NEWS & CAMPAIGNS by Lucinda Labe s Send details of your organisation's campaigns, and any important news stories and developments to Lucinda Labes, at The Ecologist, Unit 18 Chelsea Wharf, 15 Lots Road, London SW10 OQJ
THE WTO - Crunch time?
By the time you read this, the 'protest of the century' will be in full swing It's enough to scare the pants off Seattle's trade-pushers. Early this month, hundreds of non-governmental organisations and tens of thousands of individuals will gather in the city for the biggest ever protest against global free trade. The demonstration, timed to coincide with the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) third ministerial meeting, is being described as "the Protest of the Century."
Groups of every persuasion are planning to descend on Seattle between November 29th and December 3rd. American steelworkers, Greenpeace campaigners, students, Mexican sweatshop workers, Indian farmers... they'll all be there. And on the fringes of the meeting, the International Forum on Globalisation (IFG) will be holding an alternative two-day teach-in. The list of speakers at their event includes Maude Barlow, Susan George, Martin Khor, Walden Bello, Helena NorbergHodge, Vandana Shiva, Jeremy Rifkin, Anita Roddick, Andrew Kimbrell, Owens Wiwa, and a great many more.
The purpose is to educate as many people as possible about the devastating effects of the activities of the WTO and the corporations whose interests this body serves, on environment, economy and society in general. The effect will be to send a clear message to the 5000 delegates taking part in the meeting that resistance is mounting.
"The WTO is the primary rule-making regime of the globalisation process," says Jerry Mander of the IFG. "In only five years of existence, the WTO has become one of the most powerful and secretive international bodies on Earth. The central operating principle of the WTO is that global commercial interests supercede all others. Obstacles to the smooth operation and rapid expansion of global corporate activity are therefore routinely suppressed - even i f those 'obstacles' are national, provincial, state and community laws and standards that are made on behalf of labour rights, environmental protection, human rights, consumer rights, local culture, social justice, national sovereignty and democracy."
For example, when Europe refused to import America's hormone injected beef, the US took the matter to the WTO. Despite EU research that found one of the six hormones to be a carcinogen and therefore unsafe for human consumption, the panel ruled in favour of the US, leaving the EU with a choice between buying potentially carcinogenic meat or facing punitive economic sanctions.
Similarly, following a case brought by the US against the European Union in 1997, a WTO panel ruled that the European Union was giving preferential access to bananas produced by former colonies in the Caribbean - an arrangement that had been made under the Lome Treaty. The US was acting on behalf of US-based Chiquita (formerly United Fruit), a corporation renowned for its exploitation of cheap labour and low environmental standards. Following US threats that would have amounted to a full-blown trade-war, the EU agreed to
comply, but is still negotiating with the US over settlement terms. The consequence will, among other things, be that the small producers in the Caribbean, who generally work and own their own land (an average of three acres) will be undermined.
At this month's Millennium Round, delegates will discuss the further liberalisation of trade, the cutting of tariffs and subsidies and new rules on biotechnology and patenting. The 'Global Free Logging Agreement' will also be on the agenda. This far-reaching WTO proposal aims to reduce tariffs on forest products, which forest industry spokesmen admit would increase global wood consumption by up to four per cent.
For further information on the Seattle WTO protests please contact Margrete Strand at Public Citizen, on Tel: + 1 (202) 546 4996, or Email
In The Ecologist Vol.29 No.6 (October 1999) I incorrectly wrote that the WTO's planned 'Global Free Logging Agreement' would provide "investors with unfettered access to" other nations' forests and that logging corporations "would have no obligation to observe domestic labour or environmental laws, or protect endangered forests." In its present form, the proposal is concerned with tariff reduction only. However, in a letter to the US Congress in May, Congressmen George Miller and Merill Cook wrote; "The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is currently negotiating a new agreement on forest products. In addition [to tariff reduction] negotiators are discussing the reduction of non-tariff barriers to trade. The agreement would expand the market for forests products without protecting domestic laws or encouraging sustainable logging practices or protecting endangered forests, ecosystems or biodiversity."
Protesters are highlighting the destruction caused by a giant corporation Several hundred members of the French organisation 'Citizen's Control of the World Trade Organisation' (CCCOMC) occupied the headquarters of Vivendi in Paris on 15 October in an attempt to bring to the public's attention the issues at stake at the next round of talks of the WTO. The action taken by the French umbrella group, which comprises the Confederation Paysanne, Droits Devant, l'Observatoire de la Mondialisation, and various trade unions, aims "to denounce all that symbolises the power of monopolies and the strategies of these multination groups which seize control of our public services such as water, education and culture," according to Francois Dufour, spokesman for the Confederation Paysanne.
In a press release issued to coincide with the action, the CCCOMC claimed that the next WTO conference of trade ministers would provide major multinationals such as Boeing, Microsoft and Vivendi with the opportunity to increase their already-dominant positions in the global market. CCCOMC
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 8, December 1999 has long campaigned against the French corporation Vivendi, which it describes as an "octopus", with tentacles stretching into all sectors of society. Figures produced by the NGO highlight what they see as the corporation's exploitation of people and planet:
• Water. While 1.1 billion people in the world are still deprived of drinking water, Vivendi's water operations are making massive profits through the management, reprocessing and supplying of this natural resource in more than 80 countries throughout the world; • Media. Vivendi is expanding its presence through the French media sector in television, portable telephones, multimedia, databases and publishing companies, including the control of specialist media groups such as Etudiant, le Quotidien du Medecin, and le Vidal and has even expressed an interest in taking control of the French national news agency AFP
(Agence France Presse); • Environment. The lucrative waste treatment market, both household waste as well as industrial waste, valued at FRF27 billion in 1997 in France alone, has become a global business for Vivendi's Environment Division, which controls the treatment, recycling and burial of waste in such countries as Argentina, Canada, China, Colombia and Israel; • Health and Education. Vivendi has acquired more than 250 schools and hospitals, like its US counterparts, in anticipation of the planned liberalisation of these markets in the framework of the review of the WTO's General Accord on Trade Services (GATS).
For more information on Vivendi's global activities, check out their website on www.vivendi.com, or for a history of Vivendi s true mission try www.global.forbes.com/ forbesglobal/98/0518/0104044a.html
Colombia Update by Monica del Pilar Uribe Marin A licence signed on September 21st by Colombia's environment minister, Juan Mayr, means that nothing can now stop Occidental of Colombia (Oxy) exploiting the sacred indigenous territory of the U'wa people for petroleum. And this is not the only territory under threat, as the government continues to pursue development at any cost
The recent decision by the Colombian government to allow oil exploration on U'wa lands, despite massive international opposition, has raised the spectre of the announced mass suicide of 7,000 members of one of the few remaining intact tribal communities of South America [see The Ecologist Vol.29 No.l, p.42]. In the eyes of the government, though, the Occidental licence is "good news", since it will help alleviate unemployment and prevent economic decline. All this thanks to the discovery of an estimated 1,500 to 2,500 million barrels of crude oil directly below the U'wa's forest reservation.
The U'wa have steadfastly maintained their opposition to any exploration and extraction on their land for the best part of a decade. They say the Government has confused the interests of the multinationals with the interests of the nation. Nevertheless, Oxy has been granted an exploratory drilling licence covering part of the U'wa reservation. For the U'wa, petroleum (ruiria) is the Earth's blood, its life-force. To extract it not only violates the cosmos, but also destroys the territory to which they are deeply tied, for social, cultural and ritual reasons, and for their subsistence.
The government remains unmoved: the "U'wa have received sufficient attention," they say, and the country "is bigger than they are." Nothing, they say,
must hold up development.
Indigenous rights in Colombia are guaranteed under the 1991 Constitution, but it largely counts for nothing when 'development' involving multinational interests is at stake. Oil extraction in Carlo Limon impoverished the indigenous peoples of Arauca; the activities of Standard Oil and Texas Petroleum exterminated the Yariguies and Yaripies of the Magdalena Medio; those of Mobil and Texas wiped out the Bari in the north of Santander, and Texas destroyed the Kofa in the Putumayo. The list goes on.
Meanwhile, another development issue has raised its ugly head in the heart of the Magdalena Medio. Hidromiel, an electricity utility, has been given permission to deflect the course of the Guarino River to increase the rate of return on capital invested in its 'Miel 1' hydroelectric plant. The diversion of the river will leave the upper and middle reaches of the river basin practically without water. For the inhabitants of the region, the impact will be disastrous. They have asked the NGO 'Defender of the People' to intervene; it in turn has requested the Ministry of the Environment to hold back from granting the environmental licence.
And it doesn't stop there. One of the few remaining pockets of virgin cloudforest in the region around the Colombian capital, Bogota, is now under threat from the construction of a glass factory on its fringes. The beautiful Parque Chicaque, a remnant of the rich rainforest that once covered the Bogota basin, contains many rare species of flora and fauna, and is currently run as a forest reserve for visitors and tourists. But Vidrio Andino, a glass company, is about to receive a licence to construct its facto-
The very existence of Colombia's U'wa people is now threatened by oil exploration
ry on the borders of the park. Opponents say it will pollute the Park's clear rivers and damage or destroy much of its rare ecosystem, as well as destroying agricultural lands and important archaeological sites. Opponents of these 'developments' are appealing for international help to prevent the destruction: The U'wa are asking for international support for their rejection of the Oxy licence. Please write to Colombian Environment Minister Juan Mayr, saying that you support the Uwa's ancestral and territorial rights, and asking that he withdraw the licence. Fax him on 57 1 288 6877 or 57 1 284 0363, or email him on Jmayr@minamb.gov. co or JuanMayrM @ hotmail. com For information on how to help save Parque Chicaque, write to Apartado Postal 077 - Soacha, Cundinamarca, Colombia or email Chicaque @ latinmail.
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 8, December 1999