Multinational Monitor


An Interview with Anwar Fazal

Anwar Fazal was President of the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU) from 1978-1984, and of the Environmental Liaison Centre International, Nairobi, from 1987-1988. Fazal is a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award popularly called the "Alternative Nobel Prize." He will step down as the head of IOCU's office in Penang, MALAYSIA on January 1, 1992. He plans to continue to work on infant formula and other "global citizen" issues.

Multinational Monitor: What is wrong with current models of development?

Anwar Fazal: The kind of development we currently have is characterized by three kinds of terrible cultures. First is the culture of violence. We have violence of several kinds. There is violence because we don't provide basic services for people's survival that we could provide. We could give clean water, but we don't, and people die as a result of it. That is a kind of violence. Thirty years ago, 650 million people were absolutely poor; today the number of people who are absolutely poor has almost doubled to between one billion and 1.25 billion people. That is violence. The second kind of violence is seen in the breakdown of societies--the violence in cities, drug abuse, all kinds of things resulting from alienation. These are symptoms of bad societies, of violent kinds of development. The third kind of violence is war. Many wars are fought not across borders but within countries, and they are very often directed at civilian groups. They have their roots in economic and power relationships. I think [all three of] these kinds of cultural violence are of one piece. Second is the culture of manipulation. Political power, corporate power and communications power is increasingly concentrated, and this enables people to keep populations in ignorance and under control. Both bureaucratic and corporate control of communications can lead to manipulation of people's thoughts, manipulation of people's behaviors. That kind of culture also has to be broken and changed. Third is the culture of waste. Just look at the way all societies are organized: we spend so much time moving people around. Look at the sheer waste not just in transportation systems, but from the use of products and the way we deal with natural resources.

MM: What should replace these cultures?

Fazal: I think we can begin to look for a vision in which we seek a culture first of all to replace violence with a culture of harmony, balance and understanding, [with attention paid] to justice not only between human beings but also in terms of our relationship with the earth. The second kind of culture that would be part of the vision would be a culture of stewardship of the earth, [based on an] understanding that we have to share and care for the earth in a different kind of way. Now we look upon it as something to exploit, something to use. And the third culture is one of accountability, partly in the legal sense in terms of community institutions, legal institutions, questions of transparency. But we also must have accountability to the future. When the Iroquois Indians needed to make an important decision affecting the community, they looked at the impact it would have on the seventh generation. So they had a sense of accountability not just to the next generation but right up to the seventh generation. That kind of distance thinking is very important. I see this people-centered vision struggling against these terrible cultures of violence, manipulation and waste and working toward the culture of balance and harmony, of stewardship and justice, of accountability.

MM: Do you see any signs of the emergence of this people- centered vision?

Fazal: Particularly in the last decade, one of the things we've seen is the proliferation of people's organizations. Something special is happening in the world with changes in Eastern Europe and in the South. Literally thousands of citizens' organizations have emerged over the last decade, partly as a reflection of the failure of institutions. People are rising, people are fighting back, people are realizing that if you want to see change, then you have to stand up and make that change, that change is not going to come on its own. There was a time when voluntary organizations were associated with charity-type work, and there were also organizations subsequently that developed that were oriented toward community development work. But increasingly people are beginning to realize that there is a way of making change through civic action. Civic action, to be successful, must involve alliances with different groups and societies. David Korten has written a recent book, Getting to the Twenty-first Century, which I think must be read by everyone who is interested in people power. He talks about mass people's movements that are looking at the civic duty in a new, assertive way and recognizing that, if you want to make change, then you have to make broad-based coalitions. You must become a movement.

MM: There seem to be some emerging tensions between staffed, better-funded non-governmental organizations and broader-based, grassroots movements.

Fazal: I think there will definitely be tensions. The citizens' movements occur in countries which have [definite] class structures, and the tensions appear between different groups that have not felt comfortable working with each other. There are tensions in regard to tactics--there are those who like to see gentle methods of change, others who feel like they should be far more assertive. I think that there is now a mood that we need to be inclusive, that making change requires a variety of approaches. Some changes require a good deal of assertiveness; others require different tactics. I often say that we have to combine the people who are correct, credible and cautious with those who are fast, flexible and furious. The challenge is to have people who take their civic responsibility beyond the personal self and who see that inclusiveness and bringing groups together is critical, who understand that there will be differences in tactics and even in visions; some people think for the summer, others think for a year, others might think for a decade and others will be thinking generations ahead. There is a whole series of global networks where solidarity is built initially through very specific actions on issues--issues like baby food, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, human rights and women's issues. Based on that solidarity of action on a specific issue, you begin to build another kind of solidarity, a solidarity of fellowship that transcends particular issues. You are able then to bring the groups that were involved in a single issue to broader issues. And this is happening. People who are working on women's issues or human rights, economic or consumer issues are beginning to see that if you want to make change you are going to have to confront governments, corporations and intergovernmental agencies. And if you want to do that, you also have to develop a sense of power that comes from making alliances that can deal with those institutions. These alliances, cross-cutting on issues, are going to become more and more important. They are emerging now, and I think they will be far stronger in the future. But the challenge is to link more and more groups and multiply them at the local, national and global levels. People talk about "thinking globally, acting locally" or "living simply." I think we can do these things, but nowadays it is not enough to act locally--you also have to act globally. Nor is it enough to think globally, you also have to think locally. People must have a new conception of space. More and more issues are ceasing to be associated with political boundaries: the environment does not respect political boundaries, the transnational companies are not concerned with political boundaries--except when it benefits them. In communications, we are moving toward a global village; products and services are becoming homogenized. So we will have to understand space in a new way--we will have to think of space at all three levels because all three--local, national, global--impact on you. And we have to develop systems whereby groups can act locally, nationally and globally. Different groups can work at different levels, but with vertical and lateral links. If we have these vertical and lateral linkages, then we can make use of people's power that will be inclusive and can make transformational change to produce a more just and fair world.

MM: So that is how a grassroots group in a remote village might be able to take on a large multinational corporation?

Fazal: Right. If they want to take on a large transnational, they will have to work within the community, but at the same time linking with groups elsewhere--groups that can influence the transnational corporation's headquarters, whichever country it is in. That will give them additional power. At the same time, they should also work globally, so that the company's operations worldwide feel the heat of peoples' action. That will give them additional strength. And it will make the groups feel that they are not alone, that there is a solidarity of global citizenship around issues of justice and change. If people have that sense as part of them, then we will see a new dimension of people's power that is both micro-sensible and also macro- responsible. Both elements are, in a sense, trans-boundary, trans-frontier. In the end, we share this earth, we are all citizens of the earth. Civic duty has to have that global element. We breathe one air, we drink one water, babies cry the same the world over, our blood is red in color. There is so much that makes us the same. It is important that we don't forget that human beings throughout the world have this linkage.

MM: What role do you see for national governments in the Third World in controlling multinational corporations?

Fazal: I think national government is one of the areas where there is very often a poverty of vision. Governments see short- term quick gains from relationships with corporations and they are not prepared to put the same kind of energy into building the foundations of a strong community. I think a strong community relies on five very important values: self-reliance, self-determination, creativity, assertiveness and humanity. When they are dealing with transnational corporations, governments are looking for shortcuts that deliver goods and services, and, in the short-run, they may find financial benefits. [They don't think about] whether it will build those important values of self-reliance, self-determination, creativity, assertiveness and humanity--but those are far more important, and I think they will only come into existence if citizens' groups in those countries are organized and constantly question the role of these multinational corporations. They must prevent companies from undermining the foundations on which nations and communities should be built. Given the [existing] power of multinational corporations and the current trend toward privatization, national governments may sell very important institutions to corporate values when in fact they should be moving in other directions. If a certain institution is not working, the problem of that institution may be that we have not created self-determination or creativity or assertiveness within that organization, and the solution is not to sell it to private oligarchies or to foreign interests but to see how we can build those values in the best way possible.

MM: Which corporations have done the most damage in the Third World?

Fazal: The distinction between the Third World and other worlds becomes less important in the so-called "new world order" where the only thing "new" maybe who is calling the shots and the fact of being able to do it without any challenges! Any list of corporations who have done and can do great damage should include at least those involved in these six activities: armaments (including the nuclear industry), tobacco, pesticides, alcohol, infant formula and the banking business that fostered a transnational "borrowing" culture and led us into the debt mess. As for specific corporations, my list would include Union Carbide, for the legacy in Bhopal. I would also include Nestle, the world leader in the infant formula business who still after a full decade of United Nations codes and resolutions on the marketing of breast milk substitutes, has been unwilling to adopt them universally, unilaterally and unequivocally. I had hoped that after the "settlement" which led to the end of the first boycott of their products, Nestle would be taking the lead and move away from the herd. Instead, their unconscionable intransigence has just encouraged newcomers like the Japanese into the baby formula business, bringing with them some of the worst practices. However, we cannot also ignore the fact that vast and powerful bureaucracies and corrupt governments are often compliant parties--they provide the shelter through sheer ignorance, inefficiency, inaction or just plain greed.

MM: Do you think it is appropriate for Third World governments to set limits on foreign investment?

Fazal: I think people should develop their countries based on the resources within the country itself and on utilizing the strengths and assets of the country. I think if one talks about foreign investment, one has to begin to develop criteria of exactly what kind of elements we need from abroad, what kind of skills or technologies we need. There can be a whole mode of systems whereby a country can get these, but it should be [designed] to build on the foundations within the country itself. Just opening up to foreign investment can be destructive in two ways. First, it can create a situation of a borrowing culture and a system whereby the country becomes mortgaged abroad. Second, it allows systems of exploitation of natural wealth that will be against the long-term interest of the country itself. So one should be very, very circumspect of foreign investment There should be very careful criteria developed. Sometimes these so- called foreign investors are very clever, and they actually don't even bring foreign money in. They appear to bring foreign money in, but actually they very quickly strip the resources from the country itself. Foreign investment and the borrowing culture has led people, instead of looking at the strengths of their own community and building on the foundation of self-determination and self- reliance, to believe that the easy way is to get money from outside.

MM: Many institutions which have been responsible for fostering what you are calling the borrowing culture, such as the World Bank, are now referring to concepts such as people-centered development or human resource development. Are they talking about the same concepts you are advocating?

Fazal: I think increasingly those institutions are realizing that change is not going to come until people are involved. [But] there is still the question of whether it is legitimate for organizations like the World Bank to be in the business of development at all, and whether they are just rhetorically praising these [people-centered] approaches. Fundamentally, because the World Bank is a big lending agency, you still have the problem of not encouraging self-reliance, and of having a mentality of lots of money coming from abroad to make changes. You don't have the development of strong, self-reliant, self- determining local entities that can negotiate with other places on an equal basis. The World Bank is encouraging more trade and open markets. But when you have openness between the very powerful and rich and the very poor, you know which direction the market is going to go: it's going to lead to exploitation of the weak. Nearly everyone [supports] food or textile exports from the Third World to the North. But food or clothes for whom? If one looks at clothes particularly, there is a huge amount of waste that is involved in the global garment industry. One issue is helping Third World people with jobs, but if it is going to be a process of waste, I think there are bigger issues that are involved. Third World people who are making garments should look at making clothes for their own country. Similarly, [Third World farmers] should look at how to grow food to meet the needs in their countries. Look at Asia: 700 million people are in absolute poverty; 600 million people cannot read or write, two-thirds of them women; half of the population has no access to safe drinking water. The challenges in development are to address these issues directly. Making products for export is marginal to the real structures that need to be developed in those countries. I see a recognition now that people-centered development is important. Whether the United Nations or the World Bank or similar institutions are going to change sufficiently to give real meaning instead of lip service to this will be one of the challenges of the nineties. If citizen's organizations learn how to link and multiply, we can change those institutions and the governments their policies reflect.

Back to Interviews