All’s fair in free trade and globalisation, says World Trade Organisation. Gobar Times discovers 284,000 child slaves in the cocoa plantations of West Africa; a losing battle fought by Caribbean banana growers with US companies; and the fact that the richest one-fifth of the world’s population has an income 74 times more than the poorest one-fifth. Fair?
Robert McDonald, an honest law-abiding citizen of an industrialised country, puts on his jogging shoes, switches on his portable stereo, and jogs down the neighbourhood. On his way back, he buys a bar of chocolate from the grocer. Tired after the exercise, he makes himself a nice glass of cold coffee, eats a banana, sits in front of the computer and plays some games. His mobile phone rings. “Hello, Bob here”.
Hello. In the last hour Bob used at least six things produced by people in developing countries. The unprocessed coffee came from Asia, Latin America, Africa or the Caribbean. The shoes were stiched in Vietnam. The computer was assembled in Malaysia. The cocoa for the chocolate came from West Africa. The trading system, present since the beginning of history, is said to be an excellent thing because it allows countries to export excess products and import deficit products.
Your country might be producing tonnes of sugar (that it does not need) while it does not produce any rice at all (that it needs). The trading system is good also because it brings revenue to a country. Perhaps in this process, Bob also helps a low-income country by buying things made there. Perhaps. But free trade dictates there should be no rules and regulations. And ‘no rules’
sually means survival of the fittest. In the case of trade, it means survival and prosperity of the most powerful and the richest. For example, when Bob buys a banana in the US or Germany, it is most likely that it had been grown in Latin America by huge US-based companies. These companies are able to produce bananas on a large scale and sell them very cheap. Dollar Bananas. On the other hand, the economies of most of the small Caribbean countries depend on bananas.
These countries are losing their market everyday because they cannot compete with 'dollar bananas' in quantity, quality or price. So, each time Bob buys a banana, he is actually harming (and hurting) the small Caribbean farmer. And this is just the beginning of the story...
fair and sqaure
A Banana is just an example of any other commodity produced in low income countries and consumed in industrialised countries.
More than 90 per cent of the price paid by consumers like Bob stays in the industrialised country, of which the biggest bite is taken by the retailers - dominant supermarkets and chain stores.
Hardly a fair split, is this, when most of the risks of production are taken by the low-income countries?
The Yellow Kings
Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte. The three top companies. Controlling two-thirds of world banana exports.
So, who said a banana is a simple yellow fruit?
When you and I say 'Yummy!' after biting into a chocolate, we do not bother to think where did this chocolate come from. To know this is also to understand why chocolates are bitter too. The six largest cocoa producing countries are the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, Cameroon. In these countries, lives depend on cocoa. And as chocolate demand increase, lives get even more dependent.
Ivory Coast is not exactly as romantic as its name suggests. The major activity here is to be seen in the cocoa plantations. By the slaves. Hard as it might be to believe, there are countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo, that are poorer than the very poor Ivory Coast. The child slaves come from these nations.
Parents sell their children in the hope of a better life for themselves and the the children. The ‘better’ life is a series of beatings and maltreatment. Aly Diabate, a freed slave, told reporters, "Anytime you fell while carrying bags of cocoa, they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again." So, what can chocolate manufacturers do about it? I mean, does the source of cocoa really have to pinch their consciences?
For years, US chocolate manufacturers have said they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don't own them. But chocolate companies are ruled by a few, for example, Hershey's and M&M/Mars controls twothirds of the US $13 billion chocolate industry of the US. What this means is that if they want to, companies can really make a difference.
Cash Cropping requires land.
The world Trade organisation
The General Agreement on trade and Tariffs (GATT) was initially just that – a general agreement between the ‘contracting parties’. Started in 1947, this agreement ended after the Uruguay round in April, 1994, when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) got established. while GATT’s main job was to decrease trade barriers between countries, the WTO is stronger and bigger with control over trade of goods (through GATT), trade in services (through GATS – General Agreement on Trade in Services), trade in intellectual property (through TRIPs – Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights), trade in investment (through TRIM – Trade Related Investment Measures) in the 134 countries who have said ‘okay’. The basic function of WTO however is still as the same old referree of governments regulations across the globe, but with a bigger whistle and more red cards.
1776, British economist Adam Smith: All forms of government interventions in economic issues should be removed and that there should be no restrictions or tariffs on manufacturing and commerce within a nation for it to develop. Free market capitalism. United States and Britain followed this wholeheartedly; promoting their own industries by getting raw material out of colonised countries and selling processed goods. Trade was free but not at all fair. Imperialism, colonialism and subjugation were the mantras of success.
Even before the Second World War, this system showed increasing disparities between rich and poor. 1930s, economist John Maynard Keynes: Regulation and government intervention is needed to provide more equity in development. Regulation and Equity. After World War II, this became the model of a new international economic system. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank were based on this.
Economies of industrialised countries grew and they began to need more (and more) access to raw materials and resources in low-income and developing countries, as well as the cheap labour easily available here. Huge subsidies to their own farmers helped in getting more market share. Subsidies lowered food prices and soon developing countries were flooded with cheap food from the powerful nations, against which the local farmers could not compete. Result? Globalisation, making the biggies bigger.
Military force and threat also help in cases where other means do not. this game continues to deepen inequality, poverty and exploitation. Even for those products which ARE being exported from low-income countries, the labour is paid so much less than their fair wages, that wealth is still accumulated by the richer nations.
Every time regulations trying to bring equity, pinch the wealthier classes, the ideals of liberalisation and freedom are immediately forced onto governments. Liberalisation, yes, but of other people's industries, and loosening of regulations usually mean that there is no limits on profits made. Their interests. "Free" trade is seen by many around the world as a continuation of those old policies of plunder.
While the WTO has tried to prove from time to time with various studies that globalisation helps reduce poverty, Christian E. Weller and Adam Hersh of the Economic Policy Institute, Washington DC, find that “global deregulation of trade and capital markets does hurt the poor.
” Weller and Hersh say that their results indicate that “trade in a more deregulated environment lowers the income share of the poor, whereas trade in a more regulated environment raises the share of the poor.”
Demonstrations against World Trade Organisation policies in Seattle, USA, in 1999.
Americans are working one week longer per year than they did a decade ago; five weeks longer than in 1970
- The Ecologist, September, 2002
Made in the garden
Going local, that is buying local food, clothes, and everything else is perhaps, not just about patriotism. Being fresher, local food is always more nuitritional. Less or no preservatives too. Plus, logic says if low-income countries use more land for local needs than for luxury exports, hunger too will decrease.
What globalisation dictates is there should be no barriers. India should not prevent any other country from selling say, apples, here. There are farmers in industrialised countries who grow apples. Million tonnes of them. More apples than their population can eat. These apples are then sent very cheap to low income countries instead of allowing them to rot. A generous gesture. But what happens then? Local farmers who were growing apples, do not sell their apples any longer. They cannot price them so low, you see. This apart, governments of industrialised countries offer huge subsidies to their farmers. So, that they survive, and the cycle continues. The farmer from India stops growing apples after a while. He tries some other crop with more or less the same result.
So, why doesn’t this farmer borrow money, buy more land and grow more apples so that he is able to sell cheap? This is just what globalisation preaches. Monoculture. Every nation or culture, it says, should specialise in one or two crops for export. The money got from these exports is not enough, the debt and pesticide cycle worsens matters, leave alone unequal regulations and air space pollution. What used to (and is still happening in many parts) of the developing countries, is a lot of diversity. Women in India used to use more than 200 plants as greens. But with the spraying of herbicides, leaves of plants like mustard, bathua and amaranth, which could be eaten, can no longer be used as such. The Mayan peasants in the Chiapas produce only two tonnes of corn per acre.
(How unproductive! says globalisation well wishers) The overall food output though is twenty tonnes per acre when their beans and squashes, vegetables and fruit trees is taken into account. In Java, small farmers cultivate 607 species in their home gardens. In sub-saharan Africa, women cultivate as many as 120 different plants in the spaces left alongside the cash crops. This is the main source of household food security.
A single home garden in Thailand has more than 230 species. Home gardens in Indonesia provide more than 20 per cent of household income and 40 per cent of domestic food supplies. In the UK, diversified farms of under 100 acres provide more jobs per acre than those over 500 acres.
The global dinner also has a lot on it besides this. In UK, imports of food and animal feed use 1.6 billion litres of fuel, and emit more than 4 m tonnes of CO2. The average American meal has 1,500 miles of transport behind it. What about farmers and traders in these countries? In the US, 6.8 million farms were in operation in 1935; today there are only one-fourth as many. Some 1000 grocers, butchers, bakers and fishmongers closed down in the UK each year in the 1900s.
In India, Andhra Pradesh farmers who commit suicide with the same pesticides they bought for their cotton crop, is probably the best example. Today, depending solely on a monocrop, these farmers whose subsidies have been cut, are paying more in one hand and not getting enough because of non-tariff trade barriers.