Putting people last
Corporate rule through free trade created states that work for corporations. This inverted state protects corporations from democratic control instead of protecting people from predatory corporations.
Freedom” has become a contested term. We refer to people’s freedom to live and earn a livelihood, to have access to vital resources — seed, food, water and land. But “free trade” rules are written by corporations in order to destroy people’s lives and livelihoods, their cultures and democracies by commodifying and privatising every aspect of their lives.
For example, the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement of the World Trade Agreement imposes patents on seeds and patents allow biotechnology corporations like Monsanto to prevent farmers from saving seeds.
Worse, the US court ruling in the case of Monsanto vs Bowman held that patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent owner’s permission. So a farmer cannot buy grain from the market and grow a crop from it. Worse still, Monsanto can use patents to sue farmers whose crops it has contaminated with its genetically modified organisms.
Monsanto acknowledges as having drafted the TRIPS agreement. A Monsanto representative stated that they were the “patient, diagnostician, physician” in drafting the TRIPS agreement. And the disease they diagnosed and sought to cure was that farmers saved seeds. The cure, according to them, was that farmers be prevented from saving and exchanging seeds by defining these fundamental freedoms as a crime.
For environmental activists, saving and protecting life on earth, especially biodiversity and seeds, is their duty and dharma. We are dedicated to creating “earth democracy” based on “beej swaraj” (seed sovereignty), “anna swaraj” (food sovereignty), “bhu swaraj” (land sovereignty), “jal swaraj” (water democracy), “van swaraj” (forest sovereignty) and “gyan swaraj” (knowledge sovereignty).
“Seed freedom” is the right of the seed to evolve freely, without the threat of extinction, genetic contamination from the GMOs, and “terminator technology” like the genetic use restriction technology (GURT), designed to make second generation seeds sterile. It is the freedom of farmers to save and exchange seed varieties among themselves. And herein lies the obligation of governments to protect the freedoms of biodiversity and people.
Regulation of those who can cause harm to others is the basis of freedom. But various multi-national corporations have unprecedented capacity to harm earth and people with new technologies like genetic engineering and new monopoly power through so-called “free trade” treaties.
That is why we created the International Forum on Globalisation in 1994. We opposed the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 in Seattle, which was to be the launch of a new millennial round of trade negotiations, which undermine local decision-making. However, even though the WTO went into intensive care since the Seattle ministerial, the ideology of free trade as corporate rule continues to be imposed undemocratically.
To push free trade as corporate freedom, three processes must be imposed simultaneously. The first is the privatisation, or enclosure, of biological and intellectual commons such as seeds and knowledge using “technological innovation” and “economic growth” as excuses. Thus, patents on seeds were imposed through genetic engineering, on the argument that it will increase yield and control pests and weeds. It has failed to do so.
Growth in Monsanto’s superprofits through collection of royalties goes hand in hand with farmers slipping into debt to pay for royalties, failing which they commit suicide.
Intellectual property rights on seeds lead to policing and regulation of citizens by the state to increase corporate control. Seed laws for compulsory registration are also based on illegitimate restriction of people’s freedom in order to enhance corporate freedom. An example is the 2004 Seed Law of India, which could never be enacted because of resistance. Another example is the proposed EU seed law. The second process for establishing corporate rule and increasing corporate freedom is deregulation. Attempts to change India’s biosafety laws and to impose the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India are examples of such deregulation.
The third process to enhance corporate freedom at the cost of people’s freedom is to direct public wealth towards corporate welfare, away from public welfare. The US shutdown over Obamacare in the US illustrates this well. It is healthcare for people and public expenditure on food for people that the Tea Party, with its pro-corporate ideology, would like to end, instead of subsidies for agribusiness and benefits to the pharmaceutical industry.
During the recent American shutdown, Republican congressman Paul Ryan said: “More government, less freedom; less government, more freedom”.
However, as free trade shows, corporations want more, not less government for corporate welfare — to police and regulate citizens and threaten other countries through trade sanctions and military intervention so that they can grab resources and markets. The inefficient model of industrial agriculture pushed by global agribusiness would collapse tomorrow without the $400 billion of public money agribusiness appropriates as agriculture subsidies.
But they want less government for public welfare. They want less government for protecting citizens from corporate harm. This is what deregulation is about.
Corporate rule through free trade first created corporate states — states that work for corporations and not for the people. This has created an inverted state which protects corporations from democratic control instead of protecting people from predatory corporations.
“Free market democracy” is rule of the corporations, for the corporations and by the corporations. People do not give up their freedoms without resistance, and so we see the next step — the creation of the corporate military state. Why else would US intelligence spy on anti-GMO activists? Why else would the Federal Bureau of Investigation go after activists of the Occupy Wall Street movement? Why else would the US National Security Agency have surveillance over citizens and governments of the world as revealed by Edward Snowden?
The next generation of “free trade agreements” gives corporations power to sue governments which protect their people. This is at the heart of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the US Europe Free Trade Agreement. Investment chapters in free trade agreements contain highly controversial provisions (dubbed “investor-state dispute settlement” or ISDS), empowering an investor, i.e. corporation, to sue the host state. This is not about trade any more. It is about totalitarian corporate rule that cannot co-exist with people’s freedom.
The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust