In late November and early December of 1999, Americans turned on the nightly news and watched the Battle of Seattle, a confusing and violent display of television imagery with little or no corresponding explanation. People in turtle costumes were marching alongside Teamsters; young, black-masked men and women were smashing windows; police were firing tear gas and pepper spray.
In Genoa, Italy earlier this year, world leaders at the G-8 global trade summit barricaded themselves behind high walls, seeking protection from angry throngs outside. Again, the images were presented largely without analysis, commentary or words of explanation of the protester’s grievances.
Global trade proponents, still reeling from Seattle and Genoa, have gotten savvier. Next week, when World Trade Organization (WTO) ministers meet again, they won’t be taken by surprise like they were in Seattle, nor will they have to seek protection like in Genoa. From Nov. 9–13 they’ll meet in the remote Middle Eastern nation of Qatar, accessible—if you can obtain a visa—by sea via the Straits of Hormuz, or overland via Saudi Arabia. In other words, a virtually inaccessible site.
Two years after the resignation of the Seattle chief of police and the shooting death of a young Italian protester in Genoa, the mainstream press remains largely silent on the question of why people are taking to the streets to protest the idea of global trade.
The short answer is that global trade, as enforced by the 134-member World Trade Organization (WTO) is an undemocratic institution that serves the interests of multi-national corporations by ignoring such free trade barriers as child labor, human rights and environmental protection laws.
Under the WTO’s rules, for instance, governments may not ban products that are manufactured with child labor, nor may governments decide not to do business with dictatorships. Corporations use the WTO to dismantle hard-won environmental laws.
Perhaps the biggest threat the WTO poses is to democracy itself, critics say. In the United States, countless millions have died to protect a system of checks and balances that assure that citizen voices are heard. But under the rules of the WTO, trade disputes, even disputes involving American businesses, are brought before a “court” of three trade bureaucrats who are not screened for conflicts of interest, and who can overturn American laws that were enacted by Americans through the democratic process.
The Environmental Research Foundation, based in Annapolis, Md., and a Pennsylvania steelworker provide a few striking examples:
• In 2000, a Canadian engineering firm called the ADF Group was awarded a contract on a multimillion-dollar federal road project in Virginia. Because it was an American project, the ADF Group was bound to honor the Buy America law, which ensured that tax money spent on community projects like highways would be reinvested locally.
According to Andrew Palm, director of the United Steelworkers of America District 10, every $1 billion spent on American transportation and infrastructure improvements results in 42,000 new jobs in steel, construction and related industry, and stimulates another $2.6 billion in economic activity.
Buy America, then, sounded like a common sense idea—tax money is spent on a project benefiting one community, and the money supports the country as a whole with new job creation.
To the Quebec-based ADF Group, however, Buy America was a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The corporation filed a lawsuit in July 2000, not in an American court before an American judge or jury, but before a NAFTA trade tribunal empowered by NAFTA to judge American laws. ADF Group demanded $90 million in American tax money to compensate it for the NAFTA violation.
• When birth rates began to decline in the developed world, makers of baby foods and infant formula began looking to the developing world to create new markets. Through aggressive advertising campaigns, the baby food makers convinced new mothers that bottle feeding was more modern and healthier than breast feeding. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found the advertising not only false but also deadly; 1.5 million infants were dying every year from formula inadvertently mixed with contaminated water.
In the 1970s, the World Health Organization (WHO) responded to the resultant international protest against Nestle’s, one of the makers of the infant formula, by devising the Code on Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, designed to protect mothers in developing countries from being coerced by the baby food manufacturers.
Fast forward a few decades and across a few Third World countries. The American baby food maker, Gerber, fought a lengthy and protracted battle against the WHO recommendations which had been adopted by Guatemala in 1983. Gerber, flexing its corporate muscle, continued its attack against Guatemala, buying time until 1995, when the World Trade Organization (WTO) was established. Gerber then began threatening to haul Guatemala before a WTO trade tribunal on charges of violating WTO rules. Guatemala, realizing it was up against a formidable foe, gave up the fight to inform its citizens about the potentially deadly claims being made by baby food makers, and caved in to Gerber before the complaint even reached to the WTO tribunal.
• In India, where it was once illegal to patent anything that could be used as a food, drug or medicine, people have, for centuries, relied on the Neem tree to make medicines and pesticides. The Neem tree grows only in India, where it is called “the village pharmacy.”
Enter W.R. Grace, which filed for a U.S. patent on a pesticide made from the Neem tree. W.R. Grace argued that because it had developed a new method for manufacturing the pesticide, it had the exclusive right to sell the product derived from the Neem tree, and that, under WTO rules, India must enforce W.R. Grace’s patent rights. In 1997, the WTO’s trade tribunal agreed with W.R. Grace, and overturned India’s patent law.
Earlier generations of Americans were clear about the role of corporations in society. In 1834, the Pennsylvania Legislature wrote that a corporation “is the creature of the law and may be molded to any shape or for any purpose the Legislature may deem most conducive for the common good.”
Today, of course, corporations have many of the same constitutional rights enjoyed by American citizens. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment, for instance, applies to corporations when it comes to campaign contributions.
For anti-globalization activists, national sovereignty is being transferred from citizens to corporations. With so many generations separating us from our revolutionary forbears, they say, we’ve forgotten that citizens, not corporations, wield the ultimate power. And now, says global trade critic and writer Richard Grossman, “When it comes to establishing the proper relationship between sovereign people and the corporations we create, recent generations seem to be at a total loss.”
Bryony Schwan, executive director of Women’s Voices for the Earth in Missoula, and a protester who marched against the WTO in Seattle in 1999, fears that Congress will fast-track global trade agreements in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, further undermining democracy and human rights. And she says she’s afraid that material wealth and comfort make for an uninterested, unengaged populace. “The reason it’s so difficult to get the message through is that people are so comfortable,” she says.
Someday, she says, Americans will wake up and see that global trade has created a serious power imbalance in the world. “And whenever you get a massive unbalance of power,” she says, “you will create true anarchy.”
by Carlotta Grandstaff
What should anti-globalization activists make of the Black Bloc?
In early August of 2000 a young man in his mid-20s with a steely gaze and nervous energy came into the offices of the Missoula Independent with stories about how he had been an ongoing victim of police surveillance, harassment, intimidation and abuse. In the weeks prior to his visit I had entertained more than my usual share of drop-by conspiracy theorists, and on any other morning I might have politely dismissed his wild theories on the growing militarization of police forces and his incredible tales of being abducted and beaten by police “snatch squads” during political rallies. However, only days earlier Independent staff photojournalist Chad Harder had himself been assaulted by police with pepper spray while documenting the Hells Angels riot, so I was more receptive to what he had to say.
As I learned later, “Pri,” as he called himself, was part of the so-called Black Bloc, a political movement that’s been around for decades in Europe and elsewhere but only recently gained visibility and notoriety in the American media following the anti-World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999. Recognized by their black garb and occasionally sporting the red and black anarchist’s flag, their identities are kept hidden behind scarves or balaclavas, not just for personal protection and intimidation, but also as a way of eliminating from their movement any cult of personality. Members of the Black Bloc generally subscribe to anarchist principles which can include “direct action” against private property. In fact, at anti-globalization rallies they’re often the ones blamed for smashing windows, overturning dumpsters, and firebombing cars.
Pri outlined his own activist track record that for more than a decade included media work for the Animal Liberation Front and radical environmental groups. According to him, law enforcement authorities consider him “a leader of groups that have cost the state and rich people over $3 billion,” though without his real name it was impossible to verify his claims. Although he never directly admitted to committing any crimes, Pri did say that he’d been arrested at least six times during direct action protests.
“‘Radical’ simply means someone who gets to the root of the problem, and I believe my critique does get to the root,” Pri explained. “However, I think the term is misleading because I consider myself one of the most conservative people in the world, because my vision of a good and just society is actually nothing other than wild nature, an end to civilization, to technology, even agriculture as we know it.”
Pri (which is short for “primitivist”) opposes all forms of political, social and economic hierarchies, especially those associated with capitalism and the state, and believes in maximizing individual liberty and social equality. Like many “members” of the Black Bloc movement—though technically speaking, there is no membership or central organization—Pri endorses the complete dismantling of the world’s systems of agriculture, production, and consumption. Among the tools he includes in his activist toolbox for accomplishing his goal is what he calls “eco-sabotage,” or what law enforcement calls vandalism.
“Some would argue that that is a form of violence,” Pri said. “Other will argue that it’s simply property destruction, that the real violence lies in activities that are attacking life, whether it’s tear gas or rubber bullets, billy clubs or whatever. … If someone sabotages a bulldozer, that’s just taking the gun out of the hands of the murderer. They’re protecting life by attacking an inanimate object, whereas the police are attacking life to protect an inanimate object. So who is really terrorizing the ecosystem?”
Regardless of whether firebombing luxury homes on Long Island and ski resorts in Vail is labeled economic liberation or arson, the growing use of property destruction as a tactic during political rallies has serious implications for more moderate anti-globalization forces, which must now come to grips with an increasingly militant wing in their own movement. Demonstrators are already finding themselves facing larger and progressively more militarized police forces at each demonstration, deploying more aggressive and draconian tactics. Gone are days when nonviolent protesters choreographed their civil disobedience in advance with the police, got arrested and hauled off to jail at a prearranged time and place only after reading a prepared statement to the press. As anti-globalization protesters saw in the last year alone in Quebec City, Washington, D.C. and Genoa, Italy—where a 23-year-old protester was shot to death and more than 150 people were beaten by police, including about 50 journalists—nonviolence on the part of protestors does not guarantee nonviolence on the part of the police.
“In Europe direct action, and in particular sabotage, go beyond most things we see here,” said Pri. “Seattle was an example of what’s been going on over there for decades.”
And if anti-globalization activists have had cause for concern of increasing surveillance and infiltration of their activities, those concerns will only increase under the current war on terrorism. Back in 1998, following a year-long environmental blockade of the Warner Creek timber sale in Oregon (see pg. 40) FBI Director Louis Freeh told Congress that the biggest domestic security threats facing this country were from animal rights groups, radical environmentalists, militia groups, and anti-globalization activists.
And just last week, Congress passed, and President Bush signed into law, a sweeping piece of legislation known as the “USA Patriot Act,” which, among its other provisions: minimizes judicial supervision of telephone and Internet surveillance by law enforcement authorities, including those unrelated to terrorism; gives the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of State the power to designate domestic groups as terrorist organizations; expands the ability of the government to conduct secret searches; gives the director of the Central Intelligence Agency the ability to identify targets for surveillance in the United States; and gives the FBI broad powers for accessing sensitive medical, financial, mental health and educational records of individuals without having to show evidence of a crime or obtain a court order. This legislation, it should be noted, was passed with relatively little debate by Congress and almost no input from the public.
In this new environment, Pri seemingly paranoid theories read in a whole new light.
“I am a paranoid. I readily admit that,” Pri told me. “But I also have a reason to be paranoid because I know the history of things that have happened to my movement.”
by Ken Picard
Fair Trade: Putting a better face on globalization
If President Bush gets his way, shopping will become the latest opiate of the masses. “Go out and shop,” he recently advised, banking on the belief that Americans can consume themselves back to prosperity. Unfortunately, for much of the world, Bush doesn’t understand that an American shopping frenzy is a fundamental part of the problem.
The 2001 Nobel Prize for economics was awarded to a group of three Americans—Joseph Stiglitz, George Akerlof and Michael Spence—for their collaborative work studying the asymmetry of information that characterizes most trade relationships. Basically, in any trade relationship, one party benefits from deeper information, while the other suffers from that disadvantage.
One manifestation of this asymmetry of information is the lack of knowledge that consumers have regarding the origin of the products they buy. Were those running shoes produced by slave labor in a sweatshop? Did whales lose their winter breeding ground for that table salt? Because this unsavory information often hurt sales once it’s revealed, most businesses don’t go out of their way to provide it to consumers.
The consumer is not the real loser. Consider the Xian Aircraft Company in China, where a $60-a-month machinist makes tail sections for 737 planes. In this trade relationship, how invested are the workers in their products or in the lives of the consumers who use those products?
The more consumers know about the effect of their spending beyond their own sphere, the more they are able to “vote with their dollars” and shape the world to their ideals. This is the premise behind the concept of fair trade. Similar to the certification of organic produce, certification by the Fair Trade Federation ensures that the product in question was produced under safe working conditions, in an environmentally sustainable manner, and that workers were compensated with a living wage. Fair Trade relationships frequently result in the blossoming of whole communities buoyed by equitable, long-term relationships with foreign consumers. The Fair Trade Federation’s newsletter, The Conscious Consumer, can be ordered from their Web site, www.fairtradefederation.org.
Coffee, the world’s second most valuable commodity, currently offers the most options for Fair Trade-minded consumers. Both Montana Coffee Traders and Hunter Bay Coffee Roasters offer fair trade-certified coffee, available in many cafes and markets in Missoula, from Bernice’s to the UC Market, from the Good Food Store to the Bi-Lo Market on Higgins. Much work has been done in the past few years to incorporate advances in sustainable agriculture into Fair Trade coffee production, resulting in coffee plantations that use multi-leveled canopies, animals, and other food crops in their growing cycles. This level of integration is indicative of the overall goal of Fair Trade: to acknowledge and work with the complexities of the “economic ecosystem,” rather than trying to distill the picture down to production costs and profit margins.
The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center In Missoula is dedicated to promoting worldwide peace, justice, and sustainability. It provides a space for like-minded groups to meet, with an extensive library, including a collection of post-Sept. 11 writings from around the world. The various activities of the Peace Center are funded in part by revenues from their storefront, which deals primarily in imports, all of which are Fair Trade certified. Their wares include gifts, clothes, musical instruments, art, food, housewares and furniture. For every square foot of floor space there is an additional acre of goods described in the catalogs of their suppliers, all of which can be ordered. According to Suzy Hampton of the Peace Center, “When you buy a gift at the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center, you give three times: To the producers, to the person who receives the gift, and to the Peace Center. And a gift to the Peace Center is a gift to the whole world.”
On the University of Montana campus, a group called the Workers Rights Coalition (formerly Students Against Sweatshops) formed around the goal of convincing the University to sign onto the Workers Rights Consortium, an organization whose members consist of more than 75 universities, including the entire University of California system. The Workers Rights Consortium conducts independent assessments of the foreign factories where merchandise (mostly clothing) is made that will sport a college logo. According to Ted Morrison of UM’s WRC, “We are not out to shut down factories. We respect the fact that people need jobs. Our goal is to pressure companies to improve working conditions.”
Currently, the purchasing of merchandise for UM is done by Executive Vice President Bob Frazier. According to Morrison, Frazier currently purchases through the Collegiate Licensing Company. The CLC does have a code of conduct—which Frazier himself worked on—designed to protect the rights of the workers who produce this merchandise. But Morrison doesn’t feel it goes far enough. “Frazier’s heart is in the right place, and he has worked hard,” he says. “But we don’t think that the CLC code of conduct is strong enough. The language is weak, there is no accountability, and it lacks specifics on a living wage.”
Two weeks ago, Chucho Ariza visited Missoula from Landazuri, Colombia, a Colombian sister community of Montana. His mission was to open Fair Trade relationships between Landazuri farmers and North American consumers and distributors. Chucho hopes that the export of Colombian fruit and chocolate to North American consumers will offer the people of Landazuri viable alternatives to the drug lords’ coca production. Days after his visit, Chucho learned that one of his friends back home who was involved in similar efforts had been executed by Colombian paramilitaries. Just one of countless examples of why it’s time to say “no” to blind shopping.
by Ari LeVaux
The Montana World Affairs Council and the Missoula Independent are co-sponsoring a community teach-in and open discussion entitled “Globalism: Friend or Foe?” Panelists will include Senior Mansfield Fellow Joanna Shelton, former deputy secretary general of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development; Dave McClure, president of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation; Bryony Schwan, executive director of Women’s Voices for the Earth; and Jerry Driscoll, president of the Montana AFL-CIO. It will be held Wednesday Nov. 7th at 7 PM in the University Theatre on the UM campus. This is FREE and open to the public.,/b>