What's Business All About
Now there will be commentators and politicians by the truckload over the next week accusing us of wanting to turn the clock back. They will say we are parochial, inward looking and xenophobic.
Don't accept it.
The truth is that 'free trade' as its Victorian forefathers promoted it was about the freedom of communities to trade equally with each other. It was never intended to be what it is today. A licence for the big, the powerful and the rich, to ride roughshod over the small, the weak and the poor
Notes for a speech at the Seattle teach-in, written on the flight from London, November 1999
Seattle Diary: Friday 26 November 1999.
I finish off the speech I'm giving at the Word Trade Organsiation (WTO) protest meeting on the British Airways flight from Heathrow to Seattle. A usually dull journey is invigorating because the flight is an extraordinary experience in itself: everyone is on the way to do battle in Seattle. The plane is packed with Australian activists, anti-logging campaigners, War on Want members, representatives of small farmers in Africa. It is the NGOs in force and they alone will be standing up for the billions of unrepresented people and who will be putting their case to the representatives of the most powerful corporations in the world. As we cross the Atlantic, I get more and more committed to the cause with every time zone we pass. I'm booked as a speaker at a two-day Teach-In organised by the International Forum on Globalisation, but I also want to stuff my brain with information, tape the words of every speaker, pick up every leaflet and march with every protester. The unapproved draft agenda for the WTO meeting contains provisions which would force the Europeans to let in genetically modified organisms, which, once released, can never be put back. It would also mean that corporations would have to patent life forms and privatise water supplies, so that Indian farmers would have to pay to use the water they have used for generations, and to use the seeds their ancestors may well have developed. I was already concerned about the impact of the new global economy on the world, and the role played by the WTO, but all that thinking, writing and discussion on the flight has fired me up. I intend to be sleepless in Seattle!
One captain of industry once went on the record to describe me as "frenetic and self-righteous". The 'self-righteous' label might have said more about him than about me, but there's a touch of truth in the 'frenetic' - because I am a firm believer that entrepreneurs have a nomadic soul. It helps them understand the changing environment - for modern life as well as business - and it confronts them with the truth, as it has confronted me. Some journeys are more about business, but some are just for the truth, in countries we generally regard as rich as well as those we regard as poor. Journeys, for me, have always provided insight.
Not long ago I spent two weeks crossing the great American divide, travelling through the so-called 'Black Belt' of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia for my first look at extreme poverty in the USA, the richest country of all. I found a guide in Jacob Holdt, a Danish 'vagabond' photographer, who has spent the last 30 years roaming America, photographing rural black communities. It was my first encounter with real poverty in any western country. To be poor is hard, but to be poor in America, in a land of such wealth, can be intolerable. I saw communities that had been excluded from society for generations. They were sinking deeper and deeper into poverty and hopelessness, under the weight of institutionalised racism. The longer I travelled with Jacob, the more I started to believe that there was no more hope for these people. The whole journey reminded me of an installation by Jenny Holzer, the artist, which read: "Go where people sleep and see if they're safe." I had never met Jacob before the trip. I was scheduled to give a talk in New Orleans and he was making the journey to meet the people he had spent time with over the past 30 years. Together we visited shacks and prison communities in the forgotten underbelly of America.
Copyright Anita Roddick 2000. All rights reserved.
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