Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Agribusiness: Environmental Destruction and Slavery

"It is no accident that globalisation has seen the reemergence of slavery …" writes Felicity Lawrence:

"In Brazil, investigating the explosion in soya production  in the Amazon region for my book 'Eat Your Heart Out', I heard of the slaves found on farms being cleared in the rainforest. A Dominican priest, Xavier Plassat, who campaigns to free them told me how he had just returned with government swat squads from a farm 60km off the road where 200 workers were being kept in slavery, labouring without pay, deprived of freedom of movement and controlled by debt bondage. They had no clean water and little food and were living 30 to a room. Plassat believed slavery and agribusiness were inextricably linked. Monoculture for export, the large-scale intensive farming dominated by transnational corporations (TNC), and favoured by trade rules and international financial institutions, had created the conditions for slavery by eliminating the traditional small scale farming that provided food for 60% of the Brazilian population. He is not alone. Kevin Bales, the great expert on modern slavery, has shown how driving peasant farmers off the land has created a new supply of dispossessed workers who can be pressed into this condition."

And although people were already being driven off the land before, NGOs like GRAIN are now showing that this process has been even further intensified since the Banker-induced Crisis. The ramifications of the appropriation of poor peoples' land by rich nations are huge. In Madagascar a plan by South Korea to buy up around a third of the country's arable land caused the fall of President Ravalomanana. Thankfully that deal was cancelled, but many other people's land is still under the hammer. Even the World Bank has been reluctantly forced to admit there is a problem, despite shamefully being implicated in it themselves:

"[T]here is an enormous farmland grab going on around the world ever since the 2008 food and financial crises and it shows no signs of abating. The Bank says that the 463 projects it tallied from Farmlandgrab.org between October 2008 and June 2009 cover at least 46.6 million hectares of land …"

"… investors are taking advantage of "weak governance" and the "absence of legal protection" for local communities to push people off their lands. Additionally, it finds that the investments are giving almost zero back to affected communities in terms of jobs or compensation, to say nothing of food security. The message we get is that virtually nowhere, among the countries and cases the Bank examined, is there much to celebrate."

"Many investments (...) failed to live up to expectations and, instead of generating sustainable benefits, contributed to asset loss and left local people worse off than they would have been without the investment."

The reality of modern industrialised agriculture is plain, and again succinctly expressed by Felicity Lawrence:

"Expansionist agriculture and empires have always depended on slave labour, as Latin authors of the Roman empire complained centuries ago. Today, we live in an era when the dominant powers don't officially "do" empire, so economic control takes a new privatised form in the TNC. Modern slavery has evolved to match. The straightforward ownership of chattel slavery is gone, replaced instead by an outsourced, subcontracted kind of control over people, which can be terminated when they have served their purpose. The transnationals universally abhor any idea of slavery or forced labour and yet it is found in their supply chains. Slaves and exploited migrants, often driven into migration by the squeeze on family agriculture, are what make the economics of today's agribusiness work."

There is currently a Sustainable Livestock Bill (PDF) going through Parliament, which should go a little way to addressing some of the iniquities of globalised agriculture, by ensuring that subsidies are re-oriented towards more local and small-scale farming, for example. It is due to receive its second reading on Friday 12th November. Has your MP signed the EDM? It is important to get as many MPs to be in the House and vote for the Bill as possible. More information here and here (dumbed down version).

More on the Global Land Grab

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