This NOW with Bill Moyers special report examines how global corporations may be riding high by shortchanging the world’s women. After two decades of the unprecedented opening of world markets, some women have been beneficiaries of globalization — but many more are its losers. Today, most of the world’s poor are women – and most of the world’s women are poor. NOW examines the female face of poverty in three segments:
In WOMEN’S WORK, NOW delves into the world of laborers in Thailand, where poor battle poor to secure long hours of work and low pay, and finds a hero standing up for her rights against insurmountable odds. In BROKEN PROMISES, NOW travels to Senegal to a seemingly inescapable cycle of poverty and looks at how the policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have decimated the once-thriving education and healthcare programs and undercut women’s chances for a better future. Finally, Bill Moyers interviews Dr. Vandana Shiva, the scientist and activist who has traveled the world challenging the rules of globalization for the last 20 years.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. In this hour, we want you to meet some women who rarely turn up in the news, but have a lot to tell us about how the world works, especially the phenomenon known as globalization. Globalization has come to mean different things to different people, but stripped to the bare bones it’s about capital — money — roaming the world looking for the best deal. These days it’s accompanied by some abstract-sounding words like “financial deregulation,” “privatization” and “trade liberalization.” But for the women you’re about to meet these abstractions play out as concrete realities. We begin in Asia—in Thailand. And as we do, take a look at the sneakers you’re wearing, or the shirt you have on. Your own connection to these women may be closer than you think.
Early every morning, hour after hour, the buses come for them. And carry them from the dorms where they live to the places where they work. Every seat is filled. One in four young women in Thailand works in a factory producing goods to be sold abroad. They are the fuel on which globalization runs.
1st WOMAN: All we can think about is that we have to catch the bus. We have to work. We get home at 2 or 3 AM and wash our clothes and try to get some rest.
2nd WOMAN: During the holidays we work all night, go home to shower and come right back.
3rd WOMAN: If you can’t take it, they tell you to leave – but they won’t pay you what they owe you for the work you’ve already done.
MOYERS: If they are lucky, they make Bangkok’s legal minimum wage — a bit less than four dollars a day.
4TH WOMAN: If they catch you yawning, they fine you 500 baht.
MOYERS: Five hundred baht is twelve dollars — three times their daily pay.
PONGKWA: People have asked me, how can I tolerate this? Most of the people I work with come from up country and use their pay to help the people back home. They’re 18 or 19, and they still have the energy to work the hours.
NAMSO: My parents had twelve children. I was the youngest. Since I wasn’t as good at school as my sister, and we couldn’t all go, I let her be the one to go to school. I sacrificed since I wasn’t as clever. I’d rather send money home.
MOYERS: Sunee Namso and Sompit Pongkwa worked for a Thai-owned company called Bed & Bath Prestige. But instead of bed sheets and bath towels, they produced clothing for U.S. companies like Levi’s, Reebok and, mostly, Nike. What happened to them is played out around the world as global corporations constantly search for the cheapest labor possible—and the least government hassle. On October 5th last year, when the Bed & Bath Prestige workers showed up at their factory, the gates were locked.
PONGKWA: When we came to work, they wouldn’t let us in. I knew that there were a lot of shipments that had to go out that day because we had been preparing them. So I called a supervisor about the shipment and explained that we needed to get into the factory right away in order to make it on time. If we didn’t get in by 9, we wouldn’t be able to ship. In my own thoughts, I was still worried for the company.
NAMSO: How can they treat workers this way? I had a goal to work here three to four years to save a lump sum of money, but then suddenly the factory closed down. I can’t even understand why it closed. It can’t be that there was no work. We were busy up until the very last day.
MOYERS: Abandoned and cheated out of their earnings, the Bed & Bath Prestige workers headed to the center of Bankgok to ask the Thai Ministry of Labor for help.
Three hundred fifty of them did something that’s almost unheard of here: they vowed to stay in the courtyard until the minister upstairs enforced the law. They had been left without the wages they had already earned and without the severance pay required under Thai law when a factory shuts down.
PONGKWA: We believed the Ministry would help us solve our problem. We see them as authority figures, someone we look up to, someone on the side of the law.
MOYERS: We wanted our crew to follow them inside, but the Thai authorities said no. So some of the protesters dared to take a small video camera in with them and record what was happening.
NAMSO: They told us to get out of here. But if we can’t trust our own Ministry of Labor to protect us, who can we go to? They keep repeating that Bed & Bath is a small case. If it’s such a small case, why don’t they solve it?
MOYERS: They had begun a sit-in. They were living here, eating here, sleeping here. And caring for their children. Some shaved their heads in protest.
When they began to draw outside attention — and support — the ministry made it clear they were now unwelcome.
NAMSO: When they walk by, they won’t even look at us. They treat us like trash, like we are trying to shame them. They just want to solve the problem of us being here. They’ve actually said, when they run out of food, they’ll go home. Why do they have to be so cruel?
PONGKWA: We eat twice a day now, down from three times a day.
NAMSO: We’re not going to leave. We’re in this together. We need to find out exactly what our rights are. They can’t just let this drag on and on.
MOYERS: Six weeks into the sit-in, Sunee Namso had emerged as one of their leaders. She took it on herself to try to break through the bureaucracy upstairs.
NAMSO: They ask me what I want. All I want if for them to do their jobs. Just do what is written in the Constitution. Nothing above or beyond that. If you wrote that when a factory suddenly closes, I should go home and sleep, that’s what I’ll do. But you wrote so well about rights and actions. Are they just empty words? They said from the beginning that we cannot fight them. I’d like to change it to be called the Ministry of Investors, not the Ministry of Labor.
MOYERS: That, say observers of Thailand’s place in the global economy, describes the problem perfectly.
BAMFORD: The government had to balance between workers’ interest and investors’ interests. So they were, I think, seeing that they really can’t enforce, they can’t be on the side of the workers if it’s going to chase investors away.
MOYERS: Like so many developing countries, Thailand is dwarfed by the power of global corporations. And like many developing countries, it has felt the pressure from international finance and trade agreements to “liberalize” its economy and remove barriers to foreign investment.
LEECHANAVANICHPAN: I think with this liberalization, we thought okay, when we produce, it can go very far. It can sell to many people. What we produce in Thailand, we can sell to you in the States. And that’s what we thought of this, of benefiting us as a poor country. But we don’t look at the negative side. That it’s not just the commodity that will be freely move around, you can export, you can import. But it’s also the capital, it’s also labor.
BAMFORD: You know you have to keep your labor cheap. The majority of your labor cheap, in order to grow. That’s why you say that women are actually subsidizing all this accumulation of capital in the capitalist system. Because they’re the lowest paid.
MOYERS: Women are also the first to be fired. Like the young women at Bed & Bath Prestige, the women in this Bangkok neighborhood saw their factory jobs disappear. They had no option but to go into the almost invisible world of home work. It’s an increasing reality in the lives of millions of women in the global economy. Their only contact is the middleman who drops off materials and picks up finished shoes. They suspect they are working for a foreign company, though it isn’t clear who.
SEWER: You can easily spot the work for foreign countries because of the sizes. They are much bigger. Big shoes, very big! Like size 30 or something. Wow.
MOYERS: The work is tedious, unhealthy, labor intensive. And they are paid much less than the legal minimum wage.
SEWER: It doesn’t matter whether the economy goes up or down. What we’re paid keeps going down. Before, 10 to 12 baht. They told us the economy is down. Could they get it for less?
LEECHANAVANICHPAN: They are paid by piece rate. And it’s coming down to 9 baht, 8 baht, 7 baht. And I could not believe it some times. How can they make a living? So they said they just extend their hours of work. Sometimes they have to work until midnight to finish 40 shoes.
MOYERS: Seven baht means these women are paid less than seventeen cents for every shoe they sew.
SEWER: We have to buy our own needles. This one’s about 20 baht — very expensive. Sewing two shoes won’t even buy you one needle.
MOYERS: It’s called “outsourcing.” Global corporations have found they can make more money this way. They use foreign sub-contractors to manufacture the products they sell.
SEWER: They tell us, if you don’t want to sew, I can give it to someone else.
If we don’t do the work, other people would.
So it’s like this, they lower prices – and still we sew.
MOYERS: Outsourcing also means corporations can distance themselves from the responsibilities of being an employer. The workers receive no benefits — and job security is a mirage.
LEECHANAVANICHPAN: You can take any multinational corporation like Nike, Adidas, Reebok. They hold the same theory &#!51; that you outsource because that will give you less problem. They just want to make it just a kind of minimum responsibility to them — to look after human being. You know they don’t care anymore about what ILO would be saying, what the trade union would be saying, because they have this outsourcing and they have all this subcontracted workers. They have a lot unemployed people who are waiting for their job to be subcontracted to them.
MOYERS: Shoes that women in Thailand sew end up in department stores in the United States. But in the U.S., using sweatshop labor can be bad P.R. so five years ago, faced with rising criticism, Nike, Reebok and a handful of other companies adopted a Code of Conduct. They agreed to monitor their sub-contractors to work with them to ensure that workers would be paid the local minimum wage and would not be forced to work more than 60 hours a week. In short, what they sell would not be produced by exploited labor.
At Bed & Bath Prestige, those promises were printed on a card the young women were required to wear around their necks.
SUYAVAREE: This is the factory’s employee card. It says that “Nike and your factory are working together by using the certification of Nike that will be posted in the factory which dictates that you will be treated fairly, with a safe working environment.”
PONGKWA: If you lost it, it cost 20 baht to replace it. That’s about it. No one really knows what it is.
NAMSO: I only started understanding after we started protesting. I know now that according to Nike’s rules, overtime shouldn’t have been more than 12 hours per week.
MOYERS: The fact is, they worked at least 70 hours a week. And instead of the minimum wage, they were paid by piece rate – five baht, or twelve cents, for a sewing a dozen pieces. But before every inspection by Nike, the workers say they were rehearsed by their employers.
PONGKWA: They knew exactly the day the client will come. And they would stage a practice run the day before.
SUYAVAREE: We had to wear face masks. The company would quiz people on how they would answer Nike’s questions if we were asked. And they would tell how to answer.
NAMSO: We had to memorize it. They told us if they ask you what you earn, you have to tell them minimum wage.
SUYAVAREE: The factory would tell us to lie if we were asked how late we worked overtime. We would have to answer 8 p.m. when in reality, we there until 11 p.m. or midnight. Sometimes ’til morning!
NAMSO: They say that if you don’t answer correctly, then we are finished. I’m finished and you’re finished. There are a lot of laborers in Thailand, so it is up to you whether you want to have work or not.
MOYERS: And there’s the rub. In the global competition that pits the poorest countries and the poorest workers one against the other, they are all trapped. If a worker tells the truth or the Thai government enforces its laws, companies will move on.
NAMSO: I never thought it would be like this. I thought the Ministry was this big power who could solve our problems. Since I’ve been here, I’ve realized you can’t get justice without a fight.
MOYERS: After ten weeks, almost 200 workers had given up. They could no longer afford to protest. Their families back home needed money. So somehow, they would have to find work elsewhere.
NAMSO: What do they expect us to do? Go to another factory and be treated the same way again? Are we just supposed to keep taking it? Isn’t there some way to create some security for us? So that when we go to work somewhere else, this won’t happen again?
Many of my friends here have cried over their behavior. They don’t help, they only step on us. Who are we supposed to go to if not them? What do we have to do? Get naked? Die? If I die, and it does something, I will, I dare. But I don’t want to die for nothing.
MOYERS: Three months and nine days after their sit-in began, the government finally came through, offering Sunee and the protesters still on the scene what amounted to $448 dollars each. It was less than what they were owed by law. But without their courage, they would have received nothing. In Thailand, it was considered a victory.
BAMFORD: An economist friend told me that Thailand’s labor was just too expensive. That’s how economists see things. You’re too expensive and that’s why they moved over to other places. That’s commodification. And basically you can use that to measure lives as well. So that means workers’ lives here are cheaper than there.
MOYERS: Young women come into these factories as little more than children and leave exhausted or even ill with no money in their pockets and no training or skills. They are making globalization work. And they are being burned up as its natural fuel.
It’s estimated that seventy percent of the poorest people in the world are women, and I’ll wager few of them have heard of “The Washington Consensus.” That’s the name given to a set of ideas that grew up in our nation’s capital two decades ago and mutated into an ideology, a belief system about how the world ought to work. The Washington Consensus is at the heart and soul of globalization today. The market is its god and its gospel is this: if poor countries will privatize across the board, and allow resources to be allocated by market forces instead of politics and social needs, the economy will create wealth and cure poverty.
The temples of that faith are the two most powerful financial institutions in the world — the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both headquartered in Washington and both dominated by the American government. Since the 1980s, the World Bank and the IMF have used their leverage to push free market economics on developing countries, but like every theology, the results have been mixed. Sherry Jones reports from Senegal, on the west coast of Africa, a country I first visited 40 years ago. Senegal had just gained its independence and was shedding its colonial past. It was a promising time.
In Senegal today, the optimism has evaporated. There is a crisis in the farmlands. And women here bear the brunt of the changes that began more than two decades ago.
WOMAN: I only harvested 5 bags of millet which we ate in 2 days. Now, if I don’t ask my neighbors for millet, my family doesn’t eat.
MOYERS: What little millet they can grow, girls grind into couscous by the traditional method of pillaring.
WOMAN: We have nothing to eat, let alone money to pay for school, $180. Without school, my kid’s life will be just like this.
MOYERS: There is also a crisis in the cities. Twenty per cent of Senegal’s population lives in the capital city of Dakar. More than one million people are crowded together in just one suburb, Pikine.
1st PILLAR: I’ve been here close to ten years. I spend all the money I make. How would I save anything? I send all the money I make to my children. I send them clothes, shoes, money, whatever I can afford.
2nd PILLAR: I support my children, my husband, and my mother. My mother doesn’t have anybody to support her but me.
MOYERS: The men can’t find jobs. The women, who have come from the villages, do the work they know to help their families back home survive.
2nd PILLAR: I’m only counting on this. If it sells, well great. If not— It all depends on how well it sells.
FALL: If you go in areas like Pikine where I grew up, you will see women carrying water on their head in this day and age. Girls being pulled out of schools because they do not have access to water. They have to go to fetch water for their mothers and for their families.
MOYERS: When Yassine Fall was a girl, she, too, fetched water. Back then, in the years just after Senegal’s independence in 1960, nine out of ten people were illiterate. But the new government set out to invest some of its money in human capital — building schools and hospitals, providing medical care and education. And that gave Yassine a chance.
FALL: I can see that going to Pikine today is a very, very, very disadvantaged situation compared to when I was growing up. Where I grew up in Pikine, the chances and the opportunities I had, being a young girl in Pikine, those young people who grow up in Pikine today will not have that chance. Because I went to school, to public school. They don’t have that luxury. That makes me angry.
MOYERS: Many other women of Yassine Fall’s generation were educated in the public schools.
TOURE: My father has young children to whom he tried to give the same opportunities as he did for me, but without success. The reason is that between the day I was born and the day of their birth, something fundamental happened — the IMF and the World Bank came into our house.
MOYERS: What brought these two powerful financial institutions into the house was a crisis. Like other new countries, Senegal was encouraged by western banks to borrow money to develop and it did. Too much, too fast. When the global recession of the late seventies arrived, these countries began to default on their debt payments.
That threatened the international financial system. So from Washington, the World Bank offered loans to help keep Senegal alfloat. But on the condition that the International Monetary Fund, the IMF, would direct how Senegal should re-structure its economy and set its financial house in order.
For more than two decades now, the World Bank and the IMF have worked together to shape economic life here. Senegal accepted financial terms known as “structural adjustment.” And that meant people were charged for medical care and education. Farmers lost their subsidies. State-owned enterprises like electricity and water were sold off. This way, Senegal could balance its budget. Foreign capital would come to invest. Investment would create growth. And that would eventually benefit the poor. It hasn’t worked out that way.
TOURE: If there had never been structural adjustment policies, there would be poverty in Africa. But the structural adjustment policies have contributed very, very, very much to an increase in the number of poor people.
MOYERS: Budget cuts meant the rudimentary public school system was virtually dismantled. In Pikine today, three or four children crowd together at desks built for two. There is only enough money for a half day of class most days of the week.
FALL: Going to school, I was able to have access to books, to have access to notebooks, to have access to chalk, all the school supplies – and to have access to good teachers.
MOYERS: Now, the government spends less than seventy dollars per child per year. So parents must scrape together the money for notebooks, for chalk, and for fees to send their children to school.
FALL: When there is a choice between a girl and a boy to go to school, it is the girl who is left out and it is the boy that’s supported to go to school. So any policy that does not keep into account that if I cut on expenditure on education, or if I make poor families pay for education, it is girls that are going to pay the cost, because it is girls that are going to be left out.
MOYERS: The World Bank’s own studies argue that educating girls is key to pulling developing countries out of poverty. But that conflicts with the budget balancing demands of the IMF.
HEYZER: The cost is not just to the girls. You are removing the capacity of upward shift and mobility of a whole population. And, therefore, you’ll find that the generation of the middle class is no longer possible in a way that it was possible during our generation.
MOYERS: Today, just over half the girls of primary school age are getting an education.
FALL: These countries were not given the time to really build their social infrastructure. And if you do not have a good social infrastructure, if you do not invest in your human capital — in these countries, the most valuable asset is their human capital — then you are bound for failure.
MOYERS: In the seventies, the health care system in Senegal was considered a model for emerging countries. Now, it’s more nearly a national disaster. Budgets were slashed. And that meant hospitals and clinics were closed; doctors and nurses laid off. Now, the poor must pay not only for what care they can find, but also for needles, operating kits — even gloves for the doctors and nurses. And take the case of Didio Diom, whose son Hablaye was paralyzed in a hit-and-run accident.
DIOM: I can’t take him to the hospital anymore. We don’t have the money. I have to take care of him on my own. That’s the only way we have. They told me about a device for him, but it was too expensive. Fifty dollars. I don’t have that much money.
MOYERS: Because she stays home to care for her son, she cannot help her husband earn money to buy what Hablaye needs.
DIOM: I don’t sleep very well at all, because I think about him and his health. He’s in my heart, I just want him to be healthy. He’s my son.
MOYERS: Because there is no money, her daughter’s future is also at risk.
DIOM: If I can’t find the money to pay for school, then I will have to take her out. I just don’t have the money. I’m tired, very tired. I want her to get a job to help her father and me.
HEYZER: In the southern African countries where I have visited, what I found was that many women are, in fact, being pulled out of the productive sector and they, in order to take care of the sick and the dying because there is disinvestment in the health care system, because there’s a cutback, because of structural adjustment programs and so on.
And not only will they suffer by being pushed out of those services, no only are you not giving them those services, but the caring work of women is, in fact, being used as a shortfall for what the government and the international community is taking away. And they, in turn, pull their daughters out of school to help them.
MOYERS: So it’s a vicious cycle?
HEYZER: It is a vicious cycle.
MOYERS: Like many poor African nations, Senegal borrowed more each year from the World Bank just to make token payments against its old debts. The loans came with strings attached. Under the bottom-line approach imposed from Washington, Senegal was instructed to sell off its water system. Providing free water cost too much money, the World Bank said. The market would be more efficient. That’s not the view of those who have long worked with the rural poor.
SECK: From our point of view, water must not be privatized. It’s a public good. We need to examine water policies to make them work better for the people. If we don’t, people will never be able to overcome their poverty. But it is the international policy that water should be privatized.
Privatization means the government no longer provides Senegal’s water. It sold that right to a multinational water giant which charges for the service. The French company Bouygues Saur controls most of Senegal’s water supply. The company owns more than 15 per cent of the world water market, including systems in five other African countries.
FALL: In poor countries in Africa, people are living on less than a dollar a day, paying five times, ten times more than you in Washington, D.C. or paying more water than a citizen in Tokyo. That’s outrageous. That’s outrageous. That is scandalous.
MOYERS: The water that flows from privately owned pipes costs more than most families can afford. So women and their daughters must walk further and work harder to fetch water from hand-dug wells. And that well water is untreated and unsafe, even in urban neighborhoods like Pikine.
1st WOMAN: The water is polluted. Look at our kids, they are sick all the time.
2nd WOMAN: Look at the well that’s out there. People are drinking from that well. We need help getting good water that we can drink.
TOURE: They said that they want to install democracy, they want to install a free market. There is no state, just the market. But the market does not make education, it does not make health care, the market does not bother with safe water.
SECK: It’s always about money. It’s always about money. If I loan you money, you must do whatever you have to do to pay me back. Like every Third World country, we’re poor, we’re in debt. We pay. We pay. We don’t know how long we have to keep paying.
MOYERS: The global economy is also changing the lives of women in a community called Mbao, just up the coast from Pikine. Here, foreign fishing trawlers now dot the horizon. A European consortium has bought the rights to fish Senegal’s waters for four years. The price: 63 million dollars. And there is no limit to their catch.
SECK: My great grandfather and my grandfather were fishermen. The men fish and the women sell the fish, fresh or dried or salted.
1st FISHERWOMAN: This is our job. May God help us! This is our way of supporting our family.
2nd FISHERWOMAN: We get the fish from the boat and we bring it here. Then we smoke the fish.
ANA: The government knows we depend on fishing, but now these other fishing boats have come. So I think they must have signed some sort of agreement with other countries. And that makes it very difficult for us.
MOYERS: The women have always sung songs to pass the long hours it takes to salt and smoke the fish. But now there are fewer fish, and so fewer days when they salt and smoke — or sing.
SECK: There used to be regulation of fishing. The holes in the nets had to be made to let the small fish escape. That the fish stock could regenerate. Because of the fishing agreements, the big fishing boats come from other countries and take everything. And when the little Senegalese boats go out to sea, they find nothing. And the women don’t have any fish to sell in the market. And it’s not only Senegal. It’s all of west Africa’s Atlantic coast.
MOYERS: Once again, it’s the daughters who pay.
3rd FISHERWOMAN: If the waters have no fish, we have nothing to give our families. We have to send our girls to get jobs as maids. There’s no other way.
1st FISHERWOMAN: Basically, that’s all I have to say. We need help. If we can’t make a living with our smoked fish, we won’t have a job.
TOURE: In some villages, there are women who have made up songs. Songs to speak about the World Bank. One of them says: “The World Bank is coming to our country. The World Bank came to our country. Soon, we will be hungry.”
HEYZER: Poverty and wealth are not automatic. They are not things that just happen. There are processes that create poverty and processes that generate wealth. And these are choices that can be made. And until we make these policy choices, we are not going to facilitate the reduction of poverty worldwide.
MOYERS: In Washington, the IMF touts Senegal as a success story. Inflation is down. The budget deficit smaller. In Senegal, the people call it capitalisme sauvage — savage capitalism.
FALL: When I go in Senegal and I see the number of beggars in the streets of Dakar, compared to 20 years ago, that makes me very angry. It makes me angry because I had thought that our communities, our people have invested a lot of sacrifices to build a nation. To educate the people. And in the end, they have no jobs. It has regressed and regressed to be among the poorest, poorest countries today in 2003. That makes me angry.
MOYERS: As we’ve seen, there are rules that govern the global economy. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund make some of these rules, but so does the world trade organization. The WTO was set up eight years ago to enforce how the game of global commerce is played — it’s been called a kind of “world trade referee.” Critics say the WTO is biased — that its rules are written by and for corporations, at the expense of local workers, the local environment, and local democracy. These rules, critics claim, make life even harsher for poor women and poor countries.
The WTO holds another summit of nations next week in Cancun, Mexico, and just as in Seattle four years ago, thousands of protestors are gathering there to demand fairer rules of world trade. Vandana Shiva knows about protests. She organizes people at the grassroots the world over, including that huge demonstration of farmers protesting international agricultural agreements ten years ago. She is also a scholar, with books on farming, biotechnology and the environment. Vandana Shiva grew up in a privileged home in India, earned her Ph.D in physics at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, and for the last twenty years, from her base in India, has traveled the world challenging the rules of globalization. Welcome to NOW.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by globalization?
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: It is rules written into the World Trade Organization. It is rules that say you cannot decide the agriculture policy. You cannot decide your tariff structures. You cannot decide to make sure your people have food. You cannot decide that people in your country have jobs. The market will decide it and the market will be favored on the basis of unfair asymmetric rules of trade.
BILL MOYERS: Who writes those rules?
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: Unfortunately, it wasn’t governments even though they’re the members of the WTO. The rules of WTO were written by corporations. There were four new areas brought into trade that never belonged to trade: agriculture, intellectual property, services and investment. Now, each of these four areas had a treaty in the general agreement on trade and tariffs in the Uruguay Round.
Every one of those treaties was driven by a particular group of companies. The agricultural agreement driven by Agri-Business. The– TRIPS agreement, the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights agreement driven by the pharmaceutical industry, the biotech industry and the entertainment industry. The services agreement driven by the financial interests, the banks. And now increasingly driven by the water companies which want to treat trade in water as a trade in services.
When I was in Tehri last week— Tehri is a town, it is the capital of our region. And it’s been dammed on the Ganges to supply water now through Suez to Delhi.
BILL MOYERS: This is a project by the big French company, Suez-
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: Suez, this world’s biggest water company, wants to privatize the Ganges. One hundred thousand people were displaced. And the women started to talk about how many women are starting to commit suicide. Because they can’t walk the water and the government has cancelled every local water scheme saying, “Now all the money, all the public wealth has gone into these mega-projects.” So not only are rural communities denied the water, they are denied the public investment to bring water if their own village has run dry. So we have women jumping into the Ganges because now the Ganges instead of being their mother for life has become a graveyard. So it is, in a way, a system of dispossessing the poor.
Coca-Cola, South India, just been there on Earth Day I celebrated a year of protests with tribal women who are fighting Coca-Cola which is sucking out 1.5 million liters a day of water for the bottling of what is called…India. And the Coca-Cola bottled water. Interestingly, two miles radius, every tank, every well is dry. Women have no drinking water. That’s how it plays out.
BILL MOYERS: You’re saying this is depriving the people at the grassroots of the water they need just for the sustenance of life? Is that the point?
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: Absolutely. Women in the hills are being denied water so that every drop of Ganges water can flow down to be sold. So globalization commodifies what – the resources that are necessary for survival.
BILL MOYERS: There is an argument that water is getting increasingly scarce and only the market can determine how it can be effectively distributed. You obviously disagree with that.
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: I disagree with it because I’m enough of a scientist to know that water is created in nature and not in markets. Markets can only allocate water and take it uphill to where the money is. Usually this means that those who have destroyed water resources by abuse and pollution get new license to destroy it.
It is not an incentive to conserve. It’s an incentive to over-exploit. And the Coca-Cola case in Kerala is a very good example. That here is a company that can take the water. It doesn’t conserve the water. Depletes it and creates scarcity where there was no scarcity.
BILL MOYERS: Is it taking this, is it bottling this water for sale?
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: It’s bottling the water for sale. So water it takes for free from local communities it then sells at ten rupees a bottle.
BILL MOYERS: But don’t they have–
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: They never cleared it from the community. And our Constitution requires that in tribal areas, the tribals are the ultimate competent authority in legal terms. The community as a whole has to give clearance on any resource used.
BILL MOYERS: The Indian government has to be a party, right? You- couldn’t– a corporation couldn’t just come in there and do what it wants to do because India is a democracy. And the people are represented, supposedly, in the Parliament and it’s a member, your government is a member of the World Trade Organization, the WTO. So how does this play out? Give me an example.
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: Well, the way it actually plays out is that every country and every government which has actually implemented these rules has lost elections. And every opposition party that has said, “We need to call this kind of corporate-driven globalization to a halt,” has won elections. But once they come into power, their hands are tied by these rules because contrary to what is perceived that countries make a decision. Once countries are members, they, in a way, are forced to adopt the whole baggage.
And the Coca-Colas of the worlds, the Cargills of the world, the Monsantos of the world, the Suez-Vivendis of the world rest on local elites. They rest on local elites who also benefit out of destroying the livelihoods of their own people. It is not the case that Indian elites don’t join with the global elites. Globalization in my view is a partnership of elites to exploit the people of the world against the democratic will of people.
BILL MOYERS: It was just a coincidence that earlier this week I happened to read a report by a company here in New York saying that corruption in India is at an all-time high. That in some states, in fact, less than 1/3 of the development money reaches its intended goals. And that even in the capital of New Delhi, 20 percent of the members of Parliament have a criminal past. That 40 percent of famine relief stock is sold on the black market. I mean, that’s a pretty devastating portrait of what’s happening in your own country.
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: And it’s been made worse by the kind of money that global corporations bring in. Two decades ago, every politician of India had to go house to house, ask for funding. Make sure that the financial base of elections was the political base of governance.
You know, kickbacks is the name given to corporate bribes. In the case of Enron, I mean, its corrupt factors here were known.
But very little is known about the fact that Enron came into India along with Bechtel to set up a plant. And they had an entire budget item called “political education” that through the court hearings in India was revealed to be corruption money.
So political education has become the new name for bribes and corruption. And the scale is so different. You know, two rupees versus two billion. The mound of corruption you can spread is huge.
BILL MOYERS: Is the world’s largest democracy in jeopardy?
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: I think all the world’s democracies are in jeopardy. And my own thesis is that this is connected to the trade liberalization and globalization.
BILL MOYERS: How? Because most people in this country who support trade liberalization say just the opposite. You know, they say this is what brings— globalization is what brings ideas. It brings wealth. It brings technology and innovation to a country. And it should create a commonwealth of prosperity. You’re saying just the opposite.
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: Well, if globalization was founded on democratic decision making from the ground up, it would create more freedom of interaction. It would create more flow of positive ideas, more universal solidarity among communities. But globalization as it’s shaped right now under the coercive rules of trade under the World Trade Organization, of the World Bank and IMF structure adjustment, basically doesn’t create wealth.
It takes the wealth of the poor and puts them in the hands of global cooperation, leaving insecurity behind. In addition, decisions that we made as national systems, whether it was decisions about how we run our intellectual property rights systems. What do we do with our water?
How do we do our agriculture? What seeds we plant? What price our crops will sell at? All those are decisions taken out of the country, put into a World Trade Organization or put into the hands of global corporations.
BILL MOYERS: You are very controversial. I was reading one of your critics say, “Dr. Shiva,” and he was respectful of much of your science, he said, “But she too often feeds off the West’s vision of a golden age of pre-industrial idyll when the peasants lived in mystical harmony with nature.” Now, is he characterizing your view accurately?
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: No, he’s not because, you know, for me, my entry point into life was as a physicist. If I am today engaged in ecological research and activism or fighting globalization or fighting for peace, it is because of the reality of today — a very contemporary reality — in which small peasants can’t make a living.
I’m not talking about an idyllic past. I’m talking about a brutal today in which ordinary hard-working people are being denied their survival. I am talking about a today in which a Ganges that belonged to all is starting to belong to one company. A today where in Kerala water rich abundant rain women have no water because Coca-Cola took it. It’s not an idyllic past for me. It’s a violent today for which I am seeking a non-violent response.
BILL MOYERS: I know you’re controversial in India because you stand up to the government and stand up to the powers that be. But you’re controversial in this country because people say you have created a philosophy that is totally contrarian to our law, to our rights of property. That you want to create a kind of socialist, if not a Communist society.
Is there no compromise between what you’re arguing for in India and the modernization of the world?
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: You know, it’s very interesting that the choices that are opposed are always between centralized controlling states and centralized controlling markets. There’s never room left for decentralized democracy for communities. And my options are beyond centralized states and beyond the centralized markets. They are about communities making decisions about how the rivers will function, how the forests will be protected, what food they will grow.
And I think the US had a deep, deep loss in imagining that societies could be built on individuals alone. That atomization can be the ground of core and structures. I think what we really need is bringing back community, bringing back commons as the next step of humanity across the world. Not just in India. Also in the United States, also in England. And that will be a peaceful world.
BILL MOYERS: I know that you don’t believe everything in the West is repulsive because you came to a Canadian university. That’s where you did your graduate work, isn’t it? Was the—
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: I’ve never talked about the West being repulsive. I’ve talked about the colonizing West trying to present itself as the liberator being a bit of a falsehood. I have never been against interaction. I’ve never been against– internationalism. I talk about Earth’s democracy, about all of us being citizens on the planet.
And we need a globalization that is based on countries making their decisions, communities making their decisions. The current globalization is trying to build a roof by eating out the foundations. And there is panic because it’s a false building. It’s a building that’s going to crumble. It is already crumbling.
And there is no reason to not have international trade. There’s no reason not to have international interaction. There’s no reason not to have international democracy. But an international democracy is a genuinely democratic only if national democracies are in tact and local democracies are vibrant.
BILL MOYERS: Dr. Vandana Shiva, thank you very much for joining us on NOW.
DR. VANDANA SHIVA: Thank you, Bill.
MOYERS: There’s a lot more about globalization at pbs.org. That’s it for now. Thanks for watching. David Brancaccio will be here next week. I’m Bill Moyers, good night.
This transcript was entered on April 16, 2015.