I believe those who are now in control - the economic governments, politicians and business people - are capable of driving us over the edge. Global planning institutions like the WTO, World Bank and the IMF are ignoring mounting evidence of an impending social catastrophe that will leave widespread, dangerous inequality and insecurity. These institutions are simply not working for the majority of humanity.
The danger is that the current trading system undermines anyone who tries to do what we are doing.
Businesses which forgo profits to build communities, or which keep production local rather than employing semi-slaves in distant sweatshops, risk losing business to cheaper competitors without such commitments and being target for take-over by the slash-and-burn corporate raiders.
The Soulless Destruction of Monoculture
I am often asked what I fear most about the way business is going. My biggest fear is seeing not just the planet's business, but also the planet, being controlled by a handful of gigantic transnational corporations. You can see the beginning of this in the way the global brands are starting to raise our children. They entertain them, feed them, clothe them, medicate them, addict them, and define the ways in which they relate to each other. By the time they are seven, the average American child will be seeing 20,000 advertisements a year on television. By the time they are 12, they will have an entry in the massive marketing databases used by companies.
There is a soulless kind of destruction that this kind of global monoculture wreaks. Not just on families, but on family farms. It means the proliferation of one-crop nations in a country like Africa, with the whole crop being produced for export. It means millions of people no longer able to look to their land to supply their basic food needs. This is the big conundrum of the global market. People believe this kind of market economy will raise people to a level of consumer benefit - so much so that they will abandon their homes and villages and crowd into the cities in search of money wealth - and it just isn't working.
With fewer and fewer corporations controlling more and more of the world's trade, there is an ever greater need to know more about the practices of these large, faceless organisations. Redress is very slow - there is still no compensation for the thousands of victims of Union Carbide in Bhopal, or for the Ogoni in Nigeria, or for countless other voiceless and powerless victims trampled underfoot to accumulate ever increasing profits. But consumers are beginning to resist and some of us are looking for a better way.
Seattle diary: Saturday 27 November 1999:
I am here for the Teach-In, organised by the International Forum on Globalisation - an alliance of some 60 economists, activists, scholars and non-profit organisations from more than 20 countries, based in San Francisco. The event is about the implications of economic globalisation and the role of the WTO, and it is absolutely spectacular. Every meeting is packed to capacity and hundreds of people hang around outside a 3,000-seater auditorium begging for tickets. Inside the auditorium it is high energy, with ringing speeches condemning the multiple impacts of economic globalisation and offering ways of humanising the economy.
"We should say this to the negotiators," I say in my speech. "You may think that only money matters, but we know differently. If you take no notice of our warnings, you will put back the progress of people and planet, but you won't set it back forever. By putting our money where our heart is, refusing to buy the products that exploit, we will mould the world into a kinder more loving shape. And we will do so no matter what you decide this week. Progress is on our side."
Every speaker - they include Indian physicist and activist Vandana Shiva, economist Martin Khor and Susan George - receive a standing ovation. I look around the audience and thought: these people know the truth. The thousands of trade and government officials at the WTO meeting just up the road should be here.
Copyright Anita Roddick 2000. All rights reserved.
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