Foreign Policy News Stories
World Bank and multinational corporations
seed to privatize water
Global consumption of water is doubling
every 20 years, more than twice the rate of human population growth.
According to the United Nations, more than one billion people
already lack access to fresh drinking water. If current trends
persist, by 2025 the demand for fresh water is expected to rise
by 56 percent more than the amount of water that is currently
Multinational corporations recognize these
trends and are trying to monopolize water supplies around the
world. Monsanto, Bechtel, and other global multinationals are
seeking control of world water systems and supplies.
The World Bank recently adopted a policy
of water privatization and full-cost water pricing. This policy
is causing great distress in many Third World countries, which
fear that their citizens will not be able to afford for-profit
water. Grassroots resistance to the privatization of water emerges
as companies expand profit taking. San Francisco's Bechtel Enterprises
was contracted to manage the water system in Cochabamba, Bolivia,
after the World Bank required Bolivia to privatize. When Bechtel
pushed up the price of water, the entire city went on a general
strike. The military killed a seventeen-year-old boy and arrested
the water rights leaders. But after four months of unrest the
Bolivian government forced Bechtel out of Cochabamba.
Bechtel Group Inc., a corporation with
a long history of environmental abuses, now contracts with the
city of San Francisco to upgrade the city's water system. Bechtel
employees are working side by side with government workers in
a privatization move that activists fear will lead to an eventual
takeover of San Francisco's water system.
Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of
Canadians, Canada's largest public advocacy group, states, "Governments
around the world must act now to declare water a fundamental human
right and prevent efforts to privatize, export, and sell for profit
a substance essential to all life." Research has shown that
selling water on the open market only delivers it to wealthy cities
Governments are signing away their control
over domestic water supplies by participating in trade treaties
such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and in
institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). These
agreements give transnational corporations the unprecedented right
to the water of signatory companies.
Water-related conflicts are springing
up around the globe. Malaysia, for example, owns half of Singapore's
water and, in 1997, threatened to cut off its water supply after
Singapore criticized Malaysia's government policies.
Monsanto plans to earn revenues of $420
million and a net income of $63 million by 2008 from its water
business in India and Mexico. Monsanto estimates that water will
become a multibillion-dollar market in the coming decades.
UPDATE by MAUDE BARLOW
This story is of vital importance to the earth and all humanity.
The finite sources of freshwater (less than one half of one per
cent of the world's total water stock) are being diverted, depleted,
and polluted so fast that, by the year 2025, two-thirds of the
world's population will be living in a state of serious water
deprivation. Yet governments are handing responsibility of this
precious resource over to giant transnational corporations who,
in collusion with the World Bank and the World Trade Organization,
seek to commodify and privatize the world's water and put it on
the open market for sale to the highest bidder. Millions of the
world's citizens are being deprived of this fundamental human
right, and vast ecological damage is being wrought as massive
industry claims water once used to sustain communities and replenish
Recently, a civil society movement has
been created to wrest control of water back from profit-making
forces and claim it for people and nature. Called the Blue Planet
Project, this movement is an alliance of farmers, environmentalists,
Indigenous Peoples, public sector workers, and urban activists
who forced the issue of water as a human right at the March 2000
World Water Forum in the Hague. The Project is holding the first
global citizens' summit on water in Vancouver in July 2001. One
major project has been support of the water activists in Cochabamba,
Bolivia, who, led by union leader Oscar Olivera, forced the giant
engineering company Bechtel to leave the country and stopped a
World Bank-imposed privatization scheme that more than doubled
the price of water to the local people.
The mainstream press has been reluctant
to tell this story. Our fight in Canada started with concern over
the potential of bulk water exports sought by some politicians
and corporations. Water is included in both NAFTA and the WTO
as a tradable good; once the tap is turned on, corporate rights
to water are immediately established. But our mainstream press
generally supports economic globalization and these trade agreements
and will permit only selective reporting on opposition positions.
Blue Gold, my paper on the commodification of water published
by the IFG in 1999, has been printed in several languages and
sold all over the world but has been ignored by the North American
The story of the destruction of the world's
remaining freshwater sources is one of the most pressing of our
time; there is simply no way to overstate the nature of this crisis.
And yet when the mainstream media report on it-which is not nearly
often enough or in sufficient depth-they seldom ask the most crucial
question of all: Who owns water? We say the earth, all species
and all future generations. Many in power have another answer.
It is time for this debate.
For more information on this story and
the Blue Planet Project, please contact The Council of Canadians:
phone (613) 233-2773; fax (613) 233-6776; address, 502-151 Slater
Street, Ottawa, ON, Canada, K1P 5H3; website, www.canadians.org.
Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson
of the Council of Canadians and a director with the International
Forum on Globalization.
UPDATE BY JIM SHULTZ
Eight months have passed since the people of Cochabamba forced
the departure of a subsidiary of the Bechtel Corporation and restored
control of the region's water supply into public hands. The story
has brought unprecedented attention to the issue of water privatization
and important events continue to unfold, both locally and internationally.
Locally, Cochabamba's residents are working
closely with the newly reconstituted water company, SEMAPA, to
extend water service to more families. In Alto Cochabamba, one
of the city's poorest neighborhoods, a community water tank had
remained uncompleted for years and became a local trash dump.
Today the tank is in full operation,
bringing public water into the neighborhood
for the first time. Civic leaders say they are building a utility
that is run by the people rather than by corrupt politicians or
an overcharging corporation beyond local democratic reach.
As a direct result of the Democracy Center's
reporting, Cochabamba's water rebellion is also drawing substantial
world attention and solidarity. In December, a delegation of leading
citizen action and labor groups from the U.S. and Canada came
to Cochabamba for an international conference on water privatization.
These groups and others have also pledged their support against
Bechtel's latest attack, a lawsuit for as much as $20 million-compensation
for losing their lucrative Cochabamba contract. It is an action
that pits one of the world's wealthiest corporations against the
people of South America's poorest nation.
Bechtel has been actively shopping for
the friendliest international forum possible and apparently has
decided its best chances lie in a suit under a Bilateral Investment
Treaty (BIT) signed previously between Bolivia and Holland. Late
last year Bechtel quietly reshuffled corporate papers to place
its subsidiary under Dutch registration, in preparation for such
action. International groups are gearing up to help Cochabamba
leaders fight Bechtel's lawsuit. "This is going to be the
first major international civil society fight against a corporate
legal action under such a treaty," says Antonia Juhasz of
San Francisco-based International Forum on Globalization.
The Democracy Center's articles, which
ran primarily in the progressive press and were distributed widely
via the Internet, also attracted publication in some dedicated
city dailies such as the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco
Examiner, and Toronto Star (thanks to distribution by the Pacific
News Service). Most mainstream coverage of the story, however,
was limited to the dispatches of the Associated Press Bolivian
correspondent. AP correspondent Peter McFarren came under fire
for stories that eagerly repeated the Bolivian government's and
Bechtel's public line, falsely blaming the water uprising on "narcotraffickers."
One reader of the Democracy Center's articles noted the difference
in the reporting and uncovered that McFarren was, at the same
time, actively lobbying the Bolivian Congress to approve a controversial
project to ship Bolivian water to Chile. When that conflict of
interest was reported to AP, McFarren suddenly submitted his resignation.
More information on the story, including
subscription to the free e-mail newsletter in which the stories
originated, is available at www.democracyctr.org.
Jim Shultz: JShultz@democracyctr.org
UPDATE BY PRATAP CHATTERJEE
Engineering News-Record magazine ranks Bechtel as the biggest
construction company in the United States; it is also the biggest
private company in northern California. It has built mega-projects
from the Alaska pipeline and the
Hoover dam to the San Francisco Bay Bridge,
from natural gas pipelines in Algeria to refineries in Zambia.
Hardly a day passes without the company signing a new contract
somewhere in the world; all told it has worked on 19,000 contracts
in 140 countries in the past century, many of them with taxpayer
money. Yet an extensive review of Bechtel contracts over the last
100 years shows that time and again the company has been found
guilty of sleazy political connections. In fact, if there's a
pattern to Bechtel's public works projects, it's this: The company
works under cover of the utmost secrecy and routinely jacks up
the cost of projects far beyond the original bid, sticking taxpayers
with huge, often unexpected bills.
If these cost overruns do generate some
headlines, the environmental and social impacts of the company's
construction activities rarely get a mention: managing bombsites
for nuclear testing in Nevada, helping hack off the top of a sacred
mountain on the Pacific island of New Guinea to build the world's
largest gold mine, planning pipelines for Saddam Hussein in Iraq,
drawing up development plans for a man accused of killing half
a million Hutu refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
(former Zaire), building toxic refineries for Chevron in Richmond
that destroy the San Francisco Bay.
Bechtel's management and spin doctors
went into overdrive when staff at headquarters read the San Francisco
Bay Guardian story and started to ask hard questions. We obtained
an internal memo that explained why they had decided not to respond
to the story:
"We're not currently considering
legal recourse (for) a number of reasons:
* To win a libel or defamation lawsuit,
Bechtel would have to show that the journalists, activists, or
politicians in question either knew that such statements were
false or entertained serious doubts about their accuracy. This
could be very difficult to prove.
* A lawsuit would give Bechtel's most
vocal critics another public forum in which to reprise their claims.
Defense attorneys would be permitted to engage in wide-ranging
discovery into Bechtel's nonpublic business affairs- including
making substantial document requests and taking depositions from
Bechtel employees-to probe whether or not the critical claims
* Bechtel would have to prove the amount
of damages suffered as a result of the alleged defamation. Bechtel
would have to demonstrate some monetary loss, which might be difficult
(and would, again, open us up to discovery of data)."
The mainstream press regularly writes
about the contracts that Bechtel wins and completes but they rarely
ever dig deeper to find out about the impact of these projects.
No mainstream press has ever looked at a broad overview of the
company's history or been able to probe into the company's inner
workings: this is partly because the company refuses to give the
media access to the company staff and management.
Pratap Chatterjee: firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. Taxpayers Underwrite Global Nuclear
Power Plant Sales
The U.S. tax-supported Export-Import Bank
(Ex-Im) is solidly backing major U.S. nuclear contractors such
as Westinghouse, Bechtel, and General Electric in their efforts
to seek foreign markets for nuclear reactors. Between 1959 and
1993 Ex-lm spent $7.7 billion to help sell American-made reactors
Most countries do not have the capital
to buy nuclear power, so contractors, in order to be competitive,
provide 100 percent of the financing. Ex-Im offers terms too good
for Third World countries and Eastern European buyers to pass
up. If the host country defaults on its loan, the Ex-Im steps
in with American taxpayer dollars.
Westinghouse built the Bataan nuclear
power facility in the Philippines in 1985 at a cost of $1.2 billion,
150 percent above their projections. However, the Bataan plant
was never brought online due to the fact it was near an active
volcano. Despite the fact that the plant never generated a single
kilowatt of energy, the Philippines still pays about $300,000
a day in interest on the Ex-Im loan that funded the project. Should
the Philippines default, U.S. taxpayers will pick up the tab.
In Turkey, the Ex-Im has approved a preliminary
loan in support of a Westinghouse-led consortium's $3.2 billion
bid to build the Akkuyu plant on the Mediterranean coast. The
Akkuyu plant site is near an active fault line in a region that
has experienced a number of strong earthquakes over the last 100
years. Despite safety and environmental concerns, Vice President
Gore wrote to Turkish officials on behalf of Westinghouse. National
security specialists believe that Turkey's nuclear energy program
contains a military element. Several members of the U.S. Congress
have accused Turkey of supplying Pakistan with uranium enrichment
The Clinton administration has also allowed
American contractors to sell reactors to China, claiming the nuclear
energy market of China is vital to the U.S. nuclear supply industry.
Ex-Im has guaranteed a $322 million loan for two Westinghouse
nuclear deals in China. This approval comes despite Beijing's
refusal to abide by nonproliferation rules established by the
International Atomic Energy Act. The decision to allow the sales
was reportedly made over the objections of national security advisor
Sandy Berger, who cited Chinese exports of "dual-use"
technology to Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan.
Estimates are that some 70 nuclear power
plants will be built in Asia in the next 25 years. China will
be one of the principal buyers. In 1997, President Clinton's Export
council (headed at the time by the CEO of Westinghouse) declared,
"The nuclear energy market of China is critical to the survival
of the U.S. nuclear power supply industry."
"American contractors are selling
a product that most people don't want," Dave Martin of the
Toronto-based Nuclear Awareness campaign says. U.S. taxpayers
are subsidizing this industry. Without Ex-Im, which offers terms
just too good for Third World countries to pass up, American firms
would not succeed in selling nuclear power plants worldwide.
UPDATE BY LAN URBINA
Discussion of the perils of the nuclear industry is rare enough
in the mainstream media. But even less attention is paid to the
U.S. funding institutions that make many of these nuclear plants
possible. With virtually no oversight or public account ability,
the U.S. Export-Import Bank continues to direct huge sums of tax
payer dollars toward irresponsible and inefficient projects, few
of which could ever pass domestic safety standards. A the same
time that the U.S. government has acquiesced to the need for cheaper,
cleaner, and safer forms of energy at home, it unscrupulously
peddles nuclear energy abroad to keep U.S. contractors afloat.
There have been some developments since
our article originally ran. Nearly a billion dollars over budget,
the Temelin plant in the Czech Republic went online on October
9, 2000. The reactor sparked massive international protests, which
on several occasions forced the closing of the Austrian-Czech
border. Protests are now turning to Temelin II, an unfinished
second reactor at the same plant, which is scheduled for completion
next year. Antinuclear activists and members of the Austrian and
Bavarian governments are vowing to block it.
In Bulgaria, the Kozloduy reactors remain
online. The European Union (EU) maintains that unless four of
the six Kozloduy reactors are closed, Bulgaria will not be allowed
entrance into the Union. The EU has also threatened to forbid
Lithuania membership if it continues to postpone the shutdown
of the Ignalina plant, which still operates partly because of
Westinghouse work and Ex-Im backing.
In Turkey, the movement to block the Akkuyu
project won a stunning victory in July 2000. Stating that the
project was simply too expensive and too dangerous, the Turkish
government finally agreed to cancel it. Turkish president Ecevit
pointed out that "the world is abandoning nuclear energy,"
and said that the government would instead begin focusing on conservation,
natural gas, and hydroelectric, solar, and wind energy.
China remains the grand prize for the
U.S. nuclear industry. With U.S.-Chinese trade relations growing
closer by the day, Ex-Im will face even less difficulty in opening
this market to U.S. contractors.
To follow the activities of the lending
agencies behind these projects, two important sources to check
out are Bank Watch (www.bankwatch.org) and the Bank Information
Center (www.bicusa. org). For general information on nuclear projects,
the Nuclear Information and Resource Service & World Information
Service on Energy (www.nirs.org) and the Campaign for Nuclear
Phaseout (www.cnp.ca) are excellent.
Ian Urbina: email@example.com
International Report Blames U.S. and Others
for Genocide in Rwanda
Bill Clinton and his administration allowed
the genocide of 500,000 to 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994. In
a clear effort to avoid responsibility and embarrassment, the
Clinton administration has refused to acknowledge its role in
failing to prevent the genocide in Rwanda. This allegation comes
from the recent report released in July by a panel affiliated
with the Organization for African Unity (OAU).
OAU set up a panel comprised of two African
heads of state, chairwomen of the Swedish Committee for UNICEF,
a former chief justice to the Indian Supreme Court, and a former
Canadian ambassador to the United Nations (UN). The panel was
asked to review the 1994 genocide, the actions preceding the massacre,
and the world's response to the killings.
The panel concluded that the nations and
international bodies that should have attempted to stop the killing
chose not to do so. The report, which received modest but insufficient
media coverage, convincingly condemns the United Nations, Belgium
(a former colonial occupier), France (which maintained close relations
with Rwanda), and the United States. The report found that after
the genocide began, the Clinton administration chose not to acknowledge
that it was taking place. Under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention,
once genocide is recognized the nations of the world are obligated
to prevent the killings and to punish the murderers. But the Clinton
administration did not want to become involved with Rwanda after
18 Americans were killed in Somalia six months before. The report
says, "the Clinton administration held that there was no
useful role for any peacekeeping operation under the prevailing
According to the report, the killings
could have been stopped before they began. The report refers to
the well-known fax that Canadian Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire,
commander of the UN peacekeeping troops in Rwanda, sent to the
UN three months before the genocide began. In the fax, Dallaire
warned that an extermination campaign was coming. In fact, three
days before the genocide started, a Hutu leader told several high-ranking
UN officials that "the only plausible solution for Rwanda
would be the elimination of the Tutsi." While the report
states that "there were a thousand early warnings that something
appalling was about to occur in Rwanda," the Clinton administration
took every step possible to avoid acknowledging that genocide
was taking place.
Dallaire asked for an additional three
thousand UN troops, which would have brought the total to 5,00O,
a number likely to have been able to prevent the genocide. However,
Madeleine Albright played a key role in the Security Council of
the UN in blocking the troop expansion. In fact Albright is cited
by the report as "tossing up roadblocks... at every stage."
Perhaps even more disturbing are reports
linking U.S. Special Forces to the training of Rwandan Patriotic
Army (RPA) troops. The Special Forces Command Team known as Joint
Combined Exchange Training (JCET) is a special foreign armed forces
training unit. Since 1994, under the leadership of Paul Kagame,
Green Berets were training the RPA. They have been trained in
landmine detection and small unit movement. This training continues
even though there is mounting evidence that the U.S.-trained Rwandan
soldiers have been in the thick of the atrocities inflicted upon
the Hutu refugees from before the genocide began up until the
UPDATE BY DAVID CORN
There are several forms of censorship. In totalitarian societies,
governments simply forbid journalists from publishing and disseminating
embarrassing, inconvenient, or troubling information. But in supposedly
open societies, where the cyber-fast flow of information creates
a white noise that can drown out the trivial and the significant,
there are more subtle and less conspiratorial acts of news suppression.
Most notably, there is the question of triage. A tremendously
important matter can receive but several inches of attention in
the middle of a newspaper or a brief mention halfway through a
news broadcast. (I. F. Stone used to say that the Washington Post
was a great newspaper-you never knew where in it you would find
a page-one story.) If a story is not deemed vital-if there is
no page-one headline, no follow-up the subject can fade quickly
and be swept aside by other news. And-poof! -it's as if the story
never appeared in the first place.
In the column that has been selected as
the #6 Censored story of 200O, I attempted to rescue a crucial
story from the disposal bin. When an Organization of African Unity
panel last summer released a report on the Rwanda genocide of
1994, the New York Times published a news story on the study in
the middle of its first section. The article noted that the OAU
panel had been critical of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
and the United States-and that, predictably, the Clinton Administration
had brushed aside the criticism. But the story did not go into
details. And that was it. When I looked up the report on the OAU's
Web site, I was astonished at how sharp a critique it was of the
Clinton administration's response (or lack thereof) to the genocide,
in which 50O,000 to 80O,000 Tutsi were massacred by the Hutu.
Moreover, the report demolished the Clinton assertion that he
had not been fully aware of the genocide when it had been under
way. (The president had offered this excuse in 1998 while making
an apology in Rwanda for his inaction.) That is, the report showed
that the president had prevaricated when he had issued his apology.
The OAU study also put forward a convincing case that the Clinton
administration had stood in the way of a swift and strong international
response to the Rwanda genocide. It was a devastating piece of
work. Yet as far as I could see, it had little impact on the Clinton
administration and did not register with the American public.
Clinton's lies about his personal sexual behavior seemed more
important to the media than his lies about genocide.
My modest aim was to write a column that
would inform people of the full breadth of the OAU report. In
the same piece, I also referred to the plight of Canadian General
Romeo Dallaire, who had been the commander of the UN forces in
Rwanda. A few months before the OAU report came out, Dallaire
retired early from the military for medical reasons. He had been
suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder related to his service
in Rwanda. For years he had been hounded by the belief that he
could have prevented the genocide had the United States, the UN,
and the international community decided to act more forcibly at
the start of the massacre. A few weeks before the report was published,
he had been found drunk, lying in a park in Canada. Afterward
he revealed he had twice tried to commit suicide. His sad tale
went unreported in the United States, except for one brief mention
in a Baltimore newspaper that reprinted a Toronto Star article.
Dallaire's personal story and the OAU's criticism of Clinton were
important topics that warranted more than cursory coverage.
Sadly, not much additional information
has developed since publication. The Rwanda genocide has receded
further in time and memory. It has not been on the top of the
list when journalists assess the Clinton presidency.
There was no mainstream press response
to this article, as far as I could tell. But that was not surprising.
My column was necessary only because the mainstream media had
decided not to cover this subject.
To get more information, one can read
the report at www.onu-oua.org/ Document/ipep/ipep.htm.
For general information on human rights
and genocide in Africa and elsewhere, visit the sites of Human
Rights Watch (www.hrw.org) and Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org).
United Nations Corporate Partnerships
- A Human Rights Peril
In a move to make the United Nations more
corporate-friendly, officials are calling for UN-corporate partnerships.
The UN's new partners include multinational giants like McDonald's,
Disney, Dow, and Unocal.
A business-friendly ideology at the UN
is based on a desire to gain favor with the United States, the
UN's largest funder, and to raise money through private sources.
The practice of the U.S. withholding dues from the UN for political
purposes has jeopardized its operations. Now facing a funding
crisis, the UN is turning to direct corporate aid on an unprecedented
scale. UN officials are keenly aware that support from the United
States is predicated upon a friendly stance toward business. U.S.
business pressure led to the closure of the UN's Center on Transnational
Corporations in the early 1990s.
UN agencies have entered into an array
of partnerships with giant corporations, including many that citizen
movements have denounced for violations of human and labor rights.
Human rights groups around the world are increasingly challenging
the new partnership arrangements for fear that these new relationships
will undermine the UN's ability to serve as a counterbalance to
global corporate power. Human rights groups fear that corporations
will get a public boost by wrapping themselves in the UN flag
while making no commitments to adjust their behavior to reflect
the institution's principles. They are calling on the UN to pull
back from the partnerships and set clear guidelines for any cooperative
ventures with business enterprises. At stake are the core values
of the UN itself as the partnerships undermine the primacy of
human rights, health, labor rights and environmental protection
to favor markets and profits.
Executive director of UNICEF Carol Bellamy
warned in April 1999, "It is dangerous to assume that goals
of the private sector are somehow synonymous with those of the
United Nations." Ward Moorehouse of the Center for International
and Public Affairs in New York stated that "the UN's job
must be to monitor and hold corporations accountable, not to give
out special favors."
General Kofi Annan set the stage for the
partnership initiative by calling on CEOs to join a "Global
Compact" with the UN. He also challenged business leaders
to enact the nine principles derived from UN agreements on labor
standards, human rights, and environmental protection.
One of the controversial partnerships
is the Global Sustainable Development Facility (GSDF) set up to
fund sustainable development projects worldwide. The GSDF is now
headed by a steering committee that includes Dow Chemical, the
world's largest producer of chlorine and pesticides, and Asea
Brown and Bovari, one of the main suppliers for the controversial
Three Gorges Dam in China.
The UN High Commissioner on Refugees,
Sadako Ogata, is now co-chair of the Business Humanitarian Forum
with Unocal President John Imle. Unocal is a business partner
with Burma's murderous military regime. Unocal's gas pipeline
project in Burma has generated thousands of refugees seeking to
escape the militarized pipeline area.
UNESCO, the UN's educational arm, is teaming
up with Disney and McDonald's to present "Millennium Dreamer"
youth awards to two thousand kids. It "should have crossed
UNESCO officials' minds that young people have more than enough
exposure to these two brands already," said Beth Handman,
a curriculum specialist in New York city schools.
UPDATE BY KENNY BRUNO
The Battle in Seattle revealed the existence of a growing citizens'
movement actively opposing corporate globalization and the international
institutions that support it. Many in this movement see the United
Nations, with its unique dedication to universal values of peace,
human rights, environmental protection, and public health, as
a potential counterbalance to the WTO and its pro-corporate agenda
of free trade and investment. However, under financial pressure,
due largely to the United States' refusal to pay its dues, and
fearful of irrelevance in world affairs, the UN has turned toward
"partnerships" with the private sector, including some
of the same companies against which citizens' movements campaign.
These include Nike, Shell, Rio Tinto, and many others. "Perilous
Partnerships" revealed the trend toward partnerships with
business at the UN.
The rhetoric around the partnerships reveals
a tendency for the UN to endorse a view of corporate-led globalization
supported by the WTO, World Bank, and IMF. This endorsement comes
precisely at the time of a popular backlash against corporate
globalization, and represents a betrayal of "we the peoples"
the UN is supposed to represent. In addition, the partnerships
have no monitoring or enforcement of corporate behavior; therefore
companies can sign onto UN principles without having to adhere
to them. For some of these companies, the partnerships amount
to a slick PR initiative, a chance to "bluewash" their
image by wrapping themselves in the blue flag of the United Nations
while carrying on with business as usual.
After publication of "Perilous Partnerships,"
the International Forum on Globalization sponsored an all-day
teach-in on the UN and corporate globalization. Later that week,
the Alliance for a Corporate-free United Nations- a grouping of
nongovernmental organizations from around the world-was born.
UN officials have acknowledged some of our concerns, though the
momentum toward partnerships has not been stopped. At the time
of this writing, the General Assembly has been deadlocked since
December 12, 200O, over a resolution that would encourage such
Limited coverage of the story from the
UN's point of view started in January 1999, with Kofi Annan's
launch of the Global Compact with corporations. Coverage of our
critique of the partnerships has been nonexistent on television,
while radio coverage has been limited to local stations, with
the exception of Pacifica. In print, the New York Times did one
major piece, in the context of the Millennium Summit, while Business
Week ran a short blurb. In Europe, there has been somewhat more
print coverage, including an exchange of opinion pieces in the
International Herald Tribune and a highly critical piece in the
This coverage, along with exchanges of
letters between our Alliance and UN officials, our report "Tangled
Up In Blue," and a great deal of other information is available
on this theme at www.corpwatch.org/un. We encourage you to visit
the site and add your voice to those who believe the UN's role
should be to monitor and hold accountable the global corporations,
rather than to form partnerships with them.
Kenny Bruno: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cuba Leads the World in Organic Farming
Cuba has developed one of the most efficient
organic agriculture systems in the world, and organic farmers
from other countries are visiting the island to learn the methods.
Due to the U.S. embargo and the collapse
of the Soviet Union, Cuba was unable to import chemicals or modern
farming machines to uphold a high-tech corporate farming culture.
Cuba needed to find another way to feed its people. The lost buying
power for agricultural imports led to a general diversification
within farming on the island. Organic agriculture has become key
to feeding the nation's growing urban populations.
Cuba's new revolution is founded upon
the development of an organic agricultural system. Peter Rosset
of the Institute for Food and Development Policy states that this
is "the largest conversion from conventional agriculture
to organic or semi-organic farming that the world has ever known."
Not only has organic farming been prosperous, but the migration
of small farms and gardens into densely populated urban areas
has also played a crucial role in feeding citizens. State food
rations were not enough for Cuban families, so farms began to
spring up all over the country. Havana, home to nearly 20 percent
of Cuba's population, is now also home to more than 8,000 officially
recognized gardens, which are in turn cultivated by more than
30,000 people and cover nearly 30 percent of the available land.
The growing number of gardens might seem to bring up the problem
of space and price of land. However, "the local governments
allocate land, which is handed over at no cost as long as it is
used for cultivation," says S. Chaplowe in the Newsletter
of the World Sustainable Agriculture Association.
The removal of the "chemical crutch"
has been the most important factor to come out of the Soviet collapse,
trade embargo, and subsequent organic revolution. Though Cuba
is organic by default because it has no means of acquiring pesticides
and herbicides, the quality and quantity of crop yields have increased.
This increase is occurring at a lower cost and with fewer health
and environmental side effects than ever. There are 173 established
vermicompost centers across Cuba, which produce 93,000 tons of
natural compost a year. The agricultural abundance that Cuba is
beginning to experience is disproving the myth that organic farming
on a grand scale is inefficient or impractical.
So far Cuba has been successful with its
transformation from conventional, high input, mono-crop intensive
agriculture to a more diverse and localized farming system that
continues to grow. The country is rapidly moving away from a monoculture
of tobacco and sugar. It now needs much more diversity of food
crops as well as regular crop rotation and soil conservation efforts
to continue to properly nourish millions of Cuban citizens.
In June 2000, a group of Iowa farmers,
professors, and students traveled to Cuba to view the approach
to sustainable agriculture. Rather than relying on chemical fertilizers,
Cuba relies on organic farming, using compost and worms to fertilize
soil. There are many differences between farming in the United
States and Cuba, but "in many ways they're ahead of us,"
say Richard Wrage, of Boone County Iowa Extension Office. Lorna
Michael Butler, Chair of Iowa State University's sustainable agriculture
department, said that "more students should study Cuba's
Gerber Uses the WTO to Suppress Laws that
Gerber Baby Foods Corporation has used
the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suppress a Guatemalan law
that encouraged mothers to breast-feed their children.
For many years, the potential market for
baby food corporations has deteriorated because of low birth rates
in developing countries. In order to create demand for their products,
Gerber Baby Foods has aggressively sought to expand their market
in Third World countries, particularly Guatemala.
Under WTO rules, corporate intellectual
property rights have higher priority than human health. Small,
poor countries can be intimidated by transnational corporations
into opening their markets to foreign corporations, and their
governments cannot invoke their own domestic laws as a precondition
of doing business. In effect, the WTO has given corporations a
powerful new way to challenge the laws of any federal, state,
or municipal government.
In 1983, the government of Guatemala passed
a law and regulations with the goal to inspire new mothers to
breastfeed their infants, and to fully understand the harm that
could be done to their baby if they used breast-milk substitutes.
The Guatemalan law prohibited the use of labels that associated
infant formula with a healthy, chubby baby similar to those found
on all Gerber packages. Manufacturers were prohibited from sending
out free samples of their products because this encouraged mothers
to stop breastfeeding and to become customers. The law required
packaging labels to carry a statement that breastfeeding is nutritionally
superior. The law also restricted baby food manufacturers from
targeting young mothers in the hospital. All of these regulations
went into effect in 1988, and all other domestic and foreign manufacturers
of baby foods, with one exception, Gerber, came into compliance.
Gerber, the U.S baby food manufacturer, objected to Guatemala's
law. Gerber refused to remove its trademark picture of a smiling
chubby baby from its product labels. Gerber also refused to add
a phrase to the labels saying that breast milk is superior. Although
the Guatemalan Ministry of Health made numerous attempts to negotiate
with Gerber, the company reportedly continued to market its infant
formulas and to give free samples to women and children.
In November 1993 Gerber lost its appeal
but opened up a new line of attack on Guatemala stating that the
law was a "expropriation of Gerber's trademark." In
1995, when the World Trade Organization came into being, Gerber
dropped its claim regarding expropriation and began to challenge
Guatemala before a WTO tribunal. Guatemala realized they were
in battle with an immense power.
The government changed its law to concede
to Gerber's marketing practices.
Heavy marketing by the baby food industry
has contributed to a drop in breastfeeding rates in both the United
States and Third World nations. Advertisers intend to convince
women that breastfeeding their babies isn't modern, and that bottle-feeding
is healthier. The premise of such advertising is medically false.
Breastfeeding provides infants with significant immunity to disease,
as well as creating an emotional bond between mother and child.
Baby formula leads to 1.5 million infant
deaths each year in Third World countries, as mothers often unwittingly
prepare the formula with contaminated water, causing fatal diarrhea.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNCF) only 44
percent of women in Third World countries currently breastfeed.
UPDATE by PETER MONTAGUE
During the last quarter of the twentieth century, the industrialized
world was swept by a resurgence of "free trade" ideology
that had its roots in late-nineteenth-century England. In his
novels, Charles Dickens cataloged the frightful inequalities and
widespread misery that free trade brought to the people of England,
but, unfortunately, the modern resurgence of free trade has no
Charles Dickens telling its story. Nevertheless, the inequalities
and misery are spreading around the globe, largely unreported
by the corporatized media. The main thrust of modern free trade
ideology is to weaken national governments and give freedom to
transnational corporations to do as they please. As a result,
social safety nets, even in the advanced countries of northern
Europe, are being dismantled. The forms of democratic self-governance
at national, state, and local levels are losing substance as power
shifts to the private sector. This long-term shift away from democracy,
away from governmental control of corporate behavior, is the sweeping
backdrop against which history is unfolding in our time. My story
merely described a few details of this backdrop.
Of course the widely reported "Battle
of Seattle" coincided with the ministerial meeting of the
World Trade Organization (WTO) in late November 1999. For the
first time since the Vietnam War, churches, labor unions, environmentalists,
democracy activists, and students joined forces to assert their
opposition, this time to the corporate agenda called "globalized
free trade." Thus for the first time the battle lines were
drawn: those favoring popular control of governments (and of democratically
set standards for labor and environment) versus those favoring
corporate control of such matters. As a result of the Battle of
Seattle, a worldwide network of NGOs (non-governmental organizations)
has developed, using the Internet for communication, aiming to
reassert democratic controls over corporations, economies, and
standards affecting workers and the environment. A titanic struggle
is thus under way worldwide-the forces of popular democracy vs.
the forces of corporate control, again largely unreported in the
The mainstream media largely ignored this
story. As Ben Bagdikian has documented in the sixth edition of
Media Monopoly (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), the mainstream press
in the U.S. is now controlled by just six corporations. It should
come as no surprise that these six corporations report very little
about the most important story of our time-free trade ideology
undermining the role and power of national and subnational governments
worldwide, giving corporations free rein to do as they please.
The organization Public Citizen, in Washington,
D.C., has an excellent web site describing its Global Trade Watch
campaign (and some of the best free trade publications available
anywhere); go to www.citizen.org/pctrade /tradehome.html Many
good listservs about globalization and free trade are also available
free from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
at 220.127.116.11/listarchive/index.cfm?mt hd=sub
Peter Montague: email@example.com