Bucking the Corporate Future

Earth Island News

Grassroots Globalization Network

The accelerating concentration of control over the world’s resources poses a growing challenge to nations and communities working toward environmentally sustainable and socially just development.

Through their raw economic clout, transnational corporations (TNCs) are using government officials, public relations firms and the major media to insist that “free market” economics is good for us - even as they hoard taxpayer subsidies and merge into ever-larger businesses to weaken market competition.

Sadly, the policies promoted by TNCs are now seen as “natural,” which often prevents us from recognizing them as political arrangements designed to meet narrow profit goals. For example, “free market” ideology claims that only money-based activities matter - not other aspects of community life like volunteerism, family and household care, affordable housing and health services, which often lie outside the cash economy. Corporate economics also ignores the planet’s “natural sector” - the rivers, wetlands, soil, oceans and airways that provide vital purifying, stabilizing and regenerating services.

Although corporations were originally chartered to serve society, now their main purpose is to capture an ever-increasing flow of money for top managers and shareholders. In the view of economist David Korten, this behavior represents “serious violations of the principle of cooperative self-organization in the service of life.” And with corporations comprising 52 of the world’s 100 largest economies (according to the International Forum on Globalization), their undemocratic structure is cause for urgent global concern.

Speaking at a comfortable distance from the clouds of tear gas that shrouded the recent G-8 Summit in Genoa, Italy, George W. Bush claimed that critics of TNCs are “hurting the poor” by making it more difficult for such companies to set up shop. This argument might make sense were it not for the millions of people around the globe who are taking back their communities from predatory corporations and unresponsive governments to chart their own destinies.

Whether in Bolivia (where citizens took to the streets to halt Bechtel Corporation’s attempted takeover of their water services) or in Mexico (where the Zapatistas took up arms to protest the NAFTA “free-trade” pact), people are showing that they understand that the real goal of corporations and paid-off politicians is to extract community resources as cheaply as possible.

Toward Grassroots Globalization
Grassroots Globalization Network (GGN), a new project of Earth Island Institute, is dedicated to empowering people to create sustainable communities from the bottom up. GGN advances positive alternatives to corporate globalization by highlighting successful community projects and efforts, building ties between grassroots groups and citizens, and supporting socially and environmentally beneficial economic policies and arrangements.

So what institutions will provide sustainable livelihoods and economic security for people and their communities? And what policies can we develop to replace current neoliberal policies favoring the largest corporate conglomerates? Fortunately, there’s no shortage of inspiring organizations and innovative practices to draw from:

  • Economic Cooperatives: Co-ops are community-based enterprises founded upon service and the provision of sustainable livelihoods [See “Co-ops and Post-Corporate Activism,” Summer 2001 EIJ]. They’re typically democratically controlled, locally accountable and socially and environmentally conscious. They invest in their employees, guard against unproductive speculation and assist communities through special funds and scholarships. Co-ops help keep family farmers employed and connected to the land, especially in less industrialized societies. As shown by the Mondragon Cooperative system in Spain’s Basque region, they can also generate tens of thousands of jobs while tapping the creativity and civic energies of their workers and host communities.

  • Credit Unions: These community-based financial institutions pool regional savings and resources to meet local ends rather than those of distant shareholders. Their credit policies, lending rates and investment returns often out perform corporate banks. An American Banker/Gallup poll found that credit unions beat out banks and savings-and-loans to top its customer satisfaction index for the 16th year in a row.

  • Local Currencies and Service Exchanges: These social innovations allow people to meet their needs by exchanging hours for various services among locally organized participants and businesses. Local currencies and barter exchanges encourage local revitalization by providing new work opportunities for the unemployed, underemployed and civic-minded volunteers.

  • Community-Supported Livelihoods: Agreements with local producers and service providers can help communities meet their own needs. For example, community-supported agriculture, farmers’ markets and municipally generated power (through windmills or micro-hydro stations) encourage locally accountable and secure relationships between producers and consumers.

  • Land Trusts and Easements: These legal-financial relationships can preserve natural treasures and endangered ecosystems in spite of outside pressures to “develop” them. Land trusts and community easements also provide assurance that the people will have a voice in long-term environmental planning.

In northern California, GGN has begun work with area groups and citizens to form an alliance of independent businesses, cooperatives and service organizations. By promoting and patronizing community-owned enterprises, citizens can recycle dollars locally, which helps cultivate greater business accountability, long-term employment and responsible environmental stewardship.

GGN has also teamed up with the World Sustainability Hearings project/Global Citizenship Fund to help organize an exciting conference to take place in tandem with the United Nations’ Rio +10 Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002. This event will bring speakers from communities and grassroots groups worldwide to document the effects of corporate globalization and help like-minded people discuss ways of collaborating in the creation of a sustainable and just society.

The increasingly unequal and polluting impacts of big corporations and unresponsive governments makes it all the more important for us to work together more effectively to bring to life more democratic, community-based economic alternatives.

It’s up to us. The clock is ticking.

Project Director Aaron G. Lehmer and Director of Policy Initiatives James Phelan are the co-founders of Grassroots Globalization Network. GGN memberships start at $15. For more information contact GGN [1175 G Street, Suite C, Arcata, CA 95521, 707-826-1798]. Or visit www.earthisland.org/ggn for updated news alerts, an e-newsletter, a monthly “Community Solutions” series and related links.

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