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Report on Cambridge Forum 'The Rise and Rise of Corporate Power'

jupiter | 23.10.2004 23:25 | European Social Forum | Ecology | Globalisation | Social Struggles | Cambridge

This is a report on the Cambridge Forum from 19 October 2004 on the Rise and Rise of Corporate Power. The discussion was held in the CB1 Cafe on Mill Road on Tuesday, 19 October 2004 from 8 pm to 10:30 pm. About thirty people listened to the three speakers. Before the forum started, two people from the audience recounted their experience at the European Social Forum which just took place in London the weekend prior.

The three speakers were in London for the ESF and agreed to make a stop in Cambridge for this forum. The history of the ESF process was briefly recounted and there was also a mention of the autonomous spaces and the media centre in particular. The speakers informed the audience that Indymedia is a source of information about the ESF.

All three speakers were excellent, very engaging and convincing. I will not be able to do justice to their speeches, but I will merely note down what I remember from the presentations. I will add some internet sites and email addresses at the end if you want to find out more about their concerns.

First speaker: Robert (Fidusz) Fidrich who is part of Friends of the Earth Hungary and also involved in Indymedia Hungary.

Fidusz started the discussion on corporate power by recounting several examples from Hungary. Here is a summary of the examples:

1. DANONE bought a traditional Hungarian biscuit factory which had about 65% of the biscuit market in Hungary. After the acquisition, they swiftly announced plans to shut down the entire factory and it even emerged that this was their intention all along. They only bought the company for the market share. There was a big uproar in the community about this and a boycott against all DANONE products was started.

2. COCA COLA started selling BonAqua bottled water which turned out to be simply bottled tap water. This was exposed. In general, there is a trend to encourage the buying of bottled water. PEPSI ran ads in Hungary falsely claiming that returnable bottles are bad for your health and although their deceit was exposed, it nevertheless led to the banning of returnable bottles. Plastic bottles are an environmental disaster because of the waste and the energy that goes into producing them. Returnable bottles are much preferable from an environmental perspective. In fact, Fidusz thinks that packaging is one of the biggest environmental issues connected to consumerism.

3. NESTLE bought up natural resources within a national park. The exploitation of the water resources led to a decline of the water table.

4. TESCO wanted to build a big supermarket in an area that had pristine forest, but the community managed to stop this project. The supermarket was built somewhere else instead.

5. A cyanide spill from gold mining had entered the river system and led to the pollution of the Danube all the way to reaching the Black Sea. 1,200 tons of fish were destroyed, the whole ecosystem collapsed. This was the biggest environmental disaster since Chernobyl. The company responsible for the spill is a joint venture of the Australian company ESMERALDA and a Hungarian state owned company. The company told the press that it was the cold weather rather than the cyanide that was responsible for the fish dying. There has been no compensation offered by the company and there is currently a court case under way to make the company liable. There is no end in sight with the court case, however, and this can take a long time. There has been a public outcry but the company has recently changed its name which makes the court case even more difficult to push through.

6. A copper mine in Romania caused heavy metal pollution in the water systems in Hungary.

Second speaker: Stephanie Roth from Alburnus Maior, an NGO from Romania
The Canadian junior (i.e., no experience) mining company GABRIEL RESOURCES has targeted Rosia Montana for open cast gold mining. The region is densly populated and also contains archaeological treasures from 2000 years of gold mining history. The proposed project will displace many farmers and miners as well as destroy a site of historical importance. Stephanie's campaign to save Rosia Montana has brought success on many levels: the prime minister of Romania called the project 'genocide', the EU passed a resolution protecting the area and UNESCO has emphasized the importance to the history of humankind as the oldest documented mining settlement. However, there is a vacuum of enforcement and the project may well go ahead despite all the 'good forces' that are working in favour of the local farmers and the environment in general. Stephanie suggests that people may well consider refusing to pay taxes because their concerns are not represented by government. Instead, the government has cut a deal with the mining company to extract the archaeological treasures and put them in a brand new museum.

The open cast mining process will destroy the entire mountain and therefore also the historical sites. The project is projected to turn around 30 million tons of rock per year. This rock is then divided into gold and a sludge of heavy metals (called toxic tailings) through a process that uses cyanide. There will be a construction of a toxic tailing pond in a valley. This valley is currently inhabited by 350 people who will have to leave. There will be a dam that will hold in the tailings. Note that in the past, such a dam has broken after heavy rain and dumped all the toxic waste into the water system. The tailings pond will cover 800 hectares.

Stephanie is part of a group of property owners who are refusing to sell their land. The gold is located under their properties. She recounts that the mining company comes to the village every day and intimidates and pressures the people into selling their property. Stephanie is a journalist who used to work in Western Europe. She first came to Rosia Montana four years ago and decided to stay to help the locals fight against this mining company. She says that the initial cost of the project is the loss of the archaeological treasures and the resettlement of the people. The long term costs are the increase in water use in the area due to the mining activity and the river pollution in case of an accident.

Third speaker: Franklin Fredericks (Brazil) on water privatization

Water privatization means that those who cannot afford clean water will not be able to access it. The poor will thus be exposed to the threat of diseases that have been fought and won ages ago. One also has to consider, though, that the control over this 'blue gold' is social control, because water has always been closely linked to culture and industry. If only a few companies have control over the water resource, they also have control over the country.

NESTLE, SHELL and other multinationals have been buying up properties with water resources and easy access to water. This is part of their global politics. Water is the 'target' of their investment. NESTLE has stated that they are trying to buy as much of the global water resource as possible. In Brazil, NESTLE bought a very famous water park that contains nine different mineral water resources. It used to house spas. The company built a factory over the water park and produced bottled water from the source. The concept of bottled water for the developing country consumer 'pure life' was launched in Pakistan in 1997. The message is that third world water is just not good enough and bottled water from NESTLE should be bought. This effort has made governments feel less responsible for cleaning up tap water and decreased the level of public service although poor people cannot afford to buy bottled water. The water is bottled in plastic bottles which cannot be recycled in Brazil.

Franklin is part of a campaign that launched a lawsuit against NESTLE. This court case was won and the factory was shut down for two days. However, the company's lawyers managed to reopen the plant and the next part of the court case may well take 10 years to finish. By then, the water resource will be depleted. Franklin has taken his campaign to Switzerland, where NESTLE is based. With the help of ATTAC Switzerland and several churches, he has managed to put pressure on NESTLE to give up its bottling plant in this water park. However, the Brazilian government under Lula has entered a 'private and public partnership' (PPP) with NESTLE behind their backs despite their successes in Switzerland. The situation with the PPP in place is worse than before this concept existed, because now the campaigners cannot even lobby the government to act to protect the environment anymore because NESTLE is now their dear 'partner'. Instead, the government is now pressuring Franklin and his fellow activists to stop campaigning.

Water has to be entrenched as a human right to ensure that governments have the responsibility to provide it to all their citizens. That way, it is the state's obligation and cannot be privatized. Even the UK, however, does not support this concept of water as a human right. In Kyoto at a water conference by the World Bank, countries declared that water was a 'basic human need' and that this need can be met by a private of public entity. People in the UK need to lobby their government to change their stance on this.


fidusz - @ -
gonefishing - @ - (Stephanie)
franklin - @ -



Display the following 7 comments

  1. next fora — jupiter
  2. INTERESTED ! — CBGnetworker
  3. sounds good, but... — concernedz
  4. email list — jupiter
  5. Baia Mare cyanide spill - correction — fidusz
  6. Great stuff! — Corporate Watch
  7. Online Computer Support | Tech Support Repair — Sashi Cruze