How Nestle and Unilever Profit Off Third World Poverty

The Business of Poverty and Food Companies

DW (2018)

Film Review

With the growing rejection of processed food by the industrial North, corporate food producers are aggressively targeting the third world. It’s a cynical strategy they learned from tobacco companies, after the anti-smoking movement significantly reduced cigarette purchases in developed countries. The result: a massive increase in obesity and diabetes in the countries targeted.

The filmmakers offer the example of Nestle’s campaign in Sao Paolo favelas to sell sugar-laden dairy products and Unilever’s campaign to sell white bread, margarine and “stock cubes” in Nairobi. In both cities, these processed foods are promoted as “status” and “health foods.” The consumers targeted often have no formal education and no access to health information other than TV ads. As slum dwellers, they also have virtually no access to natural or traditional foods.

In Sao Paolo, Nestle recruits poor women to sell their products door-to-door. The company compels them to sign binding contracts that force them to take all the financial risk. In addition to pre-purchasing the product (whether they sell it or not), they’re also required to give customers one month free credit. Many never pay for their purchases.

Unilever has also trained dozens of Nairobi women to become door-to-door vendors but has yet to follow through with full implementation. In Kenyan slums, families rely on convenience stores for small packages of junk food – which is all they can afford on their limited wages.

Nutritionists and other health workers in both cities are fighting an uphill battle to persuade the urban poor to return to more healthy traditional foods. An extremely difficult task, owing to the wholesale displacement (forced on developing countries by the IMF and “free trade” treaties) of domestic agriculture with export crops. Activists’ preferred tactic is to involve low income slum dwellers in urban garden projects that produce traditional foods.

The Deceptive Promise of Free Trade

A Game of No Rules: The Deceptive Promise of Free Trade

DW (2018)

Film Review

Produced in response to the protective tariffs Trump has enacted, this documentary shows the negative side of globalization and free trade. It maintains that most free trade treaties are one sided and significantly increase inequality. According to the filmmakers, the primary purpose of free trade is to give wealthy countries cheap access to the resources of developing countries.

Most of the film focuses on the  protective (aka “punitive”) tariffs Europe has been using for years to protect their domestic industries from cheap imports. In contrast, most US politicians have rejected protective tariffs in favor of free trade. The result has been the failure of many domestic American industries unable to compete with cheap Asian imports.

The film starts with the example of Germany, which charges punitive tariffs (50%) on imported Chinese bicycle frames. In all, the EU imposes punitive tariffs on 53 Chinese products, including steel, porcelain and ironing boards.

At the same time the EU imposes tough “free trade” treaties on African countries, prohibiting them from enacting protective tariffs to protect their farmers. This allows European countries to dump cheap agricultural surpluses on their economies, putting local farmers out of business when they can’t produce food cheaply enough to compete.

A Game of No Rules argues that local food production should be sheltered (by protective tariffs) in both developing and developed countries and that Third World countries should be allowed to enact protective tariffs while they establish local industries. Prohibiting Third World countries from enacting protective tariffs ultimately creates mass unemployment and a flood of economic refugees to the industrial North.

 

 

Robbing From Nature and People to Produce Profit

 

Eco Social Justice on the Global Frontlines

Vendana Shiva (2017)

The following is a compelling Earth Day presentation by Indian activist Vendana Shiva linking ecocide and genocide to the brutal “free market” drive to rob from nature and people to produce profit.  This wide ranging talk combines a unique perspective on the violent British colonization of both India and North America, the more recent role of major chemical and food companies (eg Dow, Dupont and Monsanto) in imposing free trade treaties such as GATT and the TPP, and the growing anti-corporate resistance movement in India and elsewhere.

Vendana begins by describing an agricultural conference she attended in 1987, at which the major chemical manufacturers laid out plans to increase their profits by introducing GMO seeds and lobbying for laws and treaties that would prohibit seed saving by farmers. She goes on to talk about Navdanya, the nonprofit organization she founded in 1984 to resist the so-called “Green Revolution” that imposed industrial farming on Indian farmers. In promoting seed saving and other traditional organic farming methods, Navdanya was influenced by Gandhi’s use of sustainable self-reliance as a weapon against colonialism.

At the 1987 conference, the chemical companies bragged the entire world would be growing GMO crops by 2000. Thanks to strong global citizens movements, this never happened. Ninety percent of the world’s food is GMO-free, thanks to wholesale rejection of this technology in Europe, Africa and Asia. Likewise only 30% of the world’s food production is industrialized.

Vendana maintains the primary purpose of industrial farming isn’t to produce food but to increase profit. Due to the massive energy input it requires, factory farming is an extremely inefficient method of food production. Traditional farms producing a diversity of crops will always provide more nutritional output than an industrial farm producing a single monoculture crop.

She blames the forced introduction of industrial farming for India’s high level of malnutrition – 1/4 of the general population and 1/2 of Indian children lack adequate nutrients in their diet.


*GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) was the international treaty that created the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 (under President Bill Clinto)n.

Corporatization, Globalization and Indian Farmer Suicides

Nero’s Guests

Directed by Dhepa Bhatia (2013)

Film Review

Nero’s Guests is about Indian rural affairs journalist Palagummi Sainath and his investigation of farmer suicides (see The Ugly Side of the Fashion Industry) in India and the neoliberal policies responsible for them.

Sixty percent of India’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. Sainath has been one of very few journalists reporting on the brutal effect of neoliberalism and globalization on India’s rural sector – where 836 million people live on less than fifty cents a day.

He specifically blames the corporatization of agriculture, which has driven hundreds of thousands of farmers off their land, and “free trade” policies that allow Europe and North America to destroy local markets with cheap coffee, cotton and other commodities. All to increase the profits of a handful of western corporations.

Thanks to “fair trade” provisions enforced by the World Trade Organization, India exports twenty tons of grain a year to feed European livestock at lower prices than India’s poor are charged for grain.

When Indian farmers are driven off their land, they migrate to the cities for jobs that don’t exist. Since the 2008 economic downturn, more than one million urban jobs have disappeared due to “austerity” cuts.

The film provides poignant close-ups of rural families that have lost family members to suicide. These contrast starkly with cameos of Indian celebrities and their condescending superficiality in addressing poverty.

 

The Ugly Side of the Fashion Industry

The True Cost

By Andrew Morgan (2015)

Film Review

The True Cost is about the immense environmental and human cost of the fashion industry – all for the sake of a few people raking in immense profits.

The modern trend of “fast fashion” is the most destructive. Over the last few decades, the big fashion brands have sought to make clothes so cheap that consumers only wear them a few times before discarding them and buying new ones.

The average American purchases 80 pieces of clothing a year, 400% more than two decades ago. The US disposes of 11 million pounds of textile waste a year, an average of 82 pounds per person.

Reliance on Sweatshops

Lowering the cost of clothes has necessitated moving 97% of clothing manufacture overseas. Bangladesh, where workers (who are 85% women) earn less than $3 a day,  is the favorite of most big name brands like the Gap.

The women work and live in total squalor. In the past few years , 1,000 workers were killed when the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed. Hundreds more have died in a series of fires. The pay is insufficient for the women to provide housing for their children. They remain with relatives in the countryside and see their mothers at most once or twice a year.

Thanks to Global Exchange and the anti-sweatshop campaigns of the 1990s, all the big fashion brands sign voluntary codes of conduct to makes sure their local contractors respect the human rights of their sweatshop workers (which they never enforce). The big brands also systematically obstruct federal legislation that would make such codes compulsory.

The Second Most Polluting Industry in the World

The environment degradation caused by “fast fashion” is equally horrific. The garment industry is the most polluting in the world (second only to oil). The global proliferation of GMO cotton has had devastating health effects in India and the Lubbock Texas area. Until I saw this film, I was unaware that Lubbock is one of the largest cotton producing regions in the world.

In Texas most of the GMO cotton is Roundup Ready, Monsanto’s best selling pesticide. Heavy exposure is responsible for a large cancer cluster among Lubbock area residents.

In India, both Roundup Ready and Bt Cotton are grown. The former is responsible for a significant increase in birth defects, cancer and mental illness. The latter is responsible for a serious reduction in crop yields (the pesticide Bt Cotton produces kills the soil bacteria responsible for soil fertility). The loss of soil fertility has led to farmers losing their land and livelihood, as well as over 200,000 farmer suicides in the last 15 years.

India is also experiencing massive chromium contamination of the Ganges River and surrounding groundwater, from chemicals used in tanning leather for the western fashion industry.

Spin, Propaganda and Lies

The fashion industry pumps out propaganda that sweatshops are good because they create jobs for people who otherwise would have no alternative. This ignores the deleterious effect of “free trade” treaties that have destroyed the rural economies of many third world countries.

The official narrative also belies collusion between the fashion industry and the Vietnamese government, known for brutally beating and killing garment workers during peaceful protests demanding a minimum wage.

The full film was available on YouTube last week but has been taken down. You can rent it from VHX or iTunes for $3.99: Watch now

New Zealand Kicks Off Global Protest Against TPPA

Thousands marched in 17 New Zealand cities yesterday, with nearly 200 taking over the streets in New Plymouth (pop 55,000). The Transpacific Partnership Agreement is another “free” trade agreement like NAFTA and GATT (the treaty that formed the World Trade Organization).

Only this trade deal is being negotiated in total secret. Obama has forced the leaders of 11 other countries to keep the TPPA negotiations secret until it’s signed. Neither Congress nor any members of parliament have seen the text.

What we do know about the TPPA is that it gives immense power to global corporations. If the text is released before the treaty is signed, it will face the same massive public opposition that scuppered the Free Trade of the America Agreement (FTAA). It’s only because Wikileaks has leaked portions of the TPPA that we know anything about it.

Here in New Zealand, we are mainly concerned about provisions in the TPPA allowing private corporations to sue governments if their environmental, labor or health and safety laws interfere with their ability to make a profit. Kiwi activists have worked hard to win regulations guaranteeing minimal environmental, labor and health safety standards. If our prime minister signs the TPPA, some secret corporate tribunal in Geneva could dismantle all these laws.

The 12 countries negotiating the TPPA are the US, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Chile, Peru, Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Singapore and Brunei.

You can read about our New Plymouth protest (and watch a video clip) at the Taranaki Daily News site.

Activists in North America will be demonstrating against the TPPA (or TPP as they call it) the entire week.

Protests will be happening in California, Florida, Oregon, Washington DC, Colorado, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. To join in – and learn what else you can do (especially if you live in other states) – go to Stop Fast Track Week of Action

 

New Plymouth Hits the Street

NP TPPAphoto by Moana Williams

Thousands marched in New Zealand’s nationwide mobilization against the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on March 29, with more than a thousand in Auckland, 400 in Wellington, 200 in Hamilton and Nelson, 125 in Whangarei, 100 each in Tauranga, Napier, Christchurch and Dunedin, 80 in Palmerston North and New Plymouth, and 30 in Invercargill. For a small town like New Plymouth, protests this size are rare, and it got good coverage in the Taranaki Daily Newsl

The TPPA is a free trade agreement which is currently 12 countries, including the US and New Zealand, are currently negotiating behind closed doors. Up to this point, the other 11 countries have caved in to US demands that the text of the TPPA be kept secret until it’s signed. About a month ago the Malaysian government  government announced they would release the text before signing it.
.
According to draft text released by Wikileaks, the new treaty would allow corporations to sue countries in a private tribunal for any laws that interfere with their ability to do business. In New Zealand, this would undermine our access to cheap generic medication, environmental and labor regulations and reduce Internet freedom.

Like NAFTA and the WTO (World Trade Organization), the TPPA only helps corporations – it’s a pretty shitty deal for ordinary Americans.

C’mon Americans we need your support in stopping Obama from turning the global economy over to Monsanto. Go to http://www.exposethetpp.org/ to find out how you can help.