Challenging Corporate Power
"Effective Strategies In Confronting Transnational Corporations"

Edited by Abdul Aziz Choudry
Asia-Pacific Research Network, 2003
$US6.60 (includes post and packaging)

- Dennis Small

The Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), is based in Manila, the Philippines. E-mail: Website:

"Effective Strategies in Confronting Transnational Corporations" ("ESCTNCs") is a book edited by a person well known to many CAFCA supporters, namely Aziz Choudry who effectively co-ordinated GATT Watchdog here in Aotearoa/NZ for a number of years (and, of course, he was a regular writer for Watchdog for several years. Ed.). Aziz is now combining the roles of student and anti-globalisation activist while based in Canada. With the publication of this book, he has edited an important study of several major campaigns against transnational corporations (TNCs) with an eye to drawing lessons to help increase the efficacy of future campaigning. The book is also invaluable as a partisan historical record of the compaigns described.

There are five case studies in the book: (a) the Pesticide Action Network's (PAN) campaign to resist the agrochemical TNCs, especially in the Asia-Pacific region; (b) the struggle for workers' right in Sri Lanka's free trade zone; (c) the fight by the indigenous people of Bougainville to oust the world's biggest mining TNC, Rio Tinto; (d) the campaign against the oil TNCs in the Philippines; and, (e) the movement to control the activities of TNCs in Malaysia selling baby milk substitutes. The book arose out of a collaborative research project, Effective Strategies in Confronting TNCs, developed from discussions within the Asia-Pacific Research Network (APRN) during 2001 and 2002.

As an umbrella organisation, APRN includes, besides PAN, the following member groups (among others): the Transnational Information Exchange-Asia (TIE-Asia); the Bougainville People's Congress; the IBON Foundation, Philippines; and the Education and Research Association for Consumers Malaysia (ERA). These five member groups listed above contributed respective chapters with Sarojeni V Rengam writing for PAN; Kelly Dent for TIE-Asia on Sri Lanka; Moses Havini for the Bougainville People's Congress as its International Representative; and Gunaseelan Thuraisamy for ERA on Malaysia. IBON's Research Department collectively contributed the chapter on the Philippines case study.

People Versus Corporates: Making Global Links

As Aziz says in his introduction: "A common internal criticism of movements opposing corporate globalisation is that we need to conduct more evaluation, reflection, analysis and sharing of our experiences, challenges, setbacks and success stories in the fight for a better world and against global capital and the neo-liberal agenda" (ppvi/vii). He aptly indicates the range and diversity of the case studies considered. Two of the campaigns - PAN's action against the agrochemical TNCs and ERA's baby milk campaign - were developed in the context of wider international movements on these issues. On the other hand, there are also "ones that have developed in the context of a broader national mass-based people's struggle (IBON) for economic and social justice and those that have been fashioned out of necessity in relative isolation by indigenous peoples who had had no prior experience of confronting a TNC - Bougainville" (p. ix). Again, to some extent the struggle for workers' rights in Sri Lanka's free trade zone combines both dimensions - local and international - but with the prime effort coming from the many years of local action to try and organise zone workers to more effectively defend themselves.

PAN's work on the pesticides issue in the Asia-Pacific region actually stemmed from an initiative in 1982 when "30 public interest groups from around the world gathered in Penang, Malaysia, to try and address this global problem" (p2). PAN was born out of the conference. Two specific focuses were developed: (1) a campaign to target the Dirty Dozen, the 12 most dangerous pesticides, for elimination. These pesticides include paraquat, chlordane, DDT, and 2,4,5-T; and, (2) to promote what was called "International Advocacy for Prior Informed Consent, to curb the dumping of pesticides in the South [i.e. the Third World] by agrochemical TNCs" (p3).

PAN started then expressly as an international action campaign. "PAN's strategy for change has been very diverse, exploring all possible ways from legal recourse, information and documentation, exposing companies and their practices, to supporting alternatives and building local capacity and strengthening people's movements" (p19). Today, an estimated 25 million workers suffer pesticide poisoning annually. At the same time, consumers are regularly exposed to the residues of toxic chemicals. PAN has achieved much but there is obviously much to be done in the future.

The other specific case study which is closely associated with an international campaign, the Malaysian baby milk movement, also needs to be seen and evaluated within a global perspective. It was the voiced concern of medical people which lay at the root of the wider international campaign. "Reports in medical journals documented the role of the infant food industry in accelerating the spread of bottle-feeding [instead of breast-feeding]. These articles encouraged the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN's Protein Advisory Group (PAG) to begin a series of discussions and dialogues with industry in an effort to bring about changes in marketing practices" (p113). TNCs, hungry for profits, were influencing women through aggressive and misleading advertising/promotions to give up healthy breast feeding for infant formula feeding - a practice that over the years has probably cost millions of lives in Third World countries. While there has been some progress in Malaysia in rolling back TNC abuse, the need remains to do more. In particular, a Code of Ethics for the infant formula TNCs like Nestle should not merely be a resolution but "a law that governs all activities carried out on baby food issues by TNCs" (p130).

Acting Locally

The case study of the people of Bougainville traces the national campaign against Rio Tinto from the beginnings of resistance in 1964 when Rio Tinto first came to the island up to armed confrontation in 1988. The intransigence of the company and the Papua New Guinean (PNG) government, backed by Australia, finally resulted in a violent conflict lasting ten years and costing some 15,000 lives. Critically implicated in the process leading to war was a November 1988 report of an investigation commissioned by the PNG government from "a private consultant group, Applied Geology Associates Limited (from New Zealand)" (p81). This group's investigation was directed into the complaints of the landowners. But its report was angrily denounced as a whitewash by the local people and the dispute quickly intensified to the outbreak of open hostilities.

In Sri Lanka, the fight for human rights in the Free Trade Zones (FTZs) has been long and hard. "Workers, mostly women, seek work in the zones for their own economic security and to contribute financially to their families. Work inside the zones is often more highly paid than outside. However, the intensity of work is high, the quality of jobs poor, and repression of basic rights is widespread. Workers are fearful of losing their jobs if they organise. At the same time, they want their rights, their dignity to be recognised within society. FTZs worldwide continue to proliferate and are cornerstones of trade and profit to TNCs in the neo-liberal globalisation agenda. The prohibition of unions, combined with precarious employment contracts, places workers in the zones in a defensive position. However, new unions are emerging and new strategies of organising are being adopted by workers under these challenging circumstances" (pp26/7).

In his book, "The Selling of Free Trade" (University of California, 2001), John MacArthur makes the central point that the prime motive driving the free trade agenda is the corporate desire for cheap labour. Today, globalisation brings together the leadership elites of vastly different countries in a social engineering enterprise that threatens to encompass and oppress the majority of the planet's peoples. From the cynically manipulative US Administration to duplicitous little old NZ, the rich preach their grossly transparent message of growth and prosperity for all. Meantime, the ruling clique of "communist" China exploit their country's labour in the sort of sweatshop fashion typical of the FTZs, and extend the promise of free trade agreements to the likes of the grovelling Helen Clark and her fellow Labour Party flunkies. Whether it is President Bush or President Hu Jintao pushing the free trade agenda, the contradiction between labour and capital will only become more acute and desperate within the Asia-Pacific region. What the study of Sri Lanka indicates is the degree to which both Asian and Western capitalists (or state capitalists) are increasingly intertwined in exploiting "human resources".

The case study of the campaign to rein in the oil TNCs in the Philippines looked at one very significant year in the life of an longterm movement - 1997, the first year of a new governmental policy deregulating the oil industry. Effects of the new deregulation impacted hard on the people of the Philippines and were "exacerbated by the Asian financial crisis" (p90). Caltex, Shell, Texaco-Chevron and Exxon-Mobil are the big oil TNCs which dominate the Filipino market. Caltex and Shell both operate through local branches whereas Texaco-Chevron and Exxon-Mobil are involved jointly via Aramco, a Saudi Arabian-based company with a 40% stake in the Petron Corporation. In the context of the Asian financial crisis, a lot of anger was felt by many people at the unjustified price hikes being ratcheted up continually by the oil TNCs and some major transport strikes were implemented by the protest movement.

Being Effective

In his conclusion, Aziz observes that whatever the difficulties, "we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to critically reflect upon and evaluate the effectiveness of our strategies as best we can" (p133). This will help forge links between grassroots organising and efforts to expand international campaign co-operation through the improved understanding of "diverse situations and experiences" (ibid.). This means applying the old maxim of "think globally, act locally", and its converse (as appropriate).

Aziz rightly remarks that: "a crucial factor in the success and sustainability of a campaign is a firm grassroots base. The importance of basic organising and the capacity to mobilise people cannot be overemphasised" (ibid.). He goes on to comment that: "Situating and framing specific campaigns against TNCs in the light of the broader market capitalist assault on people's rights and nature and the institutions through which this is being carried out (like the World Bank and the WTO [World Trade Organisation]) is also important" (ibid.).

Another point aptly stressed in Aziz's conclusion is the need for research and information gathering to be effectively employed in actual campaigning. IBON's continuing critique, in association with other like-minded organisations, of the oil companies in the Philippines affords an excellent example of just how efficacious this strategy can be, especially in a time of general crisis. TIE-Asia's work, in conjunction with emerging unions, on FTZs in Sri Lanka also illustrated this. Again, the PAN, IBON and ERA case studies demonstrated the effectiveness of local and international networking and coalition-building. There is always the requirement for good methods of communication, utilising whatever means and resources available. Of course, if the mass media can be tapped into for sympathetic coverage - then all the better.

From a sociological perspective, we might say that there has to be a generalised sense of tension and strain in a society on any particular issue for a related mass movement to achieve a measure of success. We live in an age of a multitude of competing potential causes. Take the genetic engineering (GE) issue for instance. Here, the capitalist system has introduced a whole new issue into society over the last decade. There are already a whole host of pressing environmental issues to deal with yet profit-driven technological innovation will ever keep spawning new ones. Currently, the Labour government in Aotearoa/NZ is probably feeling confident with its corporate-friendly approach given the relatively small active opposition over the lifting of the moratorium on GE commercial applications

Learning and Working To Survive Together

On the other hand, long-term activism by a few can eventually pay off handsomely. It was the work of all those nuclear-free pioneers in Aotearoa/NZ's history which set the platform for the nationalistically resonant nuclear-free movement of the 1980s, given the dangerous bellicosity of the Reagan/Bush Presidencies. In 2003, a new international anti-imperialist movement is spreading and positively reinforcing the more general anti-globalisation movement. Justice and peace are intimately interlinked after all. As we move deeper into the threatening prospects of global resource war*, ultimate survival will depend on the kind of work and inspiration documented so well in the book reviewed above. *See Al Gedicks's "Resource Rebels: Native Challenges to Mining and Oil Corporations", South End, 2001, for some of the vital background to this new emerging era. For American geopolitical strategy see Professor Michael Klare's "Resource Wars", reprint currently in press.

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Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. August 2003.


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