Posted August 12, 2015 by Tara Ritter
Last week, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, the United States’ strongest climate policy to date. The plan aims to reduce coal-fired power plant emissions by allowing states to devise their own plans to reach federally-mandated emissions reduction targets. This choose-your-own-adventure policy could send states down very different paths, some worse for the environment and community resilience than others.
A bragging point for the Clean Power Plan is its flexibility; all currently identified low-carbon energy sources can play a role in state plans, including natural gas, nuclear, hydropower and other renewables. But despite the low-carbon nature these energy technologies share, they differ greatly in overall community and environmental benefit. Natural gas is abundantly available today due to controversial fracking technology (most of which occurs near rural communities); hydropower requires dam construction (sometimes on massive scales); and nuclear power comes with the risk of disastrous accidents, issues around extraction and long-term storage problems.
The final Clean Power Plan rule does emphasize renewable energy and energy efficiency over natural gas; a “Clean Energy Incentive Program” provides credits that can be traded later as part of emissions trading systems to states that expand wind, solar and energy efficiency efforts in the two years before state implementation plans take effect. However, shifting from coal to natural gas is one of the three building blocks EPA used in calculating state goals, so states are still permitted to emphasize natural gas in their implementation plans, even if it’s not incentivized. Shifting from one fossil fuel to another is not a sustainable energy future for any state, even if it slightly reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
The autonomy that the Clean Power Plan gives to the states can and will be used in different ways. While some states may choose to make up for coal reductions by shifting to natural gas, others may embrace the opportunity to develop and grow localized renewable energy policies based on wind and solar. The benefits of such localized policies are numerous: in addition to being carbon-free, renewables such as wind and solar have fewer negative environmental impacts, create jobs and boost local economies.
The Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program is a success story of one such localized renewable energy policy. The program started in 2013 to incentivize customers to install photovoltaic and solar thermal systems using products certified as manufactured in Minnesota. Customers are paid based on the production of their renewable energy system. Each year, customers receive a check based on the amount of kilowatt hours of energy their system produced. This year, over 500 businesses, homeowners and nonprofits entered a lottery for Made in Minnesota funding, far exceeding the program’s resources. If the program had the capacity to fund all the applications, Minnesota would have doubled its solar capacity in one year.
The program’s budget is $15 million over 10 years, and is funded in large part by public electric utilities’ Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) budgets. CIP budgets, mandated by the state of Minnesota, require public electric utilities to invest 1.5% of their state revenues in energy efficiency or renewable energy projects. Made in Minnesota customers are hooked up to the grid, so the incentive program helps the public electric utilities reach their current state-mandated goal of producing 1.5% of their electricity using solar by 2020. This percentage may increase once Minnesota crafts its implementation plan for the Clean Power Plan.
“I guarantee that most clients would never have installed a solar system without a little help from the government,” said John Kramer, CEO of Sundial Solar, a Minnesota-based company that consults on and performs solar panel installations. “The purpose of these programs is to demonstrate that solar is worth it. This is a technology that can be beneficial for everybody.”
So what’s stopping states from doubling down on localized renewable energy programs in their Clean Power Plan state implementation plans? Kramer thinks it’s partially ideological. “Some people think [solar incentives] milk taxpayers,” he said, “but they don’t realize all the subsidies that big gas and oil get.”
This is a valid point - a 2015 International Monetary Fund analysis estimated that oil and gas subsidies will amount to $5.3 trillion worldwide in 2015. That’s greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments. And some critics think that figure is underestimated because it doesn’t account for the costs that climate change will incur as a direct result of burning fossil fuel. On the other hand, subsidies for renewable energy are estimated at $120 billion for 2015. That means that renewable energy subsidies will amount to just over 2% of the money spent on fossil fuel subsidies this year.
It’s not only fossil fuel subsidies that cause other energy technologies to win out over renewables such as solar. Fracking has led to an abundance of natural gas and the technology has gotten cheaper in recent years. But even though natural gas is cheap and burns cleaner than coal, fracking has a long list of negative impacts. Rural communities are disproportionately hit by these negative impacts, which include water contamination, earthquakes, land grabbing and methane pollution.
Even certain renewables pose large risks to the environment, human health and community well-being, despite clean energy generation and cost effectiveness. Hydropower is widely used, cost effective and will play a large part in many state implementation plans. Hydropower accounted for 68.75% of Washington’s total electricity generation in 2013, and many northern states, including Minnesota, have the opportunity to import large amounts of hydropower from Canada. However, dam construction can pose considerable threats to biodiversity and habitat, and can increase some vector-borne diseases that threaten human health. Perhaps more importantly, the dams that fuel hydropower imports from Canada are already displacing tribes and altering their native lands, and will continue to do so if renewable energy standards in the United States permit for more imported hydropower.
Nuclear power is another contender for inclusion in state implementation plans. The United States generates over 30% of the world’s nuclear generation of electricity and new reactors are still being built. Nuclear plants have a comparatively long life (60 years versus the 30 years for a natural gas plant) and they do not emit carbon dioxide. But nuclear power’s problems start at the source and continue throughout the energy production process. Uranium mining, most of which has occurred on tribal lands in the southwestern United States, produces toxic mining waste that contaminates water and increases radiation levels. To make things worse, mining often occurs without the tribes’ consent. In addition, nuclear plants are not immune to human error and natural disasters, and a nuclear accident can release radiation that lingers in the environment for years. It’s clear that states must consider more than cost and emissions reductions when designing their implementation plans over the next one to three years.
Successful localized renewable energy programs, like Made in Minnesota, demonstrate the feasibility of expanding technologies like wind and solar that do more than lower greenhouse gas emissions. Now is the time for states to look at the whole picture and move down a path of sustainability that includes economics and carbon accounting, but values environmental quality, human health and community resilience as well.
Posted August 5, 2015 by Ben Lilliston
Farmers are no different from any buyer – they want to know what they’re buying, how much it costs and its expected performance. But in the brave new world of agricultural seeds, where multiple traits and technology are stacked like Microsoft’s operating system, it’s becoming more and more difficult for farmers to separate out what is really needed and discover how much each piece is costing them. In the case of neonicotinoid (neonic) seed coatings used as a pesticide, both the effectiveness and costs are somewhat of a mystery, according to a new paper published by IATP today.
As farm income is expected to drop more than 30 percent from last year, farmers are carefully examining all input costs to see where they can save. With their financial cost and actual effectiveness unclear, neonic seed coatings may be one of those places to cut costs. But the real cost of neonics likely goes well beyond the input price. A growing body of science directly implicates neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides as a contributor to the significant decline of bees and other pollinators. Neonics are applied in multiple ways in agriculture and horticulture but are most prevalent as a seed coating material for commodity crops like corn and soybeans. Based on convincing and mounting evidence, beekeepers, scientists and other individuals concerned about pollinators are working together to spur regulatory action and shifts in the marketplace to reduce the use of neonics.
In May 2015, the White House issued an interagency National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and other Pollinators. The strategy focuses on efforts to restore honey bee loss, increase monarch butterfly populations and restore pollinator habitats. But the White House plan virtually ignores the on-the-ground farm economics that directly contribute to rising neonic use in seed coatings – specifically the role of a few large companies that have a stranglehold on the seed market. This concentrated market power in the seed industry has allowed a few multi-billion dollar companies like Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto to significantly limit U.S. farmers’ choices around seed coating.
In most cases the seed is coated with neonics whether wanted or not and our paper found that this lack of choice has made it difficult for farmers and their advisors to assess the actual value of these pesticides in crop production, or to understand their true financial and environmental costs. Most farmers understand the value of pollinators to plant growth and the food system and would not intentionally harm them. However, without credible information on the risks or the freedom to choose their seed coating, farmers are left with little choice but to accept what their seed company delivers.
The good news is that there are independent seed companies and dealers able today to provide farmers with information and choice around seed coatings. Representing a small segment of a highly consolidated industry, independent seed producers and dealers are able and willing to respond to market changes and farmer preferences associated with not only neonics, but also other areas of market interest, such as non-genetically modified organisms (GMOs), certified organic, cover and specialty crops. But a farmer’s ability to choose what kind of seed coatings they want as part of their crop management system should be the rule, not the exception, in the seed market.
One of the most basic and necessary aspects of a free market is available and accurate information about products and their efficacy, cost and benefits. It should go without saying, then, that in a competitive marketplace, farmers should receive accurate, up-to-date information from researchers and other farmers at field days about the costs and benefits of neonics and other seed coatings related to both crop production and the environment, including pollinators. Yet, this isn’t happening with neonics or other seed coating ingredients today. We need credible, farmer-led field trials that compare different seed coatings and traits, and that information should be shared with other farmers. And those findings should be compared with the effectiveness and costs of other pest control approaches, such as integrated pest management (IPM), that have proven benefits and economic returns. Only with complete information and choice – about neonics and other crop management tools – can farmers make smart choices that allow them to produce crops and take care of pollinators and the environment.
You can read the full paper: Unknown Benefits, Hidden Costs: Neonicotinoid seed coatings, crop yields and pollinators.
Posted July 29, 2015 by David Morris
“Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act,” Pope Francis announced early this year. How can we spend our money as if our values matter?
In some sectors and for some values this is fairly easy. Food is an obvious example. Those who want to protect the environment and human and animal health will find abundant labels guiding them to the appropriate product: USDA Organic, free range, hormone free, grass fed. For those who want to strengthen community, shrink the distance between producer and consumer and support family farmers a growing number of grocery stores label locally grown or raised.
For those who want to support farmworkers as well as farmers, however, little guidance is available. The recently launched Equitable Food Initiative and Food Justice Certified labels hope to fill this gap. The former identifies food that has been harvested by workers paid a fair wage and laboring under safe and fair conditions. The latter offers three tiers of certification covering farm, processor and vendor/retailer. Only farms have been certified.
As for grocery stores, we can easily identify those cooperatively or locally owned. Going one step further along the supply chain we can use the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC)’s Diners Guide to Ethical Eating downloadable app to identify restaurants that treat their workers well. Extra credit is given to non-chain businesses. To earn a favorable rating the restaurant must pay its non-tipped workers at least $10 an hour and tipped staff at least $7 an hour, grant all employees paid sick days and enable internal promotion.
The ethical consumer who wants to patronize a locally owned retail store in general can visit Independent We Stand and download its mobile app. Or go to AMIBA and BALLE to find a list of independent business alliances in over 100 cities many of which have hundreds and even thousands of individual member businesses.
There are few guides to locally and rooted manufacturers. But 3-year-old San Francisco Made offers an excellent model, interconnecting and nurturing its 325 member manufacturers located in that city.
The vast majority of products we purchase will come from regional and national firms. One can easily check to see if the company is American and sometimes that will be necessary even when we think we know from the product’s name what nationality the company is. As Roger Simmermaker, author of How Americans Can Buy American and My Country ‘Tis of Thee points out, "Swiss Miss is American (based in Menomonie, Wisconsin) and Carnation is owned by the Swiss."
For those who want to go beyond where a company is headquartered to who owns it, a list of companies owned by their employees is available from the National Center for Employee Ownership.
Finding American made products as opposed to American corporations requires more legwork. Almost 8 in 10 American consumers say they prefer to buy American made products according to Consumer Reports. (Another survey found that for Americans ages 18-34 the percentage drops to 4 in 10.) Patriotic buying has gained considerable cache in the last few years and is beginning to change corporate behavior.
Consider this story of Florida orange juice. In 2007 Pepsi and then Coke began to mix oranges from other countries with Florida oranges. Florida’s Natural, an agricultural cooperative owned by 1100 growers, whose motto is "we own the land, we own the trees, we own the company" added a logo to its packages sporting an American flag and the words “Product of U.S.A.” For a few years Pepsi and Coke thought price would trump homegrown but in early 2012 the Tropicana Products division of PepsiCo began to proclaim in print ads, “Grown, picked and squeezed in Florida,” (Florida’s Natural responded with its own new tag line: “All Florida. Never imported. Who can say that?”)
A 2013 survey of more than 200 U.S.-based investors interested in the luxury sector, found 80 percent of them concerned that the reputational risk associated with offshore manufacturing is beginning to offset the cost savings for luxury goods manufacturers. After Ralph Lauren proudly unveiled its new uniforms for the U.S. team for the 2012 summer Olympics it was discovered that every piece of the uniform was made overseas. A considerable public backlash led the company to promise to make the U.S. uniforms for the 2014 Winter Games from USA components.
Mitch Cahn, the CEO of Unionwear, a Newark, New Jersey clothing manufacturer told John Oliver about why both Democratic and Republican candidates buy his company’s hats. “Both want to demonstrate their commitment to made in USA. Plus, whenever one of their vendors messes up and sources something from overseas or switches. When they get caught, which they invariably will, it’s going to cost them so much more money to fix the problem, backpedal, apologize, change their message, that it’s easier and cheaper to just patronize clean shops.”
Finding out if a product is made in the United States is easy. All imports must carry country of origin information on the outside of the package. Finding domestic products that are largely made of domestic components, however, may be more challenging.
How American Is That American Product?
Even if we buy American made how much of the value of the product is actually made in America? For automobiles, textiles, wool and fur products the law requires disclosure of the percentage of a product's domestically produced content.
The 1994 American Automobile Labeling Act (AALA) requires all automobiles and trucks to prominently display a sticker showing the percentage of its value made in the United States. The AALA has several shortcomings. For one, it does not distinguish between Canadian and U.S. production. It does not take into account where the profits go (e.g. is the company foreign owned). Finally, it allows the “content percentages to be calculated on a "carline" basis rather than for each individual vehicle and may be rounded to the nearest 5 percent.”
The more sophisticated Kogod Made in America Auto Index, released annually by American University incorporates the (AALA) but adds seven further criteria: site of body, chassis, and electrical parts manufacturing (50 percent); site of engine production (14 percent); site of inventory and capital expense allocation (11 percent); site of transmission production (7 percent); site of assembly labor (6 percent); site of research and development (6 percent); and finally, where the profits in each aspect of the transaction go (6 percent).
In 2014 the Ford F-150 truck, the best selling vehicle in America topped the Kogod charts with 87.5 points out of 100.
As a general rule, automakers are more likely to build larger vehicles with higher profit margins in the U.S. and smaller ones overseas. The Kogod index seems to bear this out. The F-150 and Chevy Silverado score in the 80’s while the Chevy Spark and Ford Fiesta have scores of 15.5 and 19.5 respectively.
Aside from cars and textiles and furs, no U.S. supplier needs to identify where the product is made or its components. But if the company boasts that a product is “Made in the USA” or “Made in America” it must “contain no - or negligible - foreign content" according to regulations issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the product's final assembly or processing must take place in the United States.
Nevertheless, the buyer who sees a Made in America sticker must still beware. The FTC investigates several complaints a year, almost all submitted by manufacturing competitors and the vast majority end in a settlement with no civil penalty. The civil penalties themselves are modest. California has its own higher and more rigidly enforced standard. No component of a product advertised as Made in the USA can be imported. In 2011 California’s Supreme Court ruled that the company Kwikset could be sued for using the label on one of its locks because the screws in it were manufactured in Mexico.
Americans don’t like to be misled by faux patriotic corporate advertising. As Consumer Reports notes, “Readers who have sent us complaints seem most irritated by foreign-made products whose makers have patriotic names (American Mills, Americana Olives, Great American Seafood, United States Sweaters, the U.S. Lock company) or whose packages have flag-waving slogans (“true American quality”) or symbols (pictures of the flag, eagle, Statue of Liberty).”
Over 90 percent of shoes and clothing sold in the United States is imported. One will almost always pay more to purchase Made in the USA but often their quality is far superior. If you buy a Brooks Brothers suit, 70% of which are made in Massachusetts, or tie, 100% of which are made in New York or shirt, 15% of which are made in North Carolina the quality is first rate and the clothes last considerably longer than cheaper imported items.
More than 97 percent of American denim jeans are made abroad but you can still find American made denim. In the 1990s Lawson Nickol was working for a U.S. jeans manufacturer who like almost all other jean manufacturers decided to move production to China. He resigned and in 2002 with his son BJ Nickol founded the All American Clothing Co. They started manufacturing their own clothing in 2007. Unique among jeans manufacturers, their customers can enter a code and trace their jeans back to the farm that grew the cotton.
One of the new firm’s biggest challenges was finding suppliers. "The apparel industry has lost 85 percent of cut and sew people in the USA since 2002 when China became king”, Nickol notes. He’s had to pay more for their materials and labor which makes their clothes more expensive which Lawson concedes but proudly adds, “…I buy a lot of higher cost products that are made in the USA in order to support tax base, jobs, SSN, police, firemen, hospitals, infrastructure, military, freedom, etc, etc. I don’t buy foreign jeans and help to support labor atrocities, child labor, pour manufacturing quality, give money to the foreign governments…”
Despite higher input costs his jeans prices are still competitive with denim giants like Levis. Why? “One of the things we don’t do a lot of is marketing and advertising,” says Nickol. American Clothing sells 95 percent of its products online. Nickol adds, “We don’t have as big of margins.”
Sluggish wages in the United States and soaring labor costs in countries like China, coupled with the growing realization of the costs inherent in the rigidity of long supply chains and the potential for product piracy, has made it increasingly possible to buy American in many sectors. Whirlpool already makes 80 percent of the products it sells in the U.S in its U.S. plants and it prices them competitively. In 2000, it manufactured most of its front-loading washers in Germany. Now the company is moving that production back to its Ohio-based facilities. “On the one hand, U.S. labor costs are often higher than in other countries,” says Whirlpool’s Casey Tubman. “But when you look at the higher productivity for American workers and consider the fact that it’s very expensive to ship something as big as a refrigerator or washer, we can quickly make up those costs.”
Going Beyond Buy America
The same Consumer Reports 2013 survey that found that 78 percent of us prefer to buy American products also found that other values were equally or more important to us. Ninety-two percent preferred products from companies that give back to the local community; 90 percent preferred companies that treat their workers well; 82 percent prefer firms that express public support for causes we believe; 79 percent prefer a company that engages in environmentally friendly practices.
If you are one of the 90 percent who care how companies you want to buy from treat their workers one good indicator is whether the product is made with union labor. For clothing you can look for the UNITE label (the union created from the merger of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union). Those seeking to buy a specific car made by union members can find a list here. Those seeking web sites that offer extensive links to union made products can go here and here.
Those wanting to know more generally about the character of the company with whom they are doing business can check out whether it is a Benefit Corporation. This new type of corporation is required to consider its impact not only on shareholders but also on workers, community, and the environment. Benefit corporations are required to make available to the public an annual benefit report that assesses their overall social and environmental performance against a third party standard. Twenty-eight states currently permit a corporation to become a Benefit Corporation. A list of Benefit Corporations by state is available here.
Certified B corporations are Benefit Corporations which must achieve a minimum verified score on an Assessment by B Lab, a 501©(3) organization. Recertification every two years is required against an evolving standard. A list of Certified B Corporations can be found here. About 60 percent are American corporations. Each year B Lab publishes a list of its top Certified Benefit Corporations by size and category. Companies are broken out by midsized, small, micro enterprises and sole proprietorships and are graded based on their environmental, worker and community impact.
For example, in 2014 King Arthur Flour and New Belgium were among the top rated B Corporations on labor issues. The 200 year old King Arthur, a company of 388 workers at the busiest times of the year, has a minimum hourly starting wage for full-time workers of $11.25 an hour. New Belgium's lowest wage for non-temporary workers is $12 an hour. King Arthur Flour and New Belgium are 100 percent employee-owned companies. Both have profit sharing plans. At King Arthur Flour low income employees receive a heavily subsidized Community Supported Agriculture shares.
As Stephen Lurie at Vox observes, despite its high rating, King Arthur Flour puts its USDA organic label on the front of its packages and its B Logo on the back.
Assessing the character of a company is complicated and by its nature incomplete. Some might want to know how willing companies are to pay their fair share of taxes to sustain our public schools and roads and colleges. In 2015 Bloomberg compiled a directory of 299 companies detailing how much of their total profits they’ve stashed abroad to avoid taxes. Bizvizz has an ambitious but spotty downloadable app allows you to use your phone to take a picture of a brand and discover what tax rate the corporation that makes the product pays and in many cases, where its political contributions go.
Often those who want to make ethical purchases will have to assess which of the values they embrace are more important. For example, what do we buy when the organic farm treats its workers poorly? Would you choose a conventional tomato picked by well-treated workers than a local heirloom variety harvested by oppressed workers as the food writer and activist Eric Schlosser declared he would? Or would you choose the tomato that stresses the environment? A Toyota Camry is among those vehicles with the highest percentage of its components coming from the United States. But its plants are not unionized and the company’s profits do not stay in the United States.
With much fanfare Walmart has launched a new Buy America initiative. Would you now shop there given that Walmart’s policies may have single-handedly resulted in the outsourcing of hundreds of thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs and the erosion of U.S. workers wages? Or that more than 20 years ago it launched a similar campaign and began hanging “Made in America” signs in its 750 stores until NBC’s Dateline offered significant evidence the initiative was “more an advertising gimmick than a substantial plan.” At the beginning of its current initiative Walmart publicized a contract with 1888 Mills, a Georgia towel maker to produce American-made towels for the company’s stores. But 1888 Mills, which has an overseas workforce of some 14,000, will be adding only 35 jobs low paid jobs at its U.S. factory to meet Walmart’s multi-year purchase agreement.
Sometimes different values can lead customers to the same supplier. As I noted above, both Democrats and Republicans buy their caps from Unionwear in election years to demonstrate their support for domestic jobs. John Oliver calls it “electoral jingoism”. But CEO Mitch Cahn points out one key difference between the political parties on their values beyond domestic sourcing, “Democrats brag about their products being union made and the republican don’t want anyone to find out about it.”
Sometimes an ethical purchasing decision is easy. Sometimes it is hard, challenging us to do the homework necessary to put our money where our values are. Sometimes it requires us to choose which values are primary. You pays your money and you makes your choice.
David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its initiative on The Public Good. He is the author of "New City States" and four other non-fiction books.
Posted July 23, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan
Trade agreements require that all domestic regulations undergo “trade impact” or cost-benefit analyses before implementation to demonstrate that they are “least trade restrictive” and “necessary” to protect public and environmental health, worker safety and other public interest objectives. United Nations human rights advocates have responded by proposing that all trade agreements include provisions for “human rights impact” studies before and after implementation.
As the United States attempts to finalize the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a human rights requirement in the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill signed by President Barack Obama on June 29 may reduce the TPP members by at least one, despite White House claims that fast track TPA protects human rights. The human rights debate over trade has heated up in Washington and Geneva, the home of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
In June 2014, the UNHRC passed a resolution (26/19) (SouthNews, No. 59, July 4, 2014) creating an open ended Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on corporate human rights abuses. The Working Group is charged with negotiating a binding legal instrument to prevent and seek redress for transnational corporate violations of human rights. Not only did the United States vote against the resolution, it was absent from the first session of the IGWG this month in Geneva, according to a Transnational Institute press release.
Yet the presidential Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) advocates binding trade and investment agreements to protect investor rights of many of those corporate violators of human rights. USTR Michael Froman has invoked “investor rights” protected by an Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism as essential to the “high standards” of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the TPP agreements.
The policy incoherence between human rights and investors’ rights was noted in a keynote speech by Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, who pointed out at the opening session of the negotiations that, “What we see more and more is that foreign investors and transnational corporations are provided with very strong rights and extremely strong enforcement mechanisms. On the other hand global and national rules dealing with the responsibilities of corporations and other forms of businesses are characterized by the form of soft law.”
Negotiating binding protections for investors, while promoting non-binding principles to protect human rights, is by no means unique to the Obama administration. However, because the USTR characterizes investor “rights” protection as essential to the “high standards” of the TPP and the TTIP, the Obama administration invites scrutiny of the alleged “high standards” of the TPP and TTIP members.
In an article criticizing the U.S. State Department’s rumored plan to upgrade Malaysia to a “less odious” Tier 2 human rights violator to enable its inclusion in the TPP, Charles Santiago, a Member of the Malaysian Parliament, writes that the upgrade is “just like receiving a Nobel Peace Prize before proving one’s worth.” This reference to President Barack Obama’s acceptance of a Nobel Peace Prize at the outset of his first term in 2009, before he had done anything to merit the Prize, might seem a gratuitous personal attack.
But, let’s consider the kind of human rights compliance performance that the State Department wants to upgrade to include Malaysia as a TPP member—Trafficking in Persons.
On July 10, MP Santiago and U.S. Member of Congress Joseph Pitts wrote to President Obama, “Rewarding Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia, or Thailand with an upgrade in Tier ranking would serve only as a devaluation of internationally recognized human rights and would send a dangerous signal to the world about the United States’ commitment to ending modern day slavery.” Enslaved persons, trafficked from other prospective TPP members, provide much of the labor for the palm oil investments in and electronics exports from Malaysia. Regulations to prevent trade in palm oil or other products from transnational corporate human rights and environmental and worker safety law violators could be challenged under the terms of the TPP’s draft Investor State Dispute Settlement chapter, published by Wikileaks in March 2015.
The administration’s Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority bill requires that countries included in the State Department’s list of violators of the U.S. law against human trafficking be excluded from entering into trade negotiations with the United States (Section 106 paragraph 6 a-b). Scrutiny by Malaysian and U.S. legislators of U.S. State Department plans to upgrade Malaysia’s human rights compliance status revealed the Obama administration’s low human rights standards for becoming a Party to the TPP.
Two weeks after President Obama’s eloquent eulogy on the murders and violations of civil rights of two pastors and seven parishioners in a church in South Carolina, his State Department was preparing to upgrade Malaysia in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, despite reports of Malaysian government persecution of those who reported on the corpses of hundreds of trafficked persons at the Malay-Thai border. The Malaysian Bar Association stated of the Malaysian government, “It is inconceivable that an extremely sensitive area such as our international border with Thailand could have been left so unpatrolled and unmonitored, as to permit these ‘death camp’s to have been set up and allowed to mushroom undetected, people to have been detained and kept in such appalling conditions, and for this massive loss of life.”
Citizens’ Trade Campaign, of which IATP is a member, denounced the planned human rights upgrade of Malaysia and urged its members to write to their Member of Congress to stop the upgrade. On July 15, nineteen Senators wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that the State Department not “prematurely” upgrade Malaysia’s status in its TIP report. While not accusing the State Department of bending to White House pressure to enable Malaysia to join the TPP, the Senators implicitly repudiated U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman’s contention, made while visiting Malaysia, that a change to Malaysia’s anti-trafficking law could qualify it for a TIP upgrade and thus inclusion in the TPP. (“Nineteen Senators Urge Kerry Not to Remove Malaysia from Trafficking Blacklist,” Inside U.S. Trade, July 15, 2015. Subscription required.)
Among the labor and environment objectives of the fast track TPA is that a Party to a trade agreement with the United State “does not fail to effectively enforce its environmental or labor laws, through a sustained or recurring course of action or inaction” (Section 102, subsection 10 paragraph a) iii). Enforcement of a Party’s labor or environmental law is a non-binding objective. So Mexico’s failure to enforce its agribusiness labor laws and to allow exporters to abuse workers in horticulture plantations likely will not disqualify Mexico as a TPP member.
The Obama administration, so passionate about the defense of U.S. civil rights, pursues a contradictory policy regarding international human rights and investor “rights” in its trade agreements. By opposing binding UNHRC measures, the Obama administration signals to investors that they will be protected against loss of anticipated profits under TPP, even if the cost of that protection is allowing transnational corporate violations of human rights.
When the United States fails to prosecute and effectively penalize corporate crime, and blocks UN discussion of a binding legal agreement to prosecute the transnational corporate activities that result in violations of human rights, nobody should be surprised that criminal syndicates will provide labor for “free” trade at the lowest price possible, i.e. for no wages at all. If President Obama adds Congressional approval of the TPP to the legacy of his achievements, corporate human rights violations under the TPP and the non-binding fast track TPA negotiating objectives will be part of that legacy.
Postscript: On July 27, the State Department proved the rumors true by removing Malaysia from among Tier 3 violators in its Trafficking in Persons report, thus enabling Malaysia to join the TPP. Both U.S. and Malaysian legislators accused the Obama administration of ignoring the Malaysian government’s failure to prosecute human traffickers in order to expand the TPP. On July 28, President Obama told Heads of State and other officials of the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that “I’m convinced that nations cannot realize the full promise of independence until they fully protect the rights of their people.” In the context of remarks on an imperfect United States, he later replied, “when we fall short of our ideals, we strive to do better.”
Posted July 23, 2015 by Sharon Treat
“What is your chlorine chicken?” was the question, midway through our five-day, nonstop tour of seven European cities to talk about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the largest bilateral trade agreement in history, currently being negotiated between the United States and the European Union. The very public European rallying cry “no chlorine chicken” not only sums up fundamentally different food safety and agricultural practices in the EU and U.S., but also the possibility that TTIP will dilute the precautionary principle that guides EU environmental and health policies, ultimately compromising small-scale farms and diminishing quality of life.
It was a good question and worth some thought. Is there an issue or catch-phrase that sums up American views on TTIP? After all, I was in Europe on a TTIP speaking tour (organized by the Greens and European Free Alliance of the European Parliament), along with Thea Lee, AFL-CIO economist and deputy chief staff, and Melinda St. Louis, Director of International Campaigns for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, to talk specifically about the American point of view.
What we discovered on our tour is that the concerns of American and European families, workers and communities are similar. Ordinary people on both sides of the Atlantic do not favor a corporate-driven food and agriculture agenda, nor a race-to-the-bottom harmonizing of environmental laws that wipes out important protections from toxic chemicals and pesticides. Our whirlwind visit was just one step towards building a transatlantic understanding between workers, farmers, environmental activists and elected officials in national and regional parliaments.
We started our tour in Paris where we participated in a public forum in the French Senate moderated by Yannick Jodot, Green/EFA member of the European Parliament and Vice-President of the Commission on International Trade of the European Parliament, and Andre Gattolin, Green/EFA Senator de Hauts-de-Seine (Paris) and a leader of the successful effort by the French Senate in adopting a resolution opposing investor-state corporate arbitration provisions (ISDS) in TTIP.
The French Senate
Climate policy was foremost on the minds of many in the Paris forum with the United Nations COP 21 talks coming up at the end of November. “Are Americans fighting hard to address climate change? What about the impact TTIP will have rolling back climate targets through expanded fossil fuel exports?” asked Ameélie Canonne of Attac France and Aitec. People in the U.S. care about global warming, too, we responded. Don’t listen only to climate change deniers in Congress, look at the actions of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators who are leading the efforts to shift to renewable energy, and who have called for a study of TTIP climate impacts. Consider the fracking ban in Vermont, and moratoria in Maryland, California and dozens of New York counties and municipalities.
While Thea went to Madrid, Melinda and I flew on to Barcelona. Tapas at midnight, a few hours’ sleep and then six different meetings during a heat wave! How to sum up in a few sentences? Perhaps most surprising and rewarding was our meeting with the Círculo de Economía, a civic association of nearly 50 years’ standing. Time and again during our two-hour discussion, these leaders of the Barcelona business community raised concerns that TTIP will exacerbate income inequality, lower standards and, through secrecy and regulatory cooperation initiatives, undermine the continued development of democratic institutions – concerns not uppermost in the agendas of the large multinational U.S businesses supporting TTIP. What could TTIP look like if it were actually designed to reduce income inequality and to strengthen democracy, I wondered?
From the Círculo de Economía we sped across town to the Catalan Parliament, housed in a repurposed and spectacular royal palace, to meet first with parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, and then with activists, who told us that 50,000 people marched in Barcelona on the April 18th day of action protesting TTIP – an expression of free speech threatened by a draconian gag law passed by the Spanish government that went into effect while we were there.
With the Catalan Parliamentarians
After a meet and greet with Argentina-born deputy mayor Gerardo Pisarello and another public forum, we were off again to Brussels for a major TTIP conference in the European Parliament the following day.
There, Thea got to debate Peter Chase of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about whether TTIP is good for jobs, and Hans-Jürgen Volz of the German Federal Association of Medium-Sized Enterprises raised concerns that, contrary to talking points of USTR and EU trade negotiators, small and medium businesses averaging 25 employees won’t benefit either from lowering standards through “regulatory cooperation” or from an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system that costs millions to participate in. Respected economist and former Deputy Director-General for Trade, Pierre Defraigne spoke passionately about his concerns with TTIP, which he said regulates capitalism in a regressive way, and Melinda made a strong case for why the ISDS system is both unnecessary and destructive.
I spoke about the goal of TTIP to “harmonize” standards, potentially wiping out consumer and environmental protections adopted by U.S. states that go beyond weak US federal laws on chemicals, pesticides and food safety. My concerns were validated by experts Chiara Giovannini, of the European Consumer Voice in Standardization, and Sanya Reid Smith of the Third World Network. Chiara questioned whether a “technical” standard is ever a neutral standard without consequences for consumers, and stated that the presumption of conformity proposed for TTIP, which could mutually recognize as equivalent EU and U.S. consumer standards such as those applicable to children’s toys, would necessarily weaken standards in the European Union. Sanya gave examples of weakened standards resulting from other trade agreements similar to TTIP, such as Chile being forced by the U.S. to change its nutrition labeling on prepackaged food.
Then, it was on to Berlin, arriving on a balmy night in time to sample the local Kolsch beer at a canal-side cafe. The next day we’d have a whirlwind schedule – including breakfast with journalists, a public forum, lunch with labor leaders, meetings with members of the Bundestag and then with TTIP activists.
Both the public forum moderated by Green/EFA European Parliament member Ska Keller and the Bundestag meeting raised the same issues: the secrecy surrounding negotiations, especially on the U.S. side; the threat to EU food standards and the influence of U.S. agribusiness on the negotiations; whether controls on fracking will be undermined by ISDS; and the worry that less robust workplace benefits and collective bargaining protections in the U.S. could lead to a race to the bottom for all workers. As a member of Maine’s Citizen Trade Policy Commission, I spoke to findings in our report on how TTIP could undermine our local food policy initiatives, and discussed interests in common with people in Germany: the fact that Farm to School programs have strong support all across the U.S., and that the vast majority of Americans also want healthier food and labeling of GMO foods.
With the Bundestag members
Then it was back to the Berlin airport. Arriving in Vienna that night, we set out to explore local cafes, knowing that the next day, the final day of our tour, we would be participating in events in both Vienna and Budapest. Both Austria and Hungary are GMO-free countries, and there was a lot of interest in the fact that Vermont is in a legal battle with Monsanto to protect its GMO labeling law and that even if Vermont wins its domestic lawsuit, Monsanto wants to use TTIP to negate these and other states’ standards. Our meeting with Austrian journalists was particularly well-attended. In competition with the mega-story of the week – “deal or no deal” between the EU and Greece – we nonetheless received extensive media coverage in Austria, including in Kronen Zeitung, the paper with the widest circulation in Austria, which has editorialized in opposition to TTIP.
After meeting with conservative, as well as progressive members of the Austrian Parliament skeptical of TTIP, we traveled by train to Budapest for our final forum. The well-attended event staged above a restaurant in a hip part of town was billed as “Fifty Shades of Trade.” Although briefly tempted to incorporate themes from the bestselling novel into our presentations, Thea, Melinda and I stuck to our talking points. László György, an economist and professor at Budapest University of Technology and Economics, joined our panel and reinforced one of Thea’s themes based on the AFL-CIO experience: that none of the rosy economic projections supporting past U.S. trade agreements, including NAFTA and the Korea Free Trade Agreement, have proven the least bit accurate. In fact, independent projections for TTIP are for significant job losses in Europe.
The organizers of the Budapest event repeatedly told us how important it was for Americans such as ourselves to travel to Hungary to share our perspectives, and the audience stuck around on a sweltering Friday evening to pepper us with questions. It was a wonderful and somewhat quirky event with which to end our tour. I don’t yet know the “chlorine chicken” issue that will easily explain TTIP to American audiences. I do know that short as it was, I returned home from the European Union trip convinced we have values in common and parallel goals for our societies – and that to influence the outcome of TTIP, we must act without delay and act together.
Sharon Treat, who served in the Maine legislature for 22 years, is working with IATP on the risks of TTIP proposals for innovative state and local legislation on food and farm systems.
Posted July 16, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan
A slogan that summarizes NGO and European Union Parliament requirements for regulating products of nanotechnology is “No data, no market.” But what kind of data and for what kind of market? I participated in a National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)/Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) workshop, “Quantifying Exposure to Engineered Nanomaterials from Manufactured Products,” (QEEN) to get answers to those and related questions. The CPSC, whose budget was described by one of its officials as a “rounding error” relative to other NNI agencies’ budgets, co-organized an excellent workshop dedicated to producing data to protect consumers. According to both academic and regulatory scientist presentations at QEEN, it is no small task to generate reliable, good quality data to measure the exposure of humans, animals and the environment materials ranging from atomic to molecular-size that have been advertised as the basis for the 21st Century Industrial Revolution.
At the opening of QEEN, the pressure on the scientists to deliver the data to enable regulatory permits to commercialize nano-products was expressed by the assistant director of the presidential Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Dr. Lloyd Whitman said that fifteen years after the launch of the NNI, it was time for NNI 2.0, the era of nanotechnology commercialization. However, Dr. Whitman talked about how a new “ Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) ecosystem” with a faster throughput of data for evaluating risks would be needed. He announced an OSTP call for the scientists to pose (and later achieve) solutions to “Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges.” But first it would be necessary for the scientists to resolve the pesky problem of generating data.
The scientists identified three interrelated problems in generating data that reliably would inform regulators which nanomaterials in which products at what point in their life cycle would pose “unreasonable risks,” (a term in U.S. law) to consumers, workers and the environment. I found the three problems crucial to understanding exposures that could result from agri-nanotechnology products in the research and development pipeline, including nano-enabled pesticides, fertilizers and food packaging materials, for consumers, farm workers, rural communities and the environment.
First, to get realistic data about possible risks of nanotechnology-enabled products as they are used, it will be necessary to have the cooperation of nanotechnology product developers. The scientists must evaluate nanomaterials in their product matrix, e.g. nano silicon dioxide in a dry soup mix or nano titanium in sunscreen ointments. This kind of evaluation is a different, and more difficult, task than safety assessment of the pristine nanomaterials that scientists synthesized and studied during the first decade of the NNI.
However, that necessary cooperation by the nanotech industry has not been forthcoming, since there is no rule to compel it to submit nanotechnology-enabled products and data about those products for pre-market safety assessment. The scientists have had to resort to informal networks to get unofficial product samples, the risk assessment of which may have scientific validity but not regulatory validity, since the products have not been obtained with the cooperation of the product developer who seeks commercialization.
Second, many of the relevant experiments to simulate the “weathering,” or use of nano-enabled products over time, to obtain realistic exposure data often require expensive equipment and repeated trials. Sometimes such equipment is not available over the longer timeframe needed for exposure studies. Such practical considerations are crucial in determining how and how many nanoparticles are released from their product matrix, which, in turn, determines human and environmental exposure. But scientists do not yet understand what triggers particles to release under what conditions for many nanomaterials, so more experiments will be required to get realistic exposure data.
One academic scientist said that few commercial toxicology labs currently have the equipment and training to detect nanomaterials in products. How could their testing capacity be enhanced with less costly equipment than that used by government agencies and major research universities? One regulatory scientist indicated that currently there is no way to validate techniques for environmental modeling. This means there is data generated by experiments, but no database that will inform a lab reliably on the “fate and transport” of nanomaterials, i.e. where they will go and with what environmental, health and safety effects. There is an urgent need to publish the data sets, as well as the nanotechnology research papers funded by the government, so that scientists can mine the data sets outside their own research to be able to predict the environmental, health and safety effects of a nanotechnology application.
U.S. government funding has not been as forthcoming for exposure studies as it had been for determining nanomaterial hazards, such as unquantified potential for toxicity or mutagenicity. Another academic scientist said that he believed the use of carbon nanotubes (CNT) to strengthen polymers, such as those used in automobiles bumpers, could not become widespread without developing data to determine the effect of worker exposures to CNTs and to develop adequate protective equipment and manufacturing procedures to minimize risks to workers.
A third problem is that the anticipated increased complexity of nanomaterials and their multiple insertion points in products and the human and natural environment require a research strategy that groups similar materials for experimentation and risk assessment. There is scientific consensus, if not publicly available industry data, about which Top Ten nanomaterials are most widely used. However, there are no public databases that group nanomaterials on the basis of their electrical, chemical, magnetic, thermal and other properties, such as shape, particle distribution and other metrics. Without such databases, regulator and industry demands for high throughput determination of environmental, health and safety effects cannot be realized. A smart industry would be happy to pay for such data bases as part of its sustainable business model.
The OSTP recommends that the EHS regulators evaluate each application for commercialization on a case by case basis, even if the EHS agency does not have the budget, infrastructure or personnel to do scientifically robust risk assessment on a scale. If the government and industry demanding the data are willing to pay for the experiments to generate it and the computer programming to organize the data into relatable groups, a product by product pre-market safety assessment is technically feasible.
However, in my view, the default procedure of inadequately resourced regulators under the current anti-regulatory siege in Congress likely will be to deregulate. Deregulation, in which neither industry nor the government is legally liable for product safety, may be an attractive alternative to trying to regulate product applications for which the agency lacks resources to conduct risk assessments on products based on robust exposure data of nanomaterials and nano-enabled products in realistic use simulations.
The science presented at QEEN was impressive in both its experimental design and ambition. While I cannot summarize the variety of experiments reported in a blog, nor, indeed, accurately report them in detail, some past NNI workshops have been reported on and included in some of the presentations, such as the recent report on the 2014 NNI workshop on nano-biosensors, in which IATP participated.
For example, it is now possible, as reported by Dr. Robert Mercer of the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, to visualize and count individual nanoparticles of different engineered nanomaterials in tissues sections samples from different sections of the lungs and lymph nodes of postmortem laboratory rats. After 12 days of inhalation exposure to Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes (MWCNTs), the agglomeration of MWCNTs can be visualized over a 336-day period in the lungs, lymph nodes, diaphragm, kidneys and brains of the exposed rats. Such experiments are crucial for determining the environmental, health and safety effects of MWCNTs and to designing industrial processes and protective equipment for those working with MWCNTs in an industrial setting.
Notwithstanding such an impressive experimental achievement in pathology, the technical limitations of the life cycle modeling of how nanoparticles are transported in the air, water, blood, saliva and other fluids produce a wide range of uncertainty about data, e.g. for predictive toxicology. Variants of one scientist’s comment were repeated by many: despite a decade of research in life cycle modeling of nanomaterials, scientists still cannot respond to questions about human exposure assessment with the degree of precision and standardization required by regulators.
There are nanotechnology jokes made about doing more with less, but if governments fail to finance adequately the research into human, animal and environmental exposures to nanomaterials, and if industry continues to fail to provide the scientists with nano-products to analyze in a regulatory process, regulators could allow a market for nanotechnology to develop without robust exposure data. The human and environmental health consequences of such a market, even if not resulting in acute toxicity, will not be funny at all.
Posted July 14, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan
Note: The following blog was submitted as a commentary in mid-June to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which declined to print it.
Peter Orszag’s attempt to discredit Senator Elizabeth Warren’s leadership of the movement against fast-track Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement neglects to disclose his financial interest in TPP and to accurately characterize the TPP (“So trade with Asia is OK if it benefits your own port?” Star Tribune, June 15, 2015).
Orszag identifies himself accurately as the former Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama. But he left the Obama administration in 2009 to become Vice Chairman of Investment Banking and Corporate Strategy and Chairman of the Financial Strategy and Solutions Group at Citigroup. Citigroup received more than $2.6 trillion in ultra-low interest Federal Reserve Bank loans from 2007 to 2010 to save it from bankruptcy (according to a Levy Institute study by James Felkerson).
In May, the banking group pled guilty to a felony for price-fixing billions of dollars of trades in foreign exchange rates. However, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted to waive felony penalties to allow Citigroup and other felon banks to continue to do business as usual. Neither Orszag nor any Citigroup executive was personally charged with a crime, but his strategic role in defending Citigroup drives the underhanded animus of this screed.
Citigroup is among the publicly rescued Wall Street banks fiercely opposing the financial institution reforms championed by Senator Warren. Citigroup is the former employer of several Obama administration officials, including current U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
Orszag’s attack on Senator Warren for her support of a bill to enhance Boston harbor infrastructure and for her opposition to the TPP, implies that the TPP is about nothing more than shipping goods through the Panama Canal to the Boston harbor. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Senator Warren knows the content of TPP, because she has read it under armed guard, but is prohibited from divulging its contents to the public under the draconian Obama administration rules for access to the negotiating texts. However, from some TPP drafts released through Wikileaks, we know that just five of 29 planned or completed chapters concern the trade of goods Orszag discusses.
The rest of the TPP chapters, when shorn of bland language about “regulatory cooperation” and “harmonization,” are about submitting all U.S. and sub-federal legislation, regulation, regulatory implementation, enforcement and court rulings to tests about their “necessity” to determine whether they are “least trade restrictive” or whether they could potentially harm the anticipated profits of “investors” under TPP. All U.S. law rules could be subject to cost-benefit tests before their implementation, a favorite Wall Street tactic to delay and, if possible, crush bank reform.
In the case of disagreement about whether governments should modify or repeal myriad “trade-related” or “investment-related” laws and rules, the TPP chapter on Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) empowers foreign investors to sue governments. Governments are granted no powers to sue foreign investors for environmental or public health damage, violations of human rights or financial damage resulting from the investments. For example, under a bilateral ISDS, Phillip Morris is suing Australia, a prospective TPP member, for a cigarette packaging rule that the transnational tobacco firm alleges will reduces its profits. But Australia may not sue Phillip Morris under the ISDS.
Indeed, it would be easy to find a “foreign investor” in any of Citigroup’s hundreds of affiliates in TPP countries who could use the TPP to overturn part of the “Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010” and/or to prevent or weaken its implementation. Orszag would get a big bonus for helping to design the strategy for such a financial regulatory overthrow of the United States.
And if you don’t think that Congress can move quickly to repeal a law, the very popular Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) provision in the Farm Bill was repealed in the House of Representatives just 48 hours after the World Trade Organization issued a contradictory ruling declaring part of COOL implementation to be WTO inconsistent. Big Ag failed four times to get U.S. courts to declare COOL illegal, but succeeded in getting the law declared WTO illegal. Passing the TPP would mean that public interest laws will be throttled so that corporations and banks like Citigroup can prosper, that is, until the next bailout. Passing fast track TPA, which prohibits Congress from amending TPP and subsequently protects them from casting politically unpopular votes against amendments, will make TPP’s approval more likely.
Posted July 2, 2015 by Dale Wiehoff
The people of Greece are at a critical moment as the country teeters on the verge of financial default. This is a clear case of the people against global banks and financial institutions. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy urges all of our friends and allies to stand together with the Greek people and say no to the banks.
Greece is getting the kind enhanced financial torture from the European Union that the poor and working class received from Obama in the 2008 financial meltdown. Banks were bailed out and the people left to make do. The slow recovery in the U.S. has helped us to forget the days when ninety year old grandmothers, like Addie Polk in Akron, Ohio, were killing themselves in the face of bankruptcy and foreclosure. But in Greece, a country similarly brought to its knees by uncontrolled banks and corrupt politicians, the majority of its citizens have yet to experience any relief.
Years of austerity imposed on the Greek people have failed to solve the problems confronting the birthplace of democracy. Five months ago, the Greek people elected a progressive party called Syriza to say no to the austerity policies of the IMF and European Union. The Greek government has called for a referendum on Sunday, July 5th, when the people of Greece can say whether or not they want to submit to more unemployment, wage cuts, destruction of pensions, regressive taxes, and deregulation.
It is the International Monetary Fund, on behalf of the global elite, that is driving the austerity agenda against the Greek people. With the U.S. controlling almost 17% of the votes in the IMF, if President Obama wanted, he could lend a hand to the Greek people in this dark moment. He has done it before for others. When the big credit insurance agency, AIG, was going under, the President stepped up and provided a bailout. The AIG bailout included $36 billion from U.S. taxpayers for French and German banks, the same banks that have their feet on the necks of the Greek people.
Time is of the essence. Many of us are still reeling from the passage of Fast Track, but need to stand with the people of Greece who have had to bear the brunt of this latest assault by the global banking titans. We are asking you to send a message to President Obama and the U.S. Treasury to use their votes in the International Monetary Fund to press for a just and democratic solution to the Greek crisis.
Posted June 29, 2015 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell
IATP’s Dr. Jahi Chappell is blogging from Brasilia as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) hosts the first of three public symposiums on national and regional strategies focused on agroecology.
On Friday, the first regional agroecology seminar of the FAO came to a close in Brasilia. The seminar and closing day ended with a “mística” (the cultural/spiritual ceremony I described when it occurred at the opening of the pre-meeting). Lighting a candle, movement leaders told us that it represented fire, a basic element, and in doing so, evoked the vital importance of other basic elements of life, especially the need to honor the land, and for peasants and indigenous peoples to have access and make good use of it.
Following the ceremony, participants from all sectors – social movements, NGOs, academics, governments, and international organizations – gathered as friends and comrades, old and new, hugged each other and expressed gratitude for the space this FAO seminar had created. The morning and afternoon had seen difficult negotiations, both in plenary and within a smaller, closed-door drafting group, on a final platform of recommendations from the seminar. (We will post the final declaration when it is officially released.) There were the expected tensions among the participants from the different sectors, with academics and social movements pushing for ambitious and concrete statements and commitments, and the ability and willingness of governments and the FAO to go only go so far, given their own commitments, pressures, and restrictions to many constituencies going beyond the groups in the room.
And this, perhaps, reflects the deep potential, and incredible challenge of agroecology. The respect, productive dialogue, and collaboration that agroecology emphasizes between farmer and scientist, people and the environment, and society and governments means it is able to uniquely draw people from across what can be vast divides. Indigenous communities, farmers and consumers from countries both rich and poor, environmentalists, scientists, and increasingly governments are coming together around agroecology, and agreement is growing that new policies, and even entirely new paradigms are needed. This was affirmed by pretty much all of the speakers present, regardless of the sector they belonged to. From one member of FAO-Brazil: “We must work together as movements and government to make sure that agroecology is on every pertinent international agenda.” Another speaker, representing the Brazilian Ministry of Agrarian Development (whose head, Patrus Ananias, spoke the previous day) observed that the seminar hadn’t been “a space to exchange technologies, but to talk politics”. He acknowledged that the policies supporting agroecology and family farmers in Brazil “are the result of an on-going dialogue between civil society, the movements, and the government,” and promised that the Brazilian government “will go over the platform document [resulting from this meeting] point by point.”
As the president of the Brazilian National Food Security Council had emphasized the previous day, ongoing dialogue, and further, ongoing pressure from social movements is utterly essential. Members of the Latin American Scientific Society for Agroecology re-emphasized the need to respect and actively support indigenous and farmer knowledge as well as collaborative academic work, and further, the need to materially support the collaborations between scientists and peasant farmer. And here we begin to see the crux of the challenge. The space created by these seminars is clearly meant to be an opportunity to inform and advise governments, to convene pertinent groups, and bring together excellent evidence. But when said evidence points to the need for broad political changes, for new paradigms and approaches, the trickiness of the space is clear: what does it mean to “advise” governments of the agreed-upon need for political and paradigm change, given that it is these very governments, with their current paradigms, that the FAO is meant to serve?
This seminar was one opportunity for scientists, governments, and social movements to exchange notes and build solidarity. With the enthusiastic promises made by the Brazilian government, we see the result of historical and on-going processes of social mobilization and pressure in the Brazilian context. It falls to the civil society and academic participants and their allies, then, to maintain and expand the mobilization, both within and between countries. Because as agroecology is indeed a necessary paradigm shift requiring new approaches and policies—approaches and policies that will challenge entrenched inequality and big business interests—we would do well to remember the words of American abolitionist and escapee from the deprivations of American slavery, Frederick Douglass:
If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Posted June 26, 2015 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell
The opening session of the Regional Seminar in Latin America and the Caribbean quickly built to a roar, at the same time raising questions that would have fit in at the last sessions of the day: how do we get to a system that supports food sovereignty and agroecology as the alternative paradigm for food and agriculture from our current system when many governments and corporate interests seek technical fixes that don't actually fix the real problems?
The first session of the day started with comments from several of the key coordinating organizations: the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Reunión Especializada sobre Agricultura Familiar en el MERCOSUR (REAF), the Alianza por la Soberanía Alimentaria de los Pueblos de América Latina y el Caribe, FAO Brazil and the Ministry of Agrarian Development of Brazil. The Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology [SOCLA], who also helped organize these meetings, wasn’t in the first session, but SOCLA’s President, Dr. Clara Nicholls, did present in the second session. The relatively new Minister of Agrarian Development, Patrus Ananias de Souza, who served as the Minister of Social Development under former President Lula and was key to implementing Brazil’s Zero Hunger programs, built to an incredible crescendo, promising that the Dilma Administration was soon to launch a new plan for agrarian reform, one that would secure land for all of the landless people located in camps and settlements throughout Brazil. His passionate pledge brought appreciative applause from the audience of farmers, FAO and government officials, academics and NGO staff members. It was an agreed high note that will be revolutionary if the Brazilian government is able to pull it off. (The details of the plan will not be announced until next month.)
Riding on this wave of hope for revolutionary governmental action, the President of Brazil’s National Food and Nutritional Security Council (CONSEA), Maria Emilia Pacheco, spoke of the vital role of social mobilization in motivating and securing good government policy. CONSEA recently added consumers’ representatives to the council, which she hopes can foster an organized consumers’ movement in Brazil to start matching the high levels of organization seen in other constituencies in Brazil, such as the landless, the family farmer, the food and nutrition security sectors and increasingly, agroecology. We got a tantalizing overview of the philosophy and approach behind Brazil’s national-level food policy council; this institution goes back decades in Brazil, barring an extended interruption during the Cardoso administration of the 90s and early 2000s, and was re-instituted under former President Lula. Indeed, Brazil’s system of food policy councils at many levels, local to national, is built into its federal food security policies, and could serve as a model of some of the elements of participatory food democracy we’ve discussed at IATP recently.
As the day continued, we heard more from social movement members, farmers and scientists about the research, practice and potential of agroecology. Attendees from indigenous and peasant[i] farmer groups discussed practices, organizing and innovation throughout Latin America and the Caribbean—Colombia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Cuba, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, and Mexico particularly—making agroecology’s reach, scope and potential abundantly clear from the positive stories shared with the audience.
As we approached the end of the day, several panelists discussed the meaning of the word “innovation” for them, and the importance of social and practical innovation, not just technical innovation. Agroecologist Peter Rosset pointed out the incredible organization represented by the institution of local schools and programs seen in the presentations, and noted that these innovations, set up by the local people themselves, are often overlooked by those from the outside looking to support agroecology. There is often a focus on new institutions, networks and ideas, sometimes imposed from the outside, that doesn’t acknowledge or build on the political agency built by communities themselves. He pointed out that government and officials’ responses to agroecological research sometimes go so far as to question the underlying validity of agroecology by denying the existence of demonstrable innovations from farmers. They overlook the fact that farmer-to-farmer networks, rural schools, movement building and new ways of relating and organizing with each other are all important innovations. Dr. Rosset admonished that we must not overlook policy and social innovations in favor of some machine or technique.
Agroecology cannot be confined to such a narrow definition. Indeed, scaling up agroecology will be about supporting cooperation and learning how to work together as much as it will be about how to work the land. Which perhaps gets to the crux of agroecology’s dilemma: like Minister Patrus Ananias de Souza’s vision of a comprehensive new wave of agrarian reform, the question for many of us is not the desirability of the objective, but rather the social and political innovations and struggles it will take to get there. The Minister’s plan, and the kind of recognition for farmers and their social innovations that Dr. Rosset called for, means changing power relationships. Reforming land ownership means tackling the vast inequality in Brazil, but those who currently have more power and resources often don’t like to see it rivaled by the empowerment of those who have less. For example, as Dr. Rob Wallace pointed out in a recent presentation at IATP, large agribusiness long ago figured out that raising animals themselves was a risky, hard endeavor—one that lost money with the margins they wanted for their “raw materials”—and agribusiness is obviously afraid of their contract farmers even getting the basic power to exercise their constitutional rights.
Agroecology without justice, without empowerment, without changing power relationships, is not agroecology. But empowering female farmers, indigenous peoples and peasant farmers means an end to being able to push them into bad deals where they take the risk and agribusiness takes the rewards. Fulfilling this vision would be better for farmers, for consumers, for the environment—for pretty much everyone but large multi-national corporations. This is the implication of agroecology that many interested parties throughout the world want to paint as “unscientific” or even unnecessary. The question is, with clear evidence coming from both science and the lived experiences of producers on these necessities, will the regional seminars be able to step up to this challenging realization? Or is the possibility of rebalancing societal power going to be too much to ask of this first opening of a window at the “Cathedral of the Green Revolution”?[ii]
[i] “Peasant” (campesino in Spanish) at its root means “person of the land”, and it is this image of hard-working agricultural stewards of the land that many movements of Latin America seek to evoke with the word campesino/peasant. It does not necessarily have the same kind of distinctly negative connotation that it carries in English.
[ii] Based on comments made by FAO Director-General at the closing of the first International Meeting on Agroecology last year in Rome.