People's watchdogs: Link and Multiply
This paper was presented at a seminar in Environment and People's subsistance, organised by the Centre for Science and Environment in November 1986.
I would like to describe my own experience and that of my organisation, the International Organisation of Consumer Unions. We have worked for the last 15 years in the consumer and environment movement and basically the areas in which we have the most valuable experience is in linking and nailtiplying. I use these two words to signify the kind of work we have been doing.
One of the links we try to forge is the link between our inner environment and outer environment. As consumers, we take things in, we consume, but these things are linked to the outside world, first at the production level and then at the disposal stage.
We also try to link the grassroots and the sky. We often have a situation in the world today where there are a number of organisations that are travelling very high in the sky: either they do not know how, or forget, to land, or if they have to land, they need a very long runway. Then we have grassroot groups that are so busy working in the grass that the grass grows so tall that they cannot see beyond their immediate situation. The link between the grass and the sky can and must be made, and we have done a considerable amount of work in that area.
A third link is between the head and the hand. People get to know the development issues in areas they are working in, other people do something about these issues. There are organisations which are very good at elaborating these issues but hopeless in doing anything about them. Then there are issues on which organisations are very good at doing things but quite bad at conceptualising problems. We try also to help in bridging the head and the hand.
The fourth link is between issues and processes. One of the things we find in our work is people get more involved in specific things like pesticides and pharmaceuticals, and we gain a lot of experience. Very often, there are structural problems involved and what we learn in dealing with one issue is equally important in any other issue that we are dealing with. We then begin to focus more and more on processes, and we can work with people in making key changes. They develop a new power and that power will help them determine their own agenda, in the manner in which they can do it. That process is more powerful. And many of the issues that we have been working on whether pesticides, baby foods or pharmaceuticals--have been the entry points for involvement of people and for them then to learn and gain power to work on the issues they want.
There is also the link between what we call the firefighting and structural approaches. In this fifth. link, we try to get a group to see both these two things. It is possible to have the firefighting approach, but does it have any value? If there were no fires, people would forget about the firemen; people will think that they do not exist. If there are fires, and if you need to put them out, be a fireperson. At the same time, we have to learn how to make sure there are no fires. We have to learn to prevent them in the first place. And so the link between fire-fighting operations and structural aspects is another we try and make.
Very often, I put this idea in a story. It is just like people trying to save a baby drowning in a river. They save the baby and before they have finished saving the baby and are recovering their breath, they see another baby drowning. They go there to save the second baby and a third baby is there. They go and save the third baby. And they are so busy saving the babies that they have no time to look upstream where a man is throwing babies in. If we become aware of the link between firefighting activities and structural issues, we begin to seek root causes, looking upstream to see where the problems are coming from.
The sixth and last kind of link is how to make people see very simple things that they are doing and relate them to bigger goals and missions. We find this is also a gap, something that needs to be linked-how to get a person who is coming and working in our organisation on a small salary doing routine work to feel as important as someone who wants to make a new society.
I also tell another story to remind people about this link. When someone is going to a place where they are building something, and they see two persons who are building, they ask the first: "What are you doing?" He says, "I am laying bricks." They ask the second, who is of course also laying bricks, but he says, "I am building a school." So you see there are two kinds of perceptions of the same thing. One person has the vision and the other does not. We must make working people link their activity with a vision, a goal.
The second major area of work is about multiplying. We try, in each of the areas I mentioned, to multiply people who can do this kind of linking, who can develop as resources to work in all these kinds of areas. Let me give an idea of some of the ways we do it. One of the most visible ways is to constantly bring out publications. I will begin with Bhopal. About four months after the tragic event, our organisation brought out Lessons of Bhopal. It was not so much about Bhopal itself but the lessons that people could learn, and how they could organise around such issues and initiate action in their own community. This is the book which went round the world about six months after the Bhopal disaster. It was in a way a 'doing' book. It was a 'handbook'. And at the same time, we thought we should also have very soon a 'headbook' about Bhopal. And this book came out a year after that. It looks not at Bhopal but at all the potential Bhopals in the rest of the world.
We had investigative journalists who visited. Taiwan, Korea, Mexico, Brazil and a number of other countries with the same kind of problem. We could analyse some prospects for ceaseless action needed in the structural areas, a deep look at the way we use pesticides in our society and we organise agriculture. Unless we change those things and also unless we change the way in which groups get access to information, we will never be able to break what we call The Bhopal Syndrome-the title of the book.
To give you another example, :~ book which came out just a few days ago was called Adverse Effects: Women and the Pharmaceutical Industry. It is a collection of articles on the way in which women are exploited by the drug industry. Another book is on how the multinational companies, basically big business, provide educational material in schools and propaganda that actually captures the minds of young people while they are in school. We call it The Corporate Pied Piper. In the US, for example, a larger number of educational materials are provided to the schools by different businesses which make them pro the kind of operations that they have. If we look at it internationally, we find that 'in the Third World, people are starved of information and large companies very often offer to bring out publications. For example, in my own country, a company like Nestle or Ajinomoto will publish recipe books for home economics classes and this is where they are able to project their concepts of technology, and the way in which food should be consumed, into young people's minds right from the beginning.
There is again another kind of exercise. We pamphleteer and usually spend US $ 500 on issuing a four-page pamphlet where we investigate one problem-maybe one drug or one company or one kind of service-and just analyse that. It is designed just like a pharmaceutical company's leaflet or other companies' leaflets. We use some of the same techniques against them.
We do a small exercise like this, hold a press conference and send the pamphlet all over the world. Basically, we use about $ 500 to create hell for one company or one product throughout the world. This is a low-cost way of hitting back, an organised way of hurling paper aeroplanes-but ones with sharp points! - at others.
We have another project called Consumer Interpol. We try to get information about banned products reappearing in another country to a central place and from there, send it out to other groups that are working with us in this network. We have something like 50 groups that are interested in participating in this programme. So if the United States bans a drug, we will get the information out. If we find a product that is unsafe, an electrical product that might be dangerous, we will provide the background to it to ensure that that product is removed from the market. This programme also deals with generic issucs. We have done special issues on asbestos, which may not be a direct consumer product, but is an industrial product. We are taking a number of generic issues-we are looking at food irradiation, at biotechnology, and at even seemingly simple things like batteries. There is the problem now in many parts of the world about the small batteries used in watches and calculators. Many of these contain heavy metals. Because they are small, people just throw them away and children have been known to put them into their mouths and they burst inside their stomachs. There have been deaths associated with this. In Switzerland, there are supermarkets with special corners to place these things. People there are looking at laws where by it will be illegal to do anything except deposit them in these places. We may need to change the chemical they use; there are some other chemicals that may not be so dangerous. This is a new, emerging problem. We would like to write a report on this for groups that might be interested in acting on this problem.
We are also doing something else that is very simple-like school report cards that are used all over. We thought we would write reports about what governments and companies do. As our first case we looked at the way in which companies were observing the WHO international code on marketing of breastmilk substitutes. We wanted to show how governments and companies were really observing this code. We listed the seven most important parts of the international code and we indicated what each country has done about the code, whether it has incorporated it into law, whether it is voluntary or non-existent there. Every country-and there are 156-has got a report that we have given about the way in which they are observing this international code. This whole exercise cost us only $1,500. It is a low-cost operation. We were able to do this because we now have an international network of people. We can write to somebody in India-there are three people here-who can tell us what the situation in India is. And just for the postage and the commitment that the people have to this kind of work, they will respond. Through this, we were able to go right through 156 countries. India is also listed. We understand that a law will come up very soon and that it is already in Parliament. India is one of the leading countries in the world for advertisements for pacifiers. This country is heavily promoting feeding bottles and teats and since those are the instruments by which infant formula is given, they become the technology by which people are hooked. Under the international code, even bottles and teats are not allowed to be advertised; this is, of course, a voluntary code and since governments are all independent, they can decide what they do not want to do. Through this new programme of report cards that we have begun, we hope to spur, if not shame, governments and corporations into action.
The last thing is a book called Generating Power which is about organising people and increasing the power of ordinary people to deal with their problems. We hope to do more and more of this kind of multiplying work.
One of the structures, the framework, for all this linking and multiplying has been global networking and networking is a word all of us are familiar with. The essence is how do we use the strength of weak links. That is a phrase used by someone else "the strength of weak links". How can we work together without necessarily having to agree on everything? If you have something to give and I have something to give and we both agree on one issue, let us together work on that. That kind of working has brought organisations together over the last seven years around issues in ways that were never before conceivable. The baby food campaign got together something like 300 or 400 organisations. There were many which never worked together. Some may even be antagonistic to each other but we learn that if we take up issues, we can agree on a limited programme and on that we can move. At the same time, no one is preventing an organisation from holding its own views on that programme and it can take even stronger positions. This concept of having the freedom to do one's own thing yet at the same time link up with other people has been the strength of networking. And it is that kind of feeling that went into the formation first of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and then into Health Action International (HAI) and then to something which is very close to all who are working in environment, the Pesticide Action Network (PAN). One of its very special features was that when it was first suggested, people said, "Ah, we are doing another network." People start taking a good idea and implement it. But the process of implementing can become a problem too if it does not go through the kind of process that it should go through. It should not be someone at the top who decides a network is needed. For example, there was once a suggestion that there should be an international meeting in Holland of all the groups working on pesticides and then we would form the pesticide network. A number of us, both from the North and South, felt that this was not the way to start, because if we do that globally, what will happen is that there will be 700 people from the North and may be 70 or seven people from the South and then we will have an 'international' network. But we needed to start with a completely different framework and power base. So we said, "If you want a network, first the groups in the Third World will meet." So we had the first meeting in Asia, the second in Latin America, the third in Africa, the fourth in Europe and the fifth in North America.
In this way bv reversine the process, we got very strong Third World involvement and also we were able to get groups in the Third World organised, for both local involvement and for global work. Since a large number of the problems were global, involving multinational companies, people began to feel the need for this initiative from the Third World and when we had the international meeting, we had an equal number of people from each of the continents. Even that was a bit unfair, if you look at the numbers in the world, but anyway, people then had the confidence and trust to organise and work together. We in. the Third World are always very generous people.
So PAN was founded. One of the principles of PAN is how can we use constructively tensions within our own organisations, which is a very important principle. We have organisations that are very assertive, that are confrontational. We also have organisations that feel-"I just want to help the people." How do we bring these kinds of tensions together? That is one of the greatest challenges to get the best out of groups that are aggressive and also those that want to do educational, information work. We need to have a variety of programmes where all can lend a hand, like some can build the roof, some the floor, some the foundation, some the fencing and so on. The second thing is for all of us to agree on what are the pressure points, what needs to be changed on an issue. For those things that we can do together, we will work together. At the same time, if there is a point on which a group wants to act on its own, go ahead. But if one wants to do something let us try first to develop a consensus and add strength to our work.
There are five basic ideas that we have found very useful in these networks:
Firstly, we have always got to think political. People are afraid sometimes to think about politics. We have to confront the political structures, the politicians, we have to learn how to be quite good at that. We have got to find out how we can heat their backsides! We have to learn how to be good at predicting how they will act and start moving. So we have to think political and about political structures, both local and international.
Secondly, we have to think leadership in a completely different way. If we take any of these networks, there is no leader, there is no chairperson or anyone. We say everyone who is in the network is the leader and one can become a member of the network by participating, by taking action, and that is leadership. For us, in our work, and in all the networks we see, our job is not to get more followers but to build more leaders, and if we accept that concept, we think completely differently about the way we work. We are always looking for people who can join us but we want them to become leaders in their own right. This way we multiply our own strength. This way also our strength is everywhere and it cannot be destroyed because we can kill one leader, or 500 leaders, but there will still be a thousand more left and they will be multiplying.
Thirdly, think everywhere. There is nothing more frustrating for politicians or for multinational companies than to know that the movement is all over the place and activity is coming from all over and supporters are all over. If it is the Chipko movement and if the support for that kind of work is coming up from all parts of India and from all parts of the world, it gives a completely new dimension! So add that concept to our mind-set: think everywhere.
Fourthly, we found that in this kind of campaigning we needed to think surprise. We too have to have our surprises. In order to capture the imagination, we have to capture the attention of the press, of politicians. We have to devise ways and means to surprise our opponents.
The fifth, one of the most important parts of our networking, is the importance of mutual respect between groups. We all may be different-we have different styles but we respect each other. We may disagree with a group but we have respect for it and when we work together, we will work together. If we have to fight, we will fight sometime, where it is necessary to fight. We too in the meantime have the freedom to act on our own. But we must remember this aspect of mutual respect. From my own experience in working in citizen groups, so much energy is lost fighting each other. Energy is lost because of our internal quarrels; a lot of it may not be necessary. We differ, yes, but we must not lose our perspective. If we have this mutual respect, we can go ahead and do extremely well. So these are five, what I call the "think five", useful principles in PAN and also in our other networks.
There are two other useful concepts I want to share. One is the concept of hitchhiking. Whenever we are doing things we always think, "Well, I can't do it, because I haven't got funds." But it is like travelling; if I want to go from Delhi to Kanpur, let's say I have no money to buy the ticket, I can walk there if I like. Or I can stay on the street and say: "If I can find someone else who's going there, who's got empty space, I'll jump on that car and go." Similarly, in our work, how can we hitchhike? If we find organisations that are doing similar work, we can cooperate and if the organisations possess certain strengths we can link up with them. The linking is very important: we can help others, others can help us, so hitchhiking is a low-cost way of multiplying, of getting things done.
Secondly, a kind of intermediate vision is necessary, which is very often absent
in our society. This has been called, again by someone else, helicopter vision.
We find people can only think
very low, or they can think by aeroplane, but helicopters are different, they can land on one spot and they can go up and they can also stay at one spot. In our work, we should have the ability to take off and be able to look at bigger areas than just our own and study that and at the same time be able to come back and be able to land on the spot. Otherwise, we find that either we are just stuck or imprisoned in our own area or flying so high that we do not know how to land at all.
In conclusion, we always say in our work-whether it is pesticides or whatever-that we area force for happiness. We keep on telling people that we are a force for happiness and remind them that we are not antidevelopment-we are for good development. We use this kind of terminology, because we think it is important all the time to remind people. Secondly, and something we often forget, is that everytime we have some success, even small, we must take time to celebrate-even holding hands and singing a song.
Thirdly, whenever we are feeling that we are losing remember that we are not
alone and that there are so many other groups around in the world like us and
some of them are winning and we will win too.
Saint: I appreciate the very positive and strong principles enunciated, the very practical methods. How do you try to come together? There are two kinds of problems involved. One is an ego problem, a very desperate need for recognition or central position that is not granted and then the determination to break whatever is trying to be formed. The second is the coming in of those with an intent to subvert and to destroy, almost as second nature. How do you deal with those kinds of individuals?
Fazal: Conflict is such a normal and common thing that if we have disagreements we should not worry. There is no need to get excited and unhappy about it. If someone gets angry for a while, by your calmness and reasonableness, a different kind of tone can be set.
But some people need 'ego'. One of the challenges with someone like that is what can we give him or her to do? In networking, we say, "Go ahead and do it, if you feel that idea is very good. All those you want as your assistants will follow you if your idea is good." He or she may find that other people do not want to go along on that issue and that slows the person down immediately because he or she cannot get support. In the end, it is a voluntary system and we have to gain the support of the people, so every time we have someone like that, we encourage the person. One of the ways of coping is to make sure that there is already a trust amongst the people working in the group, so it is easier also to deal with one individual who might be a bit more egoistic.
I have a rule-the Fazal Rule: 'The degree of cooperation between organisations- similar organisations, working on the same issues-is inversely related to the distance between them.' That means the closer people are and the more similar people are, there is less likelihood of them being able to work together, because there are certain suspicions and tensions. Very often, when people are in the same area, the reason whv we have five groups is that we may represent five different interests in that area. Groups that are far away do not have that sort of sense, and that is why we have found that linking globally and linking beyond our own small areas gives us a new way of cooperating without feeling threatened by the edicts of 'Delhi', for instance. We do not compete in the same market because basically there is a much bigger area of operation. However, some of the competition will still exist. For example, we have three groups in Penang very active in public interest issues and very often, the vertical links may be much, much stronger than the horizontal links. That is the nature of human organisation. I think if we know that these tensions exist, we can anticipate them and have structures that can cope with them.
Saboteurs are much more difficult to deal with and one has to be constantly worried about them. This calls for alertness, to realise that someone is coming to destroy your campaign. Maybe we should do things in such a way that at least whatever bomb he or she plants, will be under his or her own backside and if anyone gets blown up, it will be the person planting the bomb. That requires an understanding of human nature.
It is a tribute to us that Nestle formed a company bringing out a journal called the International Barometer. It is heavily staffed with a budget of several million dollars. The only thing it is doing is to monitor pressure groups; that is why they call it the barometer. Each issue is sold at $500 to all the multinational companies or anybody else who wants it. Every issue monitors groups that are working on environment, pesticides, baby food, anti-nuclear issues and biotechnology. They spend that amount of money just to have an intelligence service, to know nothing else but the kind of work that these networks are now doing.
The second thing is the Heritage Foundation. It is a very wideranging think tank which is headed by a former CIA person. Jean Kirkpatrick is one of the Fellows of this foundation, which has become very strong over the last few years. It is part of the Big Right or New Right or whatever they call it in the United States and they decided to have a multimillion dollar project on attacking the UN system because the UN system they say is controlled by Third World people. They did a series of studies-the first published was on the International Consumer Movement. They said the International Consumer Movement is anti-American, anti-companies and anti-TNCs and must be destroyed. It is run by a number of crazy people, 'some wild men from Borneo', and that is a threat to the American System!
The second report was on UNICEF. They said it is a terrible organisation, because it is working on peace while it is supposed to work only with children ! How can it be dealing with peace, when peace is a dangerous thing? Secondly, it is working with the International Organization of Consumers Unions and trying to stop the marketing of baby milk. It is not the job of UNICEF to get into marketing ! See the concepts that they were pushing?
The Heritage Foundation is a very influential body within the conservative leadership in the US. They have a strategy, with a special name. It is called the 'End-Run' strategy. They know that every human organisation has a structure. They find out who is on its board and they will go to one person who is very active. The End-Run strategy is to let the person they have influenced ask questions: Why are you doing this? Have you got our approval? And so on. When you are involved in a campaign, you suddenly find from behind your back, your board is creating problems for you. They have a lot of strategies like this that were tending to destabilise or upset us.
We now find that because of the way in which we are organised, because we are global, because we have got these networks and because of the work that we do, we are confident and we make sure that we do things well. If we make a mistake we know that people out there will be waiting to bury us. We have to have credibility in our own work and globally with the media-that will make them very afraid to be nasty to us. Their only recourse is the dirty way from the back.
I will tell you about a Japanese company, Ajinomoto. They pay journalists to come to our conferences to create problems. They ask questions like "Is it true that the Consumers' Union of Japan is against everything, including the Emperor?" And this, in countries like Japan and Thailand where the king is very important.
There have also been attempts to bribe. We found that there were people coming to our press conferences, whose tickets had been paid by companies. But because we are beginning to understand the people whom we work with, we know who is different-we can smell the person, very often !
Agarwal: I want to know what have been the highlights of the work done by the Pesticides Action Network over the last two or three years? Is there much work going on in this field within India?
Fazal: The greatest success of the Pesticides action Network is that there are some 400 groups throughout the world working with it. They are talking to each other and doing campaigns in their own countries now with a new kind of confidence that they are not alone and that there are materials available to them that they can share. That has been the greatest success because the greatest battle will have to be fought in those countries.
The second success is that we were seeking to get an international code and within a period of three years, FAO has adopted an international code on the marketing of pesticides. Unfortunately, it is a code that is not particularly good. It is one of these "lowest common denominator" instruments, but its value is that it has got certain basic regulations. Since more than three-quarters of the governments of the world have nothing by way of pesticides legislation, it gives us a hook to organise our own campaigns to say "If there are certain international standards, our government must have some laws in our country and begin to take action."
This is the second international code-the first was on marketing of infant formula-and it has given us a focus within the UN system to discuss this issue: it has given local groups a focus to organise around this issue. We want the UN to strengthen the code. One of the weakest things is that no country can export a pesticide if they do not get the consent of the importing government. The EEC countries objected to that and the Third World's Group of 77 gave in. They said, "Never mind; since we want a consensus, we will not push for this." Otherwise by vote, the Third World could have got that included but it said, "We will wait for two years and see how this code is operating." If the developed countries continue to dump pesticides that are banned, we will rethink this around November, 1987. This is the situation on the code.
The third achievement is a global public education campaign which is entitled 'The Dirty Dozen Campaign'. For the global campaign we thought it would be good to focus very specifically on pesticides and use 12 pesticides as a way of getting people to discuss the whole way in which we use chemicals in our society. The idea is not just to ban those 12; it is a tool to get the attention of the press. Having got people's attention, we ask: "Do we need the pesticides in the first place?" They can ban all 12 and still get away with it.
Our press kit is a common tool and has been translated into French and Spanish and spread throughout the world now. It is amazing-we have press cuttings of the way in which this was dealt with formerly and I have not seen any public campaign that I have been involved with over the last few years where there was so much press coverage. In over 57 countries, this was the lead story in one of the papers. It got that kind of public attention because it was hot. Every paper likes to make pesticides that are banned an issue in its own country, so it gives a lot of support to local groups to firm up their campaign on pesticides.
So these are three major areas of success. In terms of the future, we now have a regional structure within PAN that is always looking at the agenda. At the moment, it has two other very important things and these are going to be more and more significant. One is the whole question of alternatives. If we do not want to use chemicals or we want to use chemicals only as we use medicines, as a prophylactic, what are the alternatives? These are now being looked at in several projects within the PAN network. One way is through case studies. We are looking at 12 case studies in the world. The project is funded and operated by the Consumers Union of the US. We ask, "Where are alternatives actually succeeding?" It is easier to talk about alternatives where they are succeeding. A book is going to come out very shortly.
The second issue is biotechnology. Many companies that are making chemicals now are forgetting about chemical pesticides, because now they are going into laboratories and they are going to make new genes and plants. They are going to make rubber and vegetable oil in their laboratories. They are going to take that big leap forward so that we do not need pesticides, we do not even need to grow things, we do not need farmers, we will just have factories where we will get vegetable oil or vegetable rubber like synthetic rubber. We will get all kinds of things we would normally classify as vegetables in our own laboratories.
We can see the transformation that might occur. It might be at the cost of the world's system of agriculture and other things. The whole biotechnology area is developing very rapidly. I think it was DuPont or somebody who was the president of a major company who said, "You know we are going to give up pesticides in the next few years. In the next 20 years we will hardly be producing pesticides. We are already moving on the biotechnology and chemicals will be a sunset industry." What will happen is that more and more pesticide manufacture will, in fact, be done in the Third World. This is where we will have all the factories, we will be copying this very old sunset technology and at the same time be confronted with biotechnology in our factories. Whether we are ready to cope with all this we do not know. Groups are beginning to discuss these things and they will come to the first international NGO conference on biotechnology which will be held some time in 1987.
In the Pesticides Action Network, India is a blank in our map at the moment. We have got good contacts like the Voluntary Health Association of India, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, Centre for Consumer Research and Education in Ahmedabad, and a number of groups in Bombay who send us press cuttings. We get materials from them but as a campaign, as a networking base, at the moment there is a void here.
Agarwal: We often get letters asking us about the harmful effect of a certain pesticide. I have often found it difficult to turn to somebody within this country to get information about the harmful effects of specific pesticides. Have you developed a centre to which we could pass on such queries or get information on specific pesticides?
Fazal: Yes, both from Penang and San Francisco, and through the network with
the Natural Resources Defence Council. In Penang, we now have very good documentation
on this, so if you need information, we will get it for you. If we cannot get
it for you, we will tell you where you can get information on any pesticide
that you can think of. Give it to us by the brand name or chemical name.
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