherit the Earth: The Landless Movement and the Struggle for a New Brazil (Food First, 2003).

Thirst, Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, 2004,